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October 17, 2007

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Welcome to the October 17, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Ohio Brings in Experts to Review Troubled E-Voting Systems
Computerworld (10/16/07) Weiss, Todd R.

The state of Ohio has hired computer security researchers from three universities--Pennsylvania State University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Santa Barbara--as well as e-voting testing lab SysTest Labs to conduct independent tests on the state's e-voting machines in an effort to find and fix any potential problems before the 2008 presidential election. Ohio assistant secretary of state Chris Nance says the review will test a representative sample of 40,000 e-voting machines from Ohio's 88 counties. Ohio's e-voting hardware is primarily from Election Systems & Software and Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold Election Systems. SysTest Labs President Brian Phillips says the testing process began on Sept. 24 and will be finished by Nov. 30. The testing will examine hardware, election management software, polling place devices, and the central counting applications that tally the votes. SysTest will also conduct configuration management testing to ensure that the e-voting system hardware and software match the specifications of the certified systems allowed in Ohio. Final reports from the testing will be delivered to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner on Dec. 14.
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OOPSLA 2007 Explores Future Software Applications
AScribe Newswire (10/16/07)

A leading group of software development experts have been lined up for panels, demonstrations, and research papers for OOPSLA 2007, the international conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications. Steven Fraser of Cisco Systems and Guy L. Steele Jr. and James Gosling of Sun Microsystems are on the 40 Years of Language Evolution panel, while CGI's Henry Baleen and James Lapalme will participate on a panel on Domain Specific Languages and their potential impact on business and implementation. Meanwhile, ACM Turing Award recipients Frederick Brooks and John McCarthy are featured speakers who will give presentations on telecollaboration and the proposed programming language Elephant 2000, respectively. Other keynote speakers include Jim Purbrick and Mark Lentczner, who are known as Babbage Linden and Zero Linden in the virtual world Second Life; and Maps of the Innovation author Peter Turchi, who will address the obstacles that creative software programmers face. Research paper topics include growing Java, run time techniques, inheritance and visibility, language and software design, object ownership, and language specification. Future applications and advancements over the past year will be discussed in the Onward! Presentations and Demonstrations Track, respectively. ACM and ACM SIGPLAN (Special Interest Group on Programming Languages) sponsor OOPSLA 2007, which takes place Oct. 21-25, at the Palais des congress de Montreal in Quebec, Canada. For more information on OOPSLA, or to register, visit http://www.oopsla.org/oopsla2007/
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$2.2 Million Grant Calls for Designing Computer Software to Predict the Unpredictable
University of Arizona (10/16/07)

University of Arizona professor of computer engineering Jerzy Rozenblit has received a $2.2 million grant to design software capable of predicting the actions of paramilitary groups, ethnic factions, terrorists, and criminal groups, as well as assisting military commanders in creating strategies for stabilizing areas before, during, and after conflicts. The software will also have civilian applications in finance, law enforcement, epidemiology, and natural disaster response. The Asymmetric Threat Response and Analysis Project is a massive, complex series of algorithms that sort through vast amounts of data and analyze numerous factors, including social, political, cultural military, and media influences, Rozenblit says. He says that since the end of the Cold War, the United States' opponents have acted in ways that defy logic and are almost inconceivable. ATRAP will use computational methods based on game theory, co-evolution, and genetic development to predict such illogical actions. "The computer can look at very, very complex data sets that as an individual or even as a group of individuals, you could never analyze," says ATRAP project manager Brian Ten Eyck. "The computer can bring the patterns and connections to the surface and can predict scenarios that might never occur to human analysts." Rozenblit says the program will eventually be able to display data in 3D graphics that are easy to understand, allowing for quick decisions to be made in rapidly changing situations.
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New Tricks for Online Photo Editing
Technology Review (10/16/07) Greene, Kate

A new open source photo-editing technique known as seam carving allows users to shrink and enlarge photos with relatively little distortion by automatically adding and removing pixels as needed. Based on an algorithm by Adobe Systems senior research scientist Shai Avidan and Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories visiting researcher Ariel Shamir, seam carving was displayed at this year's SIGGRAPH and already has several photo-editing Web sites offering the technique. Avidan says that seam carving is fairly straightforward. For example, if someone wanted to compress a picture by a single row of pixels, the software would scan the image to find the best pixels to remove, usually in a zigzag pattern based on what pixels are in between pixels with similar colors. The algorithm is capable of finding and removing pixels very quickly. Avidan says the process works well for pictures with sky and grass backgrounds but rather poorly on faces and more diverse landscapes. "Perhaps the best thing about this technique is its simplicity," says MIT computer science professor Fredo Durand. "It is a very short algorithm, and it works very well."
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Carnegie Mellon's Adrian Perrig Leads Research Team Dedicated to Analyzing and Disrupting Internet Attackers' Black Markets
Carnegie Mellon News (10/15/07) Swaney, Chriss

Carnegie Mellon University professor Adrian Perrig, along with researchers from the International Computer Science Institute and the University of California, San Diego, have developed new computer tools to better understand and possibly stop the growth of Internet black markets for malware. "These troublesome entrepreneurs even offer tech support and free updates for their malicious creations that run the gamut from denial-of-service attacks designed to overwhelm Web sites and servers to data stealing Trojan viruses," Perrig says. Project researcher Jason Franklin says the team found more than 80,000 potential credit card numbers available on illicit underground Web markets. Transactions on the markets are difficult to track because buyers usually contact the seller through private email or instant messaging and payments are made through non-bank payment services. The Carnegie Mellon researchers proposed two technical approaches to reduce the number of transactions by destabilizing the market. The first approach is a slander attack that would eliminate the verified status of a buyer or seller. "By eliminating the verified status of the honest individuals, an attacker establishes a lemon market where buyers are unable to distinguish the quality of the goods or services," Franklin says. The researchers also developed a technique to establish fake verified-status identities so buyers cannot tell the difference between real sellers and fake sellers. "So, when the unwary buyer tries to collect the goods and services promised, the seller fails to provide the goods and services. Such behavior is known as 'ripping,'" Franklin says. "And it is the goal of all black market site's verification systems to minimize such behavior."
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New Software Advances Photo Search and Management in Online Systems
Penn State Live (10/15/07) Hopkins, Margaret

Penn State researchers have developed software that is capable of automatically tagging uploaded images and then improving those tags by "learning" from users who interact with the system. "Tagging itself is challenging as it involves converting an image's pixels to descriptive words," says Penn State associate professor of information science and technology and lead researcher James Wang. "But what is novel with the 'Tagging over Time' or T/T technology is that the system adapts as people's preferences for images and words change." Wang says the system can adapt to changing vocabulary and interpretations, allowing its vocabulary to grow and replace old tags with newer, more specific tags. During tests, the T/T system correctly tagged four out of every 10 images, a significant achievement for a computer and a substantial improvement over earlier systems. Additionally, as the system learns more, its tagging performance improves and is eventually capable of reaching an accuracy rate of 60 percent. A paper describing the system, "Tagging Over Time: Real-world Image Annotation by Lightweight Meta-learning," was presented at the ACM Multimedia 2007 conference in Augsburg, Germany. The researchers also presented another system that can automatically select "aesthetically pleasing" images by analyzing features such as contrast, depth-of-field indicators, brightness, and region composition.
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What Would Women Invent?
Longmont Daily Times-Call (CO) (10/14/07) Kindelspire, Tony

Lucy Sanders, CEO and co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, says the lack of women in IT should be a pressing concern as technology is fueling the economy. "We need more diversity of thought in the creation of our technology, and I know that we don't have that today," Sanders says. "What would women invent if they were inventing today?" In its second year of operation, the NCWIT, based at the University of Colorado's ATLAS Institute, is a coalition of more than 100 academic institutions, corporations, and government agencies with the mission of increasing women's participation in IT. Sanders, who was recently inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame, says that nothing short of institutional change will fix the problem. Sanders believes that more students, both women and men, should be taking computer courses and that as a society the United States does not have enough fluency in IT. Greater attention needs to be paid to students before they reach high school to keep them interested. Alma Rosales, who is currently serving as an IBM Executive on Loan to Colorado State University, cites a National Science Foundation study that found that in the fourth grade boys and girls showed equal levels of interest in science, but by high school the girls' interest had dropped off. "So what happens between then and high school? We don't know," says Rosales. "We believe that we lose them around sixth grade. By middle school, they're already choosing electives, but they're not pursuing the harder math and science electives."
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U. Va. Computer Security Video Wins Award
University of Virginia (10/16/07)

The University of Virginia's Office of Information Technology and Communications won the first-place award from ACM's Special Internet Group for University and College Computing Services for a video on how excessive, inappropriate personal information on the Web can be damaging. The 70-second video shows a job applicant trying to explain the contents of his personal blog and a picture of himself on a photo sharing site to a hiring committee. The applicant is unable to come up with an appropriate answer and is embarrassed by the situation. The video ends with the warning, "What happens on the Web, Stays on the Web," with an emphasis that it will be there permanently for all to see. The video was one of the university's contributions to the "Who's Watching Charlottesville?," a cross-sector community initiative campaign to create greater cyber awareness in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area and help residents learn to protect themselves online. "We created this video to get our message across to students in a humorous to-the-point way," says Scott Crittenden, a systems analyst in the Information Technology and Communications office and director of the video. "It's a gratifying culmination of our efforts to be recognized by SIGUCCS for a national award."
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Warming Up to Robots
Telegram & Gazette (10/17/07) Reis, Jacqueline

Robotics industry experts discussed how robots are currently being used and the direction robotics is likely to take in the near future during a symposium on robotics this week at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which offers the first robotics major in the country. Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot, said soldiers are discovering how useful robots can be in places such as Afghanistan. She said one Marine had credited the company's military robots with saving his life and the lives of his friends a number of times, considering they have been used to remove or explode 17 improvised explosive devices and a vehicle bomb. Greiner also noted that people are becoming attached to her company's Roomba vacuum robot, adding that they sometimes name them and get disappointed if they have to be replaced rather than repaired. "I think people buy them as appliances ... but they start thinking of it differently," she said. Meanwhile, DEKA Research & Development's Dean Kamen said his company is developing 8.9-pound wearable, robotic arms for veterans who have lost one or both arms. Kamen said robotics is likely to merge with other concepts, similar to the way in which computers have. "I think this melding of people and prosthetics is going to blur that line pretty quickly," Kamen said.
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In Human Grid, We Are the Cogs
University of California, San Diego (10/15/07) Kane, Daniel

In a position paper presented at Interactive Computer Vision 2007 on Oct. 15 in Rio de Janeiro, University of California, San Diego computer scientists, led by professor Serge Belongie, presented a grid system to solve Captchas that also assists people with disabilities. "One of the application areas for my research is assistive technology for the blind," Belongie says. "For example, there is an enormous amount of data that needs to be labeled for our grocery shopping aid to work. We are developing a wearable computer with a camera that can lead a visually impaired user to a desired product in a grocery store by analyzing the video stream. Our paper describes a way that people who are looking to prove that they are humans and not computers can help label still shots from video streams in real time." The grid system is called Soylent Grid, in reference to the 1973 movie Soylent Green, because the grid, like the product Soylent Green in the movie, is made of people. "The degree to which human beings could participate in the system ranges from none at all to virtually unlimited. If no human user is involved in the loop, only computer vision algorithms solve the identification problem. But in principle, if there were an unlimited number of humans in the loop, all the video frames could be submitted to a Soylent Grid, be solved immediately, and sent back to the device to guide the user," the authors write. Belongie says instead of a word or letter Captcha, Internet users might be asked to click on different objects to identify them for the person wearing the portable computer and camera.
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Debating the Morality Behind Software Development
CNet (10/15/07) Cooper, Charles

IBM Fellow Grady Booch says in an interview that the time has come for software developers to stop avoiding the ethical and moral ramifications of how governments employ their creations. He argues that "at the ultimate level, the software developer can say, 'Do I want to actually build a system that potentially could violate human rights?'" Booch is heartened by the fact that such issues--which have long been common in the fields of physics, biology, and chemistry--are being raised in the software field. "The very fact that this dialog is going on [in the computer business] in some ways is a suggestion to me that our industry is beginning to mature because at least these things are on the table," he says. Booch cites the power of individuals, as opposed to institutions, in pushing for moral and ethical software development. Though he says he would personally prefer to decide to stop innovating at a point where he feels going further would open up the danger of rights violations and other abuses, Booch acknowledges that "I still have the responsibility to educate those who are in a position in the policy-making realm, so that they understand the implications of what they're doing." Consideration of software development's ethical and moral implications lies at the heart of groups such as Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Booch notes.
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NMU Students Present Paper on Artificial Evolution
Mining Journal (10/14/07) Moeller, Miriam

Northern Michigan University students Brian Krent and Correy Kowall have been invited to the 2007 Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference (GECCO) for their work on a cluster computer that simulates the process of evolution using thinking robots. "It is rare for undergraduate students to make it into GECCO as co-authors with others, and almost unheard of for a GECCO paper to be solely authored by undergraduates," says NMU mathematics and computer science professor Jeff Horn, Krent and Kowall's advisor. Horn says the robots in the cluster computer were programmed for "autotrophic reproduction," which means the robots build a copy of themselves. Each robot's brain was created as an artificial "neural network," simulating a primitive brain. The neural network was capable of evolving through mutation and the crossover of simulated genetic material. The cluster computer was necessary to manage the significant number of robots and their behaviors, and to speed up the evolution process. "It has an ambitious goal: to evolve robots that can reproduce by themselves, possibly with improvements," Horn says. "A research objective on that scale is rare and daring."
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Web Language and Artificial Intelligence Expert Joins Tetherless World Research Constellation
Rensselaer News (10/16/07) DeMarco, Gabrielle

Deborah L. McGuinness, a leading expert in Web research and one of the creators of the OWL Web Ontology Language, will join Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as an endowed chair of the Tetherless World Research Constellation. McGuinness will work with senior constellation chair James A. Hendler. "Rensselaer now has two of the top computer scientists in the world who study the Web and Web-based technology," says Provost Robert Palazzo. "Dr. McGuinness brings her skill and knowledge in Web ontology and reasoning to the research constellation. Together, the researchers will help direct our research on Web technology and their guidance will help lead worldwide efforts to develop the next generation of the World Wide Web." McGuinness is best known for her work on the Semantic Web, a fusion between the Web and artificial intelligence that allows computers and other electronics to communicate and interact without human intervention. McGuinness also is known for putting artificial intelligence techniques into practice by using semantic technologies to integrate scientific information, focusing on semantic technologies, trustable systems, and integration platforms. "Work in these areas will develop a better and more information-rich World Wide Web, containing intelligent assistants that can help humans in their daily interactions with computers and the many other devices that they are increasingly interacting with, from PDAs to game consoles," McGuinness says.
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Merging the Real and the Virtual in Canterbury
Stuff (NZ) (10/16/07) Cusack, Matine

After helping to establish the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (Hit Lab) at the University of Washington in 2002, Mark Billinghurst moved to the University of Canterbury and set up a partner lab in New Zealand (Hit Lab NZ). At Hit Lab NZ Billinghurst continues to bring the merger of the virtual and real worlds closer with his efforts to revolutionize how people interact with computers. "First of all, we are doing some really interesting research in augmented reality, particularly in the areas of mobile phones," Billinghurst says. "We are also doing some very interesting applied-research projects, particularly in how you can use computer vision to enhance interaction with computers." Billinghurst says the next-generation interface work is particularly important to establishing high-bandwidth connections between research institutes and universities, and how such connections will change natural collaboration efforts. He says his work in augmented reality involves "overlaying computer graphics in the real world," while his work with wearable computing and collaborative interfaces involves "how you can develop systems that support face-to-face and remote collaboration."
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Watermarks for Mobile Television
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (10/07)

The Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology SIT has developed a strong video watermark that will provide protection for mobile television programs that offer interactive content. As part of its porTiVity project, Fraunhofer SIT has created a video watermark that permanently labels TV material without interfering with the processing of video footage and incorporating additional information. Viewers' desire to interact more with TV programs has prompted Fraunhofer SIT to develop a rich media iTV system for mobile television, which would enable them to select objects on the screens of their devices. "During a football match, for example, viewers could click on individual players to view their goal and assist statistics," says Fraunhofer SIT's Patrick Wolf. Broadcasters would also be able to use the optional content to offer viewers interactive prizes or edutainment formats. The porTiVity project also includes an authoring system for tracking moving objects that can be linked to additional, interactive content. Broadcasters would receive rich media content in the form of a special MPEG-4 video that includes the main program and interactive elements.
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Researchers: Vehicles That Talk With Each Other Can Save Lives
Automotive News (10/08/07)No. 6276, P. 34; Allen, Leslie J.

The recent dedication of the Connected Vehicle Proving Ground in Michigan was a major step toward developing vehicles that are capable of communicating with one another. Planners of the $50 million center, funded by the federal government, hope it will eventually become an incubator for automakers, suppliers, researchers, transportation agencies, and other organizations developing the technology. Chrysler's David Henry says the first step is for vehicles to use the same language. Test roads at the center contain wireless devices that will communicate with the vehicles. Michigan Department of Transportation project manager for intelligent transportation systems Greg Krueger says the federal government has reserved the 5.9 gigahertz radio frequency for connected vehicle communication. General Motors executive director of vehicle structure and safety integration Robert Lange says the ultimate goal is that vehicles will not only talk to each other but potentially take over braking or even steering control in order to prevent a collision. Lange says GM researchers are working on developing vehicles that send a 360-degree wireless signal to surrounding traffic to detect and warn others about dangerous situations. Wireless communications would also allow emergency vehicles to notify divers ahead to get out of the way. Lange says integrating wireless technology into the roads would be the most challenging aspect, as society is often unwilling to spend money on road improvements.
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Where the Robot Meets the Road
Popular Mechanics (10/07) Vol. 184, No. 10, P. 82; Sofge, Erik

Researchers are building unmanned vehicles designed to navigate the streets of a mock city using a mix of GPS, CPUs, and sensors for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's upcoming Urban Challenge. The vehicles will be in a race to complete the urban course within six hours, merging, passing, parking, and avoiding collisions all the while. Two earlier autonomous vehicle races sponsored by DARPA took place in a desert environment, and none of the participating teams' vehicles even managed to complete the first race. The second race was more successful, but the completion rate was still low. "Success is not assured," says Carnegie Mellon University professor William Whittaker, who is leading the team developing CMU's Urban Challenge entry, a robotic Chevy Tahoe SUV. "The challenges of daily driving exceed the capacities of 2007 technology. But the DARPA race doesn't involve all those challenges." The CMU vehicle will use rear-facing radar, LIDAR, and inertial measurements to execute three-point turns. Other challenges the participants will face include safe and legal navigation of a four-way intersection with human drivers in perpendicular and opposing lanes; avoidance of tailgating by maintaining safe distance of at least one car length per 10 miles per hour, and no closer than two meters at an intersection; and circumvention of stopped vehicles by remaining at least one car length away from the car's rear and front bumpers, and re-insertion into the lane within four car lengths.
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The High-k Solution
IEEE Spectrum (10/07) Vol. 44, No. 10, P. 29; Bohr, Mark T.; Chau, Robert S.; Ghani, Tahir

This fall will see the release of commercial Intel microprocessors stemming from the first major redesign of CMOS transistors in about four decades, report Intel's Mark T. Bohr, Robert S. Chau, Tahir Ghani, and Kaizad Mistry. The Penryn chips will have a greater number of transistors that boast faster performance and less heat output than chips manufactured with 65-nm CMOS process technology because they will be fabricated with Intel's latest 45-nm process technology, and this will offer a sizable performance boost for compute-intensive music, gaming, and video applications. Key to the creation of the new microprocessors was a gate stack construction breakthrough in which the insulator was thickened with additional atoms of a different type to improve electrical properties, while the silicon gate had to be replaced with a metal gate. The challenge for Intel researchers was identifying a gate dielectric material that could be substituted for silicon dioxide, and showing that transistor prototypes impel a large amount of current across the transistor channel while suffering less current leakage. The transistors ultimately featured a high-k hafnium-based oxide and metal gate electrodes, and atomic layer deposition and gate-last process flow were employed in their manufacture. The Penryn dual-core microprocessor features 410 million transistors, while the quad-core version will feature 820 million transistors. "We're confident this new transistor can be scaled further, and development is already well under way on our next-generation 32-nm transistors using an improved version of high-k plus metal gate technology," conclude Bohr, et al. "Whether this type of transistor structure will continue to scale to the next two generations--22 nm and 16 nm--is a question for the future."
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