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ACM TechNews
December 7, 2007

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Welcome to the December 7, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Association for Computing Machinery Taps 20 Distinguished Members for Achievements in Computing
AScribe Newswire (12/06/07)

ACM has recognized 20 members as ACM Distinguished Members. ACM created the program last year to recognize the practical and theoretical contributions of its members in computing and information technology. "Their computing innovations address problems in virtually every industry and make possible advances in communications, health care, finance, entertainment, environmental control, computer security, and many other real-life applications," says ACM President Stuart Feldman. "We are proud to recognize these dedicated men and women and to raise their profile in the computing community." Andrea L. Ames, IBM; John R. Douceur, Microsoft Research; Richard Furuta, Texas A&M University; Greg Ganger, Carnegie Mellon University; Toshio Nakatani, IBM Research Tokyo; Raj Rajkumar, Carnegie Mellon University; and Stephen M. Trimberger, Xilinx, have been honored as 2007 ACM Distinguished Engineers. Michael G. Burke, IBM Research; Siddhartha Chatterjee, IBM Research; Nikil Dutt, University of California Irvine; Matthew B. Dwyer, University of Nebraska Lincoln; Kathleen Fisher, AT&T Labs; Jennifer C. Hou, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Lane A. Hemaspaandra, University of Rochester; David J. Kasik, Boeing; John Riedl, University of Minnesota; Mary Beth Rosson, Pennsylvania State University; Michael S. Schlansker, Hewlett Packard; Subhash Suri, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Fei-Yue Wang, Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Arizona, have been recognized as 2007 Distinguished Scientists.
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IBM Makes Chip-Speed Advance
Wall Street Journal (12/06/07) P. B3; Bulkeley, William M.

IBM scientists have announced a "significant milestone" in computer processor speed by using optical signals instead of electronic signals on a chip. The advancement could lead to tiny, energy efficient chips within five years that are capable of processing far more information than current chips without overheating. IBM says the breakthrough could lead to laptop computers capable of the same tasks that currently require supercomputers the size of a refrigerator. "It's bringing the capabilities of fiber-optic networks down to the level of a chip," says IBM research team leader Will Green, who notes that it is possible to put hundreds of times more data on an optical wire than on a copper wire. Analysts say the device is an important step in the field of silicon nanophotonics. IBM says the technology is likely to be particularly useful in chips with nine or more processor cores. As designers put an increasing number of cores on individual chips, communication between the cores takes an increasing amount of energy and generates more heat. The optical technology will allow the communication at lower temperatures and with less energy.
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Computer and Mathematical Science Occupations Expected to Grow Quickest Over the Next Decade
Computing Research Association (12/05/07) Harsha, Peter

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projections indicate that despite concerns over the impact of globalization, computing-related occupations are expected to grow the most among all "professional and related occupations" during the 2006-2016 period. The BLS predicts that computer and mathematical science occupations will grow by about 24 percent over the next decade, which would add 822,000 new jobs. Although the growth rate for computer and mathematical science occupations has slowed compared to the previous decade, largely due to the outsourcing of "routine work" as the industry matures, strong growth in other aspects of computing will continue to create opportunities in the field. The report projects that among the six fastest-growing occupations with the largest numerical growth, three will be computer-related, including computer software engineers, computer systems analysts, and network systems and data communication analysts. "The demand for computer-related occupations will increase in almost all industries as organizations continue to adopt and integrate increasingly sophisticated and complex technologies," the labor projections report says.
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MIT Presidential Fellow Selected as SIGGRAPH 2008 Conference Chair
Business Wire (12/05/07)

SIGGRAPH has chosen MIT researcher and graduate Jacquelyn Martino as the chair of its 2008 computer graphics and interactive technology conference. As conference chair, Martino will oversee the 35th annual conference and serve as an advisor to the SIGGRAPH organization. Martino received a Ph.D. in design and computation from MIT and was selected as a Presidential Fellow at the institute. She has attended SIGGRAPH since 1990 and currently holds a position at IBM Research. "It takes an immense amount of dedication, talent, and education to be selected as a SIGGRAPH conference chair," says Jackie White, SIGGRAPH Conference Advisory Group chair. "The experience [Martino] received at MIT was one of several significant factors in selecting her as the chair for 2008." Martino also received a Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, creates artwork with digital and traditional tools, and has displayed and published her work in the United States and Europe. ACM sponsors the conference, which is scheduled for Aug. 11-15, 2008, at the Los Angeles Convention Center. For more information on SIGGRAPH 2008, visit http://www.siggraph.org/s2008/
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Overseas Electronic Voting Pilot Project Announced
Government Computer News (12/05/07) Jackson, William

Overseas voters registered in Okaloosa County, Fla., will have the option of using an electronic absentee voting system in the upcoming general election, say county election officials. The Okaloosa Distance Balloting Project will deploy several kiosk computers and trained pool workers at locations near U.S. military facilities in the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan to allow as many as 900 voters to cast absentee ballots through a virtual private network. The pilot program was announce on Dec. 5 and is the initial project of the Operation Bring Remote Access to Voters Overseas (BRAVO) Foundation, which wants to establish reliable electronic alternatives to paper-and-mail absentee voting for Americans oversees by the 2016 presidential election. Okaloosa County is home to several military bases and currently has 20,000 registered voters stationed overseas, but there may be as many as 7 million eligible U.S. voters living overseas and some estimates indicate that as many as two-thirds of overseas voters who request ballots, both military and civilian, have not been able to cast their vote in time to be counted in elections. A system from Barcelona-based Scytl Secure Electronic Voting will be used in the program. On-site poll workers will verify the identity of voters, while voting kiosks will be laptops PCs with no hard drive, so no votes will be stored locally. The kiosks will boot up from a CD with Scytl software and will connect through a VPN to a secure server. The software will be reviewed by the Security and Assurance in Information Technology Laboratory at Florida State University, which has tested voting systems throughout Florida.
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Web Founder Warns of Short-Termism
Financial Times (12/07/07) P. 18; Waters, Richard; Allison, Kevin

World Wide Web Consortium director Tim Berners-Lee says Internet companies are taking dangerously short-term approaches and ignoring big, though potentially risky, opportunities. Berners-Lee also criticizes the industry for not sufficiently supporting long-term research. Although some Internet companies such as Yahoo have established their own research labs, they tend to focus on narrower and more pragmatic studies rather than the tech industry's ground-breaking labs of the past, such as those created by AT&T, IBM, and Xerox. Berners-Lee says research into the future of the Web needs to draw from a variety of experts with different backgrounds, including technologists, economists, psychologists, and sociologists. People who could rethink a new form of Web interaction and a new way of organizing society is what is truly missing, says Berners-Lee, who is also skeptical about the latest outbreak of Internet euphoria from so-called Web 2.0 companies that focus on networking and online video. "Because it's so easy to make a Web 2.0 site you can clone a lot of them very easily, and as a result people are bringing out new sites with a modicum of new polish on them--but they're not really thinking up the new ideas," Berners-Lee says. He says to properly support long-term thinking would require "a very large amount of computing power and a very large amount of mathematics." Berners-Lee is trying to raise up to $100 million to back a joint research initiative that was launched a year ago by MIT and the University of Southampton.
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Free Software Brings Affordability, Transparency to Mathematics
UW News (12/06/07) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington mathematics professor William Stein is leading the development of Sage, an open source software project that could eliminate the need for expensive computer programs used for advanced math problems and complex equations. Sage initially faced skepticism from the mathematics and education communities until it won first prize in the scientific software division of Les Trophees du Libre, an international competition for free software. "I've had a surprisingly large number of people tell me that something like Sage couldn't be done--that it just wasn't possible," Stein says. "I'm hearing that less now." Over the past three years more than a hundred mathematicians from around the world have worked on Sage to build a user-friendly tool that combines powerful number-crunching with features such as collaborative online worksheets. Sage can do numerous mathematical tasks, from mapping a 12-dimensional object to calculating rainfall pattern changes due to global warming, and can replace the commercial software commonly used in mathematics education. Stein says his frustration with commercial products was more than economical, as many do not reveal how calculations are performed, which means other mathematicians cannot examine the code to see how a computer-based calculation provided the answer.
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IU Computer Scientist's Toolkit for Digital Data Collection Receives NSF Funding
Indiana University (12/06/07) Moore, Neal G.

University computer scientist Beth Plale has received a $432,954 National Science Foundation grant to develop a digital toolkit that will make it easier for life and physical sciences researchers to capture data. Plale will work with IU professors David Leake and Dennis Gannon, and Yogesh Simmhan of Microsoft Research on the project. The project, "SDCI Data: New Toolkit for Provenance Collection, Publishing, and Experience Reuse," will lead to new tools for the "digital tagging" of research as it moves between scientists. Researchers need to move beyond a handwritten script for computational and database analysis and mining tasks and annotation as the amount of digital data continues to soar. The new tools will have the potential to improve monitoring of interactions with data, storage, and reuse of data, as well as productivity. "As the volume of scientific data from computational analysis grows into the petabyte range, it is increasingly important that provenance information like ownership and validity travel with the scientific data, wherever it eventually resides," says Plale, who also serves as the director of the Center for Data and Search Informatics.
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Technology Becoming Humanlike
Washington Times (12/06/07) P. B1; Geracimos, Ann

Northwestern University professor and author Don Norman warns that people are becoming "tools for the machines" as technology advances to the point where it becomes capable of making its own decisions. He illustrates this trend with intelligent automotive systems, which are beginning to make steering and braking decisions. Norman feels the best course is to facilitate a realistic interchange between the motorist and the machine so that the driver is at least cognizant of surrounding environmental conditions. "I think [technology] makes our lives easier, but it is very important to take stock," he argues. Norman cites voice menus on telephone systems as an example of the wrong path technology can follow, in which human control is taken out of the equation, often to the detriment of users. Norman is pushing for a science of design that emphasizes "human-centered technology." He writes in "The Design of Future Things" that technology design must be informed by a comprehension of social interactions and "the aesthetics of the arts." This is a tough challenge, because "the social aspects of the interaction, including the need for common ground, are far more complex than the technical ones, something technology-driven enthusiasts typically fail to recognize," Norman concludes.
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Forget Sticky Notes, Microsoft Using Inkblots as Password Reminders
Network World (12/04/07) Fontana, John

Microsoft Research's Jeremy Elson and Jon Howell are re-examining a project that uses inkblots as visual aids to help computer users remember complicated and difficult to crack passwords. Using a public Web-based project at InkblotPassword.com, the researchers let users create a password using a series of random inkblots and a formula that selects letters. A series of inkblots are shown to the user, who associates a word with each inkblot. For each inkblot, the user enters the first and last letter of the word the user associates with that inkblot. A series of 10 inkblots creates a password 20 characters long of seemingly random letters that is easily remembered by the user but difficult to steal. After a period of time, users were even able to remember the password without having to refer back to the inkblot, according to research first conducted in 2004. Typically, passwords as complex and secure as the inkblot passwords need to be written down or users will create weaker passwords that are easier to remember. The researchers found that different users almost always describe the same inkblot in different ways, making the system is even more secure and difficult to guess, as users create mental images they associate with the inkblots. Eventually, the users develop "muscle memory" and can log in without referring to the inkblot images.
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QUT Researcher Eyes Off a Biometric Future
Queensland University of Technology (12/04/07) Hutchinson, Sandra

Queensland University of Technology researcher Sammy Phang is developing iris-scanning technology that can be used for such everyday tasks as unlocking homes or accessing bank accounts. "By using iris recognition it is possible to confirm the identity of a person based on who the person is rather than what the person possesses, such as an ID card or password," Phang says. "It is already being used around the world and it is possible that within the next 10 to 20 years it will be part of our everyday lives." However, today's Iris-scanning technology is limited by such factors as changing lighting conditions. Phang is developing technology that estimates the change in the iris pattern as a result of changes in surrounding light conditions. Using a high-speed camera that can capture up to 1200 images per second, it is possible to track the iris surface's movements to examine how the iris pattern changes depending on the variation of pupil sizes caused by light. Phang says that her study found that everyone has unique iris surface movement, and that it is possible to estimate the change on the surface of the iris and account for how iris features change in different lighting.
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Flexible-Jointed Robot Is No Pushover
New Scientist (12/06/07) Simonite, Tom

Researchers in Japan have developed software that allows a life-sized humanoid robot to stay balanced on its feet no matter where on its body it may be shoved, pushed, or even deliberately kicked, creating the first full-sized humanoid capable of such steadiness. A robot capable of balancing should allow humans to interact more naturally with robots. The robot, developed by researchers at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Japan, relies on its joints for its balance. The joints are never kept rigid, so even when standing still the joints yield slightly when the robot is pushed. Force sensors within each joint determine the position and velocity of the robot's center mass as it moves, while control software rapidly calculates what forces the robot's feet need to exert on the ground to bring it back to balance. If the robot's joints are unable to swing its center of mass back into place, the robot staggers a little, much like a boxer after a heavy punch, which is followed by several rounds of rebalancing that bring its center of mass gradually back to its original balance point. "You just don't see the real good humanoids out there get pushed," says Institute for Human and Machine Cognition roboticist Jerry Pratt. "This team is currently ahead of the pack in terms of having it work on a full robot."
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Getting Agile in the Workplace
eWeek (12/03/07) Taft, Darryl K.

Agile development can minimize the risk involved in developing software by approaching the project in short iterations. Each section of the process becomes its own project, including planning, requirements analysis, design, coding, testing, and documentation. Microsoft's S. "Soma" Somasegar says his team used agile development to "get clean and stay clean" while building Visual Studio 2008. Microsoft's "patterns & practices" group has designed a workspace around the concept of agile development that contains team rooms where developers can work together at various workstations, with glass walls that can be used as whiteboards or moved to the side to create more space. The workspace also has a customer room where teams can bring in customers to demonstrate what they are working on. "We are agile about agile," says Dragos Manolescu, a former patterns & practices architect who is now a senior program manager in Microsoft's Live Labs group. "We do peer programming and we do short iterations, usually of one to two weeks." IBM's Software Group has also launched several internal efforts to advance agile development, including an internal wiki on agile, internal metrics programs, and an internal conference on agile development, says IBM Rational's Scott Ambler. "We're interested in being as effective as possible in what we do," says Ambler, who was hired by IBM to help the company get more agile. "The goal isn't to become more agile, it's to become more effective."
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Cooler, Faster, Cheaper: Clemson Researchers Advance Process to Manufacture Silicon Chips
Clemson University (12/03/07) Polowczuk, Susan

Clemson University researchers have discovered a new way of producing silicon chips that could lead to faster and more cost-effective laptops, desktops, cell phones, and other electronic devices. "We've developed a new process and equipment that will lead to a significant reduction in heat generated by silicon chips or microprocessors while speeding up the rate at which information is sent," says professor Rajendra Singh, director of Clemson's Center for Silicon Nanoelectronics. "In the future it will be possible to use a smaller number of microprocessors in a single chip since we've increased the speed of the individual microprocessors. At the same time, we've reduced power loss six-fold to a level never seen before." The researchers say their patented technique could improve performance and lower the cost of next-generation computer chips and semiconductor devices, including energy devices such as solar cells. "The potential of this new process and equipment is the low cost of manufacturing, along with better performance, reliability, and yield," Singh says.
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Sandia Research Team Studies Best Way to Solve Wicked Problems
Sandia National Laboratories (11/29/07) Burroughs, Chris

Sandia National Laboratories researcher George S. Davidson recently led a team investigating whether the best way to solve a wicked problem was in a large group sharing ideas or as an individual. "Our expectations were that computer-mediated group brainstorming ... was going to have the best results," says Davidson. "What we found, however, was that people working as individuals were at least as effective and possibly more so than those brainstorming in a group over the Web when trying to solve 'wicked' tangled problems, both in terms of quality and quantity." Wicked problems are problems that, by definition, are so tangled that there is no agreement on their definitions, much less a solution. Davidson's team consisted of three psychologists and two cognition researchers to investigate the tools and methods used to unite large groups of people to solve problems over the Internet. The researchers recruited 120 Sandia employees and contractors and 26 students to participate in the four-day experiment. The participants were divided into two groups--those who work alone and those who would be allowed to see other people's ideas on the Internet. The quality of the ideas coming from the isolated individuals was significantly better in all three quality ratings, indicating that individuals are more successful than groups and that individuals working alone take less time, and consequently less expense, than electronic group brainstorming. Davidson says that although individuals performed better in this study, online group brainstorming can be effective when ideas are needed from large groups of people.
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Unsung Innovators: Ted Nelson
Computerworld (12/03/07) Smith, Gina

In 1960, Ted Nelson came up with the concepts and terms for "hypertext," "hypermedia," "virtuality," and "micropayment," essentially creating the "nonsequential" document years before anything similar existed. As a sociology graduate student at Harvard, Nelson imagined a global, networked computer system and a world where personal computers were ubiquitous and people could access the world's art and literature through "hypertext" links. Despite such accurate foresight, Nelson is disdainful of the "commercial garbage" and awkward interfaces used online today, particularly how the Web simply duplicates paper and that hypertext linking only works in one direction. Nelson has pursued his hypertext vision through a project called Xanadu, which has tried several times to build a more complete literary network. Xanadu is different in many ways from what the Web has become. Xanadu is a literary system for artists and consumers to exchange, or possibly buy, ideas through a significantly different interface. "Take a look at Xanadu Space," Nelson says. "It's a different kind of document that is cross-connected in as many ways as you can." Nelson also has a negative view of modern graphical user interfaces. "A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within 10 seconds," he says. Although Xanadu has failed several times, Nelson has not given up hope and will continue to work on his pet project, which he believes is still growing and evolving some 47 years after he first envisioned it.
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EU Focuses R&D on Counterterrorism
Federal Computer Week (12/03/07) Vol. 21, No. 39, P. 42; Robinson, Brian

The European Union's 7th Framework Program for Research and Development features a homeland security component, giving the EU a larger security technology development agenda than it had previously. The program is an attempt to calibrate EU's security research initiative with separate EU member states' own security R&D efforts. "We do not want the incredible duplication of effort in other research sectors, and we do not want the low level of effectiveness we see in defense spending brought into this field," said European commissioner for enterprise and industry Gunter Verheugen at the EU Security Research Conference. "We want value for money." More than $2 billion in annual security R&D would be allocated each year under the program, which represents a 15-fold increase in the amount apportioned in the previous budget. Security research will concentrate on a quartet of objectives, including securing utilities and infrastructures, offering protection from crime and terrorism, border security, and border restoration in the event of a crisis. Tjien-Khoen Liem with the European Commission's Directorate-General for Enterprise said the EU security program has two goals--guaranteeing Europe's safety, security, and freedom; and making European industry more competitive via collaboration. "The security research program will be one of a number of mutually reinforcing initiatives aimed at reducing the fragmented internal security market for equipment products and services," Liem said.
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