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ACM TechNews
December 5, 2007

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


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Association for Computing Machinery Names 38 Fellows for Computing and IT Innovations in Industry, Education, Entertainment
AScribe Newswire (12/03/07)

ACM has announced its 2007 ACM Fellows recipients, recognizing 38 of its members for their contributions to computing technology that lead to advances in how people live and work. The recipients created innovations in a variety of computing disciplines that contribute to theory and practice, education and entertainment, and industry and commerce. Corporate recipients include researchers from Microsoft Research and Microsoft China for their contributions ranging from computer graphics to video and image content analysis and retrieval. Intel, Yahoo! and Bell Labs Research, and Alcatel-Lucent were awarded for their respective contributions to mathematical foundations for optimizing compilers, algorithms and Web technology, and data semantics for Web services. University recipients include five fellows from Stanford University for their achievements in artificial intelligence, compilers and program analysis, computational biology, complexity theory, and computer science education. Carnegie Mellon University produced three Fellows who worked on learning theory and algorithms, using programming environments in education and entertainment, and computer-aided design of integrated circuits and systems. Other academic recipients include researchers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the University of Southern California, the University of Chicago, and Cornell University, among many others. "These men and women are the inventors of technology that impacts our society in profound and tangible ways every day," says ACM President Stuart Feldman. For more information, and a list of the recipients, visit http://www.acm.org/press-room/news-releases/fellows-2007/view
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The Next Generation of Security Threats
CNet (12/05/07) Fried, Ina

Security experts warn that hackers are focusing on areas outside of operating systems, with software applications and Web-connected mobile devices emerging as new areas for exploitation. At the most recent Blue Hat security conference, Microsoft security engineer Robert Hensing reported that a decline in operating system vulnerabilities is being accompanied by an increase in application vulnerabilities. Experts predict that malware will adopt even more evasive methods, while IronPort Systems executive Tom Gillis says new malware attack techniques are so complex that they could only have been borne out of refined research and development. IronPort suggests that contemporary malware borrows many traits from social networking sites, such as adaptability and reliance on collaboration, while Trojans and malicious software are likely to become "increasingly targeted and short-lived." The emphasis on resilience and redundancy in the Internet's fundamental design makes securing software a challenge for Microsoft and other companies, according to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. Trends that have supported the growth of the "shadow" economy include a significant increase in economic opportunity concurrent with a decline in the risk of getting caught, especially since the Internet is not restricted by geography and physical jurisdictions, which makes prosecuting hackers very difficult. "You have evolved financial models that are insanely low-risk with shockingly high return," notes security researcher Dan Kaminsky. MessageLabs security analyst Paul Wood observes a trend of segmentation in the hacking world, in which attacks are the work of multiple parties instead of just one.
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Association for Computing Machinery to Improve Opportunities for Quality Computer Science Education
AScribe Newswire (12/04/07)

ACM has created the Education Policy Committee (EPC), a high-level committee of computer scientists and educators dedicated to improving opportunities for quality education in computing and computer science. Indiana University School of Informatics Dean Bobby Schnabel will chair the EPC, which will strive to develop initiatives to shape national educational policies that affect computing as a whole. Initially, the EPC will focus on ensuring that computer science education is considered a critical component of education policy in the United States at the federal and state level. The ACM announcement coincided with the newest report on worldwide student performance in key subject areas. "As today's announcement of the results of the 2006 Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) study make clear, students can benefit significantly by expanded opportunities for quality computer science education," Schnabel says. "The industries that comprise the computing field are global, and the implications for national investment in computer science education on a country's competitive edge are significant. In the long run, national education policy that leads to a first-rate computing and information technology workforce may be the most significant factor in defining a country's ability to compete in a knowledge economy underpinned by IT." For more information about EPC, visit http://www.acm.org/press-room/news-releases/education-policy-committee/view< /A>
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U.S. Teens Trail Peers Around World on Math-Science Test
Washington Post (12/05/07) P. A7; Glod, Maria

The 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that 15-year-olds in the United States are significantly less educated in science and math than their peers in many other industrialized countries. The average science score for U.S. students was lower than those in 16 of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and in math U.S. students trailed behind 23 countries. The PISA test, which is given every three years, measures the ability of 15-year-olds to apply math and science to real-world situations. About 400,000 students worldwide took the test, including 5,600 in the United States. The PISA test results support concerns that too few U.S. students are prepared to become engineers, scientists, and physicians, and that the United States might lose ground to its competitors. On the science portion, U.S. students, mostly 10th graders, had an average score of 289 points out of a possible 1,000 points, 11 points below the average of the 30 countries. Canada, Japan, and Korea are among the countries that scored better than the United States. In math, only four countries had average scores lower than the United States, with 23 countries scoring higher, and two countries having approximately equal scores. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says the PISA results are disappointing, but notes that the National Math Advisory Panel and other initiatives are working to improve math and science education.
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A Supercomputer for Africa
Forbes (12/04/07) Greenberg, Andy

IBM is donating one of its BlueGene/P supercomputers to the Center for High Performance Computing in Cape Town, South Africa. The computer will be hosted at the Meraka Institute and will be available to universities and governments in need of supercomputing processing capabilities. The BlueGene/P, which is capable of 14 trillion individual calculations per second, is five times more powerful than the fastest computer currently on the African continent. The Meraka Institute will use the supercomputer to solve some of Africa's most difficult problems, including modeling the local effects of climate change, finding more efficient ways of processing local minerals such as platinum and manganese, and predicting the mutation and spread of infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and HIV. Meraka Institute manager of technology Johan Eksteen hopes the supercomputer will spark innovation within the region's IT researchers. "We've made very clear that the machine is only oiling the gears," Eksteen says. "It's a catalyst. If we only focus on the notion of the machine itself and nothing beyond it, it wouldn't allow the full impact to be realized." The BlueGene/P is the second-fastest computer that IBM uses; the BlueGene/L system at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is capable of about 34 times more calculations per second than the BlueGene/P. "Hopefully this will spur future develop and raise the high-performance computing expertise in the continent," says Berkeley Lab computer scientist Horst Simon, editor of the Top500 supercomputer list. However, he notes that "A computer like this requires additional software development and training before scientists can actually use it."
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Computer Servers 'as Bad' for Climate as SUVs
New Scientist (12/03/07) Brahic, Catherine

Computer servers are just as damaging to the environment as SUVs or the global aviation industry, reveals a new report from U.K.-based Global Action Plan. "Computers are seen as quite benign things sitting on your desk," says Global Action Plan director Trewin Restorick. "But, for instance, in our charity we have one server. That server has same carbon footprint as your average SUV doing 15 miles to the gallon." The report, "An Inefficient Truth," says the global IT sector, with more than 1 billion computers on the planet, is responsible for about 2 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions, about the same as the global airline industry. The study also looked at how aware companies are of their IT carbon footprint. A survey of some of the U.K.'s largest businesses show that more than half of IT professionals believe their environmental impact is significant, though 88 percent do not know the carbon footprint of their activities. The survey also found that a considerable amount of energy could be saved with more efficient data storage, with 60 percent of departments reporting they use less than half of their storage capacity and 37 percent saying they store data indefinitely. Restorick says that simply increasing the efficiency of energy use and data storage could cut 30 percent of the power used by businesses.
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Data Mining Humming Along at DHS
Washington Technology (12/03/07) Lipowicz, Alice

The Department of Homeland Security's Amy Kudwa recently confirmed that although the DHS terminated a controversial visual analytics data mining program this summer, the department continues to explore visual analytics research through a different program. The visual analytics research at the Science and Technology Directorate is working to identify terrorists by using data collected from video surveillance footage, cell phone calls, photos, bank records, chat rooms, and emails. Kudwa says that no real-world, operational data is being used in the research. "It relies on synthetic data," Kudwa says. "It is purely research on ways to interact with data." Kudwa says because the research does not use actual data it is not considered data mining, though it could potentially be used to identify and stop terrorists, according to a DHS newsletter. "Today, researchers at the DHS Science and Technology Directorate are creating ways to see fuzzy data as a three-dimensional picture where threat clues can jump out," the newsletter says. "Mathematicians, logicians, and linguists make the collective universe of data assume a meaningful shape." The newsletter also says the program could possibly even be used to predict behavior. Although Kudwa says the research has been ongoing since 2004, an August 2006 survey by the DHS Inspector General did not list it as one of the department's 12 data-mining programs.
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DAC Student Design Contest Seeks Industry Support
Business Wire (12/03/07)

Today is the last day for full-time graduate and undergraduate students to sign up for the 2008 Design Automation Conference Student Design Contest. Sponsored by DAC and the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), the competition is seeking designs for analog, digital, or programmable circuits and systems, with submissions of integrated circuits, reconfigurable processors, systems on chips, platform-based, or embedded systems designs. Ten winners will share more than $20,000 in prize money and will be recognized in an award ceremony at DAC. "The Student Design Contest encourages innovative research that integrates all aspects of design, from system level design to tools, methodologies, and implementation," says Limor Fix, general chair of the 45th DAC executive committee. Byunghoo Jung, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University who co-chairs the contest, says "the contest presents the EDA industry with the opportunity to see what the future leaders of the industry are doing." Jung is still seeking $2,000 contributions from electronics companies to support the contest, which counted IBM, Intel, and Mentor Graphics among its corporate sponsors last year. ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM/SIGDA) is a sponsor of DAC, which is scheduled for June 8-13, 2008, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. For more information about DAC 2008, visit http://www.dac.com/45th/index.aspx
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In the Future, Smart People Will Let Cars Take Control
New York Times (12/04/07) P. D1; Tierney, John

World Fair predictions of personal dirigibles and autogyros have fallen drastically short, but one prediction, the autonomous, self-driving car, is close to reality. Already, cars are available that use radar or lasers to detect the distance between cars to automatically adjust cruise control speed, parallel park, or warn a driver when they are straying across lane markings. "Within five years it's totally feasible to build an autonomous car that will work reliably in several limited domains," says Stanford University computer scientist Sebastian Thrun. Thrun believes that in five years commercial cars will be available that can automatically drive on an expressway, creep along in stop-and-go traffic, and park at a mall or airport. While experts such as Thrun believe that self-driving cars are inevitable, whether people accept and use them is debatable. Some people will be hesitant to relinquish control while others will worry that the first smart cars will have the same bugs as early computers. However, cars, unlike humans, will keep getting smarter, learn from their mistakes, and never get distracted by a cell phone or drive drunk. Autonomous cars will never be perfect, but they can certainly be better than humans, who cause more than 90 percent of accidents, which kill a million people per year. Smart cars would also make better use of the road and alleviate traffic problems. Thrun notes that when a highway is at full capacity the cars actually occupy less than 10 percent of the road's surface, with the rest being empty space between cars. Smart cars could travel closer together, doubling or tripling the road's capacity.
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First Computer Programmers Inspire Documentary
ABC News (12/04/07) James, Susan Donaldson

The lack of acknowledgement for the six women who programmed the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) and helped pioneer computer programming highlights the kind of biases today's women must contend with in the male-dominated field of computer science. The story of these women is being related through a new documentary, which comes at a time when the ranks of female computer scientists and programmers are eroding, threatening the global competitiveness of the United States. "The documentary isn't just about the history, but how these programmers provided role models to really inspire women to believe that computer careers were within their reach," says ENIAC Programmers historian Kathy Kleiman, who is financing the multimedia film. The National Science Foundation estimates that women earn more than 50 percent of all bachelor's degrees in science, but less than 25 percent major in computer science. One of the women who worked on ENIAC recalls that after her groundbreaking contribution, she encountered discrimination in her later career as a programmer and consultant for commercial computing interests. The makers of the documentary hope the story will help counter the image women harbor of computer scientists being nerdy and socially isolated, which can discourage them from pursuing computing careers. Director of education for the American Association for the Advancement of Science Shirley Malcom says getting women interested in computer science involves focusing on not just technology, but how they can impact socially relevant issues such as global warming and monitoring nuclear arsenals.
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MIT Digitizes Its Courses, Throws Them Online, and Asks 'What Now?'
Network World (11/29/07) Cox, John

MIT recently announced the completion of its OpenCourseWare project, a pioneering effort launched in 2002 to digitize classroom material for all of MIT's 1,800 academic courses. The course material is available for free online for anyone to use. At the completion celebration on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., university President Susan Hockfield announced a new portal for OCW, one specifically designed for high school teachers and students, called "Highlights for High School." The portal's home page provides MIT's introductory science, engineering, technology, and math courses, with lecturer's notes, reading lists, exams, and other classroom information. The OCW resources, including video-taped labs, simulations, assignments, and hands-on material, have been specifically tailored to match the requirements of high school Advanced Placement studies. Since its launch five years ago, the data on usage has been impressive. On a 50-course pilot site, an estimated 35 million users logged in, with about 15 percent being educators, 30 percent students, and the rest being what MIT calls "self learners" with no education affiliation, says OCW's Steve Carson. The recently formed OCW Consortium has 160 member institutions creating and sharing their own course materials sites based on MIT's model. One of the most surprising findings is that two of MIT's course videos, "classical mechanics" and "differential equations," ranked in iTunes top 10 videos, at number three and number seven, respectively. "This expresses, to me, the hunger in this world for learning, and for good learning materials," says Hockfield.
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Robotics Lab Helps Stroke Patients With Recovery
Rice University Press Release (11/29/07) Boyd, Jade

Robotics engineers at Rice University will work with a local rehabilitation hospital over the next two years to study the effectiveness of a PC-based system in assisting stroke patients with their recovery. Experts at Rice's Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Laboratory (MAHI) developed the prototype rehabilitation system, which uses force-feedback technology to enable patients to "feel" their environment in virtual reality. Patients can use the joystick to move objects on a computer screen in a smooth and precise manner, and their hands will be guided by the stick's ability to resist movements in the wrong direction. "The computer can precisely measure how a patient responds to every single exercise," says Marcia O'Malley, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science who also serves as the director of MAHI. "We hope to refine our system to allow patients to recover faster and to allow therapists to more precisely monitor patients' recovery." Cost will no longer limit the use of computer-controlled robots to small-scale physical rehabilitation efforts in a few years, O'Malley says. Also, patients have embraced the technology.
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Getting Women Back Into IT
CIO Insight (12/03/07) Perelman, Deborah

The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 28 percent of mothers in the United States with children under the age of 18 do not work. Much research has been conducted on mothers who leave the workforce to raise children, but little research has been done on women who try to re-enter the workforce. In an industry such as IT, where there is intense pressure to update and maintain skills, trying to re-enter the workforce can be quite challenging and intimidating. Chicago-based software consultancy ThoughtWorks has launched a four-week training class for women looking to get back into IT. The re-training class will focus on updating women's programming skills and could possibly lead to a job offer. "Someone who has been out for 10 years is going to have rusty programming skills, so we are going to teach them the basics of Java and other fundamentals the first two weeks," says ThoughtWorks' Jackie Kinsey. Through ads and word-of-mouth, 60 women have expressed interest in the class, 12 of which will be in the first pilot class in Britain. However, not all of the women interested in the program left to have children, with about 30 percent of the group leaving IT for other reasons. "A couple women said they'd had bad experiences in organizations and had left IT disillusioned," Kinsey says. "We found that there is a definite gap in the market in training for women who have left the job market."
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New Millennium, Same Old Media?
ICT Results (11/29/07)

The New Millennium, New Media (NM2) project is developing tools that would allow for a new kind of storytelling with an interactive, non-linear, multimedia, and personalized approach. NM2 calls this type of storytelling ShapeShifted narratives, where stories can evolve to satisfy the curiosity of millions of viewers with different interests. "Imagine someone with 10 spare minutes plugging into the news for the first time in three weeks--they want all the relevant updates quickly," says NM2 technical director Doug Williams. One pilot program for NM2, called Accidental Lovers, tells the love story of two individuals but allows the viewers to decide how the story develops. While the premise may seem simple, the execution of Accidental Lovers required massive forethought, with writers to develop multiple plotlines that can be switched on demand and capable of being mixed and matched by a machine. To accomplish this, NM2 developed a toolbox that producers can use to create ShapeShifted media products. A Script Logging tool annotates scripts and raw film with relevant, structured descriptions, an Authoring tool can be used by people with little or no technical background to describe the narrative structure of ShapeShifted programs, a Description tool tags media objects, and a Preview tool can be used to test the effects of user input to make sure all elements work.
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If You Like U2, You'll Love...Metallica?
Philadelphia Inquirer (11/18/07) Avril, Tom

Most music-selling Web sites recommend tunes consumers might enjoy based on their purchasing history, but Drexel University's Youngmoo Kim and other researchers are working on systems in which computers "listen" to the music to make more accurate recommendations. Kim's lab has developed software that adjusts itself to mimic the way humans hear, deconstructs a song into 20 component wave-forms, and measures the presence of each wave-form in the music. The program's next step is to calculate how much each of the values varies when compared to the others, which results in a distribution of 230 numbers for each song. The theory goes that consumers will like statistically similar songs. Kim says the optimal solution may ultimately be an analysis of the music in combination with sales patterns and other kinds of data. "The computer has no biases built in," he notes. Computer-aided music recommendation might become the industry norm, reasons DJ Robert Drake.
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Response to Internet Demand Study Stuns Author
Network World Canada (11/28/07) Solomon, Howard

The response to a small Illinois IT research firm study has shocked the author of the study. "I had no idea it would get spun this way, twisted this way," says co-author Johna Till Johnson, president of Nemertes Research. "I've read all sorts of interesting stuff that bears little relation to the truth, but people seem to be basing it on the study." The study concluded that a mismatch between demand and access capacity will be reached in three to five years, which will require billions of dollars in spending to correct, but headlines about the study painted a much more dire situation. Johnson is baffled by the extremist interpretation and says, "We explicitly are not saying the Internet's going to break." The report, which concludes, "Internet access infrastructure, specifically in North America, will likely cease to be adequate for supporting demand within the next three to five years," estimates that access providers will need to spend between $42 billion and $55 billion to close the possible gap. "It's important to stress that failing to make the investment will not cause the Internet to collapse," the report says, but the shortage will make it difficult to access the Internet and could "throttle innovation." Johnson says the aging infrastructure in North America will make it more susceptible to the crunch, and that other parts of the world are more willing to invest in broadband wireless access. Some industry observers do not believe that an Internet shortage will occur, arguing that while consumers are demanding more from the Internet, they are also demanding more from Internet service providers.
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Supercomputers Bulk Up on Power While Shedding Price Pounds
Computerworld (12/03/07) Vol. 41, No. 49, P. 14; Thibodeau, Patrick

The development of multicore processors is the primary reason that high-performance computing has seen such a drastic increase in capabilities. In November 2003, when single-core chips were still the most common, there was a total of about 267,000 processing units in the systems on the biannual Top500 supercomputer list. By 2005 the number of processing units jumped to 732,500, and the most recent list had a total of 1,648,095 cores. IDC says that more than a quarter of all server processors being shipped by hardware vendors in 2006 were part of supercomputers. This year the percentage is expected to rise to nearly 30 percent, IDC predicts. While the increasing number of processors continues to make supercomputers more powerful, it is the decreasing cost of supercomputers that has made them more accessible. At ACM's SC07 supercomputer conference, there were $20,000 systems that are equal to systems that cost $100,000 only three years ago. Hewlett-Packard displayed an eight-blade server system capable of running off of a standard wall socket that runs at almost 1 teraflop, roughly equaling the ASCI Red system that was the most powerful supercomputer in the world nine years ago. HP's new system costs between $25,000 and $50,000, whereas the ASCI Red system cost $55 million. By 2015, all of the Top500 supercomputers are expected to be capable of petaflop computing, says Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory researcher Erich Strohmaier.
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Social Networking for Zebras
Science News (12/01/07) Vol. 172, No. 22, Rehmeyer, Julie J.

There is considerable variation in social structures between different species, and theoretical tools that are being developed to help understand this variation could also help track terrorists, recommend products to consumers, and control disease epidemics. Princeton University ecologist Dan Rubenstein graphed the social interactions of Grevy's zebras and onagers, and found substantial differences between the two species through his application of network theory. But a key problem for Rubenstein was figuring a way to analyze changing networks, so he turned to University of Illinois in Chicago computer scientist Tanya Berger-Wolf, who took on the challenge of devising the necessary computational methods with the help of a $900,000 National Science Foundation grant. The first step of the project involved reworking the most fundamental network theory concepts so that they can operate in a graph that shows changes over time, and Berger-Wolf detailed her new techniques at the International Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining. She says that as she and others create new computational techniques, their research will enable biologists to make completely novel inquiries. "This is a beautiful example of computer science, because there are some questions biologists cannot even ask before we do the computational analysis," Berger-Wolf notes.
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