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ACM TechNews
November 2, 2007

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Welcome to the November 2, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Social Network Sites Seek Common Software Standard
New York Times (11/02/07) P. C7; Helft, Miguel; Stone, Brad

MySpace and Bebo have joined a Google-led alliance promoting OpenSocial, a common set of standards for software developers to write programs for social networks. The new alliance puts pressure on Facebook to join OpenSocial. Facebook opened its site to developers last spring. By being the first social networking site to allow independent developers to create programs for other users, Facebook drew a significant crowd away from MySpace, the world's largest social network with 110 million active members. Bebo is the largest social network in Britain with 39 million active users. MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe says OpenSocial will be bigger than any other platform with about 200 million active users. The open standard could lead to a wave of innovation on social networks as applications can easily reach more users than ever before, encouraging developers to create new Internet tools. Google and other alliance members say they have invited other social networks, including Facebook, to join the alliance, saying the most important aspect of open projects is that everyone participates. Facebook says it has not been fully briefed on the initiative, but that it would evaluate OpenSocial once it has a chance to study it. The standard does not mean that every program will successfully work on every social site, as different sites may not incorporate the standard as deeply or as effectively as other sites.
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11 Finalists to Hit the Streets in DARPA's $2M Urban Challenge
Computerworld (10/01/07) Gaudin, Sharon

The field of 35 semifinalists in DARPA's Urban Challenge has been narrowed to 11 finalists that will compete on Saturday, Nov. 3, at George Air Force Base in Victorville, Calif. The driverless cars will have to navigate 60 miles of urban streets, multiple lanes, traffic circles, and four-way stops. The finalists include entries from Virginia Tech, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon University, and Stanford. DARPA director Tony Tether says the National Qualification Event tested the robotic cars' ability to merge into traffic, navigate four-way intersections, respond to blocked roads, pass on-coming cars on narrow roads, and keep up with traffic on two-lane and four-lane roads. Tether says the only real difference between the qualifying event and the final test is that there will be multiple robotic vehicles on the course at the same time. "Vehicles competing in the Urban Challenge will have to think like human drivers and continually make split-second decisions to avoid moving vehicles, including robotic vehicles without drivers, and operate safely on the course," says Urban Challenge program manager Norman Whitaker. "The urban setting adds considerable complexity to the challenge faced by the robotic vehicles, and replicates the environments where many of today's military missions are conducted." The wining team will receive a $2 million prize, second place will receive $500,000, and third will receive $250,000.
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Minority Professors Are Underrepresented in Top Science Programs, Report Says
Chronicle of Higher Education (11/01/07) Wilson, Robin

Students in underrepresented minority groups earn undergraduate and doctoral degrees in science and engineering at much greater rates than minority professor hold faculty jobs in those same disciplines at the nation's top research universities, concludes a new report funded by the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The report, "A National Analysis of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities," says that the gap between the number of underrepresented minority students earning science and engineering degrees and the number of minority faculty members teaching in those disciplines means minority students have very few same-race role models, which could lead to fewer minority students who are interested in pursuing those disciplines. The report found that in computer science, underrepresented minority students earned 20.6 percent of bachelor's degrees in 2005, and 6.6 percent of Ph.D.'s from 1996 to 2005, while minority professors represented only 2.8 percent of faculty members at the nation's top 100 universities. Women, however, now represent a larger portion of the assistant professors in science and engineering than they did in 2002. The proportion of female assistant professors rose by 10 percent in both computer science and economics. Nevertheless, large disparities still exist between the portion of doctorates awarded to women and the percentage of faculty positions in those disciplines that are held by women.
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Computer Science Students Present at Prestigious OOPSLA
University of Minnesota Morris (10/30/2007) Riley, Judy

The poster session at ACM SIGPLAN's Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA) conference in Montreal gave computer science students at the University of Minnesota, Morris an opportunity to show off their research on Java generics. Eli Mayfield and Kyle Roth teamed up with Daniel Selifonov and Nathan Dahlberg to create the poster, which was titled "Optimizing Java Programs Using Generic Types." The UMM poster was the only submission by undergraduate students. "OOPSLA is a very prestigious conference and this is a very impressive achievement," says Elena Machkasova, adviser and UMM assistant professor of computer science. In addition to the presentation on Oct. 22, Mayfield and Roth also met with Guy Steele and other prominent researchers, and attended talks at the conference.
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Microsoft Hopes ScRGB Will Improve Photo Colors
CNet (11/01/07) Shankland, Stephen

The depth and richness of photos captured by digital cameras and viewed on a computer or television screen could be enhanced with the adoption of scRGB, a color space developed by Microsoft that can encode colors as numbers a computer can process. The current color space utilized by today's computers and cameras describes colors as a specific combination of red, green, and blue, which limits the breadth of displayed colors as well as the nuances of the tonal shades that separate bright from dark. "ScRGB would allow a richer saturated red value ... than the sRGB limit for red," says leader of Microsoft's HD Photo initiative Bill Crow. Kevin Connor with Adobe's digital imaging group notes that the color management problem is amplified by the sRGB color space's small range in comparison to scRGB. The drawbacks of sRGB are especially apparent to enthusiasts of high-dynamic range photography, in which multiple photos taken at different exposures are integrated into a single image. ScRGB is capable of further extension and finer subdivision than sRGB, and the new color space can use far higher numbers of bits to describe each pixel, as well as employ integers and floating-point numbers to define gradations from light to dark. Crow says scRGB has been a royalty-free standard for four years and is thus "free for anyone to use," but adoption is more likely to be stimulated by the fact that support for the color space is embedded within Windows Vista and the HD Photo file format Microsoft is trying to standardize.
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Machine Learning Fuels Sun Music Recommendation Technology
Network World (10/31/07) Brodkin, Jon

A Sun open source project dedicated to building a music recommendation system is using software that listens to and analyzes music. Automated recommendation systems are generally based on who is listening to the music, not on an analysis of the music. Consumer preferences can be drastically different, so these systems sometimes create abnormal and somewhat erroneous recommendations. To create a better recommendation system, Sun has developed music similarity algorithms that examine the actual sound of the music using machine learning that analyzes features such as frequency and beats per minute to determine the genre and what instruments are being played. The system could make it easier for new artists to be found online, an increasingly difficult task as more and more of the musical library is stored online, says Paul Lamere, principal investigator of Sun's Search Inside the Music. "Recommendation technology is key," Lamere says. "The Web is going to be filled with billions of tracks and there's going to be millions of tracks arriving every week. The question is, when you have a million songs in your in-box, how are you going to find something you really like?" Beyond sound recognition, Sun has also included a tagging system that categorizes music based on its attributes, with descriptions such as quirky, indie, rock, fast, cute, or fun. The tags are generated by search through reviews, lyrics, music blogs, social tagging sites, and artist biographies. Using a comprehensive search of the Web to create tags prevents people from manipulating the system by adding their own tags to make a track more popular. The search engine also provides links to videos, pictures, and information on upcoming concerts.
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How to Organize the Web
Technology Review (11/02/07) Naone, Erica

Microsoft's Live Labs is developing Listas, a new Internet tool designed to offer a way of organizing online content. Listas is based on creating lists, either by typing in original content, taking clippings from Web pages, or reading and editing public lists. The lists can include almost any type of content, including images and videos, can be public or private, and can be tagged to make searching easier. Listas also allows users to acknowledge each other as "friends." Lists made by a user, that user's friends, and public lists the user links to are all collected on a single page. Downloading and installing the optional Listas toolbar, which works with Internet Explorer, makes it easier to select items from Web pages such as text, URLs, blog posts, or product listings and add them to a list. "Lists are a fundamental data type across the Web," says Live Labs product manager Alex Daley. "A great deal of the information we produce and consume across the Web is in this structure." Daley says Listas' greatest virtue is its generality, which allows users to organize data however they see fit. Live Labs director Gary Flake says Listas was created because he had a feeling that his online information was spread out everywhere and no longer under his control, noting that the more involved a person is in online communities, the more severe the problem can become.
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Researchers Dig for Hidden Links in Spam
IDG News Service (10/31/07) Kirk, Jeremy

The links in spam messages are often used by filtering programs to determine if the message should be blocked, but spammers find loopholes by creating links that cannot be identified by filters but are still valid links, says University of Quebec software engineering professor Christopher Fuhrman. Spammers change and hide these links by altering the HTML enough to confuse filters but keep the links readable by browser rendering engines and email servers. Fuhrman believes that spammers test their altered links on Microsoft's Outlook program because it uses the same HTML rendering engine as the Internet Explorer browser. To find spammers' hidden links, Fuhrman is writing a program that uses Internet Explorer's rendering engine to parse out the links. Although some services already use algorithms to parse out the links in spam, the algorithms are hard to write and Fuhrman is interested in finding a way to parse messages without having to constantly tweak algorithms to keep up with new tricks used by spammers. Fuhrman says it is difficult to write a parser that will read links the same way Internet Explorer's rendering engine does because Microsoft's source code is secrete, so it is better to use the engine as part of the program. Any links that Internet Explorer's engine finds would be reported to a blocklist service. "I want to ultimately get it as a Web-based engine so that users can paste spam, and when it comes out, it will reveal the links," Fuhrman says.
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Cellphones Team Up to Become Smart CCTV Swarm
New Scientist (10/31/07) Simonite, Tom

Swiss researchers at the Institute for Pervasive Computing in Zurich have developed Facet, Java-based software that enables camera cell phones to act as a smart surveillance network capable of spotting intruders or identifying wildlife. Facet uses Bluetooth wireless technology to automatically share and analyze information collected by a group of networked cell phones. To test the software, the researchers attached four cell phones with Facet to the ceiling of a corridor. The phones were angled so the camera on each phone covered a different part of the corridor. Whenever one of the phones detected an object entering or exiting its field of focus, a message was sent to alert nearby phones, which relayed the message to the next nearest phones, and so on until the entire network had been alerted. One of the phones also alerts a computer using a normal GPRS cell phone connection. The network calculates the distance between each phone by comparing when a person enters and exits a phone's vision against the average walking speed of a human. Knowing the shape of the network allows the phones to perform complex tasks, such as reporting when someone walks down a specific corridor or sounding an alarm if a dangerous animal approaches a camp site. After some improvements to the software the researchers will release Facet as an open-source project, allowing anyone to modify the code for their own uses.
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Media X Researchers to Explore Fusion Between the Virtual and Real Worlds
Stanford University (10/31/07)

Stanford University's Media X unites academic researchers and industry partners to study interactive communications and technology by integrating communications, engineering, humanities, law, medicine, business, and design studies. Media X grants have been awarded to seven multidisciplinary teams of researchers dedicated to exploring how people use and share information and collaborate in virtual worlds. "The fusion of virtual and physical worlds for advanced communications represents a new field of interdisciplinary inquiry," says communication professor Byron Reeves, co-founder of Media X and the Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute (H-STAR). The seven Media X grants will be used to study a variety of topics. One study will explore the virtual-physical-social interplay by examining how social experiences and interactions in physical places change with the addition of digital information, and how digital experiences change with physical information. Another study will develop virtual sensornets to allow scientists to construct instruments for measuring what is happening in virtual worlds, and will allow users to control and monitor what is being recorded. Other studies will examine if virtual worlds create optimal conditions for learning and what are the legal regimes that govern virtual communities.
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New List Ranks 'Green' Supercomputers
LiveScience (10/31/07) Malik, Tariq

Virginia Tech computer scientist Kirk Cameron and colleague Wu Feng are creating a list of supercomputers that ranks the most powerful computing machines in the world on performance and speed, as well as on their energy efficiency and reliability. Cameron and Feng note that costs are rising for Japan's Earth Simulator supercomputer because of the sophisticated cooling systems needed to handle the enormous amount of heat it produces. They add that Google's new data center at The Dalles, Ore., will use affordable local power and cooling water from a nearby river. Feng headed the development of the low-power, high-performance Green Destiny, a machine that ranked with the Cray T3D MC1024-8 supercomputer at No. 393 on the Top 500 list in 2003. They will introduce the Green500 Supercomputer List in November. "Over time we anticipate increased participation and improvements in the ability of the list to reflect high performance and energy efficiency as technologies improve," Cameron says.
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SDSU Experts Work Around the Clock to Gather Critical Fire Data
SDSUniverse (10/26/07) Coartney, Lauren

Scientists at San Diego State University's SDSU Immersive Visualization Center have been working almost nonstop since the first fires were reported near Santa Ysabel. "We have links to all of these feeds, like NASA, Google Maps, and Predator video," says Viz Lab co-director Eric Frost. "We're constantly looking for more sources of precise information and different ways to visualize it so we can show the location of the fires as close to real time as possible." Normally, the Viz Lab is used to collect, process, and analyze images from around the world for a variety of purposes, such as finding sources of oil or revealing the sketches hidden beneath Leonardo da Vinci paintings. The lab is also used to track and analyze natural disasters, but this time the disaster's much closer. Frost and his team have been generating data to fill in the gaps between information sources and feeding the information to local emergency responders to help them decide where resources are most urgently needed. "There's a technology being used today that allows video taken by helicopters to be downloaded to public safety Internet, providing information about where the fires are and what the helicopters are seeing as they're fighting them," says Bob Welty, SDSU Viz Lab co-director and SDSU Research Foundation director of homeland security projects. Members of Google's disaster imagery team have established temporary residence in the lab since the start of the fires and provided the lab with video from an unmanned aerial drone to monitor the fire from the air through Google's partnership with NASA.
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Germany Seeks Expansion of Computer Spying
Los Angeles Times (10/30/07) Murphy, Kim

German law enforcement authorities want to expand government-sanctioned computer surveillance, citing the case of an abortive bombing in which plans for the attack were on the laptop of one of the suspects. "What this case showed us is that they are using laptops, they are using computers, and it would have been very, very helpful to track them down with online searches," says Gerhard Schindler, director of the German Interior Ministry's counter-terrorism bureau. Germany is seeking authorization to plant clandestine Trojans into suspects' computers so that files, photos, diagrams, voice recordings, keystrokes, and other information can be scanned and recorded. This proposal does not sit well with a nation whose people carry bitter memories of official surveillance under past regimes. The Interior Ministry reports that laws authorizing online searches have already been passed in several European countries, and several more allow such searches or are in the process of adopting similar legislation. German parliament member Hans-Christian Stroeble says physical computer searches are already permissible with court approval, but secret searches would completely bypass legal procedures. "What we fear is that without any hint of a criminal background, police can secretly go into computers, maybe even the computers of political opponents, and spy them out, gaining access to personal data like photos, diaries, love letters, things like that," he says. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center says he has no awareness that searches via implanted software are being carried out by U.S. authorities, but he notes that "it's also not clear, given the current view of the president on his powers to conduct electronic surveillance, that it hasn't been used."
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PS3 Network Enters Record Books
BBC News (11/02/07)

The processing power of Sony's PlayStation 3 (PS3) has helped make the folding@home (FAH) project the most powerful distributed computing network in the world. According to Guinness World Records, FAH has more than 1 petaflop of computing power, which is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion calculations per second. Through March of this year, FAH had signed up about 200,000 PCs, giving it about 250 teraflops of computing power, but the addition of 670,000 PS3s has pushed the project over the top. The BlueGene L is the fastest supercomputer, and it only reaches a top speed of 280.6 teraflops. Consumers and gamers participating in FAH are giving the project spare processing power so researchers can study how the shape of proteins affects various diseases, including Alzheimer's. PS3 uses the "cell" processor, which is up to 10 times faster than current PC chips. "It is clear that none of this would be even remotely possible without the power of PS3, it has increased our research capabilities by leaps and bounds," says Vijay Pande, a Stanford University professor who heads the FAH project.
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Al Qaeda Hacker Attack Scheduled to Begin November 11th
InformationWeek (11/01/07) Claburn, Thomas

DEBKAfile, an Israeli news site, asserts that Western, Israeli, Jewish, Shiite, and Muslim apostate Web sites will be attacked by al Qaeda hackers beginning on Nov. 11. DEBKAfile claims that Bin Laden's "cyber legions" are getting even with Western surveillance systems that have persistently and effectively suppressed Al Qaeda's Web presence. The Department of Homeland Security emphasizes that DEBKAfile's report does not represent an official U.S. alert, though the agency intends to seriously investigate the threat, as it does all threats. Although Forbes and Wired News have praised DEBKAfile for its journalism in the past, others debate the trustworthiness of the source. Nonetheless, software called Electronic Jihad 2.0 is obtainable online, and the most recent version of the software facilitates a distributed denial of service attack. Though the idea of Al Qaeda being involved in a cyberattack is worrisome, the menace is no more perilous than everyday security risks facing Internet users, says Marc Zwillinger, a former cybercrime prosecutor with the Department of Justice. In addition, modern networks are better equipped to handle denial of service attacks than networks from several years ago, he says.
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Setting a Cybersecurity Agenda for the 110th Congress
Government Computer News (10/31/07) Jackson, William

At the Congressional High Tech Caucus on Wednesday more than four dozen representatives and senators started work on an IT legislative agenda for the 110th Congress. Although numerous bills on computer crime, infrastructure protection, spyware, and data breaches have been introduced in both houses, and a number of bills are pending, few have made it to a vote, and even fewer have become law. At the caucus the Consumers Union's Jeannine Kenney pushed for a strong national breach notification law to help protect personal identification from theft or exposure. "Industry and government are not investing in cybersecurity measures," Kenney says. "We need to create incentives to make these investments. One way to do that is requiring that consumers are always notified when their personal information is breached." Many in the information technology industry want to see a national standard replace the 35 different state notification laws, while the Cyber Security Industry Alliance says any notification law should include safe harbors for businesses that deploy strong, pre-breach security measures. Both Consumer Data Industry Association President Stuart Pratt and Homeland Security Department chief privacy officer Hugo Teufel III say collecting personal data can improve security and the resulting risks to privacy are an acceptable trade-off, arguing that data collection has been used to prevent fraud and that security and privacy go hand in hand.
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The Grill: Software Guru Grady Booch Is Hot on Linux, Second Life and Busting Bureaucracy
Computerworld (10/29/07) Vol. 41, No. 44, P. 28; Haverstein, Heather

IBM Rational Group chief scientist, Grady Booch, developer of the Unified Modeling Language, says that software development is and will remain fundamentally hard, and that every era will face a new level of complexity. "Most of the interesting systems today are no longer just systems by themselves, but they tend to be systems of systems," Booch says. "It is the set of them working in harmony. We don't have a lot of good processes or analysis tools to really understand how those things behave. Many systems look dangerously fragile. The bad news is they are fragile. This is another force that will lead us to the next era of how we build software systems." Booch says that open source development represents an economic process where you find some applications that otherwise would not be developed because they would not make money. He also says the operating system wars are largely over and it would be best to decide on a common platform. As for virtual worlds, and the numerous companies that are pulling out of them, Booch says that they probably entered for the wrong reasons. People are not going to go to a store in a virtual world to buy a real world product, but virtual worlds can still be used by companies to save money. Booch, for example, has given several lectures through Second Life that would have otherwise required a lot of travel time and money.
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Requirements and Services for Metadata Management
Internet Computing (10/07) Vol. 11, No. 5, P. 17; Missier, Paolo; Alper, Pinar; Corcho, Oscar

A group of University of Manchester researchers outline the overall requirements for metadata management and describe a model and service that concentrates on RDF metadata to fulfill these requirements. They describe the design of their service-oriented model for format- and location-independent metadata management as being "based on the observation that ... two simple properties are common to all metadata: namely, that it's invariably associated with some underlying resource, and, optionally, separate meta-information for interpreting metadata--an ontology, for instance--might be available." Metadata management issues the researchers focus on include heterogeneous data storage and retrieval, metadata evolution and lifetime management, and access control to metadata. The objective of the authors' semantic binding service (SBS) is to deliver a uniform series of primitives for metadata resource management, although they note that interoperability among heterogeneous metadata is not one of the deliverables. "The SBS offers a uniform way to maintain correct associations among resources, metadata, and knowledge entities whenever they change, regardless of the differences in format and content among the metadata elements," the researchers explain. Current metadata repositories provide low-level data management that has no awareness of the part the data plays, while the SBS takes advantage of this capability by delivering a uniform metadata-management layer that is cognizant of the interrelationships between resources, their annotations, the annotations' lifetimes, and reference knowledge entities. Among the functions the SBS can facilitate is the creation and destruction of semantic bindings (SBs) and the maintenance of their logical state in respect to metadata lifetime; the provision of service-based access to metadata content by forwarding application-specific queries to the underlying metadata repository in lieu of interpretation; and the delivery of a notification service to inform interested clients of any modifications in the state of SBs, in accordance with the proposed WS-Notification standard.
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