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ACM TechNews
January 30, 2008

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Welcome to the January 30, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Digital Identification Plan Still Facing Many Hurdles
Investor's Business Daily (01/29/08) P. A5; Howell, Donna

Although implementing Real ID standards for driver's licenses is not required until 2014, some experts are worried that problems could arise as early as this spring, specifically at airport security lines. By law, Real ID-compliant driver's licenses will eventually be required to board commercial flights or to enter federal facilities, but 17 states have passed legislation against the Real ID act amid concerns over costs and privacy fears. States can apply for extensions to complying with Read ID, but those that do not by early May could find their licenses invalid for boarding commercial aircraft or for entering federal facilities. The Department of Homeland Security "has been aware of problems with the way the Real ID Act was written since May 11th, 2005," says the American Civil Liberties Union's Timothy Sparapani. "They failed to go back to Congress to ask for modifications or repeal." Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says Real ID will give law enforcement a powerful advantage against falsified documents and will bring piece of mind to citizens concerned over identity theft. The purpose is not to establish a national ID card, but to create common standards for licenses, DHS says. To comply with the Real ID Act, states will have to collect significantly more information to issue a license than they currently do. "As a result of Real ID requirements, more information might be stored in a (new) set of databases that are going to be accessed by thousands of people around the country, along with some existing databases," says Eugene Spafford, chairman of ACM's U.S. policy committee. "The combination of that information will make it easier to commit identity theft and fraud." For more information on USACM, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
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Voting With (Little) Confidence
Technology Review (01/29/08) Naone, Erica

The Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, recently introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), proposes government funding for jurisdictions that use electronic voting machines to help switch to systems that produce a paper trail, but many experts believe that a paper trail alone is not sufficient. University of Maryland professor Ben Bederson, who was part of a team that conducted a five-year study on voting machine technology, says that machines need to be evaluated on more than security, with a stronger focus on usability, reliability, accessibility, and ease of maintenance. "Security, while important, happens to be one of those places where voting machines actually have not proven to fail," Bederson says. "However, in many other ways, they have failed dramatically, especially [regarding] usability." In a usability study run by the University of Maryland, the University of Rochester, and the University of Michigan, researchers evaluated electronic voting systems built by Diebold, Elections Systems and Software, Avante Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic, and Nedap Election Systems, as well as a prototype built by Bederson. Participants were told to vote for specific candidates in mock elections. The researchers compared the results against how the voters were told to vote and found that even in simple elections--a single race present on one screen--there was an error rate of about 3 percent. As the task became more complicated, such as having a voter change their selection, the error rate increased to between 7 percent and 15 percent. In one test, errors caused different candidates to win based on which machine was used. Bederson's machine had the lowest error rate for the simple task, which Bederson says is a strong indication that voting machine vendors need to improve their systems.
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Call for Papers Now Open for the Web3D 2008 Symposium--To Be Held at SIGGRAPH 2008
eMediaWire (01/29/08)

Research and applications papers are being accepted for ACM SIGGRAPH's Web3D 2008 International Symposium until April 7, 2008. The annual Web3D Symposium is looking for short or full papers that will lead to further developments involving 3D multimedia technologies on the Web. Topics of interest include interactive 3D graphics and immersive systems for servers, desktops, and thin clients; high-performance 3D graphics for virtual worlds, MMOs, augmented reality, and interactive online gaming; animated humanoids and complex reactive characters; user-interface paradigms and interaction methods for real-time 3D graphics and virtual environments; and innovative 3D graphics applications for Web/multimedia in industry, science, medicine, and education. Papers, which should be submitted in PDF format at the Symposium submission site, www.web3d.org/conferences/web3d2008/call/, will be reviewed by the international Program Committee, and accepted papers will appear in the Symposium Proceedings, which is published by ACM Press. The Web3D 2008 Symposium is scheduled for Aug. 9-10, 2008, at SIGGRAPH 2008 in Los Angeles, Calif.
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IT Salary Increases Modest; Gender Gap Widens
Network World (01/29/08) Dubie, Denise

Salaries for IT professionals rose 1.7 percent last year, compared to a 5.2 percent increase in 2006, according to the Dice.com annual technology salary report. Full-time IT pros averaged about $72,000, with MIS managers seeing a 7.8 percent increase to $89,000, project managers enjoying about a 5 percent increase to $100,000 or more, and contractors gaining 3.7 percent to about $93,000. More than half of the 19,000 respondents said they were satisfied with their salaries. "Technology workers remain among the highest paid employees, especially those with management experience and hard-to-find skills," says Dice Holdings CEO Scot Melland. However, the survey also found that women earned an average of $67,500, 2.4 percent less than the $76,500 average that men earned. The gap in pay was most pronounced among women with greater experience. Silicon Valley had the highest salaries at $93,876, up 3.95 percent; followed by Boston at $83,465, up 3.93 percent; the Baltimore/Washington, D.C.-area at $81,750; Los Angeles at $81,000; and New York at $80,770.
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If It Only Had a Heart: Can Robots Behave Humanely?
San Francisco Chronicle (01/29/08) P. B1; Abate, Tom

Stanford computer scientist Terry Winograd says that before academics participate in creating fighting robots, they should ask themselves if they support the goals and content of their studies, as well as if they are free to publish their research. Professor Maarten van Veen of the Netherlands Defense Academy expressed a similar concern, telling a group at Stanford's Technology in Wartime conference, "We as computer professionals have a responsibility for what we make." The event, organized by the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and attended by civilians, military personnel, academics, and human rights workers, focused on a key question: "What should socially responsible computer professionals do in a time of high-tech warfare?" Georgia Institute of Technology Mobile Robot Laboratory director Ronald Arkin argued for the development of war-capable robots in academia, arguing that Pentagon officials are determined to create autonomous robots capable of deciding whether or not to use deadly force, so computer scientists should help design their self-control programs. Arkin says with proper ethical controls, robotic soldiers could be more humane than human soldiers because they would not be effected by emotions. Arkin noted a 2006 Mental Health Advisory Team study for the U.S. Army's Surgeon General which found that 10 percent of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating civilians by unnecessarily hitting them or destroying property. "We could reduce man's inhumanity to man through technology," Arkin says.
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Newcastle Scientists Develop 'Future Proof' Computer Systems
Newcastle University (01/29/08)

Newcastle University computer scientists are leading DEPLOY, a European Union project designed to make technology more robust and reliable. DEPLOY will strive to add durability to transportation, automotive, space, telecommunication, and business information technology. Beginning the first of February, the DEPLOY project will build upon RODIN, a successful three-year project by the European Union that created new ways of building fault tolerance into computer systems. The methods are already being tested by five European companies. The scientists will use formal engineering methods to test the fault tolerance of each system developed, and refine the systems in an industrial setting to ensure they meet the needs of an increasingly technological society. "From the start we've made it clear that we're not going to carry out research that is not meeting industry's needs," says project director and Newcastle professor Sascha Romanovsky. "The project will only be a success if we are able to create what they need and can use."
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Microchips Everywhere: A Future Vision
Associated Press (01/26/08) Lewan, Todd

Microchips with antennas could soon be embedded in virtually everything bought, worn, driven, or read, scientists say, enabling law enforcement and retailers to track consumer items, and consequently consumers, wherever they go. A seamless, global network of electronic scanners will be able to scan radio tags in a variety of public settings, identifying people and their tastes and instantly sending them customized ads or "live spam." Smart homes could be built with sensors in the walls, floors, and appliances that will inventory possessions, record eating habits, monitor medicine cabinets, and report data to marketers. Much of the technology that would be used to monitor and track people already exists, and new, potentially intrusive uses are being patented and deployed. Companies say RFID technology improves supply chain efficiency, reduces theft, and guarantees that brand-name products are authentic. RFID could be very useful in the home. Refrigerators could warn home owners about expired milk, create a weekly shopping list, and send signals to an interactive TV for "personalized" commercials for frequently-bought foods. Scanners in a microwave could read a chip-equipped meal and cook it without instruction. The downside is that the technology could also be used for less helpful purposes. Mark Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit at the U.S. Justice Department, says with so many tags in objects, relaying information to databases could be linked to credit and bank cards, and almost no aspect of life would be safe from government and industry monitoring. By placing scanners in strategic areas, companies could search people's pockets, purses, suitcases, briefcases, luggage, and possibly their kitchens or bedrooms, at anytime, without being detected, Rasch says.
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Flexing a Super (Computing) Muscle
CNet (01/28/08) Cooper, Charles

The United States is currently the world leader in high-performance computing, but there is little guarantee that today's technology leaders will be able to maintain their place at the top as new technologies emerge. Dave Turek, vice president of "Deep Computing" at IBM, is responsible for thinking about present and future technologies and assessing challengers in the supercomputing field. The United States employs a significant number of highly-skilled computer scientists from India and China, but both of those countries have relatively small shares in the supercomputing industry. Turek says both India and China are still some years ways away from having the type of industries that could effectively use supercomputer technology. However, while India has shown little effort on the part of the government to create an Indian supercomputing industry, China has been forthcoming with its national strategy and has discussed the need to build an indigenous industry, Turek says. Meanwhile, Russia has been busy buying supercomputers, but there is little evidence that there is any material effort in Russia to build the industry. "You can say there is a lot of brainpower in China, there is a lot of brainpower in India, there is a lot of brainpower in Russia--that's all true and nothing is forever," Turek says. "There may come a point in the future where (they) get organized and pursue these things and come up with some really terrific insights."
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From Ranking Blogs to Predicting Posture
MSNBC (01/28/08) Nelson, Bryn

Carnegie Mellon University researchers led by professor Carlos Guestrin are working to improve how scientists monitor everything, from algal blooms in lakes, to subtle differences in how someone sits, to detecting contamination in a city water system, to which blogs provide the most useful information. The researchers have created Cascades, an algorithm that could lead to dramatically improved sensor networks by combining the scientific study of how information, influence, or physical items move through networks with how to optimally detect the flow in a cost-effective way. Guestrin was initially inspired by a collaborative project with civil engineers trying to determine where to place a limited number of sensors in water pipes to detect contamination as quickly as possible. The success of the project led Guestrin to think about how the central idea could be adapted to other applications, such as how information spreads across the Internet. "Somebody places a story and some people link to the story, and some people link to the links, and so on," he says. "You can think of it as a cascade of information." To find the big story as quickly as possible, the researchers created Cascades. Part of Cascades seeks to maximize reward, or detecting the most news in the least amount of time, while a second part seeks to minimize cost, such as the time spent reading blogs. The algorithm also factors in the law of diminishing returns.
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Microsoft: Making Programming Easier
eWeek (01/28/08) Taft, Darryl K.

A primary goal of Microsoft's developer division is to simplify programming, said Microsoft's Jason Zander, speaking at the Lang.NET Symposium. "There's been a lot of research over the last 20 some years and the question for us is how we're going to make that [programming for parallel environments] easier," Zander said. "Computer science is one of those fields where you can see what's going to be cool by looking back 20 to 30 years." He said the goals of the Common Language Runtime included modernizing Microsoft's programming interfaces, creating a consistent programming interface to allow developers to use all of their skills orthogonal to language choice, and improving productivity. The Dynamic Language Runtime, which is based on the CLR, allows for easier integration of other languages in the future. Zander noted that Microsoft evolved some of its licensing to include open-source-style licensing, starting with the Shared Source Common Language Infrastructure, the Microsoft Reciprocal License, and the Microsoft Permissive License. Also at the conference, Microsoft fellow Anders Hejlsberg, who heads development on C#, said the newest version of the language, C# 3.0, was the first chance to step back and look at the evolution of the language. "The taxonomies of programming languages are starting to break down," Hejlsberg said, point to dynamic languages, programming languages, and functional languages. He said "future languages are going to be an amalgam of all of the above. I think that bleed will continue. We've been very keen to exploit that in C#."
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IBM, Academia Tackle Cancer With High-Tech Tools
HPC Wire (01/25/08)

IBM, Rutgers, and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) are working to develop grid-based diagnostic tools that could improve the accuracy of predicting patients' responses to treatment and related clinical outcomes. Using advanced computing and imaging technologies that facilitate comparisons of cancerous tissues, and cell and radiology studies, researchers and physicians expect to be able to give more accurate cancer prognoses and more personalized therapy planning. They also hope it will lead to the development and discovery of new cancer drugs. The work is an extension of the "Help Defeat Cancer" project in which IBM's World Community Grid was used to demonstrate the effectiveness of characterizing different types and states of diseases based on the underlying staining patterns visible in digitally imaged cancer tissues. The main objective of the project is to build a deployable, grid-enabled decision support system to help researchers, physicians, and scientists automatically analyze and classify imaged cancer specimens with greater accuracy. Additionally, CINJ is establishing a Center for High-Throughput Data Analysis for Cancer Research that will use state-of-the-art computing resources and a Shared University Research Award provided by IBM. The Center's primary objective will be developing pattern-recognition algorithms that can simultaneously analyze digitally archived cancer specimens, radiology images, and proteomic and genomic data for better assessment of disease onset and progression.
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Face Recognition Made Possible
AlphaGalileo (01/25/2008)

Hung-Son Le of Umea University in Sweden has developed algorithms that enable a computer to recognize a face, even if it accesses a database that has only one picture of the individual. The algorithms are capable of improving contrast in both under-exposed and over-exposed pictures, and the system does not need to be retrained, like existing Hidden Markov Model (HMM)-based competitors, to "know" new pictures with different expressions taken under different illumination conditions. In experiments and tests, the system performed better than the leading competitors. Face-recognition systems are usually trained using a database of face images that have different illumination and poses, which can be costly and difficult to collect. With Le's algorithms, users would not have to worry about the quality of pictures, facial expressions, different angles, and illumination. Banks could potentially use Le's research to roll out ATMs that are capable of recognizing the face of customers as they look into a camera.
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New Algorithm for Digital Map Technology
Innovations Report (01/25/08) Murphy, Helene

A fast and powerful algorithm that improves digital map technology will be the subject of a presentation at next week's Electronic Imaging conference in San Jose, Calif., by Dr. Jonathon Hare from the School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) at Southampton University. Hare teamed up with ECS professor Paul Lewis to develop MapSnapper, which allows users of mobile phones to snap a section of a map and receive a photograph of points of interests in return. The clickable points of interests provide information such as on events, facilities, opening times, and accommodation. "The vision was a product that would allow users to query a remote information system based on photos of a paper map taken with a camera phone," Hare says. "The information system could then return useful information to the user via the device." He will also discuss how the algorithm combines a number of computer vision techniques, including interest point extraction and local description generator with multidimensional indexing.
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In Diatom, Scientists Find Genes That May Level Engineering Hurdle
University of Wisconsin-Madison (01/21/08) Miller, Nicole

Unicellular algae called diatoms, which encase themselves in intricately patterned, glass-like shells by laying down submicron-sized lines of silica, a compound related to silicon, could lead to the next breakthrough in computer chips. "If we can genetically control that process, we would have a whole new way of performing the nanofabrication used to make computer chips," says University of Wisconsin-Madison biochemistry professor Michael Sussman. A team led by Sussman has reported finding a set of 75 genes that specifically involve the silica bioprocessing in diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana. The new data will allow Sussman to start manipulating the genes responsible for silica production, which could lead to significantly faster computer chips as diatoms are capable of creating lines much smaller than current technology allows. To determine which genes are involved in creating silica, the research team used a DNA chip that allows the scientists to see which genes are involved in a given cellular process. The chip identified genes that responded when diatoms were grown in low levels of silicic acid, the raw material used to make silica. "The semiconductor industry has been able to double the density of transistors on computer chips every few years," Sussman says. "But they are actually hitting a wall now because they're getting down to the resolution of visible light."
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Tekniker-IK4 Leads Robotics Project
Basque Research (01/23/08)

The Basque research center Tekniker-IK4 recently launched "ROBAUCO: Mobile, Autonomous and Collaborative Robots," a project designed to lay the foundation for the development of mobile robots that are capable of performing complex tasks and sharing work with humans in a friendly and natural manner. Tekniker-IK4 is working with Fatronik in Basque, the Valencian Instituto Tecnologico de Informatica (ITI), CARTIF in Castilla-Leon, as well as robotics researchers at the Carlos III University in Madrid, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, the University of Seville and the University of the Basque Country on ROBAUCO. Sensors and sensorial systems will be used to enable the robots to recognize unknown terrain and changing situations, and solutions will be developed to allow them to communicate and collaborate with each other as well as humans. Person-robot interaction will be a focus to allow the robots to pick up voice communications and gestures, and the researchers will also develop autonomous behavior solutions to enable the robots to perform a self-diagnosis and take appropriate actions if they breakdown. They also will develop mecatronic components that will enable the robots to move through all media, terrestrial, aquatic and aerial conditions, and handle any obstacles in such situations.
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Cyberadvice Awaits the Next President
Government Computer News (01/21/08) Vol. 27, No. 2, Jackson, William

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a security and policy think tank, is organizing a list of recommended security initiatives for the next president to follow. The Commission on Cyber Security, formed by the CSIS, will brainstorm practical policy changes and will address issues of infrastructure protection, software assurance, and inter-agency cybersecurity before submitting an agenda by the end of this year. Senior fellow James Lewis, also the director of CSIS' Technology and Public Policy Program, says the group is comprised of 35 reputable experts who are likely to get the next president's attention with their views on security. "We want to focus on what can be implemented, not what would be nice to have," he says. The group expects to recommend up to six new initiatives to the incoming president. "Despite the good work of a lot of people, the problem has gotten worse," Lewis says. "With a new administration coming in, this was an opportunity to step back and look for new ideas. It seemed like a good time to do it."
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Face to Face; a Private View
Total Telecom (01/08) Taaffe, Joanne

The creation of new Internet standards bodies took away some of the International Telecommunications Union's influence, even though the organization kept insisting that it was important to ICT standardization. However, when Hamadoun Toure took over as ITU's secretary general, he implemented numerous structural reforms needed for the organization to once again become relevant. During his first year in office, Toure made efforts to increase transparency and the speed of decision making. He points to the organization's budget, which was balanced after just two days of discussion, as an example of his successful reforms. The reforms allowed ITU to begin work on large-scale projects, such as Connect Africa and a cyber-crime initiative. Connect Africa aims to encourage the creation of broadband infrastructure across the nation. Toure believes that access to broadband Internet will make Africa more attractive to foreign investors, who will invest in other infrastructure programs. He also urges the continent's governments to provide the type of environment that will make foreign companies feel secure investing their money in Africa. The Global Cyber-security Agenda provides a neutral forum for governments and operators to work together toward a solution to cyber-crime issues. "Different parties that are at odds with each other can work together at the ITU," said Toure. He said that ITU recognizes its limitations, and pledged that the organization will not get involved in Internet governance, which is controlled by ICANN.
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LISA Helps
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (01/08)

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg have developed a laboratory robot that could quickly make its way to the commercial market as a tool for providing assistance with everyday routines in the home. LISA (life science assistant) is not only cost-effective, but its sensing gripper arm is able to limit jostling and prevent the robot from injuring people, making it very safe. Within a year, biotechnology labs will be able to use LISA for loading incubators, measuring equipment with sample trays, and navigation from one lab instrument to another. LISA also features "artificial skin" with intelligent signal processing electronics, a thermographic camera that can pick up body heat and determine if a human hand is in the way, and a laser-aided navigation system that allows it to move through familiar spaces and doorways on its own. The robot can understand sentences, ask a question if it does not understand, and receive commands through a touchscreen. LISA learns new tasks easily, which is critical for the life science laboratory. "LISA was tailored precisely to its niche for use," says project coordinator Dr. Norbert Elkmann from the IFF. "This is the only way its everyday use will soon be possible--we could be that far in about one to two years."
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