Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
December 17, 2007

Learn about ACM's 2,200 online courses and 1,100 online books
MemberNet
CareerNews
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the December 17, 2007 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Faster Chips Are Leaving Programmers in Their Dust
New York Times (12/17/07) P. C1; Markoff, John

Microsoft executives are betting that the arrival of many-core chips--processors with more than eight cores, which may be possible as soon as 2010--will transform the world of personal computing, and the company is making a major move to improve parallel computing capabilities in software. "Microsoft is doing the right thing in trying to develop parallel software," says veteran software designer Andrew Singer, co-founder of parallel computing company Rapport. "They could be road kill if somebody else figures out how to do this first." Microsoft executives believe that finding a solution to parallel programming could end the keyboard and mouse era of computing and allow even handheld devices to see, listen, speak, and make complex real-world decisions, transforming computers from tools to companions. Microsoft's Craig Mundie says parallel software will allow computers to increasingly act as intelligent personal assistants. "My machine overnight could process my inbox, analyze which ones were probably the most important, but it could go a step further," Mundie says. "It could interpret some of them, it could look at whether I've ever corresponded with these people, it could determine the semantic context, it could draft three possible replies." However, existing software has a ways to go before accomplishing such tasks, and experts caution that no easy solutions have been found yet for programming chips with multiple processors. "Industry has basically thrown a Hail Mary," says University of California, Berkeley computer scientist David Patterson, former ACM president. "The whole industry is betting on parallel computing. They've thrown it, but the big problem is catching it."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


ACM Group Honors Computer Security Experts for Innovation and Service
AScribe Newswire (12/14/07)

ACM's Special Interest Group on Security, Audit and Control (SIGSAC) has award its top honors to the University of California, Santa Cruz's Dr. Martin Abadi and George Mason University's Dr. Sushil Jajodia for their work in computer security technologies. Abadi received the SIGSAC Outstanding Innovation Award for his fundamental contributions to the application of logic and probability to information security, while Jajodia received the SIGSAC Outstanding Contributions Award for his research and teaching contributions to the information security field and his service to ACM SIGSAC and the computing community. Abadi, a Principle Researcher at Microsoft Research, contributed to authentication in distributed computer systems as well as the design and analysis of security protocols for authentication. Jajodia, a former SIGSAC chair and founding co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Computer Security, made fundamental contributions to access control, information flow, multilevel security, and critical infrastructure protection.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Vote of No Confidence
Columbus Dispatch (OH) (12/15/07) Niquette, Mark

A nearly $2 million review of Ohio's voting systems found "critical security failures" across the board, prompting Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to propose a sweeping replacement of electronic touch-screens and optical-scan systems with a system that uses a paper ballot scanned at a central site. Her proposal also involves the elimination of voting in neighborhood precincts in favor of large "vote centers" where voters from five to 10 precincts would cast their ballots, with voting beginning 15 days prior to an election. The review determined that vote results could be compromised with "fairly simple techniques," while county elections officials chosen to review the part of the study by a group of academic experts reported that the findings are "generally based on pure supposition and bias." Brunner counters that the systems fail to meet minimum industry standards for computer security, and admits that making significant changes before Ohio's March 4 primary in all but one county is unlikely. However, she wants the statewide revamping complete by the next presidential election, and Peg Rosenfeld with the League of Women Voters of Ohio agrees that the state must make an overhaul. The voting-system vendors whose products are used in Ohio released statements insisting that their devices are reliable and accurate. Brunner's proposal faces the scrutiny of a Republican-led legislature, while Ohio State University law professor Dan Tokaji argues that her plan will create more problems than it solves.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


WSU Student Puts People in Touch With Virtual Reality
Columbian (WA) (12/17/07) Andersen, Michael

Washington State University Vancouver graduate student Randy Bullion has developed a $4,000 metal glove that can give virtual reality users the sensation of touching and manipulating real-world objects. The glove could potentially be used to teach new, difficult, and sensitive procedures to medical students, astronauts, engineers, and other highly-skilled professionals without risking damage to actual people or equipment. "When you reach out in the virtual environment and grab the virtual object, you feel like it is actually in your hand," says Hakan Gurocak, chair of the school's engineering and computer science department. The glove uses magnetoreaolgical fluid, a gray semi-liquid used in race cars that is packed with microscopic shards of iron that allows the substance to change its consistency in the presence of a magnetic field. Gurocak says the glove could eliminate the need for expensive prototyping. He says the world is desperate for new ways to merge human bodies and electronics. "We are surrounded by computers in every place we go, in everything we do," Gurocak says. "If we had a better way of interacting with computers, I think that would open up many, many possibilities."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Wikipedia Competitor Being Tested By Google
New York Times (12/15/07) P. B3; Helft, Miguel

Google is testing Knol, a new Web service that would be a repository of knowledge from experts on various topics, potentially competing with Wikipedia and other sites as Google attempts to transform from simply a search engine to a company that helps create and publish Web content. However, critics say the transformation could compromise Google's objectivity in presenting search engine results. Knol would allow people to create Web pages on any topic, and is designed to include features to allow readers to submit comments, rate pages, and suggest changes. Unlike Wikipedia, which allows anyone to edit a page, only the page's original author would be allowed to make changes to Knol pages, and different authors could have competing pages on the same topic. Google says the purpose of Knol is to bring attention to authors who have expertise on a particular topic. "Somehow the Web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors' names highlighted," says Google's Udi Manber. "We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of Web content." Manber says Google believes that many people with extensive knowledge on certain topics do not publish on the Web because the process is not simple enough. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says that Knol would not be a competitor for Wikipedia as it would create multiple, opinionated articles that encourage open debate on a subject, whereas Wikipedia is intended to be objective and offer a single article for each topic. Wikipedia is also a non-profit organization, while Knol sites could have ads and authors might receive revenue from their pages. Google notes that Knol is currently only an experiment and may never become open to the public.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Expandable Silicon
Technology Review (12/14/07) Bullis, Kevin

More affordable solar panels, sensor networks, and flat-screen TVs could be created with new, expandable silicon-based chips developed by Stanford University researchers. The chips are comprised of free-floating islands of silicon enclosed by coils of silicon wire, which unwind and spread the islands out when the corners of the chips are pulled. The research is "taking the integrated circuit concept that has been so successful in microelectronics and adapting it to large-area applications," notes MIT professor Marc Baldo. The chips could be fabricated to expand thousands or even tens of thousands of times, according to Stanford electrical engineering professor Peter Peumans. This would significantly reduce the cost of flat-screen TVs, to name one example, because entire displays would not have to be coated with high-grade silicon. Instead, just a small amount of silicon would be necessary with the expandable chips, and the transistors are already wired together. The biggest challenge in Peumans' project was showing that the coils surrounding the silicon islands were strong enough to maintain their connection as they unwind, and Peumans demonstrated a treatment that bolstered the coils' strength. Peumans is collaborating with Boeing to create sensor networks for aircraft in which high-performance, silicon-based transistors are distributed between layers of composite materials in order to monitor the materials' integrity so that problems could be spotted earlier and downtime for inspections could be reduced.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Brain-Computer Link Systems on the Brink of Breakthrough, Study Finds
University of Southern California (12/12/07) Mankin, Eric

Systems that directly connect silicon circuits to brains are under development all over the world, and some are nearly ready for commercial applications, reveals a new report from the World Technology Evaluation Center. The report, "International Assessment of Research and Development in Brain-Computer Interfaces," was compiled by an eight-member committee led by University of Southern California neurobiologist Theodore W. Berger. The report says that brain-computer interface (BCI) research is extensive and rapidly expanding, as is research in the interfaces between multiple key scientific areas, such as biomedical engineering, neuroscience, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, materials science and nanotechnology, and neurology and neurosurgery. The report also found that BCI research is quickly approaching first-generation medical practice, including clinical trials of invasive BCI technology and widespread home use of noninvasive, electroencephalography BCIs. The committee believes that BCIs will soon have significant impact in the medical device industry and additional BCI research will rapidly accelerate in non-medical areas, particularly in the gaming, automotive, and robotics industries. Lastly, the report says the focus of BCI research is uneven throughout the world, with invasive BCI research taking place almost exclusively in North America and noninvasive research primarily being done in Europe and Asia. The committee found that BCI research in Europe and Japan is much more closely tied to industry compared to the United States.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Reversible Data Transfers From Light to Sound
Duke University News & Communications (12/14/07) Basgall, Monte

Duke University researchers have demonstrated how to transfer encoded information from a laser beam to sound waves and back into light waves again, a major step toward designing super-fast optical communications networks. The ability to change data between media would allow information to be captured and retained for very brief intervals. "The real gist of the work is how to create a memory for optical pulses," says Duke physics professor Daniel Gauthier. So far, the use of light for transferring information has been hindered by an inability to store data. "We don't have random access memories for light the way electronic computers do," says Gauthier. A new method, proposed by Gauthier's postdoctoral research associate Zhaoming Zhu, uses a phenomenon called "stimulated Brillouin scattering" in which two opposing laser beams pass through each other along an optical fiber, creating acoustic vibrations known as phonons within the glass. If one of the lasers is encoded with information the data can be imprinted on newly-created phonons. The phonons are too high pitched for humans to hear and are capable of retaining the data for as long as 12 billionths of a second. "While short by human standards, 12 billionths of a second is long in comparison of the time scales used in optical data transmission," says study co-author and University of Rochester professor Robert Boyd. The information can then be re-transferred from sound to light by shining a third laser through the fiber. The researchers suggest that other kinds of fiber-optic materials might yield more long-lasting results.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


C++ Inventor on Factors That Make for Great Technology Innovation
SYS-CON (12/14/07) Zaciri, Roberto V.

Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of the C++ programming language, says the type of research you do is affected by the area you live in. Stroustrup says he left Denmark to pursue fields that interested him as the opportunity for such study was not available. "For me as a young researcher, the quality of my colleagues dominated my choices. Denmark is one of the very best places in the world to live, but it did not have people like Maurice Wilkes, David Wheeler, and Roger Needham with an established organization complete with great students," Stroustrup says. "Importantly, all the people I listed and the many more that I couldn't mention without becoming tedious, are not just great technical people, but also real three-dimensional people with a wide variety of non-technical interests." Stroustrup says the people he could work with trumped the location of the work. "Every great place I have visited had--at least during the early years--a nucleus of really exceptional people. You need someone completely off the scale to get started," he says. "Later, merely good people can sustain an institution until the next great people come along. Organizations that foster innovation seem to have people who inspire and to leave ample time and space for younger talent to thrive and explore unexpected areas."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Enlisting Computers to Help Fight Wildfires
New York Times (12/15/07) P. A14; Johnson, Kirk

United States Geological Survey scientist Michael E. Hutt is running a one-of-a-kind computer modeling project to help land managers, community leaders, and the public analyze wild-fire risk and assess options. The computer modeling is helping answer such questions as what if a fire breaks out on a certain slope, how many homes are within one mile? What is the expected chemical signature of the ash and smoke, and what evacuation routes should be taken, or ruled out, based on predictions of the fire's movement, weather, and other variables? The research is being conducted in Grand County, Colo., a prime location to see what fire science can achieve before a fire occurs. Grand County is home to an increasing number of residents, much of the forest is dead due to mountain pine beetles, and about three million people in the Denver area depend on a Grand County reservoir, with millions more depending on the Colorado River. The forest in Grand County is due to catch fire as some places have not burned for 500 years or more. Computer modeling of fires could help firefighters deploy resources, particularly if fires are burning in several states. Decision makers could rank fires in importance according to the drift of smoke and potential impact on homes, businesses, water, and wildlife. This year wildfires burned more than 8.9 million acres, including more than 1 million in California and almost 2 million in Idaho, the second-highest year for total acres burned since the current system of measurement began in 1960. With more people building homes closer to national forests and parks, making fire models open to the public is important as clearing brush and building homes with metal roofs are often the best defense.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Green Technology Revolution, Part 1: Gaining Momentum
TechNewsWorld (12/12/07) Burger, Andrew K.

A growing number of IT companies in all areas of the industry are working to go "green." The long-term reliance on toxic materials offers significant potential for the IT industry to make a huge difference in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. For example, chip fabricators and high-tech corporate parks are now using electricity from photovoltaic cells, hydrogen fuel cells, and biogas generators, and data centers are deploying virtualization and new heating and cooling systems to reduce electricity usage, reduce emissions, and save space. E-waste recycling efforts have also taken off through equipment take-back campaigns, while reuse recycling programs are helping to reduce the massive amount of e-waste that can contribute to toxic hotspots. Often economic competition and environmental concerns are in direct opposition to each other, but a combination of factors, including new, better technology and rising fuel costs, has made energy efficiency an economic priority. "Green technologies are becoming very hot, especially in the West and migrating to the East as well," says Mareca Hatler, director of research at ON World. "Many global companies view green initiatives as necessary to stay competitive today, which is quite a change from the philosophical viewpoints from a decade ago."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Cyber Security Should Be Personal Priority for All Leaders
Government Technology (12/13/07)

Cyber security must become a top concern for CEOs, according to a new report from the British-North American Committee and the Atlantic Council of the United States. CEOs who fail to prioritize cyber security leave their companies vulnerable to industrial espionage, as illustrated by the recent cyber attacks on Royal Dutch Shell, Rolls-Royce, and other large companies. "As enterprise on the Internet has become more sophisticated, so have cyber criminals," says ICANN President Paul Twomey, one of the report's authors. "The message of this report is clear--senior government figures and leaders of corporations need to make cyber security a personal priority." The report, "Cyber Attack: A Risk Management Primer for CEOs and Directors," describes information security threats and common data security mistakes. The report also offers suggestions for controlling cyber security risks, such as developing a wide-ranging information security policy to be carried out by senior management. Conducting an enterprise-wide security audit, regularly testing security measures, and staying current on security best practices are other recommendations advanced in the report. "Much work is needed to increase the security of the Internet and its connected computers and to make the environment more reliable for everyone," warned former ICANN president Vint Cerf in the report. "Security is a mesh of actions and features and mechanisms. No one thing makes you secure."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Tinkering 2.0
Chronicle of Higher Education (12/14/07) Vol. 54, No. 16, P. A26; Young, Jeffrey R.

Higher education stands to benefit from the return of tinkering in the Web 2.0 age, University of Southern California visiting scholar John Seely Brown said during a recent event commemorating the creation of NSFNet, a precursor of the Internet. In an interview, the former chief at the Xerox PARC research laboratory said tinkering is key to the learning process because it helps build an intuition of how things will turn out when playing under the hood. Tinkering disappeared after about 1980 as devices became cognitively impenetrable, but it returned by 1995 in the form of the remix, mash-ups, media, and imagery. Brown said the Internet enables access to all kinds of tools to take tinkering to a new level. He said tinkering has the potential to invert the process of learning, since people can now find communities online where they can learn the sensibilities and practices that are key to their particular interest. He cited MIT's OpenCourseWare as an example of what some colleges are doing to encourage tinkering.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Paid Subscription
to the top


Social Networking and the Medici Effect
Government Computer News (12/10/07) Vol. 26, No. 30, Niemann, Brand

Project 10x's Mills Davis believes the popular social networking sites of today will pale in comparison to the way in which users connect knowledge via Web 3.0 and connect intelligence via Web 4.0 in the next 25 years, writes Brand Niemann, co-chairman of the Semantic Interoperability Community of Practice. Niemann says the best minds will continue to collaborate to push innovation to new heights, while government computing will make the transition from a vertical hierarchy to a horizontal service system that allows employees to find their own work similar to the way employees are being encouraged at leading companies. At the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Roundtable in November, participants assessed smart growth for Web 2.0 and offered plans for the future. The Internet and the adoption of World Wide Web standards, protocols, and activities have been the key technological developments involving the government over the past 25 years. Government workers will rely even more on the Internet and Web technologies to serve citizens in the years to come, Niemann says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Getting Serious
Economist Technology Quarterly (12/07) Vol. 385, No. 8558, P. 3

The application of computer-game technologies and virtual environments to real-world business challenges was the subject of a September conference at England's Coventry University, and businesses, the military, academics, and health care providers are considering the use of virtual worlds as training, management, and collaboration tools. Director of Coventry's Serious Games Institute David Wortley says these applications differ from video games in one critical respect--their outcomes are serious and concrete. PIXELearning, for instance, has devised a role-playing simulator that can train fresh university graduates who are interning at a major international accounting firm by facilitating learning via interaction with simulated clients. Virtual environments' rise in popularity has been accompanied by an increase in the risk of litigation, as virtual goods and services can be bought and sold for actual currency, encouraging the establishment of dedicated trading platforms. The U.S., Australian, and British governments have said they are considering a new tax on real-world profits from virtual trade, which has provoked outrage from virtual world enthusiasts and experts. There are also concerns that bad behavior in virtual worlds can encourage bad behavior in real life, especially when participants enjoy "anonymity along with a lack of social recourse" in such environments, according to Trinity Ventures venture capitalist Gus Tai. Some companies that operate virtual worlds are attempting to regulate them to control deviant or undesirable behavior.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To be removed from future issues of TechNews, please submit your email address where you are receiving Technews alerts, at:
http://optout.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

To re-subscribe in the future, enter your email address at:
http://signup.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

As an alternative, log in at myacm.acm.org with your ACM Web Account username and password, and follow the "Listservs" link to unsubscribe or to change the email where we should send future issues.

to the top

News Abstracts © 2007 Information, Inc.


© 2007 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.