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ACM TechNews
November 5, 2007

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Welcome to the November 5, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Crashes and Traffic Jams in Military Test of Robotic Vehicles
New York Times (11/05/07) P. A18; Markoff, John

The DARPA Urban Challenge was completed on Saturday, Nov. 3, with the Carnegie Mellon team taking home the first place, $2 million prize. Although the Carnegie Mellon car and a few others successfully completed the race, the event highlighted how much farther autonomous vehicles need to advance before becoming a practical solution. While the most sophisticated entries were able to successfully navigate the simulated city environment, others, including the Land Rover entry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were involved in several close calls and collisions. The MIT car collided with a Passat built by researchers from Braunschweig, Germany, an Oshkosh military vehicle came within inches of crashing into a pillar, and the car from the University of Central Florida was eliminated after crashing into an abandoned building. The DARPA Urban Challenge was the third event in a series of races instituted following a 2004 directive from Congress that requires the military to replace a third of its logistical vehicles with robots by the middle of the next decade. DARPA project manager Norman Whitaker says the goal is to better protect soldiers on the battlefield. During the race, the robotic cars were required to perform a variety of tasks, including make left-hand turns across oncoming traffic and pulling into and out of tight parking spaces. Whitaker says the DARPA challenges are having a Sputnik-like impact on the engineering and computer science departments at many universities, which has seen increases in enrollment.
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Voting Out E-Voting Machines
Time (11/03/07) Padgett, Tim

Although they were once considered the solution to outdated paper-based voting systems, electronic and touch-screen machines have come under intense scrutiny, and a new bill in Congress would ban DRE machines in federal elections starting in 2012. "We have to start setting a goal on this," says Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who introduced the bill with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). "Voters have to feel confident that their ballot will count as intended." Trust in electronic voting is eroding as controversies over the accuracy of the machines are mounting. As a result of a tainted election in 2006, Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist mandated the state return to an optical scan system in which votes are marked on a sheet, which is kept for auditing, and electronically scanned. Optical scanning is considered far more accurate, and is favored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which advises the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. The Nelson-Whitehouse legislation would also require routine audits of at least 3 percent of the precincts in all federal elections, and would possibly mandate that all voting machines create a paper trail as early as the 2008 election. Some worry that many states may not be able to incorporate paper trail technology by the 2008 election, but Dan McCrea, head of the Florida Voters Coalition, believes that not only is it feasible but that it is also vitally important. "It will be a challenge, but the voter fairness issue involved here is too important," McCrea says.
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DARPA Looks to Adaptive Battlefield Wireless Nets
Network World (11/01/07) Cox, John

The goal of Project WAND (Wireless Adaptive Network Development) is to create a tactical radio network that connects soldiers to each other on the battlefield through the use of low-cost, off-the-shelf radio components and various software methods and algorithms, as part of an overarching Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency effort to develop the Wireless Network after Next infrastructure for military communications. WAND will use adaptive spectrum management, which allows radios to seek out and tap unused bands for communications through continual radio spectrum analysis and dynamic spectrum access. Contractors working on Project WAND include Tyco Electronics and BBN Technologies, and BBN's work in disruption tolerant networks will be harnessed in another part of the WAND software stack. The project aims to place as many as 10,000 nodes within a relatively small area, and BBN scientist Jason Redi says, "Managing that connectivity is a really difficult thing because links will be changing all the time." An initial WAND technology demonstration is slated for January, while a second is scheduled for next September. The project's software advances form part of an expanding global research and development initiative to produce "cognitive radios" capable of choosing the proper radio waveforms, frequencies, and protocols to maximize efficiency, reliability, and performance.
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IT Salaries to Rise Twice as Fast as Inflation
CIO Insight (10/30/07) Perelman, Deborah

CIOs hiring skilled IT professionals will pay on average 5.3 percent more in 2008 than in 2007, concludes a new Robert Half Technology report. Lead developers who manage software development teams and projects will see the biggest increases, with base compensation expected to rise 7.6 percent, averaging between $80,250 and $108,000 annually. Application architects will also see a significant increase, with an average 7.5 percent increase and starting salaries ranging from $87,250 to $120,000. Web development, network management, and database administration are also expected to see salary increases of 7 percent or higher. "This was not really a surprise," says Robert Half Technology's Katherine Spencer Lee. "The strong increases are still in the application development space, especially for individuals that have those Web 2.0 skill sets. Those who can architect and develop Web spaces had the highest increases that we saw, even 7.5 percent in some titles." The study also found that nearly 15 percent of firms interviewed said they plan on increasing their staff in 2008. Wireless communication is one of the top areas driving IT job growth, largely because developers continue to create more tools for mobile devices that IT departments need to be able to support, which Lee calls the gadget factor. "With everyone's devices communicating with everyone else's devices, there is a need for people who are like the air traffic controllers of the IT department," Lee says. The report says strong demand for IT professionals exists in the financial services, health care, and commercial construction professions.
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The University's Role in Advancing Data Encryption, Part 2
TechNewsWorld (11/01/07) Burger, Andrew K.

Technological innovations, new legislation and regulations, and pressing security needs are factors driving the increase of collegiate and university encryption technology research, and areas that industrial and academic investigators are considering as possible application centers include nanotechnology, quantum cryptography, and the supply chain. CipherOptics' Jim Doherty says network performance is an important area that should not be ignored, even as most encryption research efforts are focused on the creation of more robust encryption algorithms. "Today's high-performance networks must be able to meet the latency requirements of delay-sensitive applications such as voice and video over IP," he notes. "While there may be a niche market for security over performance types of solutions, broad adoption of new encryption algorithms will be determined by speed as much as they are by security." Such is the nature of research being conducted by the Rochester Institute of Technology's networking, security, and systems administration department, whose researchers conclude that the selection of a wide-area network encryption solution involves consideration of not just performance, but also how well the technology satisfies organizational requirements and other non-performance related factors. Higher education institutions such as Southwestern Illinois Community College are incorporating encryption into their courses and curricula and using it to safeguard data on campus. The college's Christine Leja says the possibility of making a data assurance course with an encryption component a required course is under discussion. She points out that colleges and public and private sector organizations are also being spurred to deter identity theft and find applications for encryption technology by new legislation and the introduction of payment card security standards. "Higher education provides open and secure access for its students, and encryption offers a clear path to secure sensitive data and support an open, mobile environment," she says.
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Digital Eyes in the Sky Play Key Role in Battling Flames in Southern California
National Science Foundation (10/30/07)

The High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN) has enabled fire crews and residents in the San Diego area to obtain real-time video and still images of fires that have beset the region. The NSF-supported local network has a number of remote cameras perched in the mountains and bluffs overlooking the region. "The HPWREN real-time cameras tell us what is happening before engines or chiefs can get there," says Tom Gardner, emergency command center chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE). Residents of rural communities such as Jamul have also set up blogs that encourage people to check out HPWREN for video, images, and other information that traditional media may not offer. "I've heard from many Jamulians about the cameras, all with basically the same message: the cameras were what kept them sane," says local resident Tom Dilatus. HPWREN is a non-commercial prototype of a high-performance, wide-area wireless network covering San Diego and Riverside counties. The network is used to provide wireless networking technologies in emergencies, high-speed Internet access to field researchers and network analysis research, and to enhance educational opportunities for Native Americans in rural areas.
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Argonne Plans Double Dose of Computing
Chicago Tribune (11/01/07) Van, Jon

Argonne National Laboratory recently announced a deal with IBM to acquire two new supercomputers, which will be linked together to act as one. Argonne will get the 445 teraflop Blue Gene/P system, which will be combined with a slower Blue Gene/P system currently being installed. When the two systems are linked they will operate at 556 teraflops. Additionally, Argonne will continue to operate an older Blue Gene/L system that runs at 5.7 teraflops. Argonne computer scientists will also provide feedback to help IBM design future computers. Computer time at Argonne is primarily focused on academic research, but also includes time for industrial scientists and efforts to develop insights into fundamental processes such as the formation of soap bubbles or the combustion of jet fuel to make lower emission jet engines. Though the specifics of the deal have not been disclosed, part of the arrangement includes a collaboration to develop more open-source software for Blue Gene machines to help expand the applications available. "Programmers have usually been taught to write for a single computer or a few," says IBM chief technology officer of high performance computing and software Dennis Quan. "They're not taught to write for tens of thousands of machines. But levels of parallelism and complexity are advancing to where in a few short years, this will be very mainstream."
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MIT Works Toward 'Smart' Optical Microchips
MIT News (11/01/07) Trafton, Anne

"Smart" optical microchips that adapt to different wavelengths of light could emerge from a new theory developed by MIT postdocs Peter Rakich and Milos Popovic, and telecommunications could be substantially advanced through photonically powered micro-machines. An MIT research team demonstrated earlier this year that photonic circuitry could be combined on a silicon chip by polarizing all of the light to the same orientation, and the current research shows how tiny mobile machines can be constructed on such chips, exploiting the pressures exerted by photons as they bombard the walls of a cavity. In combination with ultrapure laser light, this photon bombardment causes radiation pressure to accumulate, and the researchers suggest that machines built from extremely small ring-shaped cavities on the surface of the chip can be driven by this pressure. A unique way of processing data routed through fiber-optic networks is one potential application of this concept. Existing fiber-optic resonators must be synchronized with the incident light to ring at its frequency, while the MIT theory could lead to a "smart" resonator capable of chasing the frequency of the laser light incident upon it. "Our objective now is to develop a variety of light-powered micro- and nanomachines with unique capabilities enabled by this technology," Popovic says. "But the first step will be to demonstrate the concept in practice."
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Technology Tunes Into Our Emotions
ABC Science Online (Australia) (10/31/07) Cooper, Dani

An Australian computer scientist is developing a computer system that would be capable of recognizing anxiety in people by analyzing their speech and facial expressions. The technology uses speech recognition software to monitor speech rhythm, pitch, and any quavering in the voice; artificial neural networks are used to track facial expressions. Gordon McIntyre, a Ph.D/ student at Australian National University, is mapping 65 points on the face that change due to the emotional state of a person, such as the eyebrows, lips, and nose, which would enable him to compare an average or expression-free face to an anxious face. "We build up an average shape of a face from a database," McIntyre says. "And then measure the difference between an average face and one that is subject to the emotion." McIntyre does not have any anxious face samples, so he is working with psychology colleagues to create a template image of the emotion, which would be added to the database. The technology could serve as a tool for those who care for the elderly, and could also be used as a driver safety application.
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UMass Researchers Describe New Approach to Tag Security
RFID Journal (11/01/07) O'Connor, Mary Catherine

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have discovered a way of securing RFID tags against tag cloning and fraud. Passive RFID tags contain volatile memory composed of memory cells, a circuit representing a single piece of data. When a RFID scanner powers up the tag, the chip's memory cells produce a unique fluctuating electrical pattern before creating the ID and any other information stored on the chip. The fluctuating electrical pattern is unique to each RFID tag and can be used to authenticate the tag the next time it is scanned. The pattern can also be used to encrypt the tag's encoded data, securing it against being read by an unauthorized scanner. An end user could apply a tag's unique pattern to a randomness extractor as part of a hash cryptography process, creating a string of random numbers that could be used to generate keys to decrypt the stored tag data. Reading the data could be done with any scanner, but changing the data would need to be done with specialized software to generate the keys needed to decrypt the data. Only RFID tags that use volatile, static random access memory generate the pattern, meaning EPC Gen 2 tags, widely used in supply chain applications for tracking and tracing products, are unable to use the same security system as they use nonvolatile, electrically erasable, programmable, read-only memory chips, which are less expensive than volatile memory.
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Australian IT Skills Shortage Here to Stay
Computerworld Australia (10/29/07) Hendry, Andrew

Australia is currently in the middle of the worst IT shortage in its history, and the situation is only going to worsen unless the industry and the government act quickly, warn industry experts. The shortage is caused by several factors, including the strong economy and low unemployment, global competition for talent, an increasing dependency on technology in all businesses, increased spending on technology, and the overall image of the IT profession. Australian Information Industry Association CEO Sheryle Moon says Australian companies also have to compete with the United States and Europe, which offer IT professionals a higher wage, which makes it difficult to attract skilled foreign IT professionals. Meanwhile, Australia is experiencing declining rates in IT education enrollment. Phillip Tusing of IT recruitment group Greythorn believes that public opinion of the IT industry may already be changing for the better, though improvement is still needed. "There is a lot more understanding of IT professionals and what they do," Tusing says. "At the same time, representation of females in the IT workforce is still too low." A shortage in networking skills is particularly concerning. Companies such as Cisco are worried that the growth of Web 2.0 and unified communications will add to the skills shortage. A Cisco-commissioned study found that Australia is short 6,000 skilled workers in the networking industry alone. "We are seeing a lot of business driven by Web-related technology, and of course, at the heart of the Internet lies 'networking' both as a business model and technology," Tusing says. "The demand for networking skills will continue as Internet-based communications reach critical mass."
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Tabulator Redux: Writing Into the Semantic Web
University of Southampton (ECS) (11/02/07) Berners-Lee, Tim; Hollenbach, J.; Lu, Kanghao

The Semantic Web has a dual-level architecture that features a "web" of directed, untyped links between documents and a "graph" of directed, typed links between things described in the documents, and the goal of the Tabulator project is to make users of the interface capable of effective engagement with co-workers by investigating, analyzing, and collaboratively co-authoring the shared graph of knowledge. The authors concentrate on delivering the write side of the readable/writable Web in the latest iteration of the Tabulator project. They permit the natural modification and insertion of information within the browsing interface, and communicate revisions to the server triple by triple for least possible brittleness. The outline mode of the tabulator supports three categories of editing--object modification, addition of a new object with an existing predicate, and addition of a new predicate/object pair for an existing subject. Among the remaining challenges is the propagation of changes by collaborators back to the interface to generate a shared editing system. The collaborative aspects of the system must also be augmented, as well as user interface usability. To support writing across Semantic Web resources, several technologies--a HTTP/SPARQL/Update-based protocol between an editor and incrementally editable resources stored in an open source "data wiki" among them--have been contributed.
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Trashed Silicon Wafers Find a Place in the Sun
TechNewsWorld (10/30/07) Aun, Fred J.

The Semiconductor Industry Association reports that 3.3 percent of the approximately 250,000 silicon wafers produced each day worldwide are discarded. However, IBM has developed a silicon reclamation process to salvage the discarded wafers and reuse them. The process that removes circuitry from the wafers also offers a complete method of erasing their intellectual property. IBM plans to initially use the wafers for equipment calibration and testing, but eventually they will be sold to the solar panel industry. IBM says solar panel makers could see energy reductions of as much as 90 percent by using reclaimed silicon. Meanwhile, recycling silicon could provide a boost to the solar energy industry, since a severe shortage of silicon threatens to stall the industry's growth, says Charles Bai of ReneSola, a Chinese solar energy company. "This is why we have turned to reclaimed silicon materials sourced primarily from the semiconductor industry to supply the raw material our company needs to manufacture solar panels," Bai says.
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Agile Process Showcased at IT Architect Event
Campus Technology (10/25/07) Mackie, Kurt

At the International Association of Software Architects' first annual IT Architect Regional Conference for Southern California, IASA Fellow and IBM Rational practice leader for agile development Scott Ambler delivered a keynote address on the agile software development process, which he anticipates will become the standard by the end of the decade. He mentioned a March 2007 agile development survey by Dr. Dobbs Journal that found that 69 percent of respondents said their organizations were undertaking at least one agile project, and he derided the practice of following repeatable processes in software development as foolish. Ambler also cited Standish Group data that 45 percent of software functionality is not employed on successful software development initiatives as an argument for going agile, and noted that 80 percent of business stakeholders do not desire the software that is written to spec. An August Dr. Dobbs survey identified key elements of successful software development projects as determined by business stakeholders, such as software delivered when ready rather than on schedule; software produced under budget and with return on investment; software quality that fulfills requirements irrespective of time and budgetary limits; and software that meets business stakeholders' needs. Ambler pointed to the low probability that business stakeholders and project managers will reach a consensus on a software project, and among the model strategies agile development involves is a holistic perspective, active business stakeholder participation in creating applications, and the combination of just-in-time modeling with testing. Although governance is essential to agile development success, Ambler cautioned that developers must be given the proper motivation, and a well-entrenched IT governance process is especially critical as the number of IT projects mounts.
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Math on Fire
Science News (11/03/07) Vol. 172, No. 18, Rehmeyer, Julie J.

The crucial role climate plays in the spread of wildfires is the basis of a new predictive supercomputer model of fire behavior being developed by a team of mathematicians and scientists that blends fire and weather patterns. The researchers are working on ways to update the model with the most recent fire and weather data every 30 minutes in order to improve the model's accuracy, and this requires new techniques for rapid, on-the-spot data collection. The National Science Foundation has earmarked $2 million for the project. The scientists are constructing software capable of automatically processing data from airborne thermal and infrared sensors, while another area of research are minuscule, autonomous fire detectors equipped with radio transmitters, GPS, and sensors for measuring smoke, temperature, and other factors that can be deployed into a wildfire area by aircraft or firefighters. These various devices would communicate their data remotely to a supercomputer, which would match it against the latest weather information to predict the likely direction and speed of the fire's proliferation. This data would then be sent to handheld computers carried by firefighters in the field. The initial version of the model is complete, and is now being tested on historical fire data.
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Reading the Future
University of Victoria (11/01/07) Cador, Jennifer

University of Victoria English professor Ray Siemens believes that within one generation the majority of reading will be done online, including full-length books. Siemens is leading a multidisciplinary group of researchers dedicated to developing a new way of reading, essentially striving towards the electronic book. Siemens says the electronic book would simply be an extension of exiting trends because so much reading already take place online. Online reading has not yet including books however, largely because of the computer's lack of portability and because reading from a computer screen is harder on the eyes than reading from a book. While laptops are highly portable, they are not convenient for reading on a bus or at the beach. Additionally, many people like experience of reading a book. Siemens and his research group are considering all of these factors as part of their effort to develop online books. Creating new technology, such as gentler monitors and e-book readers will address part of the problem, while cultural expectations will likely change as technology advances. Siemens believes that electronic reading will make reading a far more active experience. "What the future looks like is not a single book in isolation, but a book integrated with everything else on the Internet," he says. "The key is figuring out how to present it in a form we're all comfortable with."
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A New Approach to Search
Business Communications Review (10/07) Vol. 37, No. 10, P. 19; Weinman, Joe

A new Web search architecture that exploits aggregate network data, metadata, and statistics to better weight search results according to relevancy, augment the scope of search to include the "Deep Web," and lower the incidence of click fraud is presented by strategy and emerging technologies speaker Joe Weinman. Classic search strategies generally leverage link analysis and devalue real-world traffic as a ranking criterion, while Weinman's method emphasizes such traffic. "Network traffic statistics such as unique visitors, interval between visitor arrival at a page or site and departure from a page or site, packets transferred, subsequent clicks from a page versus reloads of prior pages, clicks leading to other pages within a site, and similar types of measures could be an excellent indicator of average user interest in a page or site, which in turn is a proxy for relevance," Weinman writes. "Moreover, if the data were collected by a network service provider on a statistically sampled basis and/or with outliers discarded, it would be very hard to spoof." Additionally, a network-based search approach could enhance Web crawling because a network service provider could automatically glean index data and acquire that data faster, while traditional and network-based crawling strategies could be complementary. Click fraud could be better detected and ameliorated by Weinman's approach. Client browsers, search portals, and network service providers are the chief candidates for delivering optimal search results rankings, and Weinman speculates that the third candidate could be best suited for the job.
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