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August 29, 2007

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Welcome to the August 29, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Japan's Warp-Speed Ride to Internet Future
Washington Post (08/29/07) P. A1; Harden, Blaine

Japan has the world's fastest Internet connections, and delivers more data at a lower cost than anywhere else in the world. In fact, broadband service in Japan is between eight to 30 times faster than in the United States and much less expensive. Faster Internet speeds in Japan, South Korea, and much of Europe will lead to Internet innovations that are likely to remain unavailable in the United States for many years. The high Internet speeds in Japan allow Internet users to watch broadcast quality, full-screen television over the Internet while all most Americans can access are wallet-sized, grainy images. Other Internet applications in Japan currently unavailable to Americans include low-cost, high-definition teleconferencing, which has been used by doctors in urban areas to diagnose patients, and advanced telecommuting. Analysts say Japan's advancement is largely due to better wire and more aggressive government regulation. In 2000, the Japanese government compelled its large phone companies to share wires with startup Internet providers. As competition grew, the cost of broadband in Japan fell by about half and broadband speed increased 33-fold. In 1996, a similar measure to allow access to phone company lines was strongly endorsed by Congress, but federal support fell through in 2003 and 2004 when the Federal Communications Commission and a federal court ruled major companies do not have to share the share phone or fiber lines with competitors, and the Bush administration did not appeal the decision. "The Bush administration largely turned its back on the Internet, so we have just drifted downwards," says former U.S. diplomat to Japan Thomas Bleha.
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Point, Click ... Eavesdrop: How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates
Wired News (08/29/07)

Documents recently declassified under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the FBI has constructed a point-and-click surveillance system capable of instantaneously tapping into almost any communications device. The Digital Collection System Network (DCSNet) links FBI wiretapping stations to switches run by landline operators, Internet-telephony providers, and cellular companies. The system consists of software that captures, filters, and stores phone numbers, calls, and text messages, and directly connects FBI wiretapping rooms throughout the nation to a wide-ranging private communications network. The outposts are connected via a private, encrypted backbone that is independent of the Internet and is run by Sprint for the government. Telecoms' installation of telephone-switching gear that meets wiretapping standards was mandated in 1994 with the passage of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), thus giving the FBI the ability to log directly into the telecom's network. CALEA's coverage was recently extended to require broadband ISPs and certain VoIP companies to enable their networks for federal wiretapping. Since telecoms became more wiretap-friendly, the volume of criminal wiretaps rose 60 percent from 1,150 to 1,839 in the past 10 years, and in 2005 92 percent of those wiretaps targeted cell phones, according to a 2006 report. CALEA wiretaps and the processing of all calls collected by DCSNet have racked up substantial costs, and security experts are worried that the system introduces new vulnerabilities to the telecommunications network. The declassified documents point to numerous flaws in DCSNet that Columbia University computer science professor Steven Bellovin finds appalling, especially because they indicate the FBI is ignorant of inside threats. "The underlying problem isn't so much the weaknesses here, as the FBI attitude towards security," he says.
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ooPSLA 2007 Speakers -- An Embarrassment of Riches
Association for Computing Machinery (08/29/07)

The brightest minds in computer science will be at ooPSLA 2007, convening in chic, sophisticated, metropolitan Montreal, Quebec. Peter Turchi, author of "Maps of the Imagination," will use examples from writing and cartography to explore the challenges of discovery, the challenges of presenting those discoveries, and how the presentation itself is often the key to discovery (think Impressionism). Jim Purbrick and Mark Lentczner, also known as Babbage Linden and Zero Linden, will step away from reality into the virtual world of Second Life. Two Turing Award winners, Fred Brooks and John McCarthy, will be giving talks. Brooks will talk about collaboration and telecollaboration in design. McCarthy will be presenting Elephant 2000, a proposed programming language good for writing and verifying programs that interact with people (e.g., transaction processing) or interact with programs belonging to other organizations. Gregor Kiczales will deliver a talk on how different contexts affect developer perspectives on software. David Parnas examines the problem of documenting the behavior of systems and their components, and how precise documents can make validation and verification easier. Patti Maes, honored with the title "Global Leader for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum, will be speaking from her background in media arts and sciences. Also planned is a special reprise of Gabriel and Steele's keynote "50 in 50" from HOPL III. OOPSLA 2007 runs October 21 through 25, with reduced registration rates available until September 13, 2007.
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Research at K-State, Partner Institutions, to Help Homeland Security Make Sense of the Abundant Information in the Public Domain
Kansas State University News (08/27/07) Barcomb-Peterson, Erinn

Kansas State University associate professor of computer and information sciences William Hsu and other computer scientists with expertise in data mining are contributing to a project to develop technology that would make automated Internet searches simpler and more productive. "We're helping to develop the next generation of Web search and crawling," Hsu says. "The Department of Homeland Security wants to pull information that's available to anyone in the public domain, like millions of articles from sources like CNN and Al-Jazeera, and monitor them for security." Hsu's work for the Department of Homeland security project will focus on eliminating ambiguity in Internet searchers, including improved name recognition. The goal is to create a search engine that could, for example, differentiate between homeland security as a concept and Homeland Security as a government agency. "The goal is to develop an automated system that can pick out al-Quaida as an organization, Kandahar as a place, and Osama bin Laden as a person, based upon rules developed from previously-seen documents," Hsu says. The research will also work on solving another problem with finding information on the Internet--inefficient crawling. Search engines provide up-to-date results by looking through Web pages and archiving them, a process known as crawling and sometimes referred to as "crawling in the dark." Hsu says research in this area could create search engines that could anticipate keywords and create virtual neighborhoods of information by making connections between bits of information based on the results of similar searches.
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US Suspends Vast ADVISE Data-Sifting System
Christian Science Monitor (08/28/07) P. 1; Clayton, Mark

The Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) system was used from 2004 to mid-2006 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as a data-mining tool to hunt terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, and biological weapons using Americans' personal data and with little regard for federal privacy laws. Now, the $42 million system capable of processing trillions of pieces of data has been put on hold and may be terminated following data-privacy reviews, according to a report submitted to Congress by the DHS' Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG found that ADVISE failed to account for federal privacy laws during its design, and the system used live data, including personally identifiable information, from multiple sources without taking steps required by federal law, and DHS' own internal guidelines, to prevent the data from being misused. The failure to implement privacy safeguards in the ADVISE program appears to be the result of confusion and miscommunication about privacy requirements by ADVISE program managers and the DHS' privacy office. The privacy office argues that until the ADVISE system was connected to data it was not a data-mining program that needed privacy review. However, unknown to the privacy office, the ADVISE pilot programs had been operational and using real personal data for about 18 months before the privacy office made the report to Congress, the OIG discovered. The DHS has not disclosed what type and how much personal data was used, but DHS science and technology directorate spokesman Larry Orluskie acknowledges that ADVISE may have been "too zealous in its testing." Orluskie says the ADVISE system is back on track, though he is unsure if the privacy assessment was complete or if operation had resumed. The damage may be done however, as the failure to follow privacy laws has reduced interest within the DHS in ADVISE, the OIG reports.
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C.U. Researcher Develops Info Sharing Application
Cornell Daily Sun (NY) (08/29/07) Manapsal, Elizabeth

Cornell Computer Science Department researcher Sandy Payette is founder and co-director of Fedora Commons, an open-source software application that could potentially revolutionize how scholars, institutions, and libraries share information. Payette plans to use Fedora Commons to build an online system that supports open collaboration between software developers and Web site designers that could be used as a template for storing and preserving different types of data. Fedora, an acronym for Flexible Extensible Digital Object Repository Architecture, was created as part of Payette's research in the late 1990s and is currently used by libraries, museums, and universities as a way to manage content-based systems. Payette now wants to expand Fedora to include open access publishing, eScience, and eScholarship. "The idea is that this software is built by a community of stakeholders who have a personal investment in its ongoing evolution," says Payette. Fedora-backed systems could provide students with a level of scholarship not available on open-access sites such as Wikipedia. While both sites can be accessed by anyone, Wikipedia is an open access content Web site whereas Fedora is an open access software template for content-management, but the content on Fedora sites undergoes rigorous examination and scrutiny. "Fedora can enable content management and preservation," says Fedora Commons communications and media director Carol Minton Morris. "If a student has a good idea on how to build a Web service of some kind and wanted to use it, they could use it like anyone else."
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Networking the Hudson River
Technology Review (08/29/07) Sauser, Brittany

IBM and the Beacon Institute will work with several other research institutions to develop an environmental-monitoring system for all 315 miles of the Hudson River. The project entails deploying a network of sensors that will collect biological, physical, and chemical information and transmitting it to a central location. Some sensors will be suspended from buoys or fixed in place on the riverbed, but a few will be mounted on robotic underwater vehicles developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, both contributors to the project. "In terms of having an integrated network of sensors, and given the magnitude of it for the Hudson River, this project is without a doubt a huge advancement and on a much larger scale than anything that has been done before," says Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, a member of the Beacon Institute and director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute at RPI. The massive amount of data collected by the extensive network will be analyzed by a new data acquisition and analysis system developed by IBM. The system contains both distributed-processing hardware and analytical software, and is designed to receive heterogeneous data from multiple sources and process it in real time. The software is capable of learning and recognizing patterns and can prioritize processing power for useful data. If a data stream consists of minor variations, the system automatically redirects resources to that stream. The system also has visualization technologies to create a virtual model of the river and simulate its ecosystem in real time.
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Are Drivers Ready for High-Tech Onslaught?
CNet (08/28/07) Lombardi, Candace

High-tech automobile options such as self-parking, auto-braking, touch-screen displays, and Bluetooth communications, currently only available in luxury cars, are becoming available for lower-cost models, but some experts are concerned that all that technology could overwhelm drivers. Northwestern University professor Don Norman says much of the technology in cars is beneficial, but it can also be confusing, which is dangerous in an automobile. Norman says automakers will have to teach drivers how to use these new tools, and the interface will be drastically different from familiar personal computer displays, often requiring no-look coordination. "It's amazing how much of this is designed by engineers who have no real understanding of the way average, everyday people behave," Norman says. Some early attempts to reinvent the driver-car relationship have been disastrous, such as BMW's iDrive, which used a iPod-like click wheel to control air conditioning, heating, navigation, and communications, and was so complicated it spurred nicknames such as iCrash. "The last thing you want to do is drive and push a bunch of buttons," says Volkswagen of America's technical strategy manager Frank Weith. "If you can manage--not through voice commands and keywords, but through natural speech--that will be the most effective way to manage the information that's in your vehicle." Weith also sees communications technology changing the role of the car, including streaming real time traffic data into cars' navigational systems. As technology makes the roads safer, it could also create potentially hazardous scenarios. For example, drivers may turn off safety devices because they feel they are a nuisance, similar to how an organ transplant patient stops taking his medicine because he feels healthy, Norman says.
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The Next Dimension of Digital
Paramus Post (NJ) (08/28/07) Sidener, Jonathan

ACM's SIGGRAPH conference is known for presenting the most advanced technology in digital media, and the conference this year highlighted some technologies that could become the future of television. A 3D holographic image known as the jogger allowed attendees to walk around the display and view the video from every angle. Another exhibit allowed people to put their hand into an empty box and manipulate a virtual jack in the box using a virtual copy of their hand. Also on display was a flat-panel television that viewers could use to watch 3D images without wearing special glasses. Texas Instruments showcased another television capable of 3D images with the help of special battery-powered glasses. TI says the 3D capability can easily be added to its DLP HDTVs and it expects to sell 1 million 3D-ready TVs by the end of next year. Researchers at the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, Fakespace Labs, and Sony, the creators of the jogger, say if hardware prices continue to fall at current rates, the technology used in the jogger could be available for home use in 10 years. The jogger, technically called an "interactive 360-degree light field display," is created using modified off-the-shelf hardware, mainly a digital projector that sends 5,000 frames per second onto a rapidly spinning mirror. A SIGGRAPH spokesman says it is not a question of whether the future will be in 3D and holographic, but whether holograms and 3D images will be viewed from the wall, like traditional TVs, or from the middle of the room with 360-degree viewing.
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Feds Seeking Input on Networking Research Plan
Computing Research Association (08/27/07) Harsha, Peter

The National Coordinating Office for Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) is revising its draft plan for advanced networking research and development, and is seeking comments, suggestions, and additions from the networking research and development communities by Sept. 30, 2007. The Draft Federal Plan for Advanced Networking Research and Development will have a significant impact on the direction of government networking research priorities over the next seven to eight years. Comments from universities, federal laboratories, commercial researchers, and developers will give NITRD a better understanding of networking needs in the years to come and how to address those priorities. The input will influence the final report, which will guide federal agencies for fiscal year 2010 and the following budget planning cycles. A Draft Interim Report appeared May 15, 2007. The report and instructions for providing comments can be found at the NITRD Web site.
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Stereotypes Turn Girls Off to Math, Science
LiveScience (08/27/07)

The National Science Foundation's Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program found that although pop culture presents an image that girls are just as interested in science and math as boys, new studies suggest otherwise, while several myths about girls and science endure. The first myth is that by the time children start school, girls are already less interested in science than boys. Although a recent study of fourth graders found that 66 percent of girls and 68 percent of boys said they enjoy science, another study found that by the second grade, when asked to draw a scientist, both boys and girls tend to draw a male in a lab coat. Any female scientists are drawn tend to look severe and rather unhappy. This stereotype of isolated, stern, and unhappy female scientists is so persistent in society that by the eighth grade boys are twice as interested in STEM subjects as girls. Another myth is that interventions intended to interest girls in STEM might cause boys to become uninterested. In reality, such interventions have been found to interest both girls and boys, because when girls are shown images of female scientists, boys realize that they can succeed in science as well. Yet another myth is that at the college level, changing STEM classes could water down important "sink or swim" courses. In reality, the process of "weeding out" weaker science students, especially in more quantitative disciplines, disproportionately weeds out women. Not necessarily because women fail more often, but because women often perceive Bs as inadequate grades and drop out while men with Cs stay in the program. Effective mentoring and "bridge programs" are needed to prepare students for challenging coursework. Changing the curriculum often leads to better recruitment and retention of both women and men in STEM programs.
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A Computer Simulation Shows How Evolution May Have Speeded Up
Weizmann Institute of Science (08/28/07)

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science's Molecular Cell Biology and Physics of Complex Systems Departments have developed computer simulations that mimic natural evolution, allowing the researchers to observe and manipulate the evolutionary process. Nadav Kashtan, Elad Noor, and Uri Alon simulated a population of genomes evolving over time toward a given goal. The researchers found in the simulation that changing environmental conditions sped up the evolution of the genome. More complex and complicated goals, which would take more generations to reach under fixed conditions, also accelerated the evolution process to reach changes in the goal. The evolution simulations ran fastest when changes followed a pattern similar to what the researchers believe may occur in nature. In previous research, Kashtan and Alon showed that evolution may frequently be modular, with individual parts changing rather than the entire organism changing at the same time. The researchers theorized forces acting on evolution may be modular as well, and that subgoals of evolution may change as the forces do, without changing the primary goal. "We saw a large speedup, for instance, when we repeatedly exchanged an 'OR' for an 'AND' in the computer code defining our goals, thus changing the relationship between subgoals," Kashtan says. The main purpose of the research was to find answers to theoretical questions of evolution, but it may have some practical implications as well, particularly in engineering fields where evolutionary tools are used for systems design, and in computer science by providing a possible way to speed up optimization algorithms.
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Microsoft's UI Ambitions Not Limited to Tables: A New Windshield HUD Patent
Ars Technica (08/27/07) Haselton, Todd

Microsoft has filed a patent for an "adaptive heads-up user interface for automobiles" that could make driving a car more like flying a fighter jet. The automobile heads-up display (HUD) would replace the windshield and display navigational information, car speed, weather information, information on the driver's health, what music is playing, and possibly where the nearest parking space is. The display could also be used to control various functions in the car such as climate control, a communication system, and a general input device. The HUD display could be viewed and controlled similar to items on a computer monitor, with a hidden state, a collapsed state, a preview, and a full screen view. Microsoft says HUD is intended to improve the driver's awareness of his or her surroundings by alerting the driver to information on road conditions or accidents. The driver would be able to prepare and monitor road and vehicle conditions without having to look down from the windshield. HUD would also be able to display information about the driver, like heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature, and would be able to diffuse potentially dangerous situations caused by the driver, for example, by playing soothing music to calm road rage or sounding alarms to wake a sleepy driver.
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Metasearch Engine Digs Deeper, Faster for News
University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) (08/22/07)

A metasearch engine that searches more news sites over a wider geographic area than other Internet search tools is now available. The new search engine, Allinonenews, queries more than 1,800 news search engines in about 200 countries and territories. "A metasearch engine's results contain all the content of underlying search engines, giving it much greater coverage," says University of Illinois at Chicago computer science professor Clement Yu, who developed the metasearch engine. "Ours is designed to connect automatically to each search engine and retrieve in a uniform format." Allinonenews is able to produce timely searches because it filters out exact duplicate results and automatically peruses news sites where the answer is likely to be found. Allinonenews will tunnel through search engine databases to find information from "deep Web" pages, and will also perform a semantic match of retrieved documents.
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NSF Grant Funds UNT Study of Global Software Development Teams
University of North Texas News Service (08/22/07)

A National Science Foundation grant will enable University of North Texas (UNT) computer science professor Dr. Kathleen Swigger to study a team of programmers as members located in different countries collaborate to write software. The project involves students at UNT and in Turkey, Panama, and the United Kingdom who are engaged in large software projects. By studying how the students interact and actually work, Swigger expects to provide a better understanding of the concept of distributed programming. "Students need to know how to use the technology to work in culturally mixed and geographically distributed work teams, because distributed software development is becoming the norm," says Swigger. She plans to develop curriculum materials that will teach students how to work with people from different cultures who are in different time zones.
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The Color of Trustworthiness
Jerusalem Post (08/18/07) Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy

University of California, Santa Cruz associate professor of computer engineering Luca de Alfaro has developed a program that analyzes Wikipedia's entire editing history and estimates the trustworthiness of each page. De Alfaro's program uses the longevity of the content to learn which contributors are the most reliable. "The idea is very simple," de Alfaro says. "If your contribution lasts, you gain reputation. If you contribution is reverted [to the previous version], your reputation falls." The program analyzes the user's editing history to assign a reputation score. The trustworthiness of newly inserted text is computed as a function of the reputation of its author. As more contributors examine the text, their reputation contributes to the text's score. Working from copies of Wikipedia the site distributes, the program is able to analyze Wikipedia's seven-year editing history in about a week, and correctly flags more than 80 percent of edits that turn out to be poor. After the initial backlog of edits has been processed, de Alfaro says updating reliability scores in real time should be relatively simple. The program prominently displays the trustworthiness of each article, but keeps individual contributor's scores hidden to avoid creating a competitive atmosphere that would detract from Wikipedia's collaborative culture.
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The Tech Lab: Vint Cerf
BBC News (08/24/07) Cerf, Vint

The Internet is still very youthful in terms of being an intellectual phenomenon, but its relative youth is greatly offset by its benefits and people's reliance on it, argues Google's chief Internet evangelist Vint Cerf. He contends that the Net is on the cusp of becoming "the greatest communications platform humanity has ever known." The online population will grow as the Internet expands to other corners of the globe, and as new kinds of content that can be accessed by a wider variety of devices become available, Cerf predicts. Likewise, greater reliance on the Net and its services call for higher levels of robustness and security, and the author maintains that key areas of focus for near-term Internet development will be improving the resilience and resistance to attack of the Domain Name System and other vital infrastructure; he expects a higher priority to be assigned to the introduction of DNSSEC and the digital signing of address space by the Regional Internet Registries. Cerf says the Web's expansion faces dwindling capacity, which will require a transition to the IPv6 address space--which will be no easy matter. Cerf anticipates the increased importance of search engines, while various factors will contribute to the problem of "information decay," in which digital objects' accessibility diminishes as their source software ages. "With home, car and office appliances all online and rich sensor networks as part of the landscape of the Internet, it is easy to predict that people will be looking for online services to manage these devices and systems, regardless of where they happen to be," reasons Cerf. He says the spread of mobile devices and improvements in their capability to access the Web will step up information access, especially in the developing world.
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The Bytes Behind Biology
Scientist (08/07) Vol. 21, No. 8, P. 44; Gawrylewski, Andrea

Hundreds of scientific papers on a wide range of subjects use data produced by the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), which boasts a system capable of performing 21 trillion calculations per second on the strength of more than 4,000 processors. PSC's largest computer is BigBen, which can execute in mere weeks tasks that would take the fastest current desktop computers five to 10 years to carry out. BigBen was built for close to $10 million provided by the National Science Foundation, while PSC received $52 million to develop TeraGrid, a network of nine computing centers with 280 teraflops of collective computing muscle. BigBen's processor time is divided among the 2,000 researchers who utilize the computer. PSC codirector Ralph Roskies says TeraGrid was used by a scientist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, to generate detailed images of the nuclear pore complex, which is one of the most significant findings the PSC supercomputer contributed to. However, PSC researchers must be cognizant of the fact that the perfect images produced through supercomputing are simulations and not reality. More than 600 papers published in 200 journals have been produced by TeraGrid. In September, the NSF will disclose whether it has approved PSC's request for $200 million to obtain the hardware for a new computing system with 1 petaflop of processing power, which if built would likely be the fastest system on earth, according to PSC director of strategic applications Nicholas Nystrom.
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