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ACM TechNews
October 22, 2007

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Welcome to the October 22, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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From Casinos to Counterterrorism
Washington Post (10/22/07) P. A1; Nakashima, Ellen

Las Vegas, with its wide adoption of data mining and surveillance, is being viewed by some privacy advocates as a template for future U.S. security, with its emphasis on preventing terrorist attacks. Cameras in casinos--and sometimes facial recognition systems--monitor players and employees, while surveillance specialists analyze the input and run it against databases to uncover potentially suspicious activity. One program developed for the casino industry, Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness, uses link analysis to find evidence of collusion between gamblers and casino employees, and the program was successful enough to inspire the Department of Homeland Security to look into it as a tool for uncovering terror networks. Bets are also tracked via RFID-outfitted casino chips, and counterterrorism and Homeland Security officials are investigating the embedding of RFID chips in various objects--passports and other IDs, for instance--for the purpose of tracking people and their communications that might lead to a terrorist network. Some say iris-scan technology will be suitable for use in gaming in a few years. Center for Democracy and Technology policy director James X. Dempsey is particularly troubled that the use of such methods has spread to counterterrorism. "Finding a terrorist is much harder than finding a card counter, and the consequences of being wrongly labeled a terrorist are much more severe than being excluded from a casino," he says. ACLU official Barry Steinhardt is similarly concerned that the convergence of all these various technologies is giving rise to a "surveillance society."
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Three Distinguished Technical Women Receive Awards
Business Wire (10/18/07)

Ceremonies were held on Oct. 18 at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing to honor the work of Paula Goldman, co-founder of Imaging Ourselves, and Mary Jane Irwin, a professor at Penn State University who also holds the A. Robert Noll Chair in Engineering in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Goldman received the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology 2007 Technology Leadership Award, while Irwin received this year's Social Impact Award from ABI. "The accomplishments of Mary Jane Irwin and Paula Goldman demonstrate the powerful and positive influence that women can have on shaping a brighter future for all of us and in doing so inspire a whole new generation of women," says ABI President Telle Whitney. "They are innovators and trailblazers in technology and exemplify the individual's capacity to excel, following their own vision while empowering others to define and pursue their personal goals and aspirations." University of British Columbia computer science professor Rachel Pottinger received the inaugural Denice Denton Emerging Leader Award.
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Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web
New York Times (10/22/07) P. A1; Hafner, Katie

Offers from Google and Microsoft to digitize books into computer databases have been rejected by several research libraries, who are objecting to the restrictions the companies wish to impose on the digital collections. One mandate is that the content cannot be made available to other commercial search services. The libraries have instead opted to join the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit initiative whose goal is to widen access to their materials without constraints. An attractive component of Google's program is its offer to pay the libraries to scan the books, while the Open Content Alliance splits the scanning cost between the group's members and benefactors. But the alliance is more attractive to entities such as the Boston Library Consortium, which is dedicated to digitally distributing its content to the advantage of all. "There are two opposed [book digitization] pathways being mapped out," notes University of California, Berkeley professor Paul Duguid. "One is shaped by commercial concerns, the other by a commitment to openness, and which one will win is not clear." Open Content Alliance founder Brewster Kahle is concerned about what would happen if private entities such as Google become the predominant digital distributors of library materials, especially content that is in the public domain. "Scanning the great libraries is a wonderful idea, but if only one corporation controls access to this digital collection, we'll have handed too much control to a private entity," Kahle says. Still, some libraries have agreed to work with both Google and the OCA. "Many are hedging their bets," says the Sloan Foundation's Doron Weber. "Taking Google money for now while realizing this is, at best, a short-term bridge to a truly open universal library of the future."
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In Growing Job Market, IT Pros Get More for the Soft Skills
InformationWeek (10/20/07) McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

The IT sector is showing strong job growth again, but the list of highly-desirable skills keeps changing, creating a turbulent market. A report by Foote Partners shows that employers are paying higher premiums for noncertified tech skills such as enterprise applications, e-commerce, and process management than for verified skills. The difference in average pay premiums is marginal, with noncertified skills averaging an 8.08 percent premium above base pay and certified skills averaging a 7.97 percent premium. However, Foote Partners CEO David Foote says the small difference in premiums is actually a "huge difference in the world of pay stats" and is part of a trend that is becoming more common as the IT job market improves. Nevertheless, U.S. technology employment is expanding, with the number of jobs rising 6 percent to 3.68 million at the end of the third quarter, according to data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Meanwhile, tech unemployment was down to 2 percent, an improvement from 2.2 percent in 2006 and the eight-year high of 5.6 percent in 2003. Software engineers, computer scientists, system analysts, and IS managers showed the largest job growth, while the number of programmers and support specialists declined.
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SC07 Conference Focuses on Higher Education
HPC Wire (10/15/07)

Higher education will be a focus at SC07 as the high performance computing industry seeks to place an even greater emphasis on workforce development and diversity. Scheduled for Nov. 10-16 in Reno, Nev., the international conference will offer the Doctoral Showcase, a new event that will allow 12 Ph.D. students graduating within the year to present a short summary of their work. SC07 is also targeting individuals from underrepresented groups through its Broader Engagement Program, which will be a multi-year initiative. Sponsored by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, SC07 will offer a special session during the Technical Program for the six finalists of ACM's Student Research Poster Competition to present their work. Top Ph.D. students with research in high performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis will be honored during the ACM/IEEE-SC Fellowship Program. Graduate and undergraduate students will also participate in the Cluster Challenge, the Education Program, and as student volunteers. "SC07 will engage hundreds of educators, students, and underrepresented groups to ensure they are able to fully participate in the use of computational science tools to enhance learning," says SC07 conference chair Becky Verastegui of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For more information, or to register, visit http://sc07.supercomputing.org/
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Hand-Held Supercomputers 'on Way'
BBC News (10/21/07)

Nanoscale wires behave very differently than bigger wires, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who have created a computer program that is able to predict the behavior of wires 1,000 times thinner than human hair. The application will enable researchers to avoid problems with the wires. "What we found is when we made these wires smaller and smaller they started to behave in a very funny way," says Dr. Michael Zaiser, an engineer in the Scottish university's school of engineering and electronics. The research is promising because effective wiring is needed if mobile phones are to become as robust as laptops and if handheld PCs are to become supercomputers. Working with researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and the University of Rome in Italy, the researchers have also created a tool for developing smaller microchips that would make use of thinner wires. "Holding a supercomputer in the palm of your hand will one day be possible--and we are going to make sure all the wires are in the right place," Zaiser says.
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What's Russian for 'Hacker'?
New York Times (10/21/07) P. WK1; Levy, Clifford J.

Russia has become a major breeding ground for hackers who use their anonymity to inflict mayhem on the West, aided by the Russian government's apparent indifference to their activities. The roots of Russian hacktivism include the country's strong system of math and science education, generally poor job prospects for graduates of Russian technical institutions, and societal encouragement of rule-breaking as a form of resistance against the strictures and despotism of the Communist regime. This resulted in widespread corruption that has continued beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which hacking is one manifestation. "There was always a great entrepreneurial spirit in Russia, but it has always been directed at things that not only help people, but also hurt people," notes Russian-American author Gary Shteyngart. Most Russian hackers are driven by a desire to profit financially, and Russia has more scammers than the United States and China. Rough estimates place 28 million Internet users in Russia, versus 150 million in China and 210 million in America. Russian hackers are considered by VeriSign to be the worst type of hackers because of their links to organized crime outfits that embezzle money with stolen bank and credit card information. Russian Parliament member Aleksei Likhachev claims the lack of criminal hacker cases in Russia is less a matter of indifference and more a matter of officials facing a learning curve in enforcement and prosecution against such activity.
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Computerizing Clothing at Tech
Collegiate Times (10/17/07) Oliver, Ashley

Virginia Tech professors Tom Martin and Mark Jones have spent the past six years developing electronic textiles and clothing with embedded wires and sensors. One such piece of clothing is a suit that can monitor the movement of the person wearing it, including whether the person is walking, running, standing, or sitting. "One student could even figure out what dance you were doing," says Martin. The suit contains steel wires that are so thin and lightweight that they feel and move like fabric, and the sensors can be removed so the suit can be washed. Such technology may eventually be used to make clothing that can be used to tell when a person is about to fall, or to monitor a person's heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and other statistics. The collected data would be sent to a computing device, possibly a home PC or mobile device, where it can be analyzed and monitored for potential health problems. Currently, the garments Martin and Jones are creating are not really suitable for wearing in public because the researchers are focusing on computer engineering more than aesthetics. However, the researchers have also designed a rug that lights up in different patterns when stepped on. "It's a really good example of what I call working in the margins with computer engineering, textile design, and garment design," Martin says. "You really have to pay attention to all three of them."
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BYU Computer Scientist 'Spills' Handheld Screen on Table
Brigham Young University (10/16/07)

Brigham Young University computer science professor Dan Olsen has developed an interactive projection system that synchronizes with a handheld computer. Using the system, images are projected onto a custom table and are manipulated using hand motions. A complete circuit is created to control the images by embedding the table with a circuit that runs through the user's body and into a conductive pad placed on the user's seat to sense when someone is touching it. The handheld computer was modified by adding a plate to the back. During a demonstration at the TableTop 2007 conference in Rhode Island on Oct. 12, Olsen's students played an electronic version of the board game Risk. The virtual game board, which was about as large as the actual game board, could be moved around and spun through touch controls. "It�s actually easier to play than the physical game because we can move it around and use it comfortably," Olsen says. "With the board game, we'd knock over all the pieces by moving the table." Olsen says the technology can be used for spreadsheets and he expects to also make it work for word processing applications.
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To Maintain National Security, U.S. Policies Should Continue to Promote Open Exchange of Research
National Academy of Sciences (10/18/07)

The United States should make the open exchange of unclassified research a priority as it is essential to the science and technology research necessary for maintaining national and economic security, concludes a National Research Council report. "In the years following the Sept. 11 attacks, research institutions have established policies and procedures that address concerns about security," says council co-chair Jacques S. Gansler, vice president for research at the University of Maryland, College Park. "However, both the security and scientific communities agree that losing our leading edge in science and technology is one of the greatest threats to national security. Unnecessary or ill-conceived restrictions could jeopardize the scientific and technical progress that our nation depends upon." While the National Security Decision Directive 189 was enacted to ensure research remains open to the public and foreign contributors, recent government policies and practices have essentially reversed the directive. What is now needed is for the government to establish a standing entity, a Science and Security Commission, to review policies regarding the exchange of information and participation of foreign scientists. The report suggests that the commission include representatives from academic research institutions and national security agencies, and should be co-chaired by the national security adviser and the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "The U.S. security and research communities need to work together to weigh the latest information about potential threats and ensure the continuation of scientific research that could help mitigate them," says council co-chair and president of Lehigh University Alice P. Gast.
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Robots Will Become Part of Daily Life
IDG News Service (10/17/07) O'Connor, Fred

Panelists at a recent discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believe that robotics will one day handle complex jobs in health care, agriculture, and product production. "People underestimate the long-term effects of robotics on society," says Rodney Brooks, director of the MIT computer Science and Artificial Intelligence laboratory. "Robots are getting closer to people. We need to see how robots and people interact." Brooks says robots will play a bigger role in caring for the elderly as the population ages. He says the Japanese already use robots as companions for the elderly and notes that in one U.S. hospital robots are used to move laundry and deliver patient's meals. Brooks also says robots will be used more in manufacturing and for cheap labor as wages rise and immigration enforcement cuts into the labor supply. North End Technologies CEO Tom Ryden says that sensors capable of truly understanding the environment and providing instant feedback at an affordable cost are needed first. He cites the winning vehicle in the DARPA Urban challenge and says that if it had been raining the car would not have made it 10 feet. Brooks says that user interfaces need to improve as do artificial intelligence and power supply technologies. Still, some technologies are basically ready, specifically processing and memory. Kiva Systems CEO Mick Mountz says that quad-core computing helps because each core handles a task, and Brooks says that storage is no longer a problem, predicting that eventually a single iPod will be able to hold every book in the Library of Congress.
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Research Shows Image-Based Threat on the Rise
Dark Reading (10/18/07) Higgins, Kelly Jackson

New research at Purdue University shows that steganography may now be a more significant threat than previously thought. Once considered to be too complex and conspicuous, some forensics experts now believe that steganography is being used more frequently, particularly in child pornography and identity theft trafficking. It is estimated that there are about 800 steganography tools available online, many for free and with user-friendly interfaces that allow for point-and-click use. Previous studies that searched for hidden steganographic messages produced few results, giving credence to the belief that steganography is not a mainstream threat. However, the new Purdue study has found evidence of steganography tools on convicted criminals' computers. Even if a criminal removes a steganography program it leaves behind "footprints" so the researchers can find evidence that the tools were once there. Previously, Purdue researchers looked for images with embedded steganography images online, but professor James Goldman realized that it would be easier to try to prove whether criminals were using steganography tools than to find the images. "Never mind finding the evidence of what they are sharing or the secret message, but just proving they use it," Goldman says. "This is the first time this has been done, I think." Goldman is working to discover which steganography tools are the most popular so researchers can do more "granular" work on popular tools and find more information on how they are being used.
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Air Force's Future Lies in Cyberspace
Washington Times (10/19/07) P. A9; Waterman, Shaun

The Air Force's recent declarations that cyberspace is a "war-fighting domain" have raised questions about U.S. military policy and doctrine. Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert J. Elder, who is in charge of the Air Force's daily cyberspace operations, says the speed, range, and flexibility of the Air Force relies entirely on the military's cyber-dominance. The Air Force is currently establishing a Cyberspace Command to match its space and air command, but Elder and other officials deny that the Air Force is making a turf grab. Elder says that cyberspace is similar to maritime and air domains in that each are used for commerce and daily life, but are potential vectors of military action by or against the United States. The legal framework and authorities on activities in cyberspace are hazy, and the full implications of managing cyberspace as a war-fighting domain are still unknown. Elder says the Air Force is working with civilian agencies, law enforcement, and the Department of Homeland Security to fill the gaps between civilian and military authority in cyberspace. Elder says that although some think that laws on cyberspace might need to be changed, no consensus has been reached. Some Air Force officials believe current U.S. military policy is too timid. "Legislation, policies, and international law are lagging the technology," says Lani Kass, a senior advisor to U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley. "The United States is late to the fight."
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Virtual Surgery Becoming a Reality
CNN (10/17/07) Knight, Matthew

Virtual reality's growing role in medicine was demonstrated in early October when two doctors in Argentina successfully completed their first laparoscopic gastric sleeve surgery while being monitored by their mentor in Baltimore, Md.. The communication was made possible by the Remote Presence Robot (RP-7), which makes possible high-quality, real-time audio and video communication. The mentoring surgeon, Dr. Alex Gandsas, secured a grant from RP-7's manufacturer so a RP-7 could be sent to Argentina. The two doctors in Argentina spent two months training before the operation. "The operation generated quite a lot of interest and setting it up took quite a bit of time," Gandsas says. "But during surgery, the robot allowed me to zoom in on the patient and on the monitors to assess the situation." Gandsas also helped out with ward rounds after the operation and was able to answer questions about post-operative symptoms. Two more remote observation surgeries are expected to take place sometime in November. Gandsas is confident that the RP-7 can be deployed on a broader scale, hopefully to create a network of experts to help with any type of problem anywhere in the world. In another case, virtual reality software was used to perform life-saving surgery on a brain aneurysm. "We have a software program available with one of our rapid CAT scanners which allows us to generate 3D images and then rotate them in ways that is relevant to rehearsing for a surgical approach," says Dr. Vini Khurana, who performed the procedure. The 3D image was projected onto one side of Khurana's eyepiece during the procedure. Other technologies still in development include mixed reality operating theatres and a medical specialty called interventional radiology that involves pinhole surgery using needles and catheters that are guided by touch and imaging.
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Driving With Poor Vision Becomes Possible
ZDNet (10/17/07) Piquepaille, Roland

Spanish researchers at the University of Granada have developed a computer simulator that allows the visually impaired to drive. The system is called SERBA, an acronym that in English translates to "reconfigurable electric-optical system for low vision." SERBA is an optoelectronic platform based on reconfigurable field programmable gate arrays, which means if a user's vision worsens he or she can download a new version of the software instead of having to buy a new device. The system uses a real-time video processing system and several image processing algorithms. The images are instantaneously replayed on a military-style transparent view finder that sits in front of the driver's eye, helping the driver see the road more clearly. Successful tests were conducted on eight patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a visual impairment that reduces the field of vision, and six patients with different pathologies that generate a loss of vision clarity.
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BT 'Futurologist': AI Entity Will Win Nobel by 2020
IDG News Service (10/15/07) Moon, Peter

British Telecom futurologist Ian Pearson cites chess-playing computer Deep Blue as an example of a new form of intelligence that does not need to mirror human intelligence in order to match--or surpass--human capabilities. He forecasts that conscious, self-aware machines will likely emerge between 2015 and 2020, but their form of thinking will be beyond people's understanding because some of the principal mechanics of consciousness are outside the realm of human comprehension. Pearson believes virtual environments such as Second Life could be enhanced with full sensory capabilities that make such artificial worlds completely immersive, but he does not anticipate a "Matrix-like" scenario in which the people who inhabit such environments lose their sense of the real world. "With the arriving of artificial intelligence, we could end up with some of 'The Sims' features with real conscience," Pearson speculates. "That will be a very interesting situation, when you will have an imaginary civilization living imaginary lives with a human point of view." Pearson does not discount the possibility that the development of robotic weapons could proceed to a point where the robots might override their commands and turn against people, a la the "Terminator" films, but he notes that an enormous developmental effort is necessary before this scenario becomes viable. The futurologist says he agrees to a certain degree with former Sun CTO Bill Joy on the perils inherent in the convergence of nanoscience, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive science, in that regulation is probably needed to prevent abuse.
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One of the 'Net's Most Powerful Women Lands a New Role
Network World (10/17/07) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy

The Internet Society on Wednesday announced that Leslie Daigle will be their first chief Internet technology officer. Daigle, who previously worked for both Cisco and VeriSign, has served as the leader of the Internet Society's Internet Architecture Board for the past five years. The Internet Society works with the Regional Internet Registries and ICANN to deal with the issues facing the Internet community. Daigle hopes to foster a cooperative, open environment as the Internet gets larger, and will reach out to the registries and standards bodies to work on a variety of issues. Daigle says that internationalized domain names is one of the most important issues facing the Internet today. "I'd like to see us retain an environment where technical people come together and identify and resolve problems in an open fashion," Daigle says. "I view the Internet Society as an obvious place to make that happen. Specifically, what I would like to accomplish in this new role is to bring different organizations together to continue to help the Internet grow." She says the main challenges for the Internet Society during the next few years will be demonstrating "to the world that an open collaborative model for Internet development and deployment still works in the current environment, as the Internet expands in all directions."
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The Visa Shortage: Big Problem, Easy Fix
BusinessWeek (10/17/07) Wadhwa, Vivek

The shortage of visas for skilled foreign workers is a growing problem for U.S. companies because significantly more foreign-born students complete higher degrees in engineering than Americans, writes Duke University adjunct professor and executive-in-residence Vivek Wadhwa. The American Society of Engineering Education reports that foreign-born students receive 45 percent of masters degrees and 60 percent of PhDs in engineering. Large corporations are unable to hire these highly skilled graduates and instead must open operations overseas, and small businesses are unable to do either. Cisco customer-support engineer Aaron McQuaid says there are currently more than 1,300 openings at Cisco, that his team has been looking for two engineers for more than three months, and barely 10 percent of applicants from a recent career fair at Duke University were U.S. citizens, none of whom had the necessary skill set. There is already a backlog of more than 1 million skilled immigrants working in the United States waiting for a yearly allowance of 120,000 permanent-resident visas. With such high demand for visas there is no easy way for current international students to stay in the United States, meaning they will probably return home permanently, taking their education with them. Wadhwa says fixing the problem is as simple as making more visas available to international students who get job offers from U.S. companies, and that giving these students permanent-resident visas instead of H-1B visas would be even better.
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