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ACM TechNews
October 15, 2007

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Welcome to the October 15, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Drive Advance Fuels Terabyte Era
BBC News (10/15/07)

A nanotechnology breakthrough announced by Hitachi could usher in the "terabyte era" in computer storage. Hitachi researchers have reduced the read-write head of a hard drive to a size that is 2,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, enabling storage capacities of as much as four terabytes on a single hard drive in the next few years. Smaller heads are typically characterized by an increase in electrical resistance and noise output as well as a reduction in reading ability, but Hitachi's approach reduces noise and improves signal input when "giant magnetoresistance" (GRM) heads are used. As a result, the smaller head can read data at greater densities stored on a disk. Existing hard disks can hold about 200 gigabytes of information per square inch, but Hitachi's new technology is expected to store up to 1 TB of data per square inch. By 2011, Hitachi expects to have a hard disk for desktops with 4 TB of storage and a laptop with a 1 TB drive. And hard drive storage should continue to double every two years. "Hitachi continues to invest in deep research for the advancement of hard disk drives as we believe there is no other technology capable of providing the hard drive's high-capacity, low-cost value for the foreseeable future," says Hitachi's Hiroaki Odawara.
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Q&A: Dr. Valentina Salapura
HPC Wire (10/12/07)

Dr. Valentina Salapura, a computer architect in the Exploratory Server Systems group at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, will give a plenary speech at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference on Oct. 18. Salapura says the Grace Hopper Conference is important to women in computing because it creates support networks and contacts that are vital to women in the male-dominated profession. The conference brings together professional women in the field and students and colleagues to create mentoring and professional relationships. "It's important to build networks for women, to help each other out," Salapura says. "I attended a recent talk by Prof. Rosser, the Dean of the Georgia Tech, about challenges women face in science and engineering today, and their unequal position compared to male colleagues. Prof. Rosser found that a woman needs 2.5 times more achievements compared to her male colleagues to reach the same level of recognition. That's why it's so important that we support each other and build our own networks." As an example, Salapura singles out Fran Allen, an early pioneer of parallel programming and this year's winner of ACM's A.M. Turing Award. Allen is the first woman to receive the Turing Award, as well as the first IBM Fellow, and the first female president of the IBM academy, IBM's internal think tank. "It's been long overdue that a woman is recognized in this way," says Salapura.
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You Might Wear Computing's Next Wave
Associated Press (10/12/07) Bergstein, Brian

At the recent International Symposium on Wearable Computing in Boston, Mass., several research teams displayed electronic devices that could soon be worn by everyday people, including miniaturized displays that attach to eyepieces. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology researchers displayed a stretchable, thread-like sensor that can be woven into fabric to monitor the wearer. University of Bremen researcher Stephane Beauregard displayed a shoe sensor with tiny accelerometers that can be used to provide real-time location tracking in places that satellite navigation systems cannot reach or are inaccurate. Beauregard plans to market the sensor to firefighters and other emergency responders. MIT graduate students wore plastic badges that could analyze several behaviors, including motion and speech patterns, which could be wirelessly sent to a computer or phone and analyzed. Carsten Mehring of the Colorado School of Mines demonstrated a prototype glove with sensors that can control portable music devices with minute finger movements, allowing for eye-free control during activities such as snow boarding or driving.
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The Great Tech Worker Divide
BusinessWeek (10/10/07) Herbst, Moira

American tech companies are complaining that demand for qualified staff greatly outstrips supply, while many tech workers argue that good jobs are scarce. Congress and public policy experts face the daunting challenge of reconciling these two differing points of view, and both chambers of Congress are considering a possible revamping of immigration policies for high-skilled workers. Among the reforms on the table is a measure to prohibit outsourcing companies from using temporary visas; another to completely remove temporary visas and permit high-skilled workers to enter the country only on permanent green cards; and a third proposal to restrict visas to positions where there is a demonstrated shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the unemployment rate for computer- and mathematics-related work occupations has steadily declined from 5.4 percent in the second quarter of 2002 to 1.8 percent in the second quarter of 2007, but increased job specialization is transpiring as more technical jobs are outsourced. Software engineers, IT managers, and network systems engineers have experienced the largest gains for IT jobs in the last year. There has been a decrease in the mean salary for computer- and mathematics-related jobs, and tech-worker advocates and certain economists blame this stagnation on market manipulation by U.S. tech companies importing guest workers. One program being scrutinized for abuse is the H-1B temporary visa program, amid a Senate probe to investigate suspicions that employers are using the program to outsource labor or import foreign workers willing to work for less money instead of hiring domestic workers that would have to be paid higher salaries. Meanwhile, tech companies are concerned about worsening labor shortages as interest in tech degrees wanes across the board.
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SC07 Panels: From Quantum Computing to Exotic Architectures
HPC Wire (10/11/07)

The computing industry will celebrate the 50th birthday of Fortran during SC07, which takes place Nov. 10-16, 2007, in Reno, Nev. SC07 will offer the Fifty Years of Fortran panel, and Frances Allen, IBM Emerita, will moderate the discussion on the influence of the programming language on system software, applications, and computer architecture. David Padua from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Henry M. Tufo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, John Levesque of Cray, and Richard Hanson of Visual Numerics will serve as panelists, and will also speculate on the future of Fortran. Other topics of the SC07 panels program include Supercomputing With Exotic Architectures--how to use FPGAs, GPUs, game processors and other non-conventional approaches to computing; Quantum computing: What is happening in this revolutionary field?; How to Get a Better Job in Computing--and Keep It!; and HEC energy crisis: How we shall cope with a world in which computing is limited by power consumption? In addition to the panels, the international conference offers technical and education programs, workshops, tutorials, an exhibit area, demonstrations, and hands-on learning. SC07 is sponsored by ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer Architecture (ACM SIGARCH) and the IEEE Computer Society.
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Forecast: Sex and Marriage With Robots by 2050
LiveScience (10/12/07) Choi, Charles Q.

In David Levy's recently completed Ph.D. thesis at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands on human-robot relationships, "Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners," he predicts that robots will become so human-like that by 2050 humans and robots will have intimate relationships and even marry each other. "There's a trend of robots becoming more human-like in appearance and coming more in contact with humans," says Levy. In 2006, founder of the European Robotics Research Network Henrik Christensen predicted that people would be having intimate relationships with robots within five years, and Levy thinks that is likely. As for marriage, Levy believes it will happen with time. "One hundred years ago, interracial marriage and same-sex marriages were illegal in the United States," he says. "There has been this trend in marriage where each partner gets to make their own choice of who they want to be with." Levy argues that almost all of the reasons that people fall in love, such as similar personalities, knowledge levels, and interests, are programmable. "The question is not if this will happen, but when," Levy says. "I am convinced the answer is much earlier than you think."
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'Dark Web' Project Takes on Cyber-Terrorism
Fox News (10/11/07) Kotler, Steven

Dark Web is an extensive, searchable database on extremists and terrorist-generated content. Developed by Hsinchun Chen, director of the University of Arizona's Artificial Intelligence Lab, Dark Web uses advanced technology to cross-reference, catalog, and analyze terrorist Web sites, message boards, and any other online information. Chen says the amount of information is massive, posted in dozens of languages, and is often hidden behind ordinary-looking pages. "Since the events of 9/11, terrorist presence online has multiplied tenfold," says Chen. "Around the year 2000, there were 70 to 80 core terrorist sites online; now there are at least 7,000 to 8,000." Chen says the Internet is arguably the most powerful tool for spreading extremist violence because Web pages can be used for activities such as spreading propaganda and offering advice on how to plot a series of attacks. To process the massive amount of information gathered, Dark Web uses a variety of analytical tools, including statistical, cluster, content, link, and sentiment analysis, a new analytical tool capable of determining the emotional content of a site, so the system can differentiate between social activists and hateful extremists. Dark Web also uses social-network analysis to map extremist networks and determine the importance of each member. Chen's team recently studied online training manuals and methods on how to build and use improvised explosive devices, including where such content was downloaded, which has led to countermeasures that are keeping soldiers and civilians safer. However, critics see a number of similarities between Dark Web and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's controversial Total Information Awareness initiative, while Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg notes that "the very same tools that can be used to track terrorists can also be used to track political opponents."
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Teen Tech Camp Targets Next-Gen IT Workers
Computerworld (10/10/07) Hoffman, Thomas

In an effort to bolster dwindling enrollment in university computer science and IT programs, the Society for Information Management (SIM) has partnered with public libraries, public schools, and other organizations to create technology camps for teenagers. The Teen Tech Camps at the Memphis Public Library are intended for teenagers between 12 and 15 years old and highlight the use of "big shinny objects" such as iPhones, digital cameras, and other gadgets to get kids interested in technology while simultaneously teaching them how such technology can be used in the work environment. The gadget sessions are also beneficial to library staff who may need to be educated on how to use new and emerging technologies. The camps require students to obtain a letter of recommendation from a teacher and to write a short essay on why they are interested in the program. The programs are so popular that many of the sessions have kids who try to sneak into the camp. SIM has created a set of software templates from the Memphis project that other SIM chapters can use to develop their own Teen Tech Camps. The software includes a budget template, marketing timelines, and permission forms.
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'Transparent' Gadget Could Trump iPhone Interface
New Scientist (10/11/07) Barras, Colin

The two-sided, multi-touch LucidTouch device being developed by Microsoft and Mitsubishi aims to solve several of the problems consumers have with the iPhone, specifically blocking the screen during operation and "fat fingers," when the device detects the entirety of the touch area. The device has a large touch-sensitive LCD screen on the front, similar to the iPhone, but also has a touch-sensitive interface on the back. When using the back of the device, shadow images of the user's fingers appear on the front, giving the illusion of transparency and allowing users to control the device without blocking the screen. To eliminate "fat fingers," LucidTouch isolates the active point of each finger with a small green dot. Alistair Edwards at the University of York says he likes the idea, and LucidTouch solves the problems efficiently, though he would like to see the technology pushed further, such as including orientation detectors to manipulate objects by tilting the device. Daniel Wigdor of Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs and the University of Toronto says his team is exploring new ideas on how to improve user interaction. The biggest concern right now is how to slim down LucidTouch's design. The shadow finger transparency is achieved using a "boom camera" that sticks out from the back of the device. One possible solution is the use of LEDs to record movement. "You would have the back of the device covered with them, half turned on and half turned off," Wigdor says. "Then the light from the LEDs that are on would be reflected from the hands and back onto the LEDs that are off," which would generate a charge to detect where the hands are.
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Video Conferencing Could Help Resolve Conflicts at Work and at Home, Researchers Say
University of Bath (10/11/07)

University of Bath researchers believe that videoconferencing could be used to resolve many disagreements that currently need to be solved by conciliators. Leon Watts and Matt Billings, from the university's Department of Computer Science, believe that videoconferencing has a greater potential for social and emotional communications than the telephone. They also believe it eliminates imbalances caused by face-to-face meetings, such as if someone has a physically intimidating presence. "Most of the conciliation to sort out disputes between employees is done by phone because for the conciliator, who may have as many as 70 or 80 cases to deal with at once, it can be difficult, costly, and slow to arrange to see people in person," Watts says. "In situations of high conflict, it can be hard to get to the real issues, to judge what people really care about, on the phone. So using a video link, in which the conciliator can in addition see each of the disputing parties, is a step forward." Watts says the newest technology allows for better quality images than the first, jerky Web cameras, and it would be possible to send each party a video camera and whatever else is needed to help them set up the video link. During mock disputes, an experienced conciliator found using a videoconferencing system was remarkably similar to normal conciliation. "The conciliator was much more relaxed about using video after the trial," says Billings. "We think that the conciliation profession will be interested in the potential of this technology."
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IU Research Labs Receive $1.69 Million to Develop Scientific Research Gateway
Indiana University (10/10/07)

Indiana University researchers in the Pervasive Technology Labs and School of Informatics are working on "Open Grid Computing Environments (OGCE) Software for Science Gateways," a project designed to create better access to advanced supercomputers and large scientific data storage facilities for researchers. "Scientists studying climate change or searching for new drugs to treat illness benefit greatly from grid computing resources such as the TeraGrid ... but they are not usually experts in the complex software that powers these resources and binds them together," says the project's principal investigator Marlon Pierce. "They need tools that will make this technology easy to use, so they can remain focused on their science." OGCE project researchers will work to develop software that could easily be used by other groups to create Web gateways, which would provide logical interfaces to essential online resources. Research gateways provide collaborative search tools and mechanisms for conducting and archiving online experiments. Science gateways would be particularly valuable because many scientists are not experts in high-performance and grid computing but would still benefit from powerful supercomputing and data storage resources. Such Web portals would also allow scientists and students at small and minority-serving institutions access to the nation's advanced, high-performance computer resources.
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Making Sure Linux Doesn't Get Lost in Translation
Linux Insider (10/09/07) Germain, Jack M.

Culture and language differences are a significant barrier to getting developers from around the world to participate in open source projects. To improve the process, the Linux Foundation is seeking more international cooperation to make it easier for governments and vendors to work with Linux kernel developers. Linux Foundation officials recently announced an agreement with the Information Technology Promotion Agency, an organization funded by the Japanese government, to support the use of open source technology. The agreement establishes the terms of joint collaboration with Linux developers and product engineers in Japan, currently the only country that the Linux Foundation has an office in, though it is trying to establish a presence in multiple European and Asian countries as well. Through the foundation, Linux kernel developers travel to Japan to discuss some of the cultural differences that hinder more open source development. For example, Japanese software developers often disagree with the practice of posting criticism and corrections to items involving installation difficulties and kernel patches. The Linux Foundation has an advantage in Japan when compared to other countries it is trying to develop more open source cooperation because Japan already has an established Linux following and a large economy that supports numerous vendors.
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Virtual Human Has a Roving Eye
New Scientist (10/10/07) Dume, Belle

Speech and cognition scientists in the GIPSA Lab at the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble, France, have developed virtual characters that meet a person's gaze and have eye movements like humans. Human's eyes do not steadily scan across a scene, but constantly dart around in rapid, unconscious movements known as "saccades" that allow people to quickly focus on interesting parts of the scene while the brain builds a "mental map." Robots and virtual characters tend to hold gazes too long and have unnatural eye movements, making interaction with them feel uncomfortable. The software developed to create more natural eye movement is based on a model to mimic human eye vision by Laurent Itti and others at the University of Southern California. Itti's model manages scenes based on three elements--the most visually outstanding parts of a scene, or saliency; the most important parts, or "pertinence;" and "attention," which temporarily inhibits areas that are uninteresting. The GIPSA researchers added additional elements, including an "attention stack" that tries to better simulate how humans rank interesting areas, and a module that recognizes familiar objects such as faces. Christopher Peters of the University of Paris VIII says the research is important because it focuses on adding a more social aspect to virtual characters, and more subtle behaviors such as eye movements are important to creating more realistic artificial beings.
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Xerox's Software Categorizes Text and Images at the Same Time
Computing News (10/09/07)

Xerox smart document researchers recently demonstrated software that can link images and text, significantly improving document management tasks such as retrieving information from a database or automatically routing documents. Xerox computer scientist and lead researcher Marco Bressan says that current tools are capable of tagging either text or images for processing, but the Xerox system is the first to efficiently combine the two tools. The system allows for more complete searches and business procedures by allowing users to retrieve document images by describing the image instead of requiring the user to match words in the text. The program could be used to automatically create annotated photo journals with links to informative sites, or to streamline the process of scanning, labeling, and indexing documents. "Xerox's hybrid categorizer creates a shared knowledge space between text and images," Bressan says. "The textual information enriches the visual, and the visual information enriches the textual. The whole is ultimately greater than the sum of the parts."
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Bryn Mawr Computer Scientist Is a P.I. in $2.5 Million Humanoid-Robot Project
Bryn Mawr College (10/04/07) Ginanni, Claudia

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2.5 million Partnerships for International Research and Education grant to five U.S. universities and colleges and three Korean universities to support their development of humanoid robots. The U.S. schools include Bryn Mawr College, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, and Swarthmore College. The goal of the project is to develop a three-tier set of tools for exploring a virtual humanoid, a humanoid about two feet tall, and one about four feet tall called HUBO. The tools will provide researchers with opportunities to advance humanoid-robot capabilities, as well as insight on issues such as balance disorders, cognition, and perception. "By creating a virtual HUBO, we'll get to construct our own universe where we define the laws of physics--gravity, friction, everything," says Bryn Mawr computer science chair Doug Blank. "We'll also try to make a simple interface for researchers, students, and student-researchers to explore the issues in humanoid robotics." Bryn Mawr was awarded the grant shortly after forming the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE) with Georgia Tech and Microsoft. Blank, who is co-principal investigator and co-director of IPRE, says the NSF grant is a logical extension of the robotics research the school is already conducting with wheeled and four-legged robots. "Walking robots, either four-legged or two-legged, are quite interesting because it is so much about balance," Blank says. "Humans walk so naturally that we don't even think about it. We'll be doing a lot of thinking about it."
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Nanowires Hold Promise for Future CMOS
Semiconductor International (10/07) Lammers, David

The semiconductor industry will be able to add more transistors to a single chip in the years to come by reducing the supply voltage, according to Hiroshi Iwai, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. During a keynote address for the Fourth International Symposium on Advanced Gate Stack Technology, Iwai said researchers are coming up with new ways to lower operating voltages without downsizing the gate length of CMOS-based devices. Power demands are preventing the industry from increasing the number of transistors on chips. Though the industry will be able to turn to lower supply voltages after CMOS gate scaling reaches its physical limit, they also will be able to use nanowires or nanotube-based FET (field effect transistors) nanowires after devices based on quantum spin, molecular, or other advanced forms of logic appear, Iwai added. Such devices, which are likely to emerge after 2020, would offer high conduction at low voltages with an approach that increases the number of quantum channels as well as the number of nanowires or nanotubes in the channels. "By adjusting the wire width, the energy band minimums become closer and we can increase the number of the conduction channels," he said.
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Q&A: Desperately Seeking Business Skills
Computerworld (10/09/07) Hoffman, Thomas

Incoming president of the Society for Information Management Robert Keefe says developing business skills and IT alignment are probably the biggest challenges that companies are currently facing, and that IT workers need to invest the time and effort in themselves to develop the business skills needed in the industry. "Working with the business is part of our profession, it's not just technology anymore," says Keefe. He also notes that the recruitment process has changed, including a new popularity in incentive packages and retention bonuses, but that many recent graduates consider more than money and look for interesting and challenging work as well as an inviting work environment. Universities that place an emphasis on soft skills, particularly communication and business skills, are the focus of Keefe's recruitment efforts, and he is working with several universities on incorporating soft skills into their academic program. Business relationship manager positions are currently the most difficult to fill, Keefe says, but fortunately companies only need a few employees in those positions. Looking forward, Keefe says many organizations will be looking for strong leadership, and CIOs will have opportunities to capitalize on the business, technology, and process experience that they have built up over their careers.
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Data Sharing Threatens Privacy
Nature (10/11/07) Vol. 449, No. 7163, P. 644

The field of computational social science relies heavily on access to electronic datasets such as email records, Web-search histories, and mobile-phone call logs, and such data sharing offers "enormous potential ... for lines of research that shed new light on basic social-science questions," says Cornell University network analysis specialist Jon Kleinberg. But concerns about how such data sharing might threaten privacy could create a major public backlash, says Consortium for Political and Social Research director Myron Gutmann. Kleinberg agrees that "as the number of these types of study increases, the community is clearly going to need to engage in deeper discussions about the right way to safeguard privacy in working with these kinds of data." Software tools for protecting privacy while sharing data are often developed by social scientists with heavy computer science backgrounds, but as these tools are mainstreamed they are adopted by less experienced academics. The need for an institutional and systematic strategy for strengthening the privacy rights of those whose data is used thus becomes obvious, says Boston University researcher Marshall Van Alstyne. A recent study by the U.S. National Academies reached a similar conclusion, in that individual researchers cannot be given sole responsibility for protecting privacy. However, social scientists are quick to point out that private firms, unlike academics, operate with few restrictions on retaining and exploiting personal data.
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