Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
September 21, 2007

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

Welcome to the September 21, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

NSA to Defend Against Hackers
Baltimore Sun (09/20/07) P. 1A; Gorman, Siobhan

The National Security Agency is planning a new "Cyber Initiative," an effort to enlist federal agencies to monitor Internet-based control systems for electricity grids, subways, nuclear power plants, and other infrastructure to prevent unauthorized intrusions. Initially, as many as 2,000 workers from DHS, NSA, and other agencies could be assigned to the project. The plan is a major shift in NSA practices, according to former and current intelligence officials. The new domestic role for the NSA, which traditionally focused on the government's classified networks, would require a revision of the agency's charter. NSA officials would not discuss any specific programs, but did say that cybersecurity is a critical objective for the agency. Cybersecurity has long been an unwanted responsibility, with various federal agencies managing small portions of it, but the NSA, for the most part, was not involved. The Department of Homeland Security's first chief of cybersecurity, Amit Yoran, says that although the government has made progress, in general federal efforts are "somewhat spotty." One of the biggest problems is that the DHS is responsible for the problem, but does not have the authority or expertise to get other agencies and the private sector to adhere to regulations. Current and former intelligence officials, including several NSA veterans, warn that the new NSA network monitoring program could create new privacy concerns. "If you're going to do cybersecurity, you have to spy on Americans to secure Americans," says a former government official familiar with NSA operations. "It would be a very major step."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


U.S. Facing Tech Labor 'Brain Drain' Due to Immigration Law, Study Says
Investor's Business Daily (09/21/07) P. A4; Riley, Sheila

U.S. companies may soon face a serious "reverse brain drain" due to an exodus of highly skilled foreign nationals returning to their home countries, warns a new study of immigration statistics by Harvard University, Duke University, and New York University researchers. Lead author of the study, Vivek Wadhwa, who has posts at Harvard and Duke, says U.S. immigration policy is creating a dangerous situation by making green card applicants wait too long for permission to work in the U.S. A significant number of Chinese and Indian foreign nationals in the United States have graduate degrees, a highly desirable asset in their home countries' growing economies. "These are highly educated people," Wadhwa says. "India and China would be happy to add these people to their work forces." The study found that more than half a million technology professionals were waiting for green cards at the end of fiscal year 2006. "There is much more demand for employment visas than anyone has realized," says study co-author and NYU sociology professor Guillermina Jasso. "They're already in line for green cards that they will not get for six and seven years." University of California at Davis computer science professor Norm Matloff, who opposes expanding the visa program, disagrees with the findings of the study, arguing that foreign workers will not leave so easily after spending so many years trying to get a green card. Matloff says the real issue is that employers are always looking for ways to save on labor by hiring younger, low-wage foreign workers. The study also examined international patent applications filed in the United States by foreign workers. In 2006, 25.6 percent of international patent applications had foreign nationals listed as inventors or co-inventors, up from 7.6 percent in 1998.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


HP Labs to Narrow its Research Focus
SiliconValley.com (09/20/07) Poletti, Therese

HP Labs' new director Prith Banerjee is implementing significant changes at HP Labs, including dramatically reducing the number of projects HP researchers will work on. Over the next few months Banerjee and a committee of HP researchers and executives will choose specific areas that will become the company's primary areas of research. Banerjee says 20 percent of the labs' current 150 projects will be cut, and every year for the next five years an additional 20 percent of projects will be cut. The goal is to choose projects where HP could have the greatest impact in the future. Funding will not be reduced and no employees will be let go as part of the labs' restructuring. Banerjee also says that he will work to establish new relationships with universities HP has partnered with before, but that he wants to see HP driving more research rather than funding proposals from individual professors and scientists. "We exchanged email," says David Patterson, former president of ACM and professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. "My impression is that he is asking the question, 'If we have these world-class universities nearby, isn't there some way that we can leverage those local resources in a way that could make HP even more effective?'" Patterson agrees with Banerjee that it is necessary to cut back on smaller projects so more attention can be given to larger and potentially more rewarding projects.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Industry Experts to Showcase Innovative HPC Applications
HPC Wire (09/19/07)

SC07's Masterworks sessions will give conference attendees an opportunity to learn how high performance computing, communications, and storage technologies are impacting everything from golf clubs, race cars, and biofuels to household appliances. Masterworks will get underway Nov. 13, 2007, with a session that will have Torbjorn Larson of BMW discuss the move by Formula One Racing to use computational simulations and CFD and high performance computing in R&D, and the following program will have John Picklo of Chrysler speak about the use of HPC in Nascar and other motorsports. The use of HPC for research into biofuels and alternative fuels will be the focus of afternoon talks by Mark Cooper, an expert in complex trait genetics and molecular breeding at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, and Sharan Kalwani of General Motors, while Dr. Thomas P. Gielda of Whirlpool will end the day by discussing how HPC is used throughout the process of designing everyday appliances. A highlight of the second day of Masterworks will be a presentation by Eric Morales of PING Golf, who will discuss how HPC is used to test, simulate, and build leading-edge golf clubs. Masterworks will end on Thursday, Nov. 15, with a CTO panel that will be chaired by Suzy Tichenor, vice president of the Council of Competitiveness. SC07 is sponsored by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, and is scheduled for Nov. 12-16, 2007, in Reno, Nev. For more information about SC07, or to register, visit http://sc07.supercomputing.org/index.php?searchterm=SC07
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Is the U.S. at Risk From Cyberwarfare?
IDG News Service (09/20/07) McMillan, Robert

Commerce could take a serious hit from cyberattacks, given the degree to which elections, banking, and point-of-sale systems have migrated online. "As we become more networked and more wired, our vulnerabilities increase," notes Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis director James Mulvenon, who cites the May shutdown of Estonian Internet servers and the subsequent crippling of Estonia's banking system as a case in point. The Homeland Security Department's Gregory Garcia says preparing for cyberattacks involves many of the same procedures as gearing up for other online threats. "For our purposes, we really need to focus on reducing our vulnerabilities so those attacks don't happen in the first place," he explains. One of the sticking points in plans for the United States to wage cyberwarfare against other countries is that such attacks could have a cascading effect that damages civilian systems and services that may not be intended targets. There is also the additional threat of rogue elements who may launch cyberattacks without the approval of their government. Cyberwarfare planners will for now continue to proceed with caution out of concern for unintended consequences, according to Mulvenon.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


'Pulp-Based Computing' Makes Normal Paper Smart
New Scientist (09/19/07) Inman, Mason

MIT researchers are developing technology that could be used to make paper embedded with wires, sensors, and computer chips, creating "pulp-based" computing. MIT researchers, working with colleagues at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, are blending traditional paper-making techniques with electronic components. MIT researcher Marcelo Coelho says paper-making is an ancient process, but the ability to make paper responsive and interactive has only recently become available. The team first produces a layer of paper pulp and adds wires or conductive ink before adding another layer of pulp and pressing and drying, embedding the electronics in the paper. The electronics in the paper can create paper with speakers or touch sensors. Making paper with two layers of conductive ink allows the paper to sense when it is being bent, which could be used to add sounds to books, creating a more interactive form of story telling. This technique could also be used to make cardboard boxes that can sense how much weight is inside them by measuring the stress on their walls. "Paper-based computation is an expression of one future area for electronics--flexible and stretchable circuits," says Jean-Baptiste Labrune of the University of Paris-Sud in Orsay, France. "This means that we could think about computational objects without the traditional limits of electronics."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


ACM Joins MentorNet Partnership to Expand Career Resources
AScribe Newswire (09/18/07)

ACM has partnered with MentorNet in a deal that will enable ACM student and professional members to join the e-mentoring network for free. ACM CEO John R. White says access to MentorNet should provide ACM's 20,000 student members with a competitive advantage in the job market. MentorNet's One-on-One proprietary technology will match students with professionals in industry, government, and higher education who are experts in their area of interest. Undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral candidates, and untenured faculty will be able to develop a personal email relationship with professionals in their field, receive tailored coaching and MentorNet Community publications, participate in Web-based discussion groups, and take advantage of special events and promotions. ACM professional members will be able to serve as mentors to ACM student members who are enrolled in the MentorNet Program. "The MentorNet program will help ACM unite computing professionals and ACM student members to provide our students with valuable advice and feedback on issues related to academic success, career choices, and getting started on a successful professional path," White says. To learn more about becoming a volunteer mento, visit http://www.acm.org/mentornet
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


International Blue Ribbon Task Force to Address Critical Challenge of the Information Age
UCSD News (09/19/07) Froelich, Warren R.

A new international Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will work to preserve society's most important digital data. The task force will be assisted by the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the Council of Library and Information Resources, and the Joint Information Systems Committee of the United Kingdom. "It is impossible to imagine success in the Information Age without the availability of our most valuable digital information when we want it now and in the future," says Fran Berman, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center and UC San Diego and co-chair of the Task Force. "It's critical for our society to have a long-term strategic plan for sustaining digital data and we are excited about the potential for the task force to help form that plan." Berman and co-chair Brain Lavoie, a research scientist and economist with the Online Computer Library Center, will assemble an international group of leaders to develop recommendations for the economic sustainability of digital information. Over the next two years the task force will listen to a broad set of international experts from the academic, public, and private sectors. After two years, the task force will develop a comprehensive analysis of current issues and actionable recommendations to create sustainable strategies for data preservation. "In addition to developing sound technical processes for preserving digital information, we must also ensure that our preservation strategies are economically sustainable," Lavoie says. "The work of the panel will be an important step toward achieving that goal."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Instructors Anticipate Computer Science Revival
Green Bay Press-Gazette (WI) (09/20/07) Zarling, Patti

The dot-com bubble and reports of companies sending work overseas has led to a drastic drop in undergraduate enrollment in computer science and related fields, but administrators say students are starting to return, largely because the jobs never left. "There are plenty of good jobs in CS," says St. Norbert College associate professor of computer science Bonnie McVey. "There's a great need for design and analysis." The Computing Research Association reports that the number of incoming undergraduates at all degree-granting institutions nationally who said they were planning to major in computer science fell 70 percent between 2000 and 2005. By the fall of 2006, the number of new computer science majors was half of what it was in 2000. However, 7,798 new students reported planning on majoring in computer science in the fall of 2006, down only slightly from the 7,952 new majors reported in the fall of 2005, indicating that the numbers may be stabilizing, according to the CRA. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay professor of information and computing science William Shay says that although the numbers show a clear drop, it may be due to a cyclical process. "It wasn't just the dot-com, but Y2K was also everywhere, and companies were spending a lot of money on those things," Shay says. "We used to have a lot of internships in companies, and then it completely died down. Now they're coming back."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


RIT Joins Library of Congress Partnership to Preserve Online Games and Virtual Worlds
Rochester Institute of Technology (09/19/07)

Researchers from the Rochester Institute of Technology will participate in an initiative to develop standards for preserving virtual worlds and online games. The Preserving Virtual Worlds project, which the Library of Congress will administer under the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIPP), will focus on basic standards for metadata and content representation, and also use archiving case studies of video games, electronic literature, and the Second Life virtual world to study preservation issues. "This is incredibly important work because the worlds we are playing with today will be gone in a flash, with no recordable way of recreating them for future generations," says Andrew Phelps, director of game design and development and RIT's principal investigator on the project. "Virtual worlds are affecting millions of people in their daily lives and while we can record and store some of the social commentary that happens about them from the outside, it seems almost silly that we in fact can't store the original work beyond a scant number of years." RIT's Christopher Egert, assistant professor of IT, and Elizabeth Lawley, director of the Laboratory for Social Computing in the Center for Advancing the Study of Cyberinfrastructure, will also be involved in the project. They will join researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Stanford University, the University of Maryland, and Linden Lab on the project, which has received a $590,000 grant from the Library of Congress.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Does Antivirus Have a Future?
London Guardian (09/20/07) Grossman, Wendy M.

The continued effectiveness of antivirus software is in doubt as sneakier, more commercial, and more sophisticated malicious software emerges and is used to launch new kinds of attacks. Antivirus vendors hear such skepticism regularly, and Sophos technology consultant Graham Cluley says that regardless of malware's refinement or methodology, its arrival at a computer remains consistent and conventional, in that it is transmitted as a piece of executable code that can be spotted by security software before it can cause harm. Cluley adds that antivirus software's current capabilities may be underestimated by certain parts of the software community, and notes that AV software is in a state of continuous evolution and has become less dependent on virus signatures. Yet a Panda Security poll of 1.5 million consumer PCs found that 37 percent had fully updated security, and nearly 25 percent of them were still compromised by malware. AV software is making a transition from blocking bad software to passing only benevolent software, while drive-by attacks--malware that is automatically downloaded when one visits a contaminated Web site--are becoming increasingly common. Malware authors' motivation is also changing, from a desire to hack for the challenge of it or for bragging rights to a desire to turn a profit. University of Auckland researcher Peter Gutmann estimates that a talented virus programmer can earn up to $200,000 a year. New viruses are also being designed for stealthiness so that they can linger on a user's system without being spotted, increasing the amount of time they have to wreak havoc. Experts expect security software's deployment and strategy will be rethought, and Columbia University computer science professor Salvatore Stolfo predicts that "eventually, systems implanted in machines will learn your own personal behavior and protect by detecting abnormalities."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Carnegie Mellon Building Robot for Lunar Prospecting
Carnegie Mellon News (09/20/07) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute researchers are building Scarab, a robotic prospector for NASA that will be able to maneuver over rocky slopes and anchor itself as a stable platform for drilling in soil. The four-wheeled robot will never leave Earth, but will be used to demonstrate technologies that a lunar rover would need to find any possible concentrations of hydrogen, water, and other chemicals that could be used to produce fuel, water, and air. Scarab is built with a drill that allows the robot to dig up to a meter deep for geological core samples. "A lunar prospector will face a hostile environment in the perpetual darkness of craters at the moon's southern pole, where ground temperatures are minus 385 degrees and no energy source is at hand," says CMU professor William "Red" Whittaker, the project's principal investigator. "It's a place where humans can't work effectively, but where Scarab will thrive, even while operating on the electrical power required to illuminate a 100-watt light bulb." To navigate in darkness, Scarab will use new, low-power, laser-based sensors. Additionally, Scarab will have to demonstrate the ability to travel over miles of sandy, rock-filled terrain and serve as a stable drilling platform. The robot must also find a balance between being light and efficient and being heavy enough to apply enough downward pressure for drilling. "Scarab is successful because it achieves the design simplicity of a single-purpose machine while accomplishing the multiple purposes of driving and drilling in darkness," says NASA's John Caruso.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Artists 'Draw on Air' to Create 3D Illustrations
PhysOrg.com (09/19/07) Zyga, Lisa

Brown University computer scientists Daniel Keefe, Robert Zeleznik, and David Laidlaw have developed Drawing on Air, a system that allows artists to draw 3D objects in the air while wearing a virtual reality mask. Drawing on Air uses drawing guidelines, force feedback, and a two-handed interaction system to help artists draw 3D curves and objects more precisely, transferring the image to a computer for 3D modeling, design, and illustration programs. The two-handed method is based on "tape drawing," a controlled, two-handed technique for drawing in 2D. Drawing on Air artists hold a stylus in one hand to draw and a tracker connected to the virtual reality system in the other. The tracker defines the direction of the line, and both hands are used to examine the work from different angels. The two-handed method is better for experts and can be difficult to learn, so a one-handed method was also developed. Drawing on Air was also used to create bats based on data from a bat flying in a wind tunnel, which revealed information on the animal's anatomy in motion, useful information to biologists studying bat flight. "If we can boost the precision with which scientists can interact with their 3D data using a computer, then many more scientific uses for virtual reality technology may become possible," Keefe says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Virtual Worlds Open Up to Blind
BBC News (09/18/07) Adams-Spink, Geoff

Students participating in Extreme Blue in Ireland, hosted by IBM, are conducting research that could lead to online virtual worlds accessible to blind people. Some estimates predict that 80 percent of active Internet users will participate in virtual worlds in four years, and IBM says they want to ensure that blind people are not excluded. The student researchers have developed an audio equivalent of the virtual world that uses 3D sound to create a sense of space. For the project, known as Accessibility In Virtual Worlds, the researchers used the online environments in Active Worlds because it provided greater flexibility than Second Life, which was used to make the world more hospitable to the blind. "When the user comes into the world, the items are described as well as their positions," says Colm O'Brien, one of the four researchers who worked on the project. "There is also sound attached--for example, if there's a tree nearby you will hear a rustling of leaves." The project also focused on developing tools that use text to speech software to read any text conversations that users have in the virtual world. Avatars in the virtual world can have a "sonar" attached to them so the user gets an audible cue that another user is approaching.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computer Program Traces Ancestry Using Anonymous DNA Samples
Rensselaer News (09/20/07) DeMarco, Gabrielle

An international group of computer scientists, mathematicians, and biologists have developed a computer algorithm that can trace the genetic ancestry of individuals in a few minutes, without requiring prior knowledge of their background. Previous computer programs required information on an individual's ancestry and background, but the new algorithm uses specific DNA markers known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and requires only a DNA sample such as a cheek swab. "Now that we have found that the program works well, we hope to implement it on a much larger scale, using hundreds of thousands of SNPs and thousands of individuals," says Petros Drineas, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assistant professor of computer science and senior author of the study. The program will be used to help people understand their backgrounds and to help historians and anthropologists study how humans became such a hugely diverse, global society. The program was more than 99 percent accurate in identifying the ancestry of hundreds of individuals, including people from genetically similar populations, such as the Chinese and Japanese, and people from genetically complex populations such as Puerto Ricans, who can come from a variety of backgrounds including Native American, European, and African decent.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Of Greed and Ants
Economist (09/13/07) Vol. 384, No. 8546, P. 86

Over the years computer algorithms have been developed to perform specific functions--Bubble sort for enabling smaller items in a list to bubble to the top, for example--but the latest development is basing algorithms on biological systems. Thorsten Schnier, a researcher at Cercia, a branch of the computer science department at Britain's University of Birmingham, says algorithms based on biological systems offer great potential. For example, ants release pheromones as they search for and retrieve food. Other ants can follow the pheromones to find food sources. Such techniques can be applied to algorithms that send virtual ants into a simulated network. At first the algorithm sends random "ants," but eventually the virtual ants can follow the equivalent of a pheromone trail to their destination. Meanwhile, more powerful computers and the buildup of a mass of data have enabled researchers to enhance existing algorithms. Greedy algorithms, for example, are designed to find the best possible outcome for any situation. They are often used in network routing to find the shortest possible path to a destination. However, greedy algorithms are notoriously short-sighted, says MIT computer science professor Erik Demaine. But they are improving and could eventually surpass human experts in some fields, says Yale University professor Ian Ayres.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


What's So Super About Supercomputers, Anyway?
Chronicle of Higher Education (09/21/07) Vol. 54, No. 4, P. A24; Carnevale, Dan

The primary topic at the National Science Foundation symposium on "Cyber-Enabled Discovery and Innovation" was how supercomputers could be used to solve many of the world's problems and why more computing resources have not been devoted to these problems. United Technologies Corporation chief scientist of controls Clas A. Jacobson says that even with increases in computing power computers are still limited in the amount of information they can process, while supercomputers are not available to everyone who needs them. These shortcomings have led to researchers taking short cuts and focusing on small samples of data instead of the big picture because analyzing data on some topics, such as human behavior, would overwhelm even the most powerful supercomputers. "Computing is a means to an end," Jacobson says. "It's not the answer by itself." Other speakers at the symposium said supercomputers are often limited because of computer scientists' ignorance of subjects other than computer science. State University of New York at Buffalo professor of computer science and engineering Russ Miller says computer science departments need to recruit graduate students with undergraduate degrees in fields such as biology, physics, and humanities in order to broaden the scope of computer science.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Bet on It!
IEEE Spectrum (09/07) Vol. 44, No. 9, P. 48; Cherry, Steven

Software and services that help companies tap the "wisdom of crowds" to project public response to new products, sales revenue, or the price of new commodities are being developed and marketed. These services essentially establish a stock market of ideas, and France-based financial consultant Chris F. Masse forecasts that one out of 10 Fortune 500 companies will have publicly disclosed their use of internal prediction markets while another 10 percent will be experimenting with some projects by the end of the decade. The adoption of prediction markets in the United States is such that a group of notable economists released a statement requesting that such markets be exempted from gambling regulations, noting that "using these markets as forecasting tools could substantially improve decision making in the private and public sectors." Prediction markets use real currency or some other medium of legitimate value to lower the likelihood that participants will misrepresent themselves, while the use of actual money also buoys the accuracy of the markets by winnowing out those confident enough to bet cash on their projections. On the other hand, the use of money can encourage people to attempt market-rigging. Most corporate prediction markets give employees an account with which to start making wagers, thus motivating more betting. Numerous prediction markets employ a double auction format in which bids are submitted by buyers and sellers. Many companies are still hesitant to use prediction markets because of reluctance on the part of managers to cede control over decisions. "An organization adopting prediction markets needs to make two major adjustments: deciding to start making formal predictions about the future and choosing to use prediction markets as the mechanism," says Microsoft's Harry Berg. "In my experience, the first adjustment is greater than the second."
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.