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ACM TechNews
January 18, 2008

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Welcome to the January 18, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

In observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the next edition of ACM TechNews will be Wednesday, January 23, 2008.


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ACM Groups Urge Actions to Broaden Web Accessibility
AScribe Newswire (01/16/08)

Several ACM Special Interest Groups, along with ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee, have developed a joint statement to encourage equitable and inclusive Internet access for everyone, including people with disabilities. The groups say that while the Internet has become more critical for a variety of commercial and leisure activities, a majority of private and commercial Web sites have access limitations. The ACM groups have committed themselves to being leaders in the quest for improved access to the Internet and the Web, with the goal of increasing Internet access as a means to attract broader participation of talented people in the global economy. The ACM groups' statement urges increasing awareness of the value of accessibility, new federal policies to increase Web accessibility, continued federal R&D funding for more accessible IT systems, and additional low-cost Web development tools from the IT community. USACM and members of ACM's Special Interest Groups on Accessible Computing (SIGACCESS), Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), and Hypertext, Hypermedia and the Web (SIGWEB) signed the statement, along with the Computer Science Teachers Association, launched by ACM in 2005. "The technical community has the resources to make commercial Web sites accessible without undue regulatory and monetary burdens," says Harry Hochheiser, a member of the USACM Executive Committee and an assistant professor of computer and information sciences at Towson University.
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Survey Shows U.S. Teens Confident in Their Inventiveness
MIT News (01/16/08)

Although confidence is high among American teenagers that they are inventive enough to solve some of the world's most pressing problems, 59 percent do not feel high school is sufficiently preparing them for engineering and technology careers, according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. The survey also uncovered a need for more project-based learning in high schools. Seventy-two percent of U.S. teens feel critical environmental issues could be addressed by technological inventions or innovations within the next 10 years, while 64 percent think they can develop some of these solutions, versus 38 percent of adults who feel the same way. "Today's teens are inheriting our society's environmental challenges, so their confidence and optimism that the problems are solvable is promising and exciting," says Josh Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. "However, we owe our youth the tools they will need to solve these challenges." Schuler says the survey's results indicate recognition by students that high schools are profoundly lacking a "learning by doing" component. Seventy-nine percent of teens see value in hands-on, project-based science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and learning in high school, and also believe such programs require additional funding. Schuler says that an overwhelming majority of teens and adults acknowledge the need for greater STEM education proficiency in the United States, and such an issue should be emphasized heavily by presidential candidates.
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DOE Awards 265 Million Hours of Supercomputing Time
HPC Wire (01/17/08)

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science announced that 265 million processor-hours have been awarded to 55 scientific projects based on their potential for breakthroughs in science and engineering research and the suitability of the project for supercomputers. The awarded hours will give scientists access to some of the world's most powerful supercomputers, and will help cut the research time down to weeks or months, instead of years or decades. The supercomputing and data storage resources are being allocated under the DOE's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which supports computationally-intensive, large-scale research projects. Supercomputer time will be supplied by the DOE's Leadership Computing Facilities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computer Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. "The Department of Energy's Office of Science has two of the top 10 most powerful supercomputers, and using them through the INCITE program is having a transformational effect on America's scientific and economic competitiveness," says DOE's Raymond L. Orbach. "Once considered the domain of only small groups of researchers, supercomputers today are tools for discovery, driving scientific advancement across a wide range of disciplines."
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USACM Fears Increased Risk to Identity Theft From Implementation Rules for National ID Plan
AScribe Newswire (01/16/08)

ACM's U.S. Public Policy Committee (USACM) released a statement highlighting flaws in the final standards issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security restricting how state driver's licenses and ID cards are provided. The standards were issued as part of the requirements of the 2005 REAL ID Act with the intention of making it more difficult to fraudulently obtain a driver's license. USACM says the standards will not meet the stated purpose of providing a "gold standard" for identification. Additionally, the new standards call for obtaining personal information and sensitive documents that will need to be stored in a form that makes it easier to copy and falsify for fraudulent purposes. "The emphasis placed on the use of REAL ID will provide greater incentives to obtain fraudulent IDs that will then be accepted as 'proof' of identity nationwide," says USACM chair and Purdue University professor of computer science Eugene Spafford. USACM strongly supports effort to increase security against criminal activity, but Spafford disputes the idea that standardized driver's licenses or identity cards would accomplish such a goal. "Identity should not be confused with intent," he says. "Simply because people's names are known does not prevent them from engaging in criminal behavior or terrorist activities." For more information about USACM, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
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Twitter, Facebook Called on for Higher Purpose
CNet (01/16/08) Olsen, Stefanie

The goal of Google.org's nonprofit Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases, and Disaster (InSTEDD) project is to help communities around the world use Web and communications technology to identify and warn others of crises such as natural catastrophes or disease epidemics. InSTEDD President Eric Rasmussen says rescue responses will be coordinated by technology that includes social software such as Facebook and Twitter. "We're talking about using ubiquitous, free software that is repurposed when necessary to fit into a humanitarian need," he says. Google.org executive director, epidemiologist, and TED prize winner Dr. Larry Brilliant is the architect behind InSTEDD, and on Jan. 17 the nonprofit will launch a Web site with early versions of open-source software that is available for downloading and testing. One InSTEDD application will be the Twitter bot framework, which spans the Web service and phones with a location-detection feature that can connect to a layer in Google Earth, according to Rasmussen. InSTEDD received a $5 million contribution from Google via Google.org, while the Rockefeller Foundation has donated $1 million, with Rasmussen reporting that a foundation affiliated with venture capitalist and Google investor John Doerr has invested another six-figure sum. "My dream for InSTEDD is to fulfill the much-needed role of an independent agent bringing the technological, medical, and organizational skills necessary to help the humanitarian aid community accomplish [early detection of public health threats and disasters], and ultimately help them to make the world a safer place," Brilliant says.
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Contact Lenses With Circuits, Lights a Possible Platform for Superhuman Vision
University of Washington News and Information (01/17/08) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington engineers used microscopic manufacturing techniques to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit to create a platform for bionic eyes. "Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside," says UW professor Babak Parviz. "This is a very small step toward that goal, but I think it's extremely promising." The researchers say the wired contacts could be used for numerous virtual displays, such as projecting a vehicle's speed onto the windshield for pilots and drivers, creating video games that completely immerse the player in a virtual world without restricting movement, and allowing consumers to surf the Internet on a midair virtual display that only they could see. "People may find all sorts of applications for it that we have not thought about," Parviz says. The prototype device contains an electric circuit and red light-emitting diodes for a display, but the lights do not light up yet. The lenses were tested on rabbits for up to 20 minutes with no adverse effects. The researchers constructed the circuits from layers of metal only a few nanometers think, about one thousandth the width of a human hair, and built LEDs one third of a millimeter across. The pieces were then sprinkled onto a sheet of flexible plastic, where the shape of each component determined which piece it can attach to. Future advancements will add wireless communications to and from the lens, and researchers hope to power the system using a combination of radio-frequency power and solar cells placed on the lens.
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Penn State Researchers Help Identify Weaknesses in Ohio Voting Machines
Penn State Live (01/15/08) Chan, Curtis

The report on Ohio's electronic voting machines was recently released by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. The report showed exploitable weaknesses in the state's touch-screen and optical-scan devices. Penn State researchers led by computer science professor Patrick McDaniel served as a subcontractor to SysTest during the company's testing of Ohio's electronic-voting machines. McDaniel says the research teams, which also included teams from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Santa Barbara, had access to the voting machines as well as the source code from the vendors. Penn State researchers conducted hackability testing and source code analysis, including an examination of recent software upgrades, on the Hart and Premier Election voting systems. "Our report is an extensive technical analysis of the security of these voting machines as they would be used under real-world conditions," McDaniel says. "Our review concludes that the vendor systems lack basic technical protections necessary to guarantee a trustworthy election."
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NSF Awards Carnegie Mellon's Jacobo Bielak $1.6 Million for Earthquake Research
Carnegie Mellon News (01/15/08) Swaney, Chriss

The National Science Foundation PetaApps program has awarded a $1.6 million grant over the next four years to Carnegie Mellon University professor Jacobo Bielak to develop earthquake computer simulations that would lower the risk for large urban coastal cities. "These simulations will provide unprecedented detailed knowledge of how an urban system performs in a large earthquake and what is needed for improving disaster planning and preparation," Bielak says. "This new grant will give us the resources to create three-dimensional models that can simulate how earthquakes impact buildings, bridges, and other critical urban infrastructures." Bielak has worked with CMU professor David O'Hallaron and researchers at the Southern California Earthquake Center over the past 10 years to develop more sophisticated computer models of earthquake behavior. The new research will demand more of current hardware and software programs. Bielak plans to integrate the ground motion of large sedimentary basins with a number of large databases in an attempt to study how large scale earthquakes impact buildings, transportation systems, and other key underground infrastructure.
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Cameraphone Used to Control Computers in 3D
New Scientist (01/15/08) Simonite, Tom

U.K. researchers have developed prototype software that allows a camera-equipped cell phone to control a computer as if the phone was a three-dimensional mouse. The software makes it possible to move and manipulate onscreen items by moving the phone around in front of the screen. "It feels like a much more natural way to interact and exchange data," says York University's Nick Pears, who developed the system with colleagues from Newcastle University. To control a screen, users aim their cell phone's camera at the screen. The cell phone then connects to the computer through Bluetooth. The computer knows where the phone is pointing by placing a reference target on top of the normal video feed. The distance between the cell phone and the screen is determined by how the screen's size changes due to perspective, and the computer is able to translate the phone's movement and rotation in three dimensions into the action of an onscreen cursor. In testing, volunteers were asked to resize an image by moving the phone closer to the screen to enlarge it and farther away from the screen to shrink the image. Pears says the desktop controlling prototype is just the first step. "The invention really comes into its own when you realize that modern large public displays are really just computers with big screens," Pears says.
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Stanford Computer Scientist Gets Academy Award for Fluid Simulation
Dr. Dobb's Journal (01/15/08)

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will honor Stanford University computer scientist Ron Fedkiw and partners Nick Rasmussen and Frank Losasso Petterson from the special effects firm Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) with a Scientific and Engineering Award plaque for their work on computer-generated fluids. Their work has produced the life-like rushing floodwaters in "Evan Almighty," the surging seas of the two "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, and the flaming breath of the dragon in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." In using a technique called the "particle level set method," the team mixed the use of particles and level sets so that smooth surfaces could be maintained wherever possible and all the fluid could be kept via the particle representation. The integration of particle level sets, parallel computation, and tools for large-scale water effects worked well within ILM's Zeno framework, and is a sign of the future direction of Fedkiw's computer graphics research. "This year we built a system that allows two-way coupling between rigid and deformable bodies, so we can fully physically simulate bones moving around under flesh--interacting with the environment," Fedkiw says. "Another main result is a two-way, solid-fluid coupling method that can be used with it, so the environment can be water; that is, we're going to be simulating people swimming."
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Computer Learns Dogspeak
Science Daily (01/16/08)

Machine learning can be used to learn more about the behavior of animals in natural environments, says Csaba Molnar of Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary. Molnar headed a team of researchers that used new software to classify dog barks in reference to encountering a stranger, fighting, loneliness, seeing a ball, and playing. Once classified they were able to identify the barks of individual dogs in these various situations. The researchers had the algorithm analyze more than 6,000 dog barks from 14 Hungarian sheepdogs, which were recorded with a tape recorder then transferred to a computer, where they were digitized, coded, classified, and evaluated. The algorithm correctly classified 43 percent of dog barks in the six situations, which suggests that the motivational state of a dog could result in acoustically different barks. Also, the software correctly classified 52 percent of the barks of individual dogs, which suggests there are differences in the way dogs bark. "The use of advanced machine learning algorithms to classify and analyze animal sounds opens new perspectives for the understanding of animal communication," Molnar says. "The promising results obtained strongly suggest that advanced machine learning approaches deserve to be considered as a new relevant tool for ethology."
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SU iSchool Associate Professor Lee McKnight Debuts Wireless Grids Software at 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show
Syracuse University (01/14/08) Spillett, Margaret Costello

Innovaticus, wireless software developed by Syracuse University's School of Information Studies professor Lee McKnight, is designed to allow users to collaborate and share files and hardware with themselves or other people over different devices across a number of different networks. All available resources are coordinated by Innovaticus, which also makes them accessible from a single device. McKnight partnered with the school's Wireless Grids Lab and Nokia on the software's research and development. Innovaticus will initially be tested at Syracuse and the University of West Indies in Trinidad. "One device will never be smart enough to do everything all by itself, but it can be smart enough to work with stuff that is already out there," McKnight says. "It's going to be a major change in the way we communicate, the way our devices interact, and the way we interact with the digital world around us."
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Grant for Workflow Software
University of California, Davis (01/16/08) Fell, Andy

University of California Davis, UC Santa Barbara, and UC San Diego have received a $1.7 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to develop tools to help scientists automate scientific data management and analysis workflows. The project will develop the Kepler/CORE (Comprehensive, Open, Reliable, and Extensible Scientific Workflow Infrastructure), which will allow scientists in all fields to perform desktop data analysis, remote execution monitoring, and massive data management. UC Davis computer science professor Bertram Ludaescher says Kepler grew out of a grassroots collaboration between NSF and the U.S. Energy Department research projects based on a UC Berkeley project and system called PTOLEMY II. "In the last few years, Kepler has been used and extended in various ways, but different projects tend to pull the system in different directions," says Ludaescher, the principal investigator on the grant. The new project will develop a software core that facilitates independent extensions to support wider adoption of the system, Ludaescher says. He says Kepler uses a simple, intuitive graphical interface that enables users to quickly create a workflow that suits their needs, without having to understand all of the computer code.
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Weak Control System Security Threatens U.S.
Government Computer News (01/16/08) Jackson, Joab

The weak security measures in place on infrastructure control systems may someday put U.S. utilities at risk of a coordinated attack, says Jerry Dixon, the former acting director of the Homeland Security Department's National Cyber Security Division. Of particular concern to Dixon are the control systems to utility company substations. These systems are typically controlled by dial-in modems and often have outdated or nonexistent security and authentication technologies. Meanwhile, some of the control systems of utility company substations that are on a network are vulnerable to a crossover attack because they may be sharing their equipment with other, less-sensitive systems. In addition, relatively little logging goes on with control systems, which makes it difficult to determine whether a failure is the result of an attack or misconfiguration. Meanwhile, in research work conducted last fall, the Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory demonstrated how a megawatt generator could be broken into from a remote location by calling into the substation system and executing a number of malicious commands to change the workflow logic of the generator. In addition to the right phone number to dial into, such an attack would require expertise in electrical engineering and network security. Dixon says the U.S. has been lucky so far, but warns that if the bad guys get organized "we'd have some serious challenges."
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Web 3.0: User-Generated Networks?
ICT Results (01/16/08)

European researchers are applying Web 2.0 concepts such as user-generated content and social networking to the real world in an effort to enable anyone at anytime to create user-generated Internet networks. The concept has been dubbed Web 3.0. The WIP project may lead to the development of a new Internet in which users can spontaneously create networks in a matter of minutes with any kind of device, which would require redesigning the Internet's underlying technology, creating new operating principles, and defining new communication protocols. "When the Internet first emerged, it assumed devices would be fixed in place and linked by wires," says WIP project researcher Marcelo Dias de Amorium. "But that's no longer true. A large number of devices are mobile and equipped with wireless communication capabilities." Dias de Amorium says the project is not looking to replace the Internet, but is simply proposing a robust, flexible, optimized, and user-friendly set of technologies and standards that would allow any user to identify and network with nearby devices. Over the next year Dias de Amorium plans to finalize some elements and integrate them together and eventually he wants to plant the technology in promising communities to jump-start its adoption.
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Intel CTO Presses Software Developers to Keep Pace
EE Times (01/17/08) Krishnadas, K.C.

Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner says software development and delivery has failed to keep pace with advances in computer hardware, that software delivery has reached an inflection point, and developers of packaged applications are becoming an endangered species. Rattner says Intel believes traditional software delivery methods are being replaced by global Internet connectivity, and as a result software delivery service relies more on secure transmission over global networks. Rattner says that packaged software is unable to keep pace with the continuous progress in computing technology, and as hardware technology approaches the terascale level from desktop computers, software has fallen further behind. Consequently, there is a lack of parallel programming applications that utilize dual- and multi-core technology. Rattner says Intel is looking for "new languages for programming in parallel," and that the company will focus more on features and capabilities that add value, rather than performance. "Our enterprise advisory group has told us that [IT] management and security are top priorities for enterprises, and it is significant how performance has dropped in importance," Rattner says.
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Future Technology for Jewel Design and Elderly Care
Massey News (01/17/08)

A key figure in the movement to combine technology with social, health, creative, and leisure needs in the home will give the keynote address at an international information technology conference at Massey University Jan. 28-29, 2008. Professor Andrew Monk, a human-computer interaction specialist at the University of York, plans to discuss the latest developments involving the Intergenerational Project. One development is a digital necklace that was designed to enable an adult daughter to communicate, care for, and program for the dementia of her 75-year-old mother. "Designing for the home is very different from designing for the office or school," Monk says. "These differences arise because we choose the technologies that go into our homes for ourselves, on the basis of what they do for us and what they say about us." Monk helped develop the high-profile Net Neighbors services, which allow volunteers to form friendship and shopping networks for disabled and elderly people. The Institute of Information and Mathematical Sciences is hosting the conference, which will offer paper presentations by some 200 researchers and scientists.
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RFID Tags Guide the Blind
IEEE Spectrum (01/08) Peck, Morgen E.

The European Union's Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen (IPSC) continues to expand an electronic navigational system for blind residents and tourists in the small town of Laveno Mombello in northern Italy. After embedding 1,260 RFID transponders in sidewalks and linking them together in a network last fall, IPSC has moved access indoors to commercial buildings. Blind people have a cane with an antenna on the tip that activates each RFID chip as it passes over, and the chips radio their unique tag number to their smart phones, which feature a database of navigational information that maps tag numbers to locations throughout the town. Users also have a Bluetooth headset linked to the phones for receiving information about their location. The network is still limited to about a 2-kilometer stretch in one direction, and is unable to accommodate blind people who have to take a different route. In the future, the network will alert users to optional turns and could direct them to a programmed destination. Other issues will have to be addressed such as what information distracts users, and whether public or commercial entities should control the central database.
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Large Screen or Small, It's 'One Web' for All
Software Development Times (01/01/08)No. 188, P. 1; DeJong, Jennifer

World Wide Web Consortium director Tim Berners-Lee observed at November's Mobile Internet World conference that increasing small screen/big screen coexistence will make the small screen's shortcomings less prominent, while emphasis will shift from Web sites or Web services to content as the Web becomes widely available on mobile devices. "Whether content is delivered on a mobile device with a two-inch screen or a desktop computer with a 30-inch screen, there is one Web," he maintained. Berners-Lee added that the Web is universal and is supposed to encompass anything and anyone by design. "People want to choose their hardware, their software, their content," he said. Berners-Lee stressed that the mobile Web cannot grow without support of the open standards underlying the wired Web, such as HTML, HTTP, and Cascading Style Sheets. He noted at the conference that the Web is en route toward a time when users are becoming increasingly cognizant of public and private content, which will lead to the advent of better privacy management strategies. Berners-Lee's address coincided with the W3C's announcement of the mobileOK checker, a tool enabling developers and designers to test a Web page and ascertain its suitability for delivery on mobile devices using W3C best practices as the basis for the test.
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