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ACM TechNews
October 5, 2007

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Welcome to the October 5, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Tech Grads Get Higher Salary Offers, But Existing Workers May Face Job Perils
Computerworld (10/03/07) Thibodeau, Patrick

Job prospects for IT graduates look healthy with an increase in starting salaries, but countering this trend are cutbacks at some of the leading IT vendors, putting midcareer high-tech workers' future in doubt. The Rochester Institute of Technology's Emanuel Contomanolis reports that IT recruiters are aggressively courting students, and a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers estimates that computer science graduates have been offered an average salary of $53,051 this year, a nearly 5 percent increase over last year's level. The higher salary offers may be informed by the fact that the pool of computer science grads has shrunk, with the Computing Research Association reporting that the total number of bachelor's degree grads from the 170 North American institutions that grant computer science degrees up to the Ph.D. level fell from over 14,000 annually in 2000 to 10,206 for the academic year that ended in the spring of 2006. Factors believed to have contributed to this decline include the dot-com implosion and the outsourcing of tech jobs to lower-wage countries. Among the high-tech companies planning to reduce their IT workforces is Sun Microsystems and Intel, which sends the message that "midcareer workers better beware," according to RIT professor and author Ron Hira. "The same firms that are laying off thousands are clamoring that they need more foreign workers," he notes. "One interpretation of this phenomenon is that companies have no interest in retraining or retaining incumbent workers to fill those positions." For example, in a September filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Electronic Data Systems declared that it was offering an early retirement program to around 12,000 of its 50,000 U.S. employees.
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Registration for 2007 Tapia Conference Still Open
HPC Wire (10/02/07)

More than 300 people have already registered for this year's Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. Speakers from industry, academia, and research include Shirley Malcom, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS); Norman Johnson, chief scientist at Referentia Systems; Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College; and Richard Tapia, the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University. The inaugural Ken Kennedy Distinguished Lecture will be given by Manuela Veloso, Herbert A. Simon professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, and the closing plenary talk will be given by Anne Kuhns, director of IT security at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. ACM and the IEEE Computer Society are co-sponsoring Tapia 2007, which is scheduled for Oct. 14-17 in Orlando, Fla. The event also offers two-and-a-half days of technical presentations, a poster session for research projects, and a number of panel discussions on encouraging more students from underrepresented groups to pursue computing.
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NSF Provides Funding to Transform Computing Education
National Science Foundation (10/04/07)

The National Science Foundation has awarded $6 million to more than 25 institutions across the country as part of its effort to improve undergraduate computing education nationwide. The NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) has launched the CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH) program to focus on the computing curricula and better prepare students for the workforce. Computer science programs have seen their enrollments fall recently, while other nations have closed the gap on computer science and engineering. The NSF believes computing education, which has not changed much in recent decades, must keep students engaged. "We need to inspire the best and brightest to go into computing," says Jeannette Wing, the NSF's associate director of CISE. CPATH is funding a project in which Michigan State University will work with a local community college and an industry consortium on tailoring computing classes and curricula to the needs of the engineering workforce. "We will be able to develop and define the process and provide a model that can be shared across the nation with other universities," says Tom Wolff, associate dean of undergraduate studies in MSU's College of Engineering.
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More E-Voting Tests Slated in Contested Fla. Voting District
Computerworld (10/04/07) Weiss, Todd R.

The U.S. House of Representatives has okayed another round of testing for the e-voting hardware used in Florida's 13th Congressional District during the 2006 House election. The contested race between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings, in which direct-recording iVotronic systems from Election Systems & Software were used, had 18,000 undervotes. Buchanan won by 369 votes. The Committee on House Administration's Election Task Force will test the systems' firmware to determine if it matches the certified version, test ballots using 112 scenarios including casting votes and changing votes, and miscalibrate machines to see if there is a connection to the undervote. The three tests were recommended in a report from the Government Accountability Office. Testing is scheduled for Nov. 26-Dec. 7, after which the GAO will report back to the task force. "The results of the GAO's testing will play an essential role in determining whether the machines did or did not contribute to the undervote in the contested election," says task force chairman Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas). ES&S says it is still reviewing the GAO report, but adds that previous tests found that its systems were not at fault.
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High-Tech Culture of Silicon Valley Originally Formed Around Radio
San Francisco Chronicle (09/30/07) P. A1; Abate, Tom

MIT industrial researcher Timothy Sturgeon and historian and author Christophe Lecuyer trace the beginnings of California's Silicon Valley to the advent of radio in the early 1900s, noting that hobbyist engineers experimented with the then new technology and set up a meritocracy controlled by those who improved the speed, performance, and affordability of electronic products. Shortly afterwards a school for radio engineers was established along with Federal Telegraph in Palo Alto, and Sturgeon says the proto-Silicon Valley's first major customer was the U.S. military, which awarded big contracts to Federal Telegraph in the first World War. The next step in Silicon Valley's evolution was the establishment of Hewlett-Packard in a Palo Alto garage, and Lecuyer reports that military funding was crucial to the valley's growth in the 1930s through the early 1960s. It has become a popular myth that Silicon Valley was born 50 years ago when eight engineers, including future co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore, formed the valley's first chip company, Fairchild Semiconductor; bolstering this myth of the valley's foundation is the fact that it marked the first time that venture capital was used to fund the company, courtesy of investor Arthur Rock. It also signaled the emergence of a business model where funded ideas give birth to startups, products, and even entire industries. "Silicon Valley created an environment that allowed ideas and money and people to combine more easily," says dean of UC Berkeley's School of Information AnnaLee Saxenian. Her book, "The New Argonauts," projects that the valley will maintain its status as a hub of design and innovation by teaming up with lower-cost manufacturing facilities overseas, although high-tech job opportunities appear to be less abundant.
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$100 Laptop a Bargain at $200
New York Times (10/04/07) P. C1; Pogue, David

A lightweight, silent, ruggedized laptop equipped with a tablet screen, video camera, microphone, a graphics tablet, game-pad controllers, and a memory-card slot has been developed by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). The battery-powered XO laptop's retail price is $200, and if enough of the units are sold then the price could fall even further. OLPC's goal is to make cheap, rugged computers that can be used by poor children in developing countries. The XO's lithium ferrophosphate battery can be replaced cheaply and runs at one-tenth the temperature of a standard laptop battery; the computer consumes 2 watts on average, versus about 60 watts on a typical business laptop. The XO provides regular wireless Internet connectivity as well as mesh networking, and its system software takes up one-fifth of its 1 GB of flash memory storage. The majority of the laptop's programs can be shared on the mesh network. The XO comes close to the initiative's original vision of a $100 laptop, writes David Pogue, and in November the computer will be offered for sale to the public in industrialized countries for two weeks through OLPC's "Get 1, Give 1" program. Under the program, a consumer pays $400, which covers the cost of one XO laptop--complete with tax deduction--for the consumer and one for a student in an impoverished country. "The XO laptop, now in final testing, is absolutely amazing, and in my limited tests, a total kid magnet," Pogue writes. "Both the hardware and the software exhibit breakthrough after breakthrough."
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IBM Attempts to Reinvent Memory
Technology Review (10/04/07) Bullis, Kevin

IBM is developing a nanowire-based memory device that could boast greater simplicity, speed, density, reliability, and affordability, and perhaps ultimately emerge as a universal memory. The device would squeeze 100 bits of data onto one nanowire, and be potentially capable of storing between 10 and 100 times more data than flash memory while running much faster, says IBM physicist Stuart Parkin. In addition, the device would be a solid-state memory and offer far more durability than magnetic hard drives. The devices would blend the best elements of hard drives, flash drives, and dynamic random access memory while avoiding many of their shortcomings. Parkin's proposed memory would be spared hard drives' need for mechanical parts, run orders of magnitude faster than flash, and would not require a continuous supply of energy to store data, as DRAM does. The devices could also beat conventional solid-state memory in terms of cost and compactness, and the storage of information bits would be facilitated by the creation or removal of domain walls within magnetic nanowires. The discovery that electronic currents in magnetic materials can shuttle these walls along a nanowire, and in the same direction, is vital to the memory's operation. Right now this current is too high to be practical, while another technical problem that will have to be overcome is getting a clearer picture of domain wall behavior, which University of Virginia professor Stuart Wolf says could determine the density of the proposed memory.
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Spam Weapon Helps Preserve Books
BBC News (10/02/07) Rubens, Paul

An anti-spamming weapon developed at Carnegie Mellon University is now aiding university researchers in the preservation of books and manuscripts. The CAPTCHA test consists of an image of letters or numbers that have been distorted and must be translated by humans in order to access Web sites. Most spam bots are incapable of solving such puzzles, but a CMU research team that is digitizing old books and manuscripts provided by the Internet Archive is using the CAPTCHA method to decipher words that cannot be read by optical character recognition software. These indecipherable words are distributed to Web sites around the globe where they are used as conventional CAPTCHAs. Visitors solve these "reCAPTCHAs," which are then sent back to CMU. To guarantee the correct deciphering of reCAPTCHAs, site visitors are shown images of two words to study, the contents of one of which is already known. "If a person types the correct answer to the one we already know, we have confidence that they will give the correct answer to the other," says CMU professor Louis von Ahn. "We send the same unknown words to two different people, and if they both provide the same answer then effectively we can be sure that it is correct." Von Ahn reports that popular sites' adoption of reCAPTCHAs is helping the system to translate about 1 million words daily for CMU's book archiving initiative.
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CERT Advances Secure Coding Standards
Dark Reading (10/02/07) Higgins, Kelly Jackson

CERT and Fortify Software have announced an alliance to automate compliance with CERT's C and C++ Secure Coding Standard. CERT is converting its guidelines into a coding format that will run on Fortify's Source Code Analysis tool, and the software module borne from this effort will be freely available from CERT, allowing other tool vendors to translate it to their products. Programmers who wished to employ the voluntary CERT guidelines on writing cleaner and more secure software in C and C++ were forced to mine the huge checklist manually, which Fortify chief scientist Brian Chess calls a tedious process. CERT obtains input from software developers and other organizations to help spot common programming mistakes that cause software bugs and supply secure coding standards through its secure coding initiative, but Matasano Security's Thomas Ptacek says, "Product teams don't get better by reading secure coding standards. They get better by working with security testers, seeing how their code gets broken by attackers, and learning from the experience." What is needed is a top-down security commitment, which Ptacek says is beyond the abilities of many vendors. Though CERT vulnerability analyst Robert Seacord acknowledges the importance of internal buy-in, he says it is impossible without guidelines on how to guarantee that security is a key consideration in software design. "There's a big need for a common language that security testers and software developers can speak so they can agree on what needs to be done and what needs to be taken seriously," maintains Ptacek. "I don't see the harm in what CERT is doing, but we should figure out the 'what' before we spend lots of time on the 'how.'"
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Robot Dogs Race to Be Soldier's Best Friend
New Scientist (09/25/07) Knight, Will

Boston Dynamics was commissioned by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a quadruped robot modeled after a canine that can traverse rough terrain as a prototype for robots that can serve as "pack mules" and other assistive machines for military personnel. The next step in the evolution of the Chihuahua-sized robot, known as LittleDog, is the development by university researchers of control algorithms in the hope that this will indicate the best adaptive methodology for moving over uneven surfaces. Competing to develop the algorithms are six DARPA-selected teams from institutions that include Stanford and MIT. Each team has been assigned a LittleDog robot and a section of artificial ground the device must cross, and after rigorous laboratory tests the teams send their control algorithms to DARPA on a monthly basis for further testing. Throughout the coming year the agency will test new algorithms on more unpredictable, previously unseen terrain, which means the algorithms will have to quickly identify footholds and the most optimal routes, with an overall winner announced at the end of 2008. Jerry Pratt of Florida's Institute for Human and Machine Cognition reports that most of the teams are transitioning from a static approach in which three of LittleDog's legs are on the ground to one in which only two legs are rooted at any time. The current LittleDog model uses an external motion-capture system, but successive robots will ultimately have to study the ground ahead for themselves.
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Computer Science Researchers Explore Virtualization Potential for High-End Computing
Virginia Tech News (10/02/07) Daniilidi, Christine

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $300,000 Computer Science Research grant to Virginia Tech computer science professors Dimitrios Nikolopoulos and Godmar Back for their Virtualization Technologies for Application-Specific Operating Systems project. "This research develops a new framework for customizing the system software environment that hosts the execution of parallel applications, on emerging supercomputers built from multi-core processors," Nikolopoulos says. "We leverage paravirtualization, a technique which enables us to tailor the system software to applications, tune applications and system software in a synergistic manner to make best use of hardware resources, minimize the intrusiveness of system software, and eventually improve performance and utilization on precious supercomputing resources." Applications running on today's supercomputers require system software modules customized to specific hardware and application properties, but the diversity of these properties precludes the existence of a universally applicable system software development strategy--a problem that becomes profound with the emergence of multicore architectures. Nikolopoulos says their approach involves devising a new paravirtualization architecture that delivers applications that offer substantially more precise perception and accounting of hardware resources than current paravirtualization systems. "By combining supercomputing, parallel programming, virtualization, and operating systems aspects, this new grant demonstrates the new possibilities for collaboration that were enabled by bringing together different researchers with different areas of specialty under the roof of the Center for High-End Computing," Back says.
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Darpa Hatches Plan for Insect Cyborgs to Fly Reconnaissance
EE Times (10/03/07) Johnson, R. Colin

The goal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Hybrid-Insect MEMS program is to integrate insects with microelectromechanical systems for remotely controlled military reconnaissance missions. DARPA is funding research into this concept at MIT, Boyce Thompson Institute, and the University of Michigan. DARPA's Jan Walker says the first two institutions are focusing on embedded MEMS for large moths, while the third has enlisted horned beetles for its experiments. The project will culminate with the flight of a cyborg insect to within five meters of a specific target positioned about 100 meters away using remote control or GPS. The HI-MEMS project seeks to embed the electronics in the insect while it is in a preliminary stage of metamorphosis so that the living tissue grows around the implant before it is activated. A cyborg insect would come equipped with a MEMS chip, sensors, a radio receiver, GPS, and probes linked to the muscles, while personnel would need to be trained to fly these insects remotely or via microcontrollers. The chip would draw power from the bug's movements to keep the other components functional. DARPA's ultimate objective is to enable operators to link to the insects' own natural senses, so that they could, for instance, see directly out of the insect's eyes rather than through attached cameras. "There are enormous engineering problems with actually realizing remote-controlled animals," notes Electronic Frontier Foundation staff technologist Peter Eckersley. "I would say the short-term odds of DARPA's project actually succeeding are very low--it's theoretically possible, but could take another 100 years to actually do it."
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Experimental Evidence Buoys Potential of Circuit-Design Theory
Stanford Report (09/26/07) Stober, Dan

The growing density of transistors on chips and the resulting increase of damaging heat output is seen as a threat to the continued viability of Moore's law, although a new circuit-design theory from Stanford researchers that taps quantum physics may turn out to be the law's salvation. The theory, which was confirmed by experiments in Germany, revolves around the Quantum Spin Hall Effect. The experimenters used special semiconductor material fashioned from layers of mercury telluride and cadmium telluride, and coaxed the electrons' spins to align; in these circumstances, the current streams only along the edge of the semiconductor sheet. It is interesting to note that electrons with the same spin travel in the same direction, while those with the opposite spin flow in the opposite direction. This atypical current does not produce deleterious heat via power dissipation or electrons colliding because of defects in the semiconducting material. Stanford physics professor Shoucheng Zhang says this unusual electron behavior represents a new a state of matter. He reports that semiconductors that harness the Quantum Spin Hall Effect, which have the added advantage of being fabricated from materials already familiar to manufacturers, could sustain Moore's law for decades. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.
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K-State Research Leading to Software to Help Nation's Cattle Producers Identify Biosecurity Risk, Evaluate Impact of Cow-Calf Diseases Online
Kansas State University News (09/27/07) Sanderson, Mike

Kansas State University researchers are working on two projects to create software that will help cattle producers maintain secure feedlots and understand the impact of specific diseases. The feedlot security project is developing software that evaluates biosecurity and biocontainment at feed yards by asking producers several questions, such as where they import their cattle from and how much contact healthy and sick cattle have with one another. The program also evaluates features such as lighting fencing and how much access is given to visitors. When the research is complete the K-State researchers will report their findings to the Kansas Animal Health Department so producers across the nation can be assessed. The other project is the development of a Web-based modeling tool to help producers evaluate how the herd will be affected by cow-calf diseases. Similar modeling tools are used in the beef industry to evaluate financial risks. Cattle producers will be able to enter information such as the size of the herd and the number of imported cattle, enabling the program to create a multiyear simulation of the production and economic impacts if diseases were to infect the herd, as well as the economic impact on the producer.
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New Night Vision System Reduces Car Accidents
EurekAlert (09/27/07)

Researchers in Europe have patterned a night-time driving system after artificial vision systems. Experts at the Department of Computer Architecture and Technology at the University of Grenada have developed a microchip that can be installed in cars that will make it easier to provide drivers with visual, acoustic, and other signs about obstacles ahead in the road. The system also makes use of two infrared cameras placed on cars to record scenes at a greater distance than conventional headlights are able to illuminate. "Dipped headlights only illuminate about 56 meters when the breaking distance at 100 km/h is about 80 meters," says professor Eduardo Ros Vidal, who is involved in the DRIVSCO project. The microchip will improve the extraction of information from cameras and driving elements such as bends, pedestrians, and other cars, offering real-time processing of movements. The system is also expected to improve the sophistication of intelligent cars. Researchers from the University of Munster in Germany, who are working with eye-tracking systems, contributed to DRIVSCO.
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Internet Volunteers Transform Search and Rescue
New Scientist (09/29/07) Vol. 195, No. 2623, P. 26; Marks, Paul

Volunteers sifted through satellite photos on the Internet to search for the missing plane of millionaire aviator Steve Fossett, and in the process discovered the wrecks of eight other downed aircraft, illustrating the potential of "crowd-sourced" search. "The Internet is probably the only way you can do a massive search cost-effectively," says FireBall Information Technologies President Tim Ball. The search for the missing millionaire is only the second time crowd-sourcing has been tapped as a search tool. In the first instance, which was instigated by the disappearance of Microsoft research engineer Jim Gray, organizers coaxed satellite operators GeoEye and Digital Globe to contribute satellite images of the search area with 1-meter resolution, which were then segmented and sent to online volunteers using Amazon's Mechanical Turk Web site for examination. Each image sent to examiners searching for Fossett covered an 85-square meter area and was sent to 10 online volunteers; images flagged by the majority of the volunteers were prioritized for viewing by the U.S. Civil Air Patrol or Air National Guard teams. These search and rescue missions are unique in that the people being searched for were well connected, which begs the question whether similar efforts would be made for less well-connected people. The chief difficulty of mounting such missions is companies' reluctance to donate satellite imagery, and there is no assurance that the satellites will pass over a given area precisely when they are needed. Meanwhile, a 160-megapixel camera and image-processing system developed by FireBall and San Francisco's High Altitude Mapping Mission that can reportedly image "state and nation-sized areas" from an altitude of 20,000 feet is currently being test flown.
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Privacy Threats Are No Longer 'Terra Incognita'
The Star Online (10/01/07) Geist, Michael

Hundreds of privacy commissioners, government regulators, business leaders, and privacy advocates from around the world met for three days in Montreal last week to gain a better understanding of how new technologies such as ubiquitous computing, radio frequency identification devices, and nanotechnology will impact privacy protection. The theme of the International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners conference was "Terra Incognita," a reference to not knowing what lies ahead as technology rapidly changes. At the conference U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff argued that governments will need to collect more data if they are to protect citizens in the years to come. For example, Chertoff said fingerprints can be used to increase surveillance, and he noted that a single fingerprint taken from a vehicle used in a bombing in Iraq was matched to one taken years ago at a U.S. border crossing. Although the idea of a broad surveillance society made many privacy advocates cringe, Chertoff suggested that there will be little they can do about it. The conference focused on current privacy protection strategies such as privacy audits, privacy impact assessments, trust seals, and global cooperation. Although such measures have become more effective, there was a general feeling among the participants that more needs to be done, writes Michael Geist.
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West Is Taking Fight Against Terrorism Online
International Herald Tribune (09/30/07) Carvajal, Doreen

Western nations are moving forward to establish online security perimeters with proposals to impede Web sites and to issue emails containing spyware that would keep an eye on jihadists, even though critics caution that such measures could give rise to censorship and privacy infringement. A series of anti-terrorism proposals will be unveiled by EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini in November, and included in the proposals will be a package for the development of technology to block Web sites that post bomb-making recipes and other terrorist how-tos, and for the criminalization of online terrorist enlistment. "The Internet, as we all know, is abused for terrorist propaganda and also for disseminating information on how to make bombs," notes Frattini spokesman Friso Roscam-Abbing. "What we want to achieve is to make that phenomenon punishable." Sweden, Germany, Australia, and other countries are individually seeking additional powers and technologies to ostensibly thwart terrorism online. Frattini and other public officials pledge that governments are balancing free speech and security to guarantee that Web sites are not used to share data in a way that constitutes a threat to public safety. Critics are worried about these plans since the EU nations are already moving to adopt a "data retention directive" mandating that ISPs will need to hold on to information about communications from six to 24 months to help in the identification of terrorism networks. "One way of viewing these trends is that the terrorists have won," says University of Cambridge computer security researcher Richard Clayton. "They're making us change our society to counteract, not what terrorists are doing, but what they're threatening to do."
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