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ACM TechNews
September 14, 2007

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Welcome to the September 14, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Gary Smith to Receive ACM Award
EE Times (09/12/07) Moretti, Gabe

ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM/SIGDA) will honor Gary Smith for his contributions to the electronic design automation (EDA) community during the IEEE/ACM International Conference on Computing Aided-Design (ICCAD) in San Jose, Calif., in November. During the opening session on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2007, SIGDA will present Smith with a 2007 ACM/SIGDA Distinguished Service Award. For the past two decades, Smith was the chief EDA analyst for Gartner Dataquest, and he led a team of analysts that was responsible for the Gartner Dataquest Annual Report at ACM's Design Automation Conference. The team reported on electronic system level (ESL), EDA, and embedded systems, and identified trends in the industries. The founder of Gary Smith EDA (GSEDA), Smith is a member of the Design TWG for the International Semiconductor Road Map (ITRS), editorial chair of the IEEE Design Automation Technical Committee (DATC), and serves on the DAC Strategic Committee.
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Presidential Advisors Report on NITRD Program
HPC Wire (09/10/07)

The federal government and the private sector should look broadly at the issue of increasing the number of skilled IT workers, according to a new report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In "Leadership Under Challenge: Information Technology R&D in a Competitive World," PCAST says the United States should consider strategies such as updating the curricula, offering more fellowships, and simplifying the visa process to maintain its lead in competitiveness in networking and IT. The report also takes a look at the Networking and Information Technology R&D (NITRD) program, and says its focus should be more on larger and multidisciplinary, higher-risk projects, and a priority should be given to R&D involving IT systems that are connected and embedded in the physical world, software, digital data, and advanced Internet capabilities. Assessment and planning for NITRD, which receives more than $3 billion in funding from the federal government, can be improved by overhauling the program's interagency process, the report adds. "The Council concludes that while the U.S. is still in a leadership position, other nations are challenging that lead in a number of areas," says Dr. Dan Reed, a PCAST member who is the director of the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI). "The NITRD Program must focus on visionary research and work with universities to keep the United States at the cutting edge."
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UM Software Tools May Key Successful Antiterrorism, Military and Diplomatic Actions
University of Maryland (09/13/07) Tune, Lee

The University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) has developed computer analysis software to provide rapid information on terrorists and the cultural and political climate on the ground in areas of critical interest. The new computer models and databases could help policymakers and military leaders predict the behavior of political, economic, and social groups. UMIACS director and professor of computer science V.S. Subrahmanian says U.S. commanders probably knew where Osama bin Laden was, but were unable to capture him because troops on the group did not have enough cultural knowledge to successfully negotiate with the locals. Subrahmanian says such failures can be avoided if decision makers have access to pertinent data and accurate models of behavior. The software tools developed by Subrahmanian and his colleagues track information on foreign groups in a variety of sources, including news sources, blogs, and online video libraries. The software can almost instantly search the entire Internet for information and links on a terrorist suspect or other particular person, group, or other topic of interest. Additionally, with help from social scientists at the University of Maryland, UMIACS computer scientists developed methods to obtain rules governing the behaviors of different groups in foreign areas, including about 14,000 rules on Hezbollah alone.
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Software Turns Photos From Bad to Good
MSNBC (09/12/07) Nelson, Bryn

A photo-fixing program developed by Carnegie Mellon University was presented at ACM's International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques in early September. The program uses an algorithm to search through digital photos for images that match the subject photo. The program then tries to match general properties such as shapes, textures, and orientations to pick out photos that match, such as two photos with a curved bay or a river running through a city. Next, the program looks for sections in the photos that would match well with the target photo, including the ability to create boundaries that would be least noticeable to people. The program then blends the photos together, making it possible to remove obstructions or unwanted people from photos. Graduate student James Hays and assistant professor of robotics and computer science Alexei Efros point out that the program is not intended to accurately restore lost information that once was in the picture, but to fill in missing pixels with images that could have been there in an ideal situation. Efros says getting a computer to create a composite scene that is seamless and contextually valid is a major challenge in artificial intelligence research. Humans are quite good at picking up visual clues for such problem solving, Efros says, but artificial intelligence is "nowhere near" a solution that would allow a computer to interpret complex scenes such as an alleyway, beach, or airport check-in counter. Hays and Efros say the program occasionally created geographically accurate results, but that the final appearance of the photo needs input from the user to look right.
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LIKES Project Awarded Grant From National Science Foundation
Collegiate Times (09/14/07) Woods, Andrea

Virginia Tech's Living in the KnowlEdge Society Community Building Project (LIKES) was awarded a $289,999 grant from the National Science Foundation's Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education program. LIKES is intended to globally educate students and teachers on the importance of including computer education in various disciplines as well as teach teachers about various computer-related concepts that can be used in the classroom. Virginia Tech professor of computer science and LIKES founder Edward A. Fox says the goal is to build a global community. Villanova University, North Carolina A&T, and Santa Clara University are also involved in LIKES and have been awarded an additional $208,958 grant. Virginia Tech's grant will be used to fund a series of four workshops at the other participating universities. Fox says the workshops will help discover goals and the best ways to teach the fundamentals of computer science. Virginia Tech assistant professor of professional writing Carlos Evia says LIKES will also work on incorporating LIKES ideas and concepts into the core curriculum to give students not in computing majors or minors exposure on how computers can help in different disciplines.
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IBM and Association for Computing Machinery Announce Global 'Battle of the Brains' Software Competition
Market Wire (09/12/07)

Regional competitions for the 32nd annual ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) are scheduled to begin this month and continue through December. The "Battle of the Brains" pits three-person teams from colleges and universities around the world against each other to solve real-world computer programming problems. The information technology students will use the latest versions of open source technologies, and will have five hours to solve the problems. The competition, sponsored by IBM, is expected to draw tens of thousands of participants from 82 countries on six continents. "This competition demands that competitors master their intellect, creativity, and skills," says Dr. Bill Poucher, ICPC executive director and a professor at Baylor University. "With the support of IBM, ACM, and the UPE Honor Society, we're challenging students to unleash their natural talents to become master thinkers who can innovate solutions to make a difference in people's lives, solving the problems people face today and will face tomorrow." Ninety teams will advance to the World Finals, which are scheduled for April 6-10, 2008, in Banff Springs, Alberta, Canada.
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Patenting The Co-ed Code
Forbes (09/13/07) Miller, Claire Cain

The findings of a National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) survey on the value of patents suggests that having both men and women on a development team is more likely to create a truly useful invention. The survey examined the prestige and importance of patents awarded for information technology inventions over the past 25 years, measured by the number of subsequent patents that cite a patent, and found that inventions developed by mixed-gender teams received 42 percent more citations than single-gender patents. "Our data show that diversity of thought matters to innovation," says NCWIT chief executive Lucinda Sanders. "We can say involving women is important because women are half the population and have good ideas, but our study shows the impact for companies." The number of women named in patents for information technology has increased since the 1980s, but is still only a small portion. In 1980, women accounted for 1.7 percent of information technology patents, which increased to 6.1 percent by 2005. Women accounted for 10.9 percent of all patents in 2002, and hold more patents in computer software than any other technology category. The survey found that some technology companies have no patents involving women, while other companies obtained as much as 70 percent of their patents from mixed-gender development teams. The importance of female participation in the development process only highlights the importance of strengthening the dwindling numbers of women choosing to earn degrees in computer science, which decreased by 70 percent between 2000 and 2005.
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Image-Search Tool Speaks Hundreds of Languages
University of Washington News and Information (09/12/07) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington's Turing Center has developed PanImages, a multilingual search tool that enables Internet users to search for images in hundreds of languages. "Images are universal, but image search is not," says University of Washington professor of computer science and engineering Oren Etzioni. "We've created a collaborative tool that solves this problem." Search engines look for images by searching the captions and other nearby text, which limits the search to the user's native language. PanImages automatically translates search terms into about 300 other languages, suggests a few terms that might also work, and returns images from Google and Flickr. Etzioni says, for example, someone searching for pictures of a refrigerator using the Zulu word (ifriji) would only receive two results in a normal search engine, but the same search through PanImages returns 472,000 hits. In a test of lesser-used languages, PanImages was able to find an average of 57 times more results than a Google image search. "We want to serve the vast number of people who don't speak one of the major languages," Etzioni says. Even people who speak major languages may benefit, as some single words have multiple meanings. The word "spring," for example, may return images of a grassy meadow and a metal coil. PanImages allows users to search using a more precise word in another language. PanImages scans more than 350 machine-readable online dictionaries, uses an algorithm to check the accuracy of the results, and compiles the results in a matrix that allows translation to occur. Etzioni presented PanImages at this week's Machine Translation Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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Web Users Could Slash Cost of Putting Video Online
New Scientist (09/11/07) Simonite, Tom

Microsoft researchers studying the use of peer-to-peer networks and how they could be used to lower costs for sites such as YouTube have determined that Internet users may have to help distribute online video clips to counteract the growing costs of delivering such content. Microsoft researchers Cheng Huang and Jin Li and Keith Ross from Polytechnic University used nine months' worth of records from MSN's video site servers to find ways of reducing the costs of meeting 60 million requests for video clips every month. "The current model is not really sustainable," Ross says. "Microsoft is certainly interested in the possibility of using peer-to-peer technologies, where users distribute video amongst themselves." Video-sharing sites pay for bandwidth by the bit, so the more popular a site is the more they pay. To reduce costs, the researchers suggest developing a system such as a plug-in for Web browsers that allows users to receive videos from other users who are already watching it, instead of downloading a video to each individual viewer. Each user would only need to donate a small part of their upload capacity for the network to perform as well as current systems. Switching to a peer-to-peer system could cut costs by more than 95 percent. The researchers also suggested sharing only between people with the same Internet service provider, which would require video-hosting servers to do more work but could cut cost by more than half.
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Scientists Use the "Dark Web" to Snag Extremists and Terrorists Online
National Science Foundation (09/10/07)

University of Arizona Artificial Intelligence Lab researchers have created the Dark Web project with the intention of systematically collecting and analyzing all terrorist-generated content on the Web. Some estimates place the number of Web sites created and maintained by known international terrorist groups at over 5,000, and many of the sites are developed in multiple languages and can be hidden in innocent-looking Web sites. To tackle the massive challenge of finding, cataloging, and analyzing extremist activities online, the Dark Web project will use a variety of techniques including Web spidering, and link, content, authorship, sentiment, and multimedia analysis. One of the tools developed by Dark Web is a technique known as Writeprint, which automatically collects thousands of multilingual, structural, and semantic features to determine who is creating 'anonymous' content online. For example, Writeprint can examine a posting on an online bulletin board and compare it to writings found elsewhere on the Internet, and through analysis, determine if the author has produced other content with 95 percent accuracy. Dark Web also uses Web spiders to search discussion threads and other content to find terrorist activities, but the terrorist can fight back by infecting the spiders with viruses that infect Dark Web computers. The project recently completed a study of online stories and videos intended to teach terrorists how to build improvised explosive devices.
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Computer Models Help Raise the Bar for Sporting Achievement
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (09/13/07)

Loughborough University researchers from the Sports Technology Research Group and funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are developing computer models that could improve the sports equipment design process by producing unprecedented, realistic simulations of how potential equipment will actually behave when in use. "The UK is at the forefront of sports-related engineering," says lead researcher Andy Harland. "Our computer models can provide invaluable technical input to the sports equipment design process. The modeling program is based on commercially available software, to which the researchers add complex algorithms to enhance the software's ability to simulate mathematically the characteristics of a piece of sports equipment, different playing surfaces, and other factors that may impact the equipment's use. The model can then show exactly what will happen to the equipment during play. The project is currently working on models to help with the next generation of running shoes to reduce the risk of injury, and could possibly be used to adjust sports equipment to better suit the needs of the user, which may result in increased participation in sports and overall better health in the general population.
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Rice, Nanyang Tech Collaborate on Sustainable Nanoelectronics
Rice University Press Release (09/05/07) Boyd, Jade

Computer researchers from Rice University and Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have formed the Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics (ISNE), a collaborative project intended to reduce design and production costs for embedded microchips. "A major goal of the collaboration is to help sustain Moore's Law and exploit the exponential rate at which electronic components have been shrinking for more than four decades," says Rice University researcher and architect of the project Krishna Palem. "The key is tying the cost for design, energy consumption, and production to the value that the computer information has for the user." ISNE is funded by and based at NTU and will use an International Network of Excellence, directed by Palem. The international network includes experts from NTU, Rice, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. ISNE will work to design methodology that can be applied to current complementary metal-oxide semiconductors and to emerging computing platforms based on photonics and nanotechnology. "As information processing systems become more ubiquitous in consumer-driven applications, their designs must be tailored to reflect the needs of the end users, and it is in this area that the new NTU/Rice Institute for Sustainable Nanoelectronics will make substantial contributions," says Ralph Cavin, chief scientist at the nonprofit Semiconductor Research Corporation.
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Artificial Intelligence Under the Spotlight at BA Festival
Electronics and Computer Science (09/10/07) Lewis, Joyce

Artificial intelligence's contribution to computer science in the years to come is likely to be more toward providing assistive intelligence to computing systems than a level of self-awareness that would allow robots to develop a fear of being turned off and become destructive, says Nigel Shadbolt, a professor of AI at the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. Shadbolt, also president of the British Computer Society, will discuss his views, including the increasing power and speed of computers, the World Wide Web, and human and animal intelligence, in a lecture at the British Association Festival of Science in York on Sept. 11. The trend of assistive intelligence will result in an immersive environment filled with helpful devices that have micro-intelligence, says Shadbolt. "Rather than being conscious brains in a box, as Hollywood would have it, they are in fact small pieces of adaptive and flexible software that help drive our cars, diagnose disease, and provide opponents in computer games," he says. Shadbolt, who is also researching the next-generation Web with Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, believes assistive intelligence will impact the Web in a similar manner. "What is emerging now is a digital ecosystem involving lots of simple systems which connect millions of complex ones--humans!," he says.
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'Wiki City Rome' to Draw a Map Like No Other
MIT News (08/30/07) Frost, Greg

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Wiki City Rome" project debuted on Sept. 8 during Rome's "Notte Bianca," or white night, an all-night festival of events throughout the city. On that night, anyone with an Internet connection would have been able to see a map of the city that showed the movement of crowds, even locations, the location of well-known Roman personalities, and the real-time position of city buses and trains. The Wiki City Rome project was part of MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory, an initiative that studies the effects of new technology on cities. SENSEable City Lab researcher Francesco Calabrese says someone could use the map, for instance, to find the most crowded place in Rome to have a drink, and find the least congested way to get there. Wiki City Rome offers the ability to create a map drawn on the basis of dynamic elements of which the map is an active part. The Wiki City project anonymously gathers data from cell phones, GPS devices on buses and taxis, and other wireless mobile devices. "By deploying developments of the Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web, Wiki City can be a significant leap forward towards a pervasive 'internet of things' to support human action and interaction," says project director Carlo Ratti.
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Graduate Enrollment in 2005
CRA Bulletin (09/10/07) Vegso, Jay

An 11 percent increase in the enrollment of first-time, full-time foreign students in master's and doctoral programs helped push the number of students pursuing graduate level computer science degrees up 6 percent in 2005, according to a NSF InfoBrief. First-time enrollment by U.S. citizens was relatively unchanged. Computer science enrollment declined in 2004 and 2003, and is still down 13 percent since 2002. In 2005, first-time foreign students accounted for 56 percent of first-time enrollment in computer science programs, but the figure is down from 71 percent in 2001. Moreover, foreigners received 56 percent of doctoral degrees and 44 percent of master's degrees in 2004. In all science and engineering fields, an increase in enrollment by U.S. citizens and permanent residents has negated a decline by foreign students as total enrollment reached a new high of 339,500 in 2005.
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Computer Gaming Requirements Spurring Scientific Advances
Chicago Tribune (09/10/07) Van, Jon

The need for faster scientific and technological advances is being met by advances in the computer game industry. Video games often require computers to be able to display fast-moving, three-dimensional graphics, which requires massively parallel chips capable of dividing computations into numerous subparts to be processed individually. Graphics chips run about 100 times faster than regular microprocessors, and engineers are adapting graphics processors for scientific applications, such as running multiple experiments on a computer to find interesting results before trying the experiment in the real world. Nvidia chief scientist David Kirk calls this "the democratization of supercomputing," but he says universities need to start teaching students how to write the software needed for such powerful scientific research. Some schools are starting to teach advanced programming and other advanced computing theories, but it may not be enough to keep the United States from falling behind. Scientists in other countries are catching up to the United States in research published, patents issued, and other measurements of progress, according to former IBM executive and former National Science Foundation director Erich Bloch. Bloch says the globalization of scientific research is not necessarily bad, but that Americans will have to adjust and be able to learn from and build upon research being done in other countries. "There's no magic bullet," Bloch says. "We could spend five times more money on research but it's not that simple. We have to adjust to a new world."
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Everything Must Stay!
Computerworld (09/10/07) Vol. 41, No. 37, P. 40; Anthes, Gary

Users with large storage systems will probably discover that they are on the cusp of a new dimension in storage and storage applications. "The emergent property we are seeing is that companies are saving everything," comments IDC analyst Richard Villars. "We have this explosion in rich content, and it's not just consumers with digital phones and videos and music. It's hospitals moving to electronic records and X-rays and MRIs, and banks going to video surveillance, and then archiving that for years at a time." The ability to retain everything thanks to storage being extremely cheap is important to statistical machine learning, according to Stanford University computer science professor Kunle Olukotun. "There's this notion of using large amounts of data to do things that previously were done by clever algorithms--for example, language translation," he notes. Microsoft executive Rick Rashid says the management of society could be enhanced by a vast volume of existing data. "We can think about analyzing huge amounts of epidemiological data to find solutions to medical problems, or think about traffic flow and urban planning and energy usage," he points out. AdMob executive Kevin Scott believes machine learning applications will expand as people start to realize that the technique can change their businesses' value proposition on a fundamental level, adding that the companies with large amounts of sales transaction data can apply machine learning toward "collaborative filtering." Unstructured data expansion is proceeding faster than the expansion of any other kind of data, which Scott says presents a "huge opportunity" for machine learning-like data mining methods.
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Toward a World With Quantum Computers
Communications of the ACM (09/07) Vol. 50, No. 9, P. 55; Bacon, Dave; Leung, Debbie

A global initiative to build large-scale quantum computers is underway, driven by the amazing theoretical computing power of quantum information processing devices. Quantum information science grew out of its esoteric niche in 1994 when Peter Shor discovered a quantum algorithm capable of effectively factoring and computing the discrete log, and got another boost with the development of quantum error correction and fault-tolerant quantum computation. Evidence indicating the existence of quantum error-correcting codes and their effectiveness in shielding quantum data from quantum noise distortion was found, but the construction of a quantum computer depends on demonstrating that quantum computing itself can be executed when every element of the computer can possibly fail because of noise. Experimentation into ways to implement quantum computing is ongoing, and avenues of investigation include neutral atom trapping, ion trapping, quantum dots, and superconducting circuits. Solid-state quantum computer implementations are currently achieving the fundamental manipulations of one and two quantum bits (qubits) that quantum computation requires, and there are no apparent theoretical impediments to constructing a large-scale quantum computer. The emergence of quantum cryptography from theoretical to practical application is a significant achievement, and unconditionally secure key distribution up to a distance of around 100 kilometers has been demonstrated through cutting-edge experimentation.
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