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ACM TechNews
September 26, 2007

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Welcome to the September 26, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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U.S. Faces Competitive Disadvantage From Lack of Women in Tech Jobs
Computerworld (09/25/07) Mearian, Lucas

University of California, Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the keynote speaker at a workshop on women in technology held at MIT's Emerging Technology Conference this week, said the lack of women and minorities in computer science and technology is placing the United States at a disadvantage in technology innovation. Birgeneau noted that none of the top 50 university computer science departments in the U.S. are led by a woman of color, a situation he calls embarrassing and an astounding waste of talent. And although the number of women entering undergraduate and post graduate technology programs has partially leveled off with the number of men entering those programs, women are still significantly behind men in academic positions, Birgeneau said. A study released last fall by the National Academies revealed that at the top research institutions only 15.4 percent of full professors in social and behavioral sciences and 14.8 percent of full professors in life science are women. These are the only fields in science and engineering where the percentage of women professors reaches double digits. The study also found that women are likely to face discrimination in every field of science and engineering. "We're at a drastic disadvantage in the United States, which is outsourcing to other countries like India and China, who are working madly to compete with us and who are investing deeply in education," Birgeneau said. To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://women.acm.org
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Race Heats Up to Complete Speediest Supercomputer
Contra Costa Times (CA) (09/26/07) Boyd, Robert S.

Computer scientists worldwide are building what they hope will be the world's fastest computer. In 2004, IBM won with the Blue Gene/L, which has 131,072 processors and is capable of performing 280 trillion calculations per second. IBM's latest effort, called the Blue Gene/P, will be built at Argonne National Laboratory and will have 884,736 processors, each one approximately equal to a Pentium III processor. The biggest problem with building these super-powerful computers involves the software that manages and coordinates such a massive number of processors. "When it comes to parallel computing, software is in a state of chaos," says Intel senior research scientist Timothy Mattson. Some supercomputer designers are capitalizing on the software and hardware used in video games, which are known for their superb graphics and real-time responsiveness. One such hybrid system, known as Roadrunner, will be built at the Los Alamos National Laboratory next year and will be used primarily to monitor the safety and reliability of nuclear weapons. The Blue Gene/P machine is expected to reach processing speeds of 1 petaflop by the middle of next year, and a top speed of 3 petaflops by the end of 2008. IBM's Dave Turek says IBM's goal is to reach 10 petaflops by 2011 and 20 petaflops by 2017. "The 10-petaflop system will be like the Hubble Telescope," says Jack Dongarra, an expert at the Innovative Computing Laboratory at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "In comparison, most of us use computers that are like binoculars."
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Leading IC Engineers to Gather in Albany at SEMATECH Workshop on 3D Chips
Business Wire (09/24/07)

The ACM/SIGDA Physical Design Technical Committee is co-sponsoring a workshop on 3D chips Oct. 11-12, 2007, in Albany, N.Y., along with SEMATECH. Leading engineers will share their ideas for maximizing next-generation, three-dimensional integrated circuits (3D ICs) during the workshop, "Thermal and Design Issues in 3D ICs." Broader architecture and CAD tool challenges will also be a focus of the top 3D technologists. Stacking silicon chips connected with through-silicon vias (TSVs) promises to offer an improvement in functionality. "This approach has many potential advantages--improved electrical performance, lower power consumption, integration of different device types, and lower cost," says Larry Smith, SEMATECH engineer and workshop chair. However, the design community will have to address higher power densities and other key challenges. "Our goal is to present a better understanding of these issues, and of the design methodologies and thermal management solutions that address them," Smith says. Experts from DARPA, IBM, Texas Instruments, NTU-Singapore, Georgia Tech, and Tohoku University will be among the presenters.
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The Future of Computing, According to Intel
Technology Review (09/26/07) Greene, Kate

Although Intel recently demonstrated a low-power, eight-core chip, Intel Research director Andrew Chien is already looking beyond eight-core processing to terascale computing, and is working with computer scientists at Intel and universities around the world to find the best uses for these machines. Some of the major projects at Intel include the idea of inference and understanding the world. "The big idea is all about this question of whether inference and sensors are really the missing piece to make ubiquitous computing come to fruition," Chien says. "We can build small devices that fit into our pocket, but the things we're falling short on are inference, making the devices work together well, and making them interact with us in natural ways." Chien says the first step is to develop devices that understand our actions and our environment. "There's a difference about what you want to be interrupted with when you're being idle, standing in a line, [versus] when you're going through the security procedure," he says. "Imagine if the sensor detects your motion and other information from your environment, such as the Internet signal, and it has knowledge of your past behaviors, so it can actually figure out if it's crucial that the incoming phone call goes through." Privacy and keeping such information secure is a significant concern, so Intel has devoted significant resources to creating platforms that are inaccessible to others, as well as determining how much information should be kept on a local device, uploaded to a network, or deleted altogether. Chien says such technology could be available in five to eight years. "The precursors for this technology are all there, though, and I see a huge need for it," he says.
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Survey: Developers Slow to Adopt GPLv3
eWeek (09/25/07) Taft, Darryl K.

Just 6 percent of developers are working on open-source software using the new GNU General Public License Version 3 license, while two-thirds have no plans to adopt it over the next year, and 43 percent say they are likely to never implement GPLv3, reveals a new Evans Data survey of approximately 400 developers. What is more, almost two times as many developers said they were less likely to participate in a project that uses the latest version than respondents who said they were likely to get involved. "GPLv3 is controversial because it imposes restrictions on what you can do with programs implemented under this license," says Evans Data CEO John Andrews. "Developers are confused and divided about those restrictions." Developers also took issue with the inability of licensees to sue for patent infringement. The alliance between Novell and Microsoft has a negative impact on open-source developers, 70 percent of respondents added.
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Online Game Helps People Recognize Internet Scams
Carnegie Mellon News (09/24/07) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists have developed Anti-Phishing Phil, an online fishing game that teaches people how to recognize and avoid email "phishing" attempts and other Internet scams. During testing at the Carnegie Mellon Usable Privacy and Security (CUPS) Laboratory, people who spent 15 minutes playing the game were better able to spot fraudulent Web sites than people who spent 15 minutes reading anti-phishing tutorials and educational material. The lab is now testing the game on the general public through its Web site. Participants are asked to take a short quiz, play the game, and then take another quiz. "We believe education is essential if people are to avoid being ripped off by these phishing attacks and similar online scams," says CUPS Lab director and associate research professor in the School of Computer Science's Institute for Software Research Lorrie Cranor. "Unlike viruses or spyware, phishing attacks don't exploit weaknesses in a computer's hardware or software, but take advantage of the way people use their computers and their often limited knowledge of the way computers work." The game managed to improve users' accuracy in spotting dangerous Web sites from 69 percent to 87 percent. "We designed the game to teach people how to use Web addresses, or URLs, to identify phishing Web sites," says Ph.D. student and lead developer of Anti-Phishing Phil Steve Sheng.
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MIT Model Could Improve Some Drugs' Effectiveness
MIT News (09/23/07) Trafton, Anne

A computer modeling approach developed at MIT could improve a class of drugs based on antibodies by predicting which structural changes in an antibody will improve its effectiveness. The model examines a specific antibody and runs through possible amino-acid substitutions, calculating which substitutions would create a more effective interaction with the target. The model was created using both laboratory experiments and computer simulations by MIT professors Dane Wittrup and Bruce Tidor. "Making drugs out of huge, complicated molecules like antibodies is incredibly hard," says Janna Wehrle, who supervises computational biology grants at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which backed the research. "Dr. Tidor's new computational method can predict which changes in an antibody will make it work better, allowing chemists to focus their efforts on the most promising candidates. This is a perfect example of how modern computing can be harnessed to speed up the development of new drugs." The MIT model has already been used to create a new version of cetuximab, a drug commonly used to treat colorectal cancer, that is 10 times more effective at binding to the target than the original drug.
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Apple: 'Unlocking' Software Damages iPhone
USA Today (09/25/07) P. 4B; Graham, Jefferson

Apple recently issued a formal statement that said using any software to unlock an iPhone causes "irreparable damage" to the system. Apple also cautioned that such software will cause havoc with the iPhone when it is combined with a new software update that allows iPhone users to access a new feature to buy music downloads through a wireless Internet connection. Previously, Apple has released software updates that prevent others from hacking into its products, but Apple's Phil Schiller says that is not the case with the iPhone. "We tested the phones and discovered that some of these unlocking programs permanently damage software," Schiller says. Some Web sites offer unlocked iPhones for sale, while other sites sell software to allow iPhone owners to unlock the phone themselves. Digital Media analyst Phil Leigh says Apple's warning will make consumers think twice before attempting to unlock their phone, but hackers will continue to break the code and find ways around the new software update. "Consumers will scream and yell about this, but in the end, they don't have much of a choice," Schiller says. "The iPhone is a mass-market product, and Apple doesn't want people to circumvent it."
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Not Much Anonymity for Unprotected File-Sharers
University of California, Riverside (09/25/07)

University of California, Riverside researchers, in a paper titled "P2P: Is Big Brother Watching You?," show that about 15 percent of users on file-sharing networks are on the networks to look for illegal file-sharing for the recording industry or the government. "We found that a naive user has no chance of staying anonymous," says UCR graduate student Anirban Banerjee. "100 percent of the time, unprotected file-sharing was tracked by people there to look for copyright infringement." However, the research did show that "blocklist" software such as PeerGuardian, Bluetrack, and Trusty Files is fairly effective at creating anonymity, reducing the risk of being observed to about 1 percent. "Of course no one is suggesting that illegal downloading is a good idea," says UCR computer science professor Michalis Faloutsos. "But the P2P technology is here to stay and these industries would be better off trying to find ways to provide affordable and convenient alternatives that would allow computer users to download their products legally." UCR's paper was named "best paper" at the International Federation for Information Processing Networking 2007 conference.
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Purdue-Led Network Awarded $18.25 Million NSF Grant to Grow Users, Translate Nanoscience Into Nanotechnology
Purdue University News (09/20/07) Fiorini, Phillip; Tally, Steve

The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $18.25 million grant to Purdue University's Network for Computational Nanotechnology to support the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative with broader capabilities and services for computer simulations. "This additional funding will help us expand these sophisticated computational tools to researchers, educators, and even industry," says Purdue professor Mark Lundstrom. "With the help of our five partner universities, we are growing beyond our roots in nanoelectronics to new areas such as nanofluidics, nanomedicine, nanophotonics, and applications of nanoscience to the environment, energy, the life sciences, and homeland security." NSF nanotechnology advisor Mihail Roco says the project demonstrates his agency's commitment to working with the American educational system and research institutions to make sure that nanotechnology's potential is fulfilled and that its benefits to society are equally shared. The portal to the network is the nanoHUB, a freely accessible Web-based gateway that is used by upwards of 3,000 national and international researchers and educators per month. Major topics of discussion on the nanoHUB include nanotransistors, carbon nanotubes, quantum dots, and nanoelectronics. Purdue professor and nanoHUB project director Gerhard Klimeck says the site allows researchers and students to avail themselves of resources that they would have to install and implement themselves under other circumstances.
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Digital Education a Virtual Reality
Inside Bay Area (CA) (09/23/07) Llanos, Connie

The use of technology in education is becoming more widespread, with both online learning and more advanced teaching techniques in the classroom becoming more popular. In 1999, California State University, Northridge offered only 30 online classes, whereas today the school has about 12,000 students enrolled in 300 different online courses, a 10-fold increase in less than a decade. Additionally, two-thirds of CSUN's 32,000 students receive some type of online academic service through the university's learning management system. Online learners can even participate in physics experiments or work through a complicated engineering formula online. "There's an academic transformation going on right now," says CSUN associate professor of computer science Steven Fitzgerald. "These new technologies are allowing students to participate interactively and allowing them to make it to class without having to face traffic or fight for parking spaces." The technical revolution in education does have some drawbacks, as cheating, particularly plagiarism, have become far easier. Additionally, online slang has started slipping into assignments, forcing some professors to learn such sayings in addition to high-tech programs and devices. The change to a more technical education system seems inevitable, though many believe this is the best way to reach the current and future generations. "The way that students learn is different than what it was in the past," says Mark Pracher, a technology grant writer for Pierce College in Woodland Hills. "We need ways to present information differently, engage students in classroom activities and help them understand the material."
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Playstation3 Helps Robots See
EE Times (09/24/07) Merritt, Rick

Researchers from Dartmouth and the University of California at Irvine won a $10,000 award this week at the Power.org technical conference in Austin, Texas, for enabling a robot to see similar to the way humans do. The team used brain research to develop new vision algorithms, which were ported to the Cell processor. The machine was initially able to recognize a bar stool in the image of an office setting in three minutes when the algorithm was implemented on a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Dupo processor and used with a PC, but had a recognition rate of one second, or in real time, when three Playstation3 consoles were linked to a PC. The algorithm was designed to analyze shapes and objects and then compare them in a new image. The brain algorithm is the same algorithm used for language processing. "We aim to put all the speech and vision recognition into a working robot, so we need real-time performance," says Andrew Felch, an associate research professor at Dartmouth's Neukom Institute for Computational Science. The research could pave the way for the development of small robots that are capable of following commands and then autonomously performing other tasks such as delivering packages.
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'Self-Aware' Space Rovers Would Be Speedy Explorers
New Scientist (09/21/07) Reilly, Michael

Current robotic explorers such as NASA's Spirit and Opportunity move slowly, advancing for 10 seconds before stopping to scan for hazards for 20 seconds, but the next generation of space rovers could move much faster. University of Vermont's Josh Bongard has designed a simulated rover that explores an area much faster by "imagining" itself and its immediate surroundings. Instead of using cameras like current rovers do, Bongard's simulated rover uses two tilt sensors to obtain information on its surroundings. The rover first slowly drives through an area while gathering tilt data. Then it builds 15 different simulations of the greater surrounding area and makes "educated guesses" using the sensor data about what features are likely to exist in the surrounding areas. The rover combines all 15 models and identifies the direction in which the models vary the most before exploring that specific area and testing its models against the new tilt data gathered. Combining a physical model with the robot's "curiosity" allows it to explore at an ever faster rate, and while the simulated rover is basically blind, the same technique can be applied to robots with cameras to make them faster as well. Bongard says that robots with a greater self-awareness are a key step toward more human-like intelligence, though he points out that his simulated rover is far from conscious.
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College of Engineering Receives $1 Million Computing Technology Grant
Virginia Tech News (09/21/07) Nystrom, Lynn

Virginia Tech's College of Engineering has received a $1 million grant from Fujitsu technology and services to create "digital opportunities" for underserved students and for pre-college students interested in studying math, science, or engineering at Virginia Tech. The grant will allow Virginia Tech to provide one-on-one utilization of technology for students in summer pre-college and pre-freshman programs. The wireless services in the college of engineering facilities allow any education space to become a computer laboratory with access to the Internet and engineering instructional software. The grant will be used to purchase 308 tablet PCs, digital cameras, projectors, printers, and scanners. During the academic year the tablet PCs can be used for outreach activities conducted by undergraduate students, and as loaner computers for students who cannot purchase a computer. Associate dean of distance learning and computing Glenda Scales and associate dean for academic affairs and director of Virginia Tech's Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity Bevlee Watford hope that the grant will provide young learners with a better understanding of technology, hands-on and interactive theme-based activities, and a foundation of basic computer skills. The grant will also be used to improve Virginia Tech's CEED program, which provides summer pre-college academic enrichment experiences for under-served students, including a two-week summer camp for high school girls.
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The World on Your Desktop
Economist Technology Quarterly (09/07) Vol. 384, No. 8545, P. 18

The increasing integration of the Internet with real-world data is supporting the creation of a multi-functional "geoweb" thanks to the emergence and intertwining of powerful, inexpensive computers, high-resolution commercial satellite imaging, and broadband connectivity. Virtual views of the earth that can display weather, the precise location of buildings, and other information contributed by users are being generated and made available by Google. These geobrowsers are being put to a wide variety of uses, including the coordination of disaster relief efforts, archeological investigation, geographical queries for potential clients, grassroots activism, etc. There is a lot of interest surrounding mash-ups, in which virtual maps are combined with other sources of data. The emerging geoweb architecture features data hosted separately from the images and models of the geobrowser, which builds, integrates, and presents the information in new ways. New kinds of efficiencies are extracted from the combination of the geoweb's visualization and networking capabilities with the data quality and analytical acumen of geographic information systems. There are ethical concerns about the use of geoweb technology, an example being a call for Google to blur Google Earth imagery after its geobrowser was employed to plot an abortive airport attack. There are also worries that geobrowsers that display imagery of increasing precision and detail are being used or could be used to conduct intrusive surveillance on citizens. "When the coverage is everything and everywhere, there is going to be a big problem," warns Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Lee Tien.
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Using Spam Blockers to Target HIV, Too
BusinessWeek (10/01/07)No. 4052, P. 68; Baker, Stephen; Greene, Jay

A team led by Microsoft Research's David Heckerman set out to build a tool that could block unwanted spam email through the thorough mapping out of thousands of possible spam indicators, and spammers responded to their efforts by modifying these identifiers to get around the blockers, for instance by substituting a "1" for the "i" in "Viagra." This virus-like mutation of spam inspired Heckerman, who is also a physician, to apply the principles behind the spam-blocking technology to the development of software that can detect the AIDS-causing HIV virus. The application of the spam blocker to AIDS research is not so surprising, as many of Microsoft's researchers stretch into other disciplines regularly. Heckerman analyzes both spam and HIV through the study of statistical relationships in their features, which mutate constantly. The Microsoft scientist draws parallels between spamming methodologies and the infection of cells by HIV, which is done when the virus injects its own genetic material into the cell and then replicates itself by the thousands, spawning mutants that are sometimes drug-resistant. Cells infected by HIV frequently carry mutated "signposts" that cannot be deciphered by immune systems, leading to cases in which drugs that are effective against one form of the virus are ineffective against another form. The hope of Heckerman and his colleagues is that their work could not only be fed into the generation of successful vaccines, but also lead to an effective tool for damming the deluge of junk email.
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