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ACM TechNews
October 3, 2007

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Welcome to the October 3, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Women in IT Go East, Data Shows
Computerworld (10/02/07) Weiss, Todd R.

The percentage of female IT professionals on the East Coast tops the percentage on the West Coast, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The Washington, D.C. metro area boasts the largest concentration, with 55,126 women IT workers comprising about one-third of the region's total IT workforce. The second biggest concentration of female IT workers is in Detroit, while the third biggest concentration is in the Baltimore/Towson, Md., metro area. Women make up 28.2 percent of the 78,132-member IT workforce in the Philadelphia metro area. In comparison, only 22.3 percent of the IT workforce in California's San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara region is female. The industry diversity on the East Coast could be playing an important role, according to Yoh Services executive Jim Lanzalatto. Challenger, Gray & Christmas President John Challenger says the West Coast technology culture, which stresses high competition and entrepreneurialism, could be a turn-off to women, while the West Coast IT workforce apparently remains male-dominated. Women in Technology International President David Leighton registers surprise that the percentages of IT women in tech-centric West Coast areas are lower, but notes that these figures could be deceptive. "When you look at some of the numbers on women-owned businesses, so many women in the technology industry leave to start their own businesses," he says, adding that about 280 women-owned businesses are launched every day in the United States, according to Margaret Heffernan's book, "How She Does It." Leighton also observes that many women are being elevated into executive positions, which marks a change in their job classifications even if they remain a part of the IT workforce.
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Technology Could Enable Computers to 'Read the Minds' of Users
Tufts University (10/01/07) Thurler, Kim

Computers capable of responding to users' emotional states could be facilitated by methods developed by Tufts University researchers through the novel application of non-invasive and easily portable imaging technology. "Measuring mental workload, frustration and distraction is typically limited to qualitatively observing computer users or to administering surveys after completion of a task, potentially missing valuable insight into the users' changing experiences," says Tufts computer science professor Robert Jacob. His human-computer interaction group is collaborating with biomedical engineering professor Sergio Fantini in an analysis of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) technology that monitors blood oxygenation levels in the brain as a proxy for workload stress a user may undergo when executing a task of increasing difficulty. School of Engineering researcher Erin Solovey says, "fNIRS, like MRI, uses the idea that blood flow changes to compensate for the increased metabolic demands of the area of the brain that's being used." Fantini says the specific area of the brain where the change in blood flow transpires should yield clues about the brain's metabolic changes and workload, which could act as a surrogate for frustration and similar emotions. A $445,000 National Science Foundation grant will let the researchers incorporate real-time biomedical data with machine learning to generate a computer user experience that is more in tune with users' mental load. The initial results of the team's experiments to detect the user workload experience with fNIRS will be presented at the ACM symposium on user interface software and technology, which takes place Oct. 7-10, in Newport, R.I. For more information on the ACM UIST Conference, visit http://www.acm.org/uist/uist2007/
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TinyOS Creator David Culler Wins SIGMOBILE 'Outstanding Contributions' Award
Business Wire (10/02/07)

ACM's Special Interest Group on Mobility of Systems, Users, Data, and Computing will honor Arch Rock co-founder David E. Culler with its 2007 SIGMOBILE Outstanding Contributions award. ACM SIGMOBILE will recognize Culler for his efforts in developing TinyOS, the open-source operating system for wireless embedded sensor networks. Culler started working on TinyOS in the late 1990s while serving as principal investigator for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's Network Embedded Systems Technology program. Culler has also been a member of the computer science faculty of the University of California, Berkeley since 1989. "David Culler is an outstanding thought leader in the field of sensor networks and systems," says Victor Bahl, chairman of the ACM SIGMOBILE award committee. "His fundamental contributions have influenced a new generation of researchers and engineers across the world, and his work stands as a shining example of what is good in the American academic system." For more information about SIGMOBILE, visit http://www.sigmobile.org/
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Unlike U.S., Japan Pushes Fiber Over Profit
New York Times (10/03/07) P. C1; Belson, Ken

Japan boasts the world's cheapest and fastest Internet connections, although high installation costs, less expensive alternatives, and a paucity of services that exploit the fast connections has industry analysts and some companies wondering whether Japan's fiber deployment effort is ultimately worth the trouble. Accenture consultant Matteo Bortesi says the fiber push is a long-term strategy that is typical of the Japanese. "If [the Japanese] think they will benefit in 100 years, they will invest for their grandkids," he observes. "There's a bit of national pride we don't see in the West." In contrast, the United States' impulse to think in terms of fast returns has led to a substandard broadband infrastructure that has divested the country of as much as 1 percent of its potential productivity growth, according to Charles H. Ferguson, author of "The Broadband Problem." Japanese companies say selling fiber lines is a sensible move because their copper networks must be replaced, and services must be devised to compensate for the fall-off in revenue from traditional phone lines. Furthermore, companies are planning to recoup some of their initial investments by selling additional products. Japanese carriers have shown hesitancy to sell bundles of services because of the rivalry they face from cable providers. Analysts are also questioning whether users are being sold broadband lines whose speed far exceeds necessity.
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Freshmen Interest in CS and Degree Production Trends
CRA Bulletin (10/01/07) Vegso, Jay

There has been a significant decline in the number of incoming freshman showing interest in computer science as a major since 2000, reveals a new survey from HERI at UCLA. Although the number of variables involved makes such surveys suspect, particularly the fact that it takes more than four years for many students to finish a degree, the survey nonetheless accurately predicts trends in computer science degree production. Meanwhile, according to CRA's Taulbee Survey, fewer computer science degrees were granted from 2004 to 2006, with the number of degrees falling 28 percent. The CRA's survey concentrates on doctoral-granting departments and is more up-to-date than data from the NSF.
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Nanotube Forests Grown on Silicon Chips for Future Computers, Electronics
Purdue University News (10/01/07) Venere, Emil

Purdue engineers have demonstrated a method for growing forests of tiny carbon nanotubes onto the surfaces of computer chips to augment heat flow at a critical juncture where the chips connect to cooling devices or heat sinks, and these forests perform better than conventional "thermal interface materials" such as greases, waxes, and indium foil. New classes of such materials are under development in an effort to boost performance and help fulfill the cooling requirements of future chips that will generate higher heat output than current microprocessors. Improved thermal interface materials are a necessity for either the testing of chips in manufacturing or maintenance of the chips' coolness during operation in commercial products. Purdue doctoral student Baratunde A. Cola says the technique developed by the researchers yields a nanotube interface that conforms to a heat sink's irregular surface with less resistance than current industrial interface materials. The researchers produced templates from branching dendrimer molecules on a silicon surface, and then deposited metal catalyst particles necessary for cultivating the nanotubes within cavities between the dendrimer branches; the chip was heated to burn away the polymer and leave behind only the metal catalyst particles. The researchers could control the distribution and density of the catalyst particles because the dendrimers possess a uniform structure and composition. Exposure to methane gas and the application of microwave energy triggered the assembly of nanotubes, which grew vertically from the chip's surface. The research has been sponsored by NASA via the Institute for Nanoelectronics and Computing.
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Robotic Therapy Tiles: Playing Your Way to Health
Wired News (10/02/07) Sandhana, Lakshmi

University of Southern Denmark professor Henrik Hautop Lund is developing intelligent therapy tiles that use neural networks to guide patients through exercises to hasten their recovery from injuries or surgery. The tiles are equipped with processors, rechargeable batteries, force sensors, colored LEDs, and communications systems. The tiles respond to the pressure the patients apply with their hands or feet, indicating whether they are delivering enough pressure or are moving fast enough. "The equipment creates a playful experience that motivates them to perform the actions needed for the recovery of their abilities," Lund explains. He says the tiles spur patients to exercise by providing instant feedback, and offer an alternative to often boring physical-rehabilitation workouts. Games for particular therapeutic routines are downloaded into a master tile, which senses the tiles' arrangement and stimulates the game; the tiles study patients' motions and gauge their progress. Upon the conclusion of the game the master tile displays a summary of the patient's performance. Lund and his team are also exploring how the tiles might be applied to aid autistic children and patients with cognitive disorders. "The next natural step is to use artificial neural networks to do classification of the patient's behavior and adapt the game [in real time]," Lund says.
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Its Creators Call Internet Outdated, Offer Remedies
Wall Street Journal (10/02/07) P. B1; White, Bobby

Men who helped shape the Internet such as Anagran founder Larry Roberts and XKL founder Len Bosack say the Net's underlying technology infrastructure desperately needs updating. Cisco estimated in a recent report that monthly North American Internet traffic will grow 264 percent to more than 7.8 million terabytes by 2011. Analysts such as ABI Research's Stan Schatt fear that rising bandwidth demand could slow Internet traffic to a crawl, if not stop it altogether. "We can no longer rely on last-generation technology, which has essentially remained unchanged for 40 years, to power Internet performance," says Roberts. The equipment managing Internet traffic is being strained by the increasing size of files, but startups and others are developing equipment and software to speed up traffic or boost network capacity to cope with the problem. Roberts' company offers a product that analyzes Web traffic to determine its specific content and then allocate the necessary bandwidth. Bosack's firm recently debuted a system that lets businesses link to subterranean cables with almost 100 times the capacity of current telecommunications pipes. "[Roberts and I] are pushing for the same thing," says Bosack. "The public needs something better than what's currently available."
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Study Finds Human-Robot Attachment
Associated Press (10/01/07) Bluestein, Greg

Georgia Tech researchers conducted a study indicating that certain owners of Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners become emotionally invested in the machines, suggesting that the public is ready to a certain degree to welcome more household robots, even if they are not 100 percent reliable. Over 2 million Roomba units have been sold, although some early versions began to break down after heavy use. Georgia Tech College of Computing professor Beki Grinter's decision to study people's emotional attachment to the devices was inspired by pictures of owners dressing up the Roombas, and her research was aided by Ja Young Sung, a student of the theory of "emotional design," which posits that certain kinds of design can influence emotional attachment among consumers. Among the behaviors documented by the researchers were owners naming their Roombas, traveling with them, introducing them to their parents, and renovating their homes so that the robots' jobs were easier. "They're more willing to work with a robot that does have issues because they really, really like it," Grinter says. "It sort of begins to address more concerns: If we can design things that are somewhat emotionally engaging, it doesn't have to be as reliable." Part of the Georgia Tech study was detailed last week at the Ubiquitous Computing Conference in Austria.
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New Technology Identifies Warped Finger Prints at Warp Speed
University of Warwick (10/02/07)

Computer science professors at the University of Warwick have developed a new system that is capable of "unwarping" distorted, scratched, smudged, or partial fingerprints and generating a clear digital representation. The system even compares the position of individual sweat pores on fingerprints. New prints scanned into the system are overlaid onto a virtual "image space" that includes all other fingerprints in its database, and the technology is able to identify warped fingerprints in seconds. Dr. Li Wang, Dr. Abhir Bhalerao, and professor Roland Wilson tested the technology at an exhibit at the London Science Museum this summer. "We tested our system on nearly 500 visitors from all over the world and achieved 100 percent accuracy," says Wang. "Our technology also provides high speed and more importantly, our system's accuracy and speed doesn't degrade when the size of the database increases." The researchers believe the technology could be used in commercial access control systems, financial transaction authorization systems, and ID cards and border control systems.
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Three Cheers for the 'Sufficient' Internet
InternetNews.com (09/28/07) Needle, David

The Internet is "sufficient" in delivering to most people the functionality they expect, said Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe during a panel discussion with other tech leaders hosted by research institute SRI. Despite its popularity, however, Metcalfe contended that the Internet is crippled by the ideology of its creators, who generally cherish anonymity and will not permit a system that allows ready confirmation of online identity. Spam, which most filtering services cannot manage, is on the cusp of rendering email unusable, and Metcalfe hinted that the addition of a small email postage fee would be a significant move toward destroying business for spammers. The panel lamented the lack of access to high-speed Internet in the United States in comparison to other countries, while Stanford engineering professor John Cioffi warned that new technologies and the influx of video are wearing the Internet thin. A more positive perspective of the state of the Internet was offered by VeriSign founder Jim Bidzos, who claimed that his firm has sustained 100 percent uptime for its domain holders for nearly a decade in spite of the fact that the Internet is "constantly under attack." He also talked about VeriSign's $100 million Project Titan, whose goal is to enhance the security of the Internet against new and more refined assaults. Yet Bidzos conceded that digital certificates, which his company uses to confirm the legitimacy of Web sites, are not always effective, while co-inventor of the Diffie-Hellman public key encryption Martin Hellman said the current iteration of the digital certificate architecture is "unreliable."
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Carnegie Mellon Researchers Fight Phishing Attacks With Phishing Tactics
Carnegie Mellon News (10/02/07) Spice, Byron

People who fall for phishing attacks and are conned into visiting a counterfeit Web site by spoof email are often vulnerable to such victimization because they ignore helpful educational material, but Carnegie Mellon University researchers have learned to use phishing techniques to expose would-be victims to such material. They sent their own spoof emails to lure people onto educational sites, and discovered that their targets were more likely to learn and retain more knowledge about recognizing bogus sites. The study involved three groups of 14 volunteers participating in role-playing exercises in which they processed a blend of phishing, spam, and genuine email. One group was given anti-phishing educational materials after they had been tricked by a phishing email, the second group was given the materials without first falling for the phishing email, and the third group received no anti-phishing educational materials. The first group spent over twice as much time studying the materials than the second group, while the second and third group's inability to identify phishing emails was about the same. The exercise was repeated a week later, and the members of the first group had substantially more success at identifying phishing emails than those in the other two groups. The results of the study will be presented Oct. 5 at the Anti-Phishing Working Group's (APWG) eCrime Researchers Summit in Pittsburgh. APWG said the number of unique phishing reports rose by over 5,000 between May and June, with an overwhelming number of attacks focused on the financial services domain.
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Proving That Seeing Shouldn't Always Be Believing
New York Times (10/02/07) P. D2; Dreifus, Claudia

The field of digital forensics--the study of how digital media is manipulated--is the world of Hany Farid, director of Dartmouth College's Image Science Laboratory. He has consulted with scientific journals, intelligence agencies, and news organizations to rate the authenticity of digital images, and he notes in an interview that we now live in a world where "anyone with a digital camera, a PC, Photoshop, and an hour's worth of time can make fairly compelling digital forgeries." Farid explains that he reverse-engineers digital forging techniques so manipulation can be more easily spotted. One method of detecting a forgery is to analyze pixel values, which change when the image is doctored. Farid points out that digital fraud is becoming more common in scientific publications, citing an infamous case in which South Korean researchers had to retract papers published in the journal Science when it was determined that the photos used as evidence of successful human stem cell cloning were in fact manipulated. As a result, Farid says journal editors should view unretouched images to make a fair judgment of their validity. He also thinks the scientific community should craft a comprehensive policy for rating the level of acceptability of photographic manipulation--one that is revised and updated to keep pace with technological advancements.
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Common AJAX Platform Seen for Devices, Desktops
InfoWorld (10/01/07) Krill, Paul

A common Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) platform is likely to emerge for both mobile and desktop access, according to industry experts attending a mobile AJAX workshop on Sept. 28. "That's what appears is happening," says Jon Ferraiolo, a Web architect at IBM who serves as the manager of operations for the OpenAjax Alliance, which sponsored the gathering along with the World Wide Web Consortium. The common AJAX platform would provide a universal content and application platform, and would be the Web on mobile rather than a separate mobile Web. The open-source browser projects WebKit and Mozillo, in addition to the Opera browser, would serve as the foundation of the platform, and the Windows Mobile technology is also likely to have a role. "With WebKit, both Apple and Nokia ship WebKit browsers on their mobile phones," says Ferraiolo, adding that Motorola is next. Industry experts say they expect to see more fragmentation on mobile devices for the short term, which will give server-side content a role to play. They see GPS, camera, and messaging as offering opportunities, but add that issues such as JavaScript access to device APIs, offline and disconnected operation, and security have to be addressed.
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Visions: Google VP Says Today's Search Technology Will Look Primitive in 10 Years
Wisconsin Technology Network (09/29/07) Vanden Plas, Joe

Google VP Udi Manber reports in an interview that search technology is in a constant state of improvement, and that his company is focusing on "all the different aspects of it, whether it's understanding more languages, understanding more concepts, understanding more users, and understanding better queries." He says Google is perpetually upgrading search tools' level of refinement while at the same time making them easier to use, and he characterizes the future of search as allowing people "to find more of what they want." Manber expects people will be making much more sophisticated queries in the next decade, so the search technology must advance in order to manage these queries effectively. "Ten years from now, today's [search] technology will look primitive," he predicts. Among Google's major draws Manber cites is its policy of allowing engineers to dedicate 20 percent of their time to their own projects, which he says is a way to nurture innovation that might not be facilitated through conventional channels. Manber says he is the kind of person who believes that high-paying opportunities in software engineering and computer science are abundant, so the time could not be more ripe to pursue an IT career.
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'Dead Time' Limits Quantum Cryptography Speeds
NIST Tech Beat (09/27/07)

A new paper by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) published in the New Journal of Physics posits that quantum cryptography speed will be restricted by technological and security issues unless a way is found to reduce "dead time" in the single-photon detectors receiving quantum-encrypted messages. This dead time is described as the period of time during which the detector has to recover after detecting a photon. Off-the-shelf single-photon detectors require about 50 nanoseconds to 100 nanoseconds to recover before they can detect another photon, which is far slower than the 1 nanosecond between photons in a 1-GHz transmission. NIST physicist Joshua Bienfang reasons that the speed would increase if the dead time in single-photon detectors is lowered, and several groups are engaged in accomplishing this milestone. He also contends that faster speeds would be helpful in wireless cryptography between a ground station and a low-orbiting satellite.
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Using Model-Based Design to Test Auto Embedded Software
EE Times (09/24/07) Tung, Jim

It is speculated that electronics will account for 40 percent of automotive material costs by 2010, but problems with the electronics have led to an increase in quality issues and recalls. The favored approach for developing automotive embedded software is Model-Based Design, due to the technique's ability to improve the specification, design, and deployment steps. Model-Based Design produces models that are employed to deliver executable specifications, analyze the system's dynamic behavior, simulate system components and environmental conditions that reduce or eliminate the need for expensive physical prototypes, and design the algorithms. In addition, automatic code generation via these models has become an accepted method for implementing production electronic control unit software that is expected to become the preferred method in the coming years. Model-Based Design tools can verify that the design fulfills certain parameters and link requirements to the design, and engineers working with Model-Based Design set up model style guidelines to guarantee that the model can be deployed and to enable comprehension and testing of the model. There are two strategies to follow, depending on the desired workflow and whether a design represents a new feature or the tweaking of an existing feature. One approach is to restrict the options available to the designer from the outset, while the other is to apply checks to the design later on as it is undergoing transformation. The assurance that overflow conditions will not crop up can be helped by stress testing the model by running simulations using minimum and maximum numerical values, while the cumulative results of a test suite can be evaluated to ascertain which blocks or states were and were not executed during a simulation via model coverage analysis.
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The Lesson of Estonia
Information Security (09/07) Vol. 10, No. 8, P. 12; Denning, Dorothy E.

It seems unlikely that the cyberattack against Estonia in the spring of 2007 was an act of government-sponsored cyberterrorism, but the assault still deserves consideration, as it drove online activism to an unprecedented and troubling level, writes Dorothy E. Denning of the Naval Postgraduate School. Internet-based protests have existed for over a decade, and automated software has been developed for bombarding targeted Web sites with page requests. More recently, the bonnet, which hijacks computers into a network that can send spam or launch DDoS attacks, has emerged as a powerful cyberattack tool. Allegedly, Estonian attackers used botnets in their DDoS assaults. That the hijacked computers came from around the world makes it less probable that the Russian government was behind the cyberattack, as some have speculated. According to Denning, the salient aspect of the cyberattack on Estonia is that the siege was able to persist for weeks and inflict costly and disruptive damage without the resources of a government sponsor. This implies that a few unaffiliated individuals can wreak substantial damage on a national scale. Al-Qaida and other terrorists already employ cyberattacks to cause financial damage and interrupt Web sites. Although current cyberterror lingo has been inflated to hype proportions, the United States must acknowledge the actual risk and grow more serious about defending against new cyberattack tools, Denning says.
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