Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
January 4, 2008

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

Welcome to the January 4, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

PC Makers Take a Stylish Turn to Tackle Apple
Wall Street Journal (01/04/08) P. A1; Guth, Robert A.; Scheck, Justin; Clark, Don

The demand for more user-friendly and attractive products is forcing PC makers to rethink how they manufacture, advertise, and sell products, and who they have design them. PC makers are looking for new ways to create customer demand, including attracting consumers who care little about technical features. New and experimental designs can create technical problems, and it is still unclear if consumers are willing to pay a premium for a more stylish machine. Additionally, fashion trends may change too quickly and drastically for the computer industry to keep pace. "It's a very dangerous route to go," says Sohrab Vossoughi, founder and president of Ziba Design, which has designed PC prototypes for Intel. "Things go up, and things go down." Part of the danger lies in misinterpreting or attributing Apple's success to design alone, when in fact is has more to do with creating synergies between its hardware and software that make its machines more contemporary and easier to use. In June, Forrester Research issued a report that said the PC market has entered a new "age of style" and that attractive models could sell for $150 to $250 more per machine. PC makers have started hiring industrial designers and others to help design PCs from the outside in, instead of the inside out, and are finding inspiration for PC design in classic cars, nature, and fashion trends. Some analysts believe that as customers become used to stylized PCs, the industry will break into new design and price segments, much like the car industry with its levels of luxury and performance.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Carnegie Mellon Study Identifies Where Thoughts of Familiar Objects Occur Inside Human Brain
Carnegie Mellon News (01/03/08) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists and cognitive neuroscientists, using combined methods of machine learning and brain imaging, have developed a way of identifying where people's thoughts and perceptions of familiar objects originate in the brain by identifying brain activity patterns associated with the objects. The technique was developed over two years by neuroscience professor Marcel Just and computer science professor Tom M. Mitchell. Study participants were shown line drawings of 10 different objects, five tools and five dwellings, and asked to think about their properties while lying in a MRI scanner. The researchers were eventually able to identify which picture the subject was looking at based on their characteristic whole-brain neural activation patterns. Just and Mitchell discovered that the activation patterns evoked by an object are not located in a single place in the brain. The machine-learning part of the study used a computer algorithm to extract patterns from a participant's brain activation. Data collected in one part of the study was tested against the algorithm on data from another part of the same study so that the algorithm was never exposed to the same patterns it was tested on. The algorithm was able to identify a participant's thoughts based on the patterns extracted from other participant's, indicating that different brains show the same activity patterns when viewing the same object. "This first step using computer algorithms to identify thoughts of individual objects from brain activity can open new scientific paths, and eventually roads and highways" says University of South Carolina assistant professor of psychology Svetlana Shinkareva, the study's lead author. "We hope to progress to identifying the thoughts associated not just with pictures, but with words, and eventually sentences."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Voting Groups Urge Presidential Candidates to Demand Paper Ballots for Upcoming Primaries
Wired News (01/02/08) Zetter, Kim

Several voting integrity groups have sent a letter to presidential candidates urging them to request that states use paper ballots for the 2008 primary election. The groups cited the recent report for Ohio that exposes several electronic voting vulnerabilities, including a vulnerability in ES&S iVotronic touch-screen machines that could allow someone to manipulate code on the machines through an infrared port. Ohio's secretary of state called the machines unfit and has requested that optical-scan equipment replace paperless machines. The ES&S iVotronic machines have also been implicated in multiple stories from several states involving vote-flipping. In 2006, during early voting in Miami-Date and Broward counties in Florida, voters complained of selecting one candidate and having the machine record their vote for another candidate. ES&S officials say the glitch was not a problem because voters caught the mistake on the review screen and were able to correct it, and a Broward County election staff member also dismissed the issue, telling a report that it was common for a certain percentage of machines to have problems and it was a calibration error. In Texas and Ohio similar problems were reported, including at least one incident in Texas where the voter had a poll worker watch as the machine registered the correct vote on the ballot screen, but report a different candidate on the review screen.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


NASA Dreams of an Interplanetary 'Second Life' for Mars Crew
ABC News (01/03/08) Holden, Kevin

To combat the psychological hardship of extreme isolation, NASA is testing networking and virtual reality technologies that it believes will allow space explorers to communicate with their families, friends, and colleagues on Earth through a 3D virtual world similar to Second Life. "We want to help our remote explorers 'phone home' in a way that lets them sit around a dinner table with their family, help their children with homework, and analyze the latest findings with their Earth-bound peers," says Jeanne Holm, who is the chief knowledge architect at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA has made significant efforts to develop virtual world projects, previously establishing an island in Second Life for online collaboration on technology projects, and the agency is working on 3D simulations of Mars so astronauts can experience the planet before traveling there. The concept faces significant hurdles due to the distance between Earth and Mars. Daniel Laughlin, learning technologies project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, says NASA is trying to work out the interplanetary lag problem, and while email messages seem like an obvious and already available solution, Laughlin says it is not good enough. Email communications would only emphasize the vast distance between the astronauts and everyone else, whereas virtual worlds would make astronauts feel at home. "If we were meeting in Second Life or World of Warcraft to chat, we would both have the sense of being in the same place overlaid on our sense of physical location," Laughlin says. "The experience encodes into our memories as if we were in the same place."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


SETI@home Looking for More Volunteers
University of California, Berkeley (01/02/08) Sanders, Robert

The University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory is receiving a burst of new data from an upgraded Arecibo telescope, meaning the SETI@home project needs more desktop computers to help process the data. SETI@home, which launched eight years ago, has signed up more than 5 million volunteers, including 170,000 devotees on 320,000 computers. The new, more sensitive receivers on the world's largest radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, are generating 500 times more data for the project than before. The new sensors are capable of scanning several regions of the sky at the same time, instead of just one, and have a greater sensitivity and are able to detect the polarization of radio signals. The SETI@home software has been upgraded to manage the new data as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) enters a new era. "The next generation SETI@home is 500 times more powerful then anything anyone has done before," says project chief scientist Dan Werthimer. "That means we are 500 times more likely to find ET than with the original SETI@home." Project scientist Eric Korpela says the new data equals 300 gigabytes per day, or 100,000 terabytes per year, approximately equal to all of the information stored in the U.S. Library of Congress. Various other distributed computing projects have launched since SETI, including folding@home and cosmology@home. Most projects are on Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BIONC), which was developed by SETI@home's director David Anderson so the various projects could share resources.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Google Patent Imagines Robots Indexing the Grocery Aisle
InformationWeek (01/04/08) Claburn, Thomas

Google recently filed "Recognizing Text in Images," a patent application for a technique used for optical character recognition in digital images. The patent application visualizes several possible applications for the technology and shows that privacy issues surrounding Google Maps Street View will likely get more complicated, YouTube search engines may one day be able to find words captured on video, and Google searches may eventually return a list of products on local store shelves. "Candidate text regions within images can be enhanced to improve text recognition accuracy," the application says. "Extracted image text can also be used to improve image searching ... Additionally, the extracted image text can be combined with location data and indexed to improve and enhance location-based searching." Similar to how Google created street view by having camera-equipped vehicles drive through the streets, Google envisions camera-equipped robots traveling retail store isles for a service called Google Product View. Such possibilities are highly speculative, and a Google representative notes that the company files a variety of ideas that employees develop, some of which may turn into real products and some of which do not. However, the video-text detection technique was developed by two computer scientists with a strong track record, Luc Vincent and Adrian Ulges, who helped develop Google Street View and Google Book Search.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Technologies on the Rise in 2008
BBC News (01/01/08)

BBC News predicts that five technologies could make a significant impact in 2008. First, the mobile Web could become far more ubiquitous as the lines blur between online and offline worlds. Over the past 12 moths, several technologies have emerged that could drastically change how people use the Web. Google Gears, Adobe Air, and Microsoft Silverlight have the ability to take rich Web content and make some of it available offline. These tools will allow users to do work offline, such as creating an eBay auction page, that would be loaded to the Web the next time the user connects, as well as the opposite, or building desktop applications and running them in a Web browser. Ultra Mobile PCs could also become far more prevalent in 2008, filling the gap between PDAs and laptops. Several manufacturers recently launched devices that are smaller and lighter than laptops, but are more powerful than smart phones due to features such as flash memory. Flash memory has recently shown drastic increases in power and could soon replace hard drives as the preferred storage method in laptops. Internet TV is also expected to become widespread, with broadband adoption and speeds increasing and more Internet protocol television services being launched. Wimax is also expect to become quite popular. Major companies such as Sprint and Intel are backing Wimax, and it is being tried in developing countries such as Nigeria. Lastly, VOIP could finally become a serious contender in the voice services industry in 2008. Towards the end of 2007, network operator 3 launched a Skype phone that allows users to make ordinary calls using the service, and handset-maker Nokia already offers four phones able to use the technology.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Year in Robots
Scientific American (12/28/07) Greenemeier, Larry

The past year included several significant and exciting developments in robotic technology. As part of NASA's efforts to send peopled missions back to the moon, and eventually to Mars, the space agency performed several tests to see if robotic technology could be used to provide medical care for astronauts during extended space flights, including using robotic surgeons software to compensate for errors in movement caused by turbulence and varying gravitational conditions. The Department of Defense continued to develop autonomous robotic technology that could eventually be used to replace human soldiers in dangerous situations. In November, DARPA hosted the 2007 Urban Challenge in which driverless cars had to navigate an urban environment and other challenges. Also in November, University of California, San Diego researchers reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that "current robot technology is surprisingly close to achieving autonomous bonding and socialization with human toddlers for significant periods of time." The report was based on QRIO, a two-foot humanoid programmed to wave, dance, sit and stand, and tested in UCSD's Early Childhood Center. While the achievements of 2007 are impressive, 2008 promises to be even more exciting. University of Colorado at Boulder researchers will benchmark robotic devices capable of precisely measuring and mixing medications used for treatments such as chemotherapy, the robotic Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit will resume the exploration of Mars, and Scandinavian research firm Sintef will display AI-based equipment designed to help offshore oil and gas drilling platforms operate efficiently and safely.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Hottest Skills for '08
Computerworld (12/31/07) Hoffman, Thomas

Computerworld's 2008 Vital Signs survey identifies the top IT skills that will be in demand this year. Companies will be looking for programming and application developers who have AJAX, .Net, and PHP skills as they Web-enable their existing applications and commit more to Web 2.0. There also will be considerable interest in project managers who have overseen complex assignments that resulted in a clear business benefit, and in technical staff who can support expanding application portfolios as well as multilingual help desk staff. People with core security credentials, and data center experts, including mainframe technicians and database management specialists, will be wanted. Companies want IT people with business acumen who can serve as business analysts or business liaisons. The job market is also favorable for people with general network administration capabilities and network convergence, wireless, and network security talents. "There's a great opportunity for people in the infrastructure space as well, including messaging administrators and network/systems administrators who act as the air-traffic controllers for email, corporate networks, and PDAs," says Robert Half Technology's Katherine Spencer Lee.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Internet Opens Elite Colleges to All
Associated Press (12/29/07) Pope, Justin

MIT's "OpenCourseWare" initiative has made virtually all of the school's courses available online for free, including lecture notes, tests, and video lectures. Many of MIT's new online "students" are college teachers themselves that use MIT professors as guides in designing their own classes or as a source for help for their own students. While MIT's initiative is the largest, other top universities are also making their course material available online. More than 100 universities worldwide, including Johns Hopkins, Tufts, and Notre Dame, have joined MIT in a consortium of schools promoting their open courseware. Princeton allows Internet users to watch prominent guest speakers, and Yale recently announced it would make material from seven popular courses available online, with 30 more courses to be added in the future. Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, and Duke have all made lectures, panels, and performances available on iTunes U, a part of Apple's music and video downloading service that offers free material from 28 colleges. Berkeley also recently announced that it will be the first to make full course lectures available on YouTube. These online experiences are not the full college experience as students are unable to ask questions or earn credit or a degree, but these limitations are what make such programs possible. The Internet has transformed higher education, and has made online learning a multibillion-dollar industry, but the role of elite colleges and universities in higher education has been unclear. OpenCourseWare gets more than 1 million hits per month, with translated materials getting another 500,000 hits. MIT's Steve Carson says the online courses will allow those who need the knowledge, but not the certification, to learn the skills they need.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Supercomputer Magerit to Participate in an International Project to Simulate the Universe
Innovations Report (12/27/07) Martinez, Eduardo

Magerit is a supercomputer installed by Madrid's Center of Supercomputing and Visualization at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing, and it will be utilized to simulate the observable universe as part of an international project led by Universidad Autonoma de Madrid professor Gustavo Yepes. The virtual recreation of the cosmos, down to the physical processes that gave birth to cosmological structures, is needed to fill in many of the blanks about the universe's development. Realistically reproducing the initial conditions that led to the formation of the observable galaxies is the goal of an interdisciplinary team of astrophysicists. Magerit is the second most powerful supercomputer in the recently established Spanish Supercomputing Network, and boasts 2,140 processors and a memory of close to 5 terabytes, giving it the ability to perform more than 12 billion operations per second. Magerit and the MareNostrum supercomputer at Barcelona's National Supercomputing Center, along with other systems within the European Consortium of Supercomputing Centers, have been tapped by the project. The starting conditions that the supercomputers will work to virtualize are based on data compiled by COBE and WMAP satellites. Project researchers are employing a method that can add observational connections to the spatial distribution of mass and speeds derived from the galaxy catalogues, allowing them to "prepare" simulations to produce, at the conclusion of the time period, structures that closely resemble what we see around us. The simulation will allow researchers to move throughout the dimensions of space and time as they see fit and help the fields of computational astrophysics and cosmology achieve a less speculative and more experimental status.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


'Immersive Education' Submerges Students in Online Worlds Made for Learning
Chronicle of Higher Education (12/21/07) Vol. 54, No. 17, P. A22; Foster, Andrea L.

Immersive Education is a multimillion-dollar effort to build educational virtual reality software within commercial and nonprofit fantasy spaces such as Second Life. The project uses interactive three-dimensional graphics, Web cameras, Internet-based telephony, and a variety of other digital media. At a recent meeting at Boston College, Aaron E. Walsh, founder of the project and an instructor at Boston College, along with two other researchers demonstrated how virtual spaces can be used for more than entertainment. The project's goal is to build three-dimensional, interactive worlds and lessons that will grab students' attention in the same way popular online video games do, except without the violence and futility of video games. "It's important to allow educators to mix and match media types to construct a virtual learning environment that's right for their students," Walsh says. Critics say promoting video games in schools and colleges corrupts and diminishes education, but Immersive Education has managed to collect a large number of impressive supporters, including Boston College, Harvard University, Amherst College, Columbia University, MIT, Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology, Japan's University of Aizu, NASA, Sun Microsystems, and the New Media Consortium, a higher-education technology group. Now in its third generation, Walsh's virtual world allows for high-resolution graphics, more realistic avatars, the use of Web cameras, and the sharing of documents.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Paid Subscription
to the top


Robot Jaws to Get a Human Bite
New Scientist (01/03/08) Simonite, Tom

An engineer at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom has set his sights on providing a set of robotic jaws with copies of real human teeth. The robot, called Dento-Munch, is capable of moving in the same chewing motion as the human jaw. By loading Dento-Munch with accurate replicas of human teeth, Kazem Alemzadeh will be able to test the performance of implants and false teeth during use. Alemzadeh plans to use a 3D scanning system comprised of an office projector, a digital camera, and custom software to image copies of teeth that will be used to machine the replicas. The Dento-OS system will make use of structured lights, and is ultimately a faster, more accurate, and less costly technique. Fluorescent spots will be used to enable the camera to pick up jaw movements. "It has got to be as real as possible," Alemzadeh says. "We also will capture the motion of chewing to test how materials would wear in the mouths of individual people."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


USAF Wants to See in Holographic 3-D
Government Computer News (12/19/07) Dizard III, Wilson P.

The Air Force Scientific Research Office has unveiled holographic technology that is capable of producing high-definition, 3D images. The new displays are an improvement on current holographic videoconferencing equipment because they use laser light to store the appearance of objects or scenes to boost memory, and they also are larger in physical size and have updating features. "We use high-efficiency, low-cost dynamic recording materials capable of very large sizes, which is very important for life-size, realistic 3D displays," says research team leader Nasser Peyghambarian of the University of Arizona's Optical Sciences College. "We can record complete scenes or objects within three minutes and can store them for three hours." Battlefield command and control stands to benefit from the delivery of realistic images that can be regularly and quickly updated, and the technology can also be used for training purposes. The team now wants to increase the size of the displays to three square feet, render them in color, boost the writing speed of the images, and study the psychological impact of 3D viewing and how humans interact with 3D displays.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Playing Dirty
IEEE Spectrum (12/07) Vol. 44, No. 12, P. 32; Kushner, David

Richard Thurman successfully programmed his computers to play games automatically for the purpose of realizing profits in a game environment where virtual assets are bought with real money via credit card. Thurman developed an auto-playing robot by purchasing a program he used to reverse-engineer his target game environment's basic mechanisms, and then he wrote a piece of code that he embedded within the client software so it could communicate with a development environment for Windows computers. Once a communications link was established, Thurman purchased 30 commercially available PCs, each of which would play the game individually, creating and manipulating a character to earn gold, with character details randomly generated by software he wrote. Thurman shielded his identity by buying anonymous gift cards to set up accounts rather than using a personal credit card, and he programmed his computers to respond automatically to incoming data from the game server. So he would not be unmasked by company game masters who policed the game environment, Thurman constantly changed his IP addresses and also rigged his computer array to flag unusual surges of activity that may have indicated attempts to sniff him out. Massively multiplayer games are appealing targets for hackers not just because of the virtual economy they support but because they have gone mainstream, with all kinds of people--not just programmers and "nerds"--playing them. Such game-rigging, which critics claim violates the spirit of the games, is allowed because no real-world laws cover online gaming.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


How (Much) to Trust Wikipedia
CITRIS Newsletter (12/07) Slack, Gordy

A major issue with the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is assuring the accuracy of its entries, and a team of engineers led by UC Santa Cruz computer scientist Luca de Alfaro has developed a software tool for rating how trustworthy such entries are using the reputation of the contributor as a determining factor. The program is undergirded by a system that assigns and updates a numerical value of reputation to each Wikipedia author, and that value increases as authors make contributions that are preserved by subsequent editors. "The reputation we compute for authors is a good predictor of future behavior: authors with high reputations really do tend to make longer-lasting contributions to Wikipedia," notes de Alfaro. The number of edits that Wikipedia text has been subjected to over time is used to compute the text's trustworthiness, and De Alfaro's system tags each word with a trust value gleaned from the reputation of the word's author, and from the reputation of all visitors who edited nearby text. The text's background is color-coded to reflect the author's reputation value, with clear backgrounds representing the highest value. Edits to text are represented in a shade of orange, with darker shades reflecting lower levels of trustworthiness. "We are essentially automating the usual process of text revision: for each piece of text, we take into account all the people who revised it, giving more weight to people of higher reputation." de Alfaro explains.
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 © 2008 Information, Inc.


© 2008 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.