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October 24, 2007

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Welcome to the October 24, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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House Panel Chief Demands Details of Cybersecurity Plan
Baltimore Sun (10/24/07) P. 1A; Gorman, Siobhan

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) on Tuesday called upon the Bush administration to postpone the rollout of its cybersecurity initiative so that a congressional evaluation of the plan's legality could be performed. The program seeks to leverage the surveillance resources of the National Security Agency and other entities to shield government and private communications networks from hackers and terrorists. Thompson submitted a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in which he demanded that a briefing on the plan's details be sent to his committee, and that "significant questions" concerning the program's "centralization of power" should be addressed prior to launch. Thompson said issues of privacy and domestic surveillance would be of particular interest to his committee, given the NSA's and similar agencies' involvement in the plan. "What's the legal framework about which civil rights and civil liberties, as well as constitutional issues, will be protected?" Thompson queried. Current and former government officials familiar with the program say the plan calls for a seven-year, multi-billion-dollar initiative with up to 1,000 or more employees from Homeland Security and other agencies. The plan's first phase would involve the establishment of a system to guard government networks from cyberattacks, while a later phase would augment the security of private networks that control communications, nuclear power plants, electric-power grids, and other vital systems. Thompson was upset that the administration kept the plan under wraps and said further silence on the matter would prompt him to consider issuing a congressional subpoena.
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CoNEXT Rising Star Award
CoNEXT 2007 (10/22/07)

The CoNEXT Award Committee has awarded the 2007 Rising Star Award to University of California, Berkeley assistant professor of computer science Ion Stoica. The award committee chose Stoica because of the advances in research he made earlier in his career involving Internet architecture, overlay networks, and practical distributed systems. Stoica was chosen from a field of 17 nominations, which were made in response to CoNEXT's open call. Rising Star is an annual award given to a young researcher who has completed a Ph.D. within the last seven years and has already made significant research contributions. CoNEXT 2007, the 3rd International Conference on emerging Networking EXperiments and Technologies, is sponsored by ACM Sigcomm and takes place Dec. 10-13 at Columbia University in New York.
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UD Computer Security Campaigns Win Awards
University of Delaware (10/23/07) Rhodes, Jerry

The University of Delaware was awarded two major honors for its efforts to promote computer security at the 35th annual ACM Special Interest Group on University and College Computing Services Conference (ACM-SIGUCCS), held Oct. 7-10 in Orlando, Fla. Its "National Cybersecurity Awareness Month" received the Award of Excellence in the General Service Campaign category, which includes publications that boost the visibility of computing efforts at institutions of higher learning. The campaign included a weekly video tip, each 65-90 seconds long, that revolved around the central theme "Protect Your Computer." The purpose of the videos "was to raise public awareness and to lead people to information to help them protect themselves, their information, and their computers," says Richard Gordon, a project participant and member of UD's IT-User Services. The videos were accompanied by promotional articles in UD's daily paper and a calendar of cybersecurity awareness activities posted on the school's IT-Help Center Web site. Also getting recognition at the conference was UD's "Connecting Your Computer to UDelNet: Your UDelNet ID and Security," which won an Award of Excellence in the Electronic How-to Guides category. "Last year, these episodes of connecting videos were by far the most downloaded and viewed of the 'Consulting on Demand' series," says Larry Larraga, also of IT-User Services. "We were pleased to have its success affirmed by our academic community peers."
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Scientists Draw on New Technology to Improve Password Protection
Newcastle University (10/24/07)

Newcastle University researchers are developing a new password protection system that uses pictures instead of letters and numbers, creating what they believe is a simpler, safer, and more memorable password system. The technology can currently be used on devices such as iPhones, BlackBerrys, and smart phones, but could also be adapted to help people with language difficulties such as dyslexia. Newcastle University lecturer Jeff Yan and PhD student Paul Dunphy say their work improves upon the emerging graphical password technology called Draw a Secret (DAS). DAS allows users to draw an image as a substitute for a password, which is then encoded as an ordered sequence of cells. The researchers superimposed a background over the DAS grid to create the Background Draw a Secret system (BDAS). BDAS helps users remember where they started the drawing and creates graphical passwords that have more stroke counts, making passwords that are less predictable, longer, and more complex. During a trial of the BDAS system users were asked to select a background and draw a password image. One week later, the participants were asked to re-create the image and were able to do so with 95 percent success within three attempts. "The recalled BDAS passwords were, on average, more complicated than their DAS counterparts by more than 10 bits," says Yan. "This means that the memorable BDAS passwords improved security by a factor of more than 1024." Yan will present the BDAS research during the opening lecture at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 30th.
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U.S. IT Talent Shortage Should Spur Policy Changes, Report Advises
InformationWeek (10/19/07) Jones, K.C.

Enrollment in bachelor's programs in computer science dropped 40 percent from 2001 to 2006, reports the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), with many students avoiding the field because of offshoring and other job stability problems. The nonprofit commission wants policy makers to improve conditions for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals, citing a report that highlights the United States' inability to compete with India, China, and similar countries. The "STEM Workforce Data Project," the result of nearly three years of data analysis on the trends in the U.S. STEM workforce, concludes that Americans have fewer incentives to continue education in STEM fields as more employers move toward "on-demand" employment and students foresee shorter job tenures. However, the report says there are several policies that could be enacted that would help the STEM workforce, including government procurement, increasing federal research funding and scholarships, promoting continuing education, implementing sound immigration policies, improving labor market signals, and supporting re-entry into STEM careers. The report also says the government is not doing enough to encourage women and underrepresented minorities to enter STEM fields, while older workers report underemployment and unemployment while employers complain about a lack of STEM talent. "When employers issue dire cautions about a lack of human supply, we intuitively expect the field in question to become more attractive, with degree production, employment levels, and salaries rising accordingly," says CPST executive director Lisa Frehill. "But that hasn't happened with many STEM occupations, so we need to start looking at where the disconnects are."
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She's Geeky Conference Takes Aim at Silicon Valley's Male-Skewed Culture
San Jose Mercury News (CA) (10/22/07) Swift, Mike

Mary Hodder was once told by a venture capitalist that he would not fund her startup partially because she did not have a male co-founder and he thought she would quit because she was a woman. Hodder did not quit and now her video search and social networking site doubles its registered users every two-and-a-half months. The She's Geeky conference, partially organized by Hodder, focuses on gender stereotypes similar to Hodder's experience and the male-skewed culture of Silicon Valley. "When you fall into a business that is so male-dominated, as a woman you think somehow there's something that everybody else knows that you don't know," says Hodder. The all-women, two-day conference, which attracted about 200 women, focuses on business networking, hard-edged technical brainstorming, and polishing individual business skills such as public speaking. One session in particular, "Owning Your Power," was particularly energetic as it addressed the struggle between being assertive and still being liked by co-workers. More women are receiving doctoral degrees in computer science and math, according to research from Stanford University's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, but conference organizers say Silicon Valley's business culture is not keeping pace. "Things are shifting from where they were five or 10 years ago," says Yahoo senior product developer Susan Mernit. "Maybe you're not the one woman in a room with 15 men--maybe there are two of you. But many of us are functioning in what we consider very unbalanced environments."
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UBC, UVic Create Their Own Collaboration Software
Computerworld Canada (10/23/07) Lau, Kathleen

The University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria, with funding from IBM and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, are developing tools for IBM's Jazz community, which aims to build a team collaboration platform for the integration of tasks throughout the software development cycle. The University of British Columbia is working on a technology called Emergent Expertise Locator that is capable of assigning a developer to a project based on working behavior, the types of files and technologies used in the project, and the people with which that individual normally works. "When we need to collaborate with somebody the tool can actually recommend who they should collaborate with," says UBC computer science professor Gail Murphy. The University of Victoria will continue its work on developing tools that improve coordination in software development, specifically for globally-distributed teams. Victoria computer science professor Daniela Damian says dispersed teams usually "experience significant challenges in communication, coordination, and collaboration." The first prototype developed by the University of Victoria, called Feature Team Explorer, helps a developer connect with others based on program features, while the second, called Related Contributors Plug-in, matches a developer with other relevant developers. The technology is important for knowledge dissemination as well as for staying updated on changes others may have made to the code. Both groups will demonstrate the early work on their projects at ACM SIGPLAN's International Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications, which takes place Oct. 21-25 in in Montreal.
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Fran Allen Fellowship Award Founded
Dr. Dobb's Journal (10/22/07) Blake, Deirdre

IBM has announced the creation of the Fran Allen Fellowship Award, named in honor of Fran Allen, a computer science pioneer and the first woman to win the ACM A.M. Turing Award. Allen received the Turing Award in 2006 for her work on computer problem solving and high-performance computing. Allen is also the first woman to be made an IBM Fellow, IBM's highest technical honor. Allen has made mentoring students and colleagues in science and engineering a career-long priority. "Fran is a tremendous inspiration to all scientists, engineers, and mathematicians around the world," says IBM executive vice president of innovation and technology Nick Donofrio, who announced the award at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2007 on Oct. 18. "Her dedication to developing the next generation of technology leaders, and in particular to serving as a role model for female students, sets a new standard for mentors. We can all learn from her experience and her actions." The Fran Allen Fellowship Award will be given annually to a female Ph.D. student, who will receive mentoring from IBM and be invited to present their research at an IBM Research site. The recipient's school will also receive an award to encourage female participation in computer science and engineering.
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House Democrats Pushing to Revisit H-1B Visa, Green Card Reform This Year
InformationWeek (10/23/07) McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

The New Democrat Coalition, a 59-member group of Democratic members of Congress, is urging Congress to reopen debate on H-1B visa reform and says Congress "must act to alleviate the talent crisis before we adjourn this year." Some of the requested reforms include matching the supply of H-1B visas and employment-based green cards with the needs of employers and modernizing the student visa program. The New Democrat Coalition says the House must take action this year to resolve the immediate talent crisis. Hope for H-1B visa reform was squashed in the spring when Congress' comprehensive immigration reform bill died, but in the past few months pressure has been mounting for Congress to revisit tech industry-related immigration issues. In addition to a letter sent by the New Democrat Coalition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House committee leaders, several tech lobbying groups have also been pressuring House and Senate leaders to revisit visa and green card reforms. Despite increased pressure, a government source says new debate on raising the H-1B visa cap is unlikely to take place in the House anytime soon unless the Senate revisits the issues first.
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Summit Spotlights Biomedical High Performance Computing
HPC Wire (10/19/07) Vol. 16, No. 42, Coleman, Charles; Doninger, Cheryl

The application of high-performance computing and grid computing to biomedicine was the theme of the first annual Biomedical High Performance Computing Leadership Summit hosted by Harvard Medical School on Oct. 1-2. Presentations covered such diverse subjects as unanswered questions about the roles open source, open standards, and open architecture play in biomedical applications; the overwhelming importance of the HPC infrastructure's users and customers; the transition from 1U computer resources to blades; IDC's estimate that digital data will increase 100 percent every 11 hours; the crucial part distributed and parallel file systems play in successful HPC architecture and applications; anticipation of growing demand for refined data management and analytics tools; and the rapid acceleration of interest and research into the employment of virtualization technology and "in silico" simulations. Four private-sector presenters--Dr. John Hurley of Boeing, Bioteam's Chris Dagdigian, the SAS Institute's Cheryl Doninger, and HP's Dr. Mark Linesch--offered varying perspectives of their corporations' adoption and deployment of HPC and grids for either internal use or product development, and highlighted several common implementation objectives, such as the need for data and information management, infrastructure sharing across multiple applications and users, and collaboration with suppliers and partners to meet common challenges. Doninger and Texas Tech University's Dr. Peter Westfall made a joint presentation on a clinical trial simulation application that takes advantage of a HPC environment to process large data sets and sophisticated algorithms to save time while cutting trial costs by millions of dollars. Dr. Jay Boisseau of the University of Texas Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center, BIRN founder Dr. Mark Ellisman, Mary Kratz of the University of Michigan, and Dr. Rick Stevens of the University of Chicago spotlighted themes and best practices for managing shared computing infrastructure to generate flexible grids and clusters for the sciences.
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Tiny Chips Flash Memory Advance
BBC News (10/23/07)

Samsung has developed a new chip that could enable an MP3 player to hold the equivalent of 80 DVDs. The 64 GB chip has circuits that are 30 billionths of a meter, or a nanometer, and is designed for use with NAND flash, a type of memory that is capable of offering greater storage and speeds. An MP3 player featuring a single chip could hold 18,000 songs, while multiple chips could allow Flash to challenge hard drives used in most laptops. "This has the biggest storage capacity of a single memory chip ever developed in the world," says Samsung's Kwon Hyosun. Earlier this month Toshiba announced its 30 nm technology. Both firms plan to release 30 nm-based products in 2009.
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Search Gets Serious for CMOS Replacement
EE Times (10/22/07) Mokhoff, Nicolas

Many researchers believe that semiconductors are on their last legs and that the time is right to find the next "big thing" that will replace them. "We have reached the opportune moment in the semiconductor-technology industry when we need to get to work now to stay ahead of Moore's Law in the next 10 years," says IBM director of research John Kelly. Kelly believes 2007 is the start of the nanotechnology era, with more than a billion transistors per chip. However, Kelly believes a breakthrough cannot be accomplished alone, and points out that materials-technology breakthroughs have not been a focus of IBM research. "We need a healthy industry atmosphere of cooperation and competition among industry, universities, and government laboratories in order to find a new computational element as the end of CMOS scaling approaches," says Semiconductor Industry Association President George Scalise. One example of cooperation and competition is a partnership between the Semiconductor Research Corp. and the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology. The partnership supports research in nanoelectronics with the objective of finding a replacement for CMOS. The partnership expects to provide $18.5 million in grants over five years to a variety of high-priority research projects.
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'Half-Quantum' Cryptography Promises Total Security
New Scientist (10/21/07) Marks, Paul

Many cryptographers believed that the only way to achieve complete security when transmitting information was to use quantum cryptography to share the key used for encryption. However, researchers say they can achieve the same level of security even if one party stays in the world of classical physics. In conventional quantum cryptography, a sender, dubbed Alice, generates a string of 0s and 1s and encodes them using a photon polarized in either the computational "basis" in which 0 and 1 are represented by vertical and horizontal polarizations, or in diagonal bases in which 1 and 0 are represented by 45 degree and negative 45 degree polarizations. When the photons arrive at their destination, the receiver, dubbed Bob, chooses either the computational or diagonal bases to measure each one, telling Alice which he has chosen. If the chosen basis is wrong, Alice tells Bob to discard that bit. The bits that are guessed correctly form the secret key. If an eavesdropper intercepts any photons, the stream is interrupted and Bob's ability to read a number of the photons he might have read correctly is destroyed. The increase in unreadable photons tells Bob the communication channel has been compromised. Researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and the University of Montreal have demonstrated that only Alice needs to be quantum-equipped. Alice encodes the bits as usual, though Bob can only use the computational basis. Bob randomly measures some of the received photons and returns the rest to Alice untouched. The bits read in the computational basis form the key. The system is still secure because anyone eavesdropping does not know which photons will be returned to Alice unmeasured.
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Jens Mache Receives Grant to Advance Computer Science Education
Lewis & Clark College (10/17/07)

Lewis & Clark College computer science professor Jens Mache and Portland State University's Nirupama Bulusu have been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to study how to introduce the promising field of wireless sensor networks at the undergraduate level. Over the next two years Mache and Bulusu will develop a lab-based, active learning environment for undergraduate students. Up until now sensor network education has been largely limited to graduate students and professionals. "In the future, sensor networks will enable the Internet to be more closely connected to the real world of physical objects," Mache says. "This grant is allowing us to explore emerging technology with the next generation of scientists and leaders at a much earlier stage of their professional development."
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Pushing the Limits of Chip Miniaturisation
ICT Results (10/18/07)

STMicroelectronics has coordinated two large European Union-funded projects that would shrink computer chips beyond the limits of today's semiconductor technology. The NanoCMOS initiative, which ended in June 2006, created the technology to develop 45 nm chips. A follow-up project, dubbed Pullnano, is currently developing nodes 32nm and even 22nm in size. Such sizes continue to test Moore's Law. "The work of NanoCMOS and Pullnano has moved in that direction, although there is probably 12 or 15 more years to go before we hit a practical and economical limit on how small the nodes can become," says STMicroelectronics R&D Cooperative Programs director and Pullnano coordinator Gilles Thomas. Thomas believes the industry will reach the point where it is no longer feasible to make smaller chips at about the 16nm or 11nm mark. "At that point it would not be economical or practical to go smaller, even though, in theory, it would be possible," Thomas says. The 45nm-node semiconductors developed during the NanoCMOS project are expected to be available in consumer products by 2009.
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Spreading the Agile Practice
SD Times (10/15/07)No. 184, P. 41; Rubinstein, David

By applying agile development to internal projects, organizations are benefiting from shorter time-to-market, higher team productivity, and better quality software, and now they want to reap those same rewards through the application of agile development to distributed teams. Successfully doing so means abiding by three principles--sharing plans, accessing code from one repository, and effective communication--and matching this strategy with highly competent team members who work in a trust-cultivating environment that also offers a framework for feedback and keeps business and development initiatives visible. Several experts suggested at the Agile 2007 conference that the teams or at least team representatives should be convened prior to a project's commencement in order that they acclimate themselves to each other. A key starting point for distributed-team agile development is the establishment of a collaborative work environment and the infusion of people with project management skills, while experts emphasized clear communication; one recommended the elimination of email as a communications medium in agile development, calling it "a disaster." He also said there should be a mentor assigned to every project. Organizations must dictate the frequency of the builds, and some experts call for a single, centralized repository that offers high visibility. Integration is a sticking point, and resource management is considered to be the solution. An accurate record of the builds must be provided, and Stelligent President Andrew Glover said measurement and accountability is supplied via continuous integration. For projects that feature many development teams, several of which might be more geographically scattered than others, Symphony Services executive Roger Nessier suggested assigning the remote teams to focus on different aspects of the project.
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Rochester Institute of Technology Researchers Work on Sensor Network
RFID Journal (10/07) Swedberg, Claire

The Rochester Institute of Technology has embarked on a multiyear project to create a secure RFID-enabled sensor network that would allow medical care providers to remotely monitor the cardiac health and medicine consumption of their patients while reducing costs, according to project team leader and RIT computer engineering professor Fei Hu. He says current data-securing technology is too power-consumptive for the heart-monitoring system he has conceived, and that the RIT researchers' challenge is to build a platform where network protocols can automatically encrypt data without making the system so complex that its power requirements are excessive. "We aim to create a low-overhead, low-complexity, low-power security scheme for RFID reader-tag communications," says Hu. The system would enable patients to wear an RFID tag linked to a sensor affixed to several bodily areas to monitor vital signs. The battery-driven tags would send data to receivers implemented throughout the hospital or nursing home. The receivers would then send the data directly to a server, or to another gateway before being routed to the server. The project will involve collaboration with University of Alabama professor Yang Xiao; his team will design the algorithms for securing the data, while Hu says RIT's contribution will consist of developing the RFID tags and interrogators, and integrating the readers with back-end databases. The RIT research group is employing small, inexpensive sensors to interface with battery-powered tags. The RFID tags would only send a unique ID that could then be linked to a patient's information in a database, but Hu points to the need for an additional layer of security so that the ID number is safe from unauthorized parties.
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Cracking Go
IEEE Spectrum (10/07) Vol. 44, No. 10, P. 50; Hsu, Feng-Hsiung

Microsoft Research Asia's Feng-Hsiung Hsu believes a world-champion-level computer that plays Go could be realized within a decade, using the same intensive analysis technique of brute-force computation that the Deep Blue computer used to play chess. He is putting together a graduate student project to design such a program's hardware and software, and he writes that the success of the project "would further vindicate brute force as a general approach to computing problems." The substitution of search for judgment is the quintessential element of the brute-force method, and its primary advantages over selective search are twofold. The program is less difficult to write, less buggy, and has fewer blind spots, while the other plus is that the program's playing improves as processing power increases, once the transition to brute force has been accomplished. Go's tree of analysis is far larger than for chess because Go offers more potential moves at every turn, while the assessment of end positions is even more complicated. Hsu says 45-nm process technology could facilitate the manufacture of a machine that searches 100 times as fast as Deep Blue and that can be fitted onto a single chip, and another 100-fold boost in computing power could be enabled if 480 duplicates of that chip were fabricated and integrated in a parallel architecture. In addition, another 100-fold increase should become available in 10 years in keeping with Moore's law, leading Hsu to conclude that a machine that is 1 million times as fast as Deep Blue--and capable of playing Go as well as Deep Blue played chess--could be constructed.
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