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ACM TechNews
November 16, 2007

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Welcome to the November 16, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Web Guru Berners-Lee Warns Against 'Walled Gardens' for the Mobile Internet
Network World (11/14/07) Cox, John

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) director Tim Berners-Lee, speaking on the opening day of Mobile Internet World, said the mobile Internet needs to be a full and complete version of the Internet with open standards and free of central control. "It's very important to keep the Web universal as we merge the Internet with mobile," Berners-Lee said during his speech titled "Escaping the Walled Garden: Growing the Mobile Web With Open Standards." The "walled garden" refers to today's cable TV and cellular data networks that require consumers to use devices authorized by the carrier and restrict access to approved content and services. Internet subscribers using an ISP can access independent movies on any site, Berners-Lee said, but consumers using a cable TV company acting as an ISP may find such sites blocked because the cable company wants subscribers to choose pay-per-view movies. The W3C launched the Mobile Web Initiative two years ago to create standards that facilitate access to the Web through handheld devices over wireless connections. "An open platform means using standards," Berners-Lee said. "The mobile Internet must use the same standards as the Internet. When you erect a wall around a garden, we know now all the flowers bloom outside the wall, not inside."
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Study Shows Google Favored Over Other Search Engines by Webmasters
Penn State Live (11/15/07) Hopkins, Margaret

A Penn State study of more than 7,500 Web sites found that Web sites that use robots.txt files to determine what information is available to Web crawlers have a bias that favors Google over other search engines. PSU professor C. Lee Giles, who led the research team that developed a new search engine called BotSeer for the study, says the finding was surprising. "We expected that robots.txt files would treat all search engines equally or maybe disfavor certain obnoxious bots, so we were surprised to discover a strong correlation between the robots favored and the search engines' market share," Giles says. The study did not explain why Web site policy makers prefer Google, but the researchers say it is a conscious choice since not using robots.txt files would give all crawlers equal access to a Web site. "Robots.txt files are written by Web policy makers and administrators who have to intentionally specify Google as the favored search engine," Giles says. About 40 percent of the sites studied had a robots.txt file, up from less than one in 10 in 1996. The bias toward Google enables it to index information that other search engines cannot. The research paper, "Determining Bias to Search Engines From Robots.txt," was presented at the recent 2007 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conference on Web Intelligence in Silicon Valley.
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I.B.M. to Push 'Cloud Computing,' Using Data From Afar
New York Times (11/15/07) P. C7; Lohr, Steve

IBM's new Blue Cloud cloud computing initiative is intended to make large data centers run more efficiently by allowing information to be searched and retrieved from remote locations over the Internet. Analysts say IBM is trying to position itself as a leader in the corporate market for cloud computing, which many experts believe is the next evolutionary stage in information technology. IBM will offer versions of its server computers, including mainframes, that are specially adapted for cloud computing starting in spring 2008. The move to provide cloud computing solutions mirrors IBM's endorsement of Linux in 2000, which included investments in technical development and marketing and ultimately sped the adoption of Linux technology among corporate customers. IBM's William M. Zeitler says the company currently has 200 researchers working on cloud computing technology and it has established a three-year plan that will involve a significant investment. Several customers, including corporations and government agencies, have been working with IBM cloud computing pilot projects as well. Zeitler says companies with fast-growing data centers will be the most interested in cloud computing solutions. "In some ways, the cloud is a natural next step from the grid-utility model," says IDC analyst Frank Gens. "What's different is the Google programming model, and that really opens things up. You don't have to be a Stanford or Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. to program cloud applications."
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Inaugural Green500 List: Encouraging Sustainable Supercomputing
Virginia Tech News (11/15/07) Daniilidi, Christina

Virginia Tech released the first Green500 List at ACM's SC07 conference. The Green500 List complements the TOP500 list by ranking the world's most energy-efficient supercomputers, says Virginia Tech professor Wu Feng. All systems on the Green500 List are ranked by MFLOPS/Watt, or million floating-point operations per second per watt. Of the machines on the TOP500 List, more than 200 directly reported their power measurement for the Green500 List, while those that did not had their peak power estimated by the Green500 team, based on the best available specification. The Green500 team says that because peak power numbers do not necessarily reflect power consumption under load, comparisons between measured and peak values on the Green500 list is discouraged. "As this list is the first attempt of its kind, the rankings are open to interpretation by the media, associated vendors, and the general community," says computer science professor Kirk Cameron. "The Green500 team encourages fair use of the list rankings to promote energy efficiency in high-performance systems," Cameron says. Feng says the list and the methodology used to make the list are works-in-progress that will evolve over time to ensure accuracy and more closely reflect energy efficiency.
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Election Fixes Stir Worries on Ballot Security
Houston Chronicle (11/14/07) Bernstein, Alan

The results of a local election in Harris County, Texas, are stirring up fears over the security of electronic voting systems. During the Nov. 6 elections it was discovered that a tax proposal was left off of the ballots in three precincts. The omission highlighted the fact that systems managing multiple election boundaries needed to separate precincts, city voters, country voters, municipal utility districts, and emergency services districts are susceptible to an error that can cause voters to view the wrong ballot screens. Johnnie German, the county's administrator of elections, was forced to access the county's computer system to change some of the results manually, creating even more doubt over electronic voting by demonstrating how a single person can alter the results of an election. Computer expert John R. Behrman, a long-time election observer for the Democratic Party, says he was surprised to see how German could enter arbitrary numbers to create election results that in no way reflect the ballots that had been cast. Behrman was not questioning the integrity of German, but the process he used to change the votes. Computer scientist Daniel Wallach, who started the Computer Security Lab at Rice University and was on the task force that recently studied California's electronic voting systems, says he is skeptical about the eSlate system used by Harris County, which was bought for $12 million from Hart InterCivic. Wallach says the "encryption key" code German used could be extracted from voting equipment at any precinct. Hart InterCivic and county officials say the system is trustworthy because it uses multiple layers of secret access codes.
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Continued Drop in Foreign Total Enrollment in CIS
CRA Bulletin (11/12/07) Vegso, Jay

There were 33,437 international students enrolled in computer and information science programs in the United States during the 2006-2007 academic year, according to the latest IIE Open Doors Report. The number represents about a 3 percent decline from the previous academic year and is 42 percent lower than the number of foreign students in 2003-2004. Moreover, CIS now claims only 5.7 percent of foreign students. Total enrollment of foreign students in CIS programs has declined each year since 2002-2003. The number of international students in CIS programs continues to decline even enrollment of foreign students in other fields of study rebounded between 2005-2006 and 2006-2007. Foreign students obtained 56 percent of doctoral degrees and 44 percent of master's degrees in computer science in 2004, so a fluctuation in their enrollment number is a sign of a shift in the number of degrees that will be awarded.
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Cybercops: U.S. Targets Terrorists as Online Thieves Run Amok
Mercury News (11/13/07) Blitstein, Ryan

Security experts assert that the White House is focusing too much attention on the dangers of information warfare and online espionage, and is ignoring the global cybercriminals, who are prospering through online theft. There are numerous challenges to fighting cybercrime, including limited resources, the need for innovative crime-fighting methods, and federal agencies' uncoordinated and fragmented response to date. In the summer of 2007, a wave of security breaches at federal agencies prompted the administration to ask Congress for $154 million toward a large-scale cybersecurity initiative. Various agencies will play a part in the endeavor, and the FBI has been tasked with cyber law enforcement. However, the FBI classifies cybercrime as its third priority, after counterterrorism and counterintelligence. During the current fiscal year, the FBI budget has allocated 5,987 full-time FBI staffers to counterterrorism and 4,479 workers to counterintelligence, but only 1,151 employees to cybercrime. Field agents say that more money is needed to adequately manage the cybercrime threat, while those in the industry note that agencies are under-using and failing to retain personnel with cybercrime expertise. Meanwhile, tracking down cybercriminals is a difficult process, as such crimes span countries, some of which are uncooperative. Gathering physical evidence and finding witnesses is hard to do online, particularly as some victims are unaware that they have been duped. Nonetheless, federal agencies spend tens of millions of dollars annually on facilities and technologies to further cyberinvestigations. Unfortunately, many of the high-tech crime labs established by the FBI have extensive backlogs.
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Sensitive Robot Knows When It Has Punched You
New Scientist (11/10/07)No. 2629, P. 32; Simonite, Tom

A German Aerospace Center Space Agency research team led by Sami Haddadin has developed a robot that intentionally hits people in the face, with the objective of developing technology that can transform industrial robots from insensitive drones into smart machines capable of working along side humans. Haddadin is testing the first industrial robot capable of sensing when it hits a person. "Accidents happen," says Haddadin. "We have to accept that when people start to work more closely with robots they will sometimes hit people." Allowing robots and humans to work side by side safely could help a variety of industries that are currently unable to benefit from existing robot technology, says Ken Young, who develops industrial robots at the University of Warwick. "We can't automate everything--the answer is to automate what you can and if you need humans to help, work out how to make that possible," he says. Often, safety at plants that use robotics means keeping humans and robots separated. Haddadin has given a robot arm a kinesthetic ability to detect impact, similar to how a human feels impact through specialized stretch receptors in their muscles and joints. Haddadin outfitted the robotic arm with a series of metal foil devices that change their electrical resistance under tension in a particular direction, giving constant feedback on the direction and magnitude of the forces felt by the arm. When the robot arm detects an impact, it stops itself and uses its motors and toque sensors to support its own weight, ensuring the arm does not keep moving due to gravity or inertia, which could cause additional harm. The robot arm can then be push out of the way, as the arm can detect when it is being pushed and uses its motors to help. The robot is also able to detect the difference between a serious hit and a soft bump, allowing the robot to give gentle nudge signals to a human who might be partially in the way.
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Carnegie Mellon to Engage Yahoo! Open Source Supercomputing Project
Campus Technology (11/13/07) Nagel, David

Yahoo has announced that it has signed up Carnegie Mellon University for its new M45 project, a day after it introduced the open source supercomputer initiative. Through M45, researchers will have access to a 4,000-processor computing cluster that can perform 27 teraFLOPS, and offer 3 TB of memory and 1.5 petabytes of storage. The supercomputer will use the latest version of Hadoop and run other open-source software, including the Pig parallel programming language. CMU text and Web mining experts Jamie Callan and Christos Faloutsos will use M45 to solve information retrieval and large-scale graph problems. Faculty members Alexei Efros, Noah Smith, and Stephan Vogel also plan to use the supercomputer to address large-scale computer graphics, natural language processing, and machine translation issues. Yahoo says the cluster is unique in that it is focused on "pushing the boundaries of large-scale systems software research." Randall E. Bryant, dean of CMU's School of Computer Science, says, "We are excited about collaborating with Yahoo on systems software research, helping to advance the state of the art, and creating new research possibilities in this critical area."
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Scientists Aim to Develop 'Virtual Body'
Sunday Star Times (New Zealand) (11/11/07) Harward, Esther

Scientists at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland are working on a "physiome project" that would allow for complete computer models of individual humans. The computer models could be used for simulations that predict the results of surgery and other medical procedures or allow people to virtually "try on" cloths online. Oxford University director of computational physiology Peter Hunter, who is also director of the Auckland institute and head of the physiome project, says the long-term goal is be able to incorporate cells, tissues, and organs in computer models to help with medical diagnosis, surgical planning, body implant design, and drug discovery. For example, surgeons would be able to predict the results of surgery on children with cerebral palsy by lengthening or shortening muscles on computer models to simulate the child's gait. Hunter says scientists are five to 10 years away from testing drugs on computer models of the heart, which could partially reduce the need for animal and human testing, lower the cost involved in developing drugs, and prevent mistakes. A spin-off of the project called DigiMe will allow people to create virtual models of themselves to test out clothing, furniture, and custom-made clothes.
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Promoting IT Careers Is Key Concern for IBM User Group
Baseline (11/12/07) McCormick, John

IBM Share user group treasurer Jim Michael says the mainframe skills shortage is not yet a crisis, but such jobs do command relatively high salaries because of a limited supply of mainframe professionals. Share is trying to find ways of encouraging students to enroll and stay enrolled in computer science majors and keeping young mainframe professionals interested in their careers. IBM and Share are sponsoring a group of mainframe professionals called zNextGeneration, or zNextGen, with the goal of creating ties between large-systems veterans and new mainframe professionals to create a mentoring system and help the new workers gain experience. IBM is working with universities to get more mainframe professionals trained, and then after graduation Share provides a support group so recent graduates can get advice from seasoned professionals on how to succeed in their new careers. Businesses are working with universities so that companies do not have to spend time retraining and teaching graduates. The University of Arkansas is working with Wal-Mart, Tyson, and other local businesses that use large systems so that graduates enter the workforce with the skills they need to make a valuable contribution right away.
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Getting More From Moore's Law
BBC News (11/13/07) Fides, Jonathan

Many industry experts believe that the miniaturization of chips cannot be sustained. "The consensus in the industry is that we can do that shrink for about another 10 years and then after that we have to figure out new ways to bring higher capability to our chips," says Hewlett-Packard's Stanley Williams. In an effort to prevent technological advancements from coming to a halt, researchers around the world are working to find solutions to provide the advances that computer users now expect, including research into fabrication techniques, developing new components, and finding new materials to augment silicon. Some advancements include replacing silicon dioxide gate dielectrics with oxide-based metal hafnium gate dielectrics, which are more energy efficient at smaller scales. Carbon nanotubes are even more advanced than hafnium. "They are a more drastic change but still preserve the basic architecture of field effect transistors," says IBM's Dr. Phaedon Avouris. Avouris believes that carbon nanotubes can be used to replace a critical component of the chip known as the channel, which is commonly made of silicon. Making the channel length in transistors smaller would increase the performance of the devices. Nanotubes' small size, less than 2 nanometers, and high energy efficiency would lead to very powerful chips.
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Security Loophole Found in Microsoft Windows
University of Haifa (11/12/07)

A group of researchers in Israel notified Microsoft that they have discovered a security loophole in the Windows 2000 operating system. The researchers say they have found a way to decipher how Windows' random number generator works, compute previous and future encryption keys used by a computer, and monitor private communication. The security loophole jeopardizes emails, passwords, and credit card numbers entered into a computer. "This is not a theoretical discovery," says Dr. Benny Pinkas from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Haifa, who headed the research initiative. "Anyone who exploits this security loophole can definitely access this information on other computers." The researchers say the newer versions of Windows may also be vulnerable if Microsoft uses similar random number generator programs. They say Microsoft should improve the way it encodes information and even consider publishing its code for random number generators so outside computer security experts can test them. The researchers' findings were presented at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Alexandria, Va., Oct. 29-Nov. 2, 2007, in a paper titled "Cryptanalysis of the Windows Random Number Generator."
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Intelligence Community Developing Virtual World Analysis Tools
GovExec.com (11/07/07) Brewin, Bob

Intelligence community researchers are working on a project that would use virtual world technologies such as Second Life to develop innovative decision support systems for intelligence analysis. Included in the Analyst Space for Exploitation (A-SpaceX) project, directed by Jeffery Morrison, is a new workstation to help analysts collect and analyze data, formulate data, and create connections. The workstation would support a creative process similar to the journalism process, says Morrison. He says the new analyst workstation will use information organization and decision support tools he calls "mind snaps," which involve the visualization of information. Analysts often start a project but are then assigned to another, requiring them to "clean desk" and put away organized work due to security rules, meaning when they return to the project they essentially have to start over. Morrison says he wants to create a synthetic workspace where ongoing projects can be easily stored and restarted. The A-SpaceX project is also developing a virtual time machine that could include a virtual representation of the real world and real-world events, using video streams and other tools that would allow analysts to manipulate time to study events and places. Avatars may also start playing a role in information analysis, allowing analysts to share information in a synthetic environment and to learn how to interact in different regions of the world using artificial environments.
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JavaGAT--A Kindler Gentler Grid Interface
HPC Wire (11/14/07) Vol. 14, No. 3, van Nieuwpoort, Rob; Kielmann, Thilo

The creation of grid applications is a highly complicated process because of portability issues, volatile middleware, and the use of different middleware versions across different sites, and the Java Grid Application Toolkit (JavaGAT) is designed to address these problems by being a middleware-independent programming interface to grid systems that greatly streamlines development of portable grid applications, write Rob van Nieuwpoort and Thilo Kielmann of Amsterdam's Vrije Universiteit. JavaGAT's object-oriented application programming interface delivers high-level grid access functionality without relying on the grid middleware responsible for implementing the functionality. Through its provision of a uniform interface supporting file access, job submission, monitoring, and access to information services, the toolkit eases the grid application programming workload, with the result that grid application programmers only have to familiarize themselves with one API to access the whole grid. The exploitation of Java and its virtual machine-based approach tackles the challenge presented by heterogeneous processors and operating systems. API calls are dynamically "routed" to the respective grid middleware by the GAT engine, and plug-ins or adaptors exist for numerous different grid middleware systems. JavaGAT employs the method of intelligent dispatching to integrate multiple grid middleware systems with diverse and incomplete functionality into one consistent system, and the intelligent dispatching feature can redress grid operation failures by automatically selecting and dispatching the API call to an alternative middleware. The toolkit also classifies a framework for developing grid middleware bindings that features a sizable archive of generic code for the purpose of substantially streamlining this process. "Because writing middleware bindings for JavaGAT is straightforward, middleware developers achieve the freedom to experiment with different architectural designs and new techniques," note van Nieuwpoort and Kielmann.
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Panel Must Narrow Cybersecurity Scope
Federal Computer Week (11/05/07) Miller, Jason

The Commission on Cyber Security for the 44th Presidency delineated its goals at the end of October, but some question whether the panel of experts will be able to craft concrete proposals by December 2008, as planned. The panel's 31 members aim to provide the next president with "a blueprint for securing cyberspace," according to commission co-chairman Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.). Unfortunately, cyberthreats spring from a variety of exposures, including technology flaws, inadequate training, and risky use of the Internet. As a result, improving fundamental cyberdefenses is an obvious, but very challenging, aim. Still, some experts say that widespread problems can be addressed by fixing known system vulnerabilities and changing substandard security practices. Other experts believe the panel will need to restrict its scope to be successful. Panel member Bruce McConnell of McConnell International says the group's specific suggestions will be guided by a core set of principles. Langevin adds that his goal is simply "to identify the most severe vulnerabilities and close them."
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Back From the Brink
Computerworld (11/12/07) Vol. 41, No. 46, P. 32; Hoffman, Thomas

Computerworld's 21st Annual Salary Survey indicates that IT salaries are staring to bounce back after a major plunge five years ago, and three-quarters of respondents reported an increase in pay. Furthermore, demand for people with specific IT skills in such areas as Web development and network convergence is mounting, which is also helping to push salaries up, according to recruiters, hiring managers, and labor experts. Pay raises are a tool for guaranteeing that employees do not look for work elsewhere, says Saladinos CIO Craig Urrizola. Fifty-seven percent of IT professionals reported satisfaction with their compensation this year, compared to 54 percent last year. L-3 Communications Holdings business continuity consultant Jeff Blackmon expanded his skill set with a master's degree in information systems management and a CISSP information security certification in an effort to earn higher annual pay raises than the prevailing 3 percent to 4 percent average. But these trends do not translate into benefits for everyone, as many U.S. IT workers are experiencing decreased bonuses. Professionals such as FedEx Freight business applications analyst Tammy Wicks say acquiring more skills does not ensure a salary hike.
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Lively Kernel Comes Alive With Smalltalk Echoes
Software Development Times (11/01/07)No. 185, P. 3; Handy, Alex

Lively Kernel, a Sun Microsystems JavaScript-based operating environment that was announced in early October, is ready for experimentation. The open source project creates user interactions similar to those outlined by Alan Kay and others in the 1970s. Kay, who witnessed the unveiling to support friend and Lively Kernel lead Dan Ingalls, says the demonstration resembled some of the things he developed and displayed at the Xerox PARC research facility about 30 years ago. The major difference is that all of the demonstrations took place inside a Web browser. "What we've done is to take the things that are given to you in a browser and bring them alive in the way I've always wanted systems to be alive," says Ingalls. Lively Kernel is so flexible that it can be edited while running, and the kernel can create new copies of itself. The program is also recursive in that a panel used to modify window styles can be modified by another instance of itself. Objects and windows created in the kernel can be rotated, animated, and enlarged or shrunk on the go. Ingalls says that such changes can be made due to the nature of dynamic languages such as JavaScript. Lively Kernel is now an open source project that Ingalls hopes will be picked up and built upon. Widgets and applications built in Lively Kernel can run in other Lively Kernel applications, or can operate on Web pages, much like how some operating systems allow multiple dynamically switchable desktop areas.
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