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ACM TechNews
February 6, 2008

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Welcome to the February 6, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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2007 Turing Award Winners Announced
Dr. Dobb's Journal (02/04/08)

Carnegie Mellon University professor Edmund M. Clarke, University of Texas, Austin professor E. Allen Emerson, and Joseph Sifakis of the University of Grenoble have been named the recipients of ACM's 2007 A.M. Turing Award for their work on Model Checking, an automated method for finding design errors in computer hardware and software. Model Checking is the most widely used technique for detecting errors in hardware and software and has helped improve the reliability of complex computer chips, systems, and networks. Model Checking is a type of formal verification that analyzes the logic underlying a design. The Turing Award, named for British mathematician Alan M. Turing, is presented annually by ACM and is considered the most prestigious award in computing. Clarke, Emerson, and Sifakis will share the $250,000 prize. Clarke and Emerson originated the idea of Model Checking at Harvard in 1981, and Clarke implemented the first Model Checker in 1982. The first Model Checker was limited to relatively small designs, significantly smaller than the systems being built by computer manufacturers. In 1987, Clarke's graduate student Kenneth McMillian realized that Model Checking could be implemented by a series of operations on binary decision diagrams. The new system, called Symbolic Model Checking, can analyze billion of billions of states and can be used for commercial computer design problems. In 1998, Clarke, Emerson, and McMillan (along with Randal E. Bryant) won ACM's Paris Kanellakis Award for Theory and Practice.
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Friends, Colleagues, Plan Tribute to Renowned Scientist Jim Gray
University of California, Berkeley (02/04/08) Harmon, Keith; Silverman, Sarah

ACM, the University of California, Berkeley, and IEEE will jointly host a tribute to legendary computer scientist Jim Gray on May 31, 2008, at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. Gray, who has been missing at sea since Jan. 28, 2007, is renowned for his work as a programmer and database expert that helped make possible such technologies as the cash machine, databases like Google, e-commerce, and online ticketing. He received UC Berkeley's first PhD in computer science in 1969 and worked at Bell Labs, IBM, Tandem Computers, Digital Equipment Corp., and most recently at Microsoft. Gray received ACM's A.M. Turing Award in 1998. "Jim was a true visionary and leader in this field," says Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley. "We are honored to host this tribute to Jim's remarkable achievements and the impact he made on so many of us." The tribute's general session will take place from 9-10:30 a.m., followed by technical sessions that require registration. Speakers at the tribute will include UC Berkeley computer science professor Joe Hellerstein, University of Washington professor Ed Lazowska, and Microsoft's Rich Rashid and David Vaskevitch, among others.
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States Prepare for Tests of Voting-System Changes
New York Times (02/05/08) P. A14; Urbina, Ian

California's switch from touch-screen voting machines to paper-based ballots for Tuesday's primary has also brought back issues related to paper ballots, such as absentee ballots that fall apart at the fold lines and the ballot transportation helicopter being grounded by intense fog. "They may be high-tech or they could be low-tech, but the problems are always there," says Barbara Dunmore, the Riverside County registrar of voters. Election officials in at least 20 California counties without paper trails were told by the state to switch back to paper ballots, but the ballots will have to be counted at a central location where the absentee ballots are being counted because the counties were not able to acquire enough machines to perform tallies at individual polling places. All polling places in New Jersey, Delaware, and Georgia, as well as most of Tennessee, are using paperless touch-screen machines for their primary elections on February 5, and were considered "high risk" for voting problems before the election according to a report released by Common Cause and the Verified Voting Foundation. Experts say that meaningful recounts are impossible in a close race without a paper trail, and if problems occur with the voting machines, officials will be unable to audit contested results. Growing concerns about potential tampering or malfunctions have led election directors in Ohio, Florida, California, and Colorado to shift away from paperless touch-screen systems, but only California was ready in time for the February 5th elections.
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New Super-Efficient Chip Could Run on Body Heat
Wired News (02/04/08) Madrigal, Alexis

MIT researchers, working with researchers at Texas Instruments, have developed a chip that uses 70 percent less voltage than current chip technologies, which could lead to an order-of-magnitude increase in energy efficiency for electronics in the next five years. "It will extend the battery lifetime of portable devices in areas like medical electronics," says MIT electrical engineering professor Anantha Chandrakasan. "When you look at the digital processor, the fact is that we may be able to reduce the energy needed by 10 times." The chip uses so little power that it could allow sensors, communication devices, and other gadgets to run on body heat and movement alone. Better batteries and circuit design have already led to smaller, more mobile electronic devices, but changing a battery is often not an option for military and medical personnel. Military researchers at DARPA, which helped fund the MIT research, want to increase the lifespan of mobile technology, and even eliminate the need to recharge a device. Military strategist believe that such low-power chips could be used in body and environmental sensors. Creating a low-voltage chip is difficult because transistors use voltage to switch on and off, and at low voltages variations introduced during transistor production can cause errors. "When you scale voltages, the first thing to break is memory on a chip," Chandrakasan says. "You have to redesign the memory and logic so you can handle the variation." Chandrakasan says working with scalable energy voltages requires a whole suite of design techniques, including a fundamental change in the memory cell from six transistors to eight.
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A Wireless Network Think Tank ... With Toys
Network World (02/04/08) Cox, John

The Rutgers University Wireless Information Network Laboratory (WINLAB) is working to solve some of the most difficult problems facing large-scale wireless networks, including radio coexistence in crowded frequencies to re-engineering the Internet for mobile traffic. WINLAB currently focuses its research on the mobile Internet, cognitive radios, and pervasive wireless, three broad areas that, combined, envision a world that is bound together by short- and long-range wireless networks, intelligent devices, and sensors. WINLAB's mobile Internet research aims to redesign the modern Internet architecture and protocols to include mobile users and wireless links. "We wanted to change the vertically-oriented cellular architecture into a flat architecture, like the Internet," says WINLAB director Dipankar Raychaudhuri. Other groups are also exploring new Internet architectures, including the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) and the National Science Foundation's Future Internet Design (FIND) program. "The notion is that the Internet needs to transform itself, so that a car [with an embedded radio], for example, can act as a radio router," Raychaudhuri says. "Today's Internet doesn't recognize this: It's a scenario that's too dynamic for existing [Internet] protocols." WINLAB's research into a new Internet architecture led to the creation of the Open Access Radio Grid Testbed (ORBIT), a wireless network based on a flat architecture that lets researchers test experimental protocols under controlled conditions. "We want devices talking to each other through just one or two layers of protocols, as the wired Internet does," Raychaudhuri says. "That's a very important step in achieving our vision of a wireless world."
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Microsoft Preps New Modeling Language
eWeek (02/05/08) Taft, Darryl K.

Microsoft is working on a new declarative programming language, a supporting editing tool, and other components for its Oslo model-driven development initiative, according to sources close to the company. Microsoft announced Oslo as part of a vision for simplifying development, design, management, and deployment. Company officials say Oslo will represent a core set of technology investments that will include both a services infrastructure, such as server, client, and Internet "cloud," as well as an executable modeling platform that will have a general-purpose modeling language, tools, and repository. Sources say the heart of the Oslo initiative is a new declarative programming language known as "D" under development at Microsoft for the purpose of building applications and components for the Oslo repository. D is expected to be a textual modeling language suitable for business professionals and domain experts. Supporting D will be a new editing tool called Intellipad that will serve as a text editor for the D language and further support the development of applications and content for the repository. Intellipad will also be able to support other declarative languages, and will be customizable and suitable for scripting, sources say.
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Americans Overseas Head to Polls
Associated Press (02/05/08) McDowell, Robin

Americans living overseas and registered as Democrats were able to cast their votes online for Democratic candidates in the presidential primaries on Feb. 5th for the first time ever. About 6 million expatriates are eligible to vote, but only a fraction have done so in past elections. Until recently, the only way to vote from a foreign country was to mail an absentee ballot request form and hope that the ballot is received by voting officials in time to count. Now, expatriates registered as Democrats can vote online, but some caution that online voting may not be secure. Former ACM President Barbara Simons, a member of the nonprofit Verified Voting Foundation, warns that just because a system is simple does not mean it is successful. "How do I know if ballot box stuffing was done," Simons says. "How do I know they were legitimate votes? This is not the way to run an election." To vote online in the primaries, citizens must first register with Democrats Abroad. Once registered, they receive a PIN code and a ballot number via email and a link to the voting Web site. Voters are asked to enter their birth date and address for verification, along with the PIN code and ballot. A similar program is not yet available for Republicans, and the e-voting system is not an option for the general election.
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Music Lovers Get the 'Meta' of Digital Audio
ICT Results (01/30/08)

European researchers have developed "first of its kind" software for automatically extracting and classifying audio signals. Audio signal metadata can be used to tag audio files so they can be more accurately picked up by search engines equipped to handle such information. The researchers say that audio metadata could be the next big step in boosting online music sales by helping companies exploit their archives more thoroughly and helping consumers find songs they might have otherwise missed. "We are in concrete discussions with a number of interested companies on using some of the developments from our project," says research coordinator Hugues Vinet. Vinet, the scientific director at the Paris-based Institute for Music/Acoustic Research and Coordination, was part of a team that included researchers from Spain and Israel, as well as Oracle and Sony. The researchers developed a music browser, an online sound palette, and sound-authoring software that can analyze and index sound according to the digital patterns displayed by each song. The research involved developing several techniques for capturing specific qualities from audio files, such as timbre, energy, and rhythm.
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Smart 'Lego' Conjures Up Virtual 3D Twin
New Scientist (01/31/08) Inman, Mason

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed Posey, a new computer interface that uses plastic hubs and struts with LEDs and sensors to replicate shapes on a computer. When the plastic pieces are combined in different ways, an exact copy of the shape appears on a computer screen. Every alteration to the shape, even as small as twisting one of the hubs, is detected by the LEDs and sensors and recreated on a computer in real time. The plastic pieces communicate wirelessly to a computer using the ZigBee low-power protocol. Applications for Posey include using it to create real-world and virtual models of molecules simultaneously. A program created by the researchers allows each piece to represent either an atom or a bond between atoms. Creating a real-world model will simultaneously create a 3D virtual replica that displays the molecular structure and physical properties. The program also suggests related molecules that could be built with minor alterations. Posey could also be used as a toy to create skeletons of animated characters and animals that could be fitted with a virtual skin and other features on the computer, enabling children to create virtual puppet shows.
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Meeting Lays Foundation for European HPC Infrastructure
HPC Wire (01/29/08)

Over 60 representatives from 14 European countries recently gathered at the first meeting of the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) project at the Research Center Juelich. PRACE was established to create a persistent pan-European high-performance computer service for European researchers that is far beyond what is available at a national level. During the preliminary phase, which will run until the end of 2009, the project will establish the basis of a transitional organizational structure for scientific supercomputing in Europe. The project includes a coordinated approach to hardware procurement and potentially a European platform for the development of hardware and software. Cooperation with national and regional computer centers and scientific organizations will facilitate access to computing resources at all levels for scientists, engineers, academia, and industry. "Supercomputers have become an essential tool for all of the sciences," says PRACE coordinator Achim Bachem, chairman of the Board of Directors at Research Center Juelich. "In the future, giant leaps in knowledge will only be possible with the help of complex simulations."
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Upgraded Technology Aids Stadium Viewing
USA Today (02/04/08) Martin, Jeff

The technology on display at large sporting arenas is impressive, but it may pale in comparison with the technology that is just over the horizon. Engineers are striving for what could be the next big thing at sporting events--three-dimensional imaging technology that allows fans to view sporting events as 3D holographic images. "I think in the next decade you're going to see some revolutionary technologies in 3D," says Zebra Imaging's Jim Gardner, a former research scientist with Honeywell. Gardner says 3D imaging holds potential for a variety of industries, including displaying underground oil fields to 3D cityscapes for emergency workers. James Oliver, director of the CyberInnovation Institute and Virtual Reality Applications Center at Iowa State University, says sporting events will continue to have an increasing number of cameras on wires over the field, and games could soon be broadcast in 3D. "You might go to a theater to see the game in 3D," says Oliver. "It's all just right around the corner."
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Moving Molecules at IBM Almaden
CNet (02/04/08) Kanellos, Michael

Potential data storage solutions have become the focus of scientists at the IBM Almaden Research Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. "The problems we're looking at aren't computationally driven per se, but more information management problems," says Mark Dean, an IBM fellow and director of Almaden. "Computation is not the hard part anymore." Some computers may not be charged with coming up with absolute answers from a billion gigabytes of data in the years to come. Instead, their role may be to narrow the scope of an inquiry to approximate answers, before another computer takes over to return accurate answers. The human brain may serve as a model for how some of the systems will function. Almaden hopes to deliver new types of hardware for storing data so far ahead of its time that they will consist of a few molecules.
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UA-Led Research Team Awarded $50 Million to Solve Plant Biology's Grand Challenges
University of Arizona (01/30/08)

University of Arizona researchers are leading a team that received a $50 million National Science Foundation grant to create a global center and computer cyberinfrastructure to solve plant biology's grand challenges. Plant scientists, computer scientists, and information scientists from around the world will collaborate for the first time to provide answers to questions of global importance. The five-year project, called the iPlant Collaborative, is potentially renewable for a second five years and a total of $100 million. "This global center is going to change the way we do science," says Richard Jorgensen, UA plant sciences professor and director of the iPlant Collaborative. "We're bringing many different types of scientists together who rarely had opportunities to talk to one another before. In so doing, we'll create the kind of multidisciplinary environment that is necessary to crack the toughest problems in modern biology." The researchers will rely heavily on a cyberinfrastructure that uses computational thinking, a form of problem-solving that assigns computers the jobs they are most efficient at, freeing up time for human researchers. The iPlant Collaborative will work to map the full expanse of plant biology, similar to how Google Earth physically maps the planet.
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Democratic Parties: An Interview With UCLA Computer Scientist Kevin Eustice
Techdirt (01/30/08) Sanchez, Julian

University of California, Los Angeles graduate student Kevin Eustice is the co-creator of Smart Party, a system that can read the music playlist on Wi-Fi-enabled devices and choose the song that is most likely to please a group of people based on what people have in their playlists. Smart Party was developed as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project to develop a secure infrastructure for ubiquitous computing. Smart Party is built on an infrastructure called Panoply that supports the management of location context, device configuration, and secure session establishment, among other things. "Panoply is a middleware for developers to easily build ubiquitous computing applications; it looks at the device as the representative of the user in the digital world--your avatar, in the sense that it represents the user," Eustice says. He says the goal is to enable Panoply-based applications to function on behalf of the user based on the location and social context of the situation. For example, Eustice says Panoply was used last year to create a group-based interactive narrative at UCLA that supported arbitrary social groups tied to specific locations. Another application he envisions is using Panoply for context-aware museum experiences. He admits that privacy is an issue with ubiquitous computing applications. "Ubiquitous computing has potential to do great good, but obviously when you're talking about sharing immense amounts of personal data there's also potential for great harm," he says.
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Designing for Robotics
Design News (02/04/08) Shah, Kamran

The right development platform will be a factor in determining the success that researchers have with sensors and actuators in robotics, says National Instruments' Kamran Shah. Engineers need to interface with the right sensors and actuators, which include analog input and output, digital lines, GPS sensors, LIDARs, cameras, motors and CAN interfaces for vehicles. Software becomes central to any robotic system as a result, Shah says. Developers also have to combine algorithms from basic filters with more complex image processing for robotic systems. Robotics stands to benefit tremendously from multi-core processors, which can allow developers to isolate the control algorithm for a robot on one core to ensure it runs at the desired loop rate and use the other cores on the processor for lower-priority tasks or for performing specific signal processing. Another key enabling technology involves FPGAs, which enable developers to define as many parallel running portions of their application as the FPGA fabric allows. He cited Virginia Tech's autonomous humanoid soccer-playing robot called DARwin and the school's autonomous vehicle that competed in the DARPA Urban Challenge as exciting examples of robots. Shah expects robots or elements of robotics to become more of a presence in everyday life within the next decade.
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Swarm Approach to Photography
EurekAlert (02/01/08)

Researchers in the United Kingdom and Jordan have used the Swarm Intelligence paradigm as a way to clean up digital photos and other images. Malik Braik and Alaa Sheta, information technology specialists at Al-Balqa Applied University in Salt, have teamed up with Aladdin Ayesh, a computer engineering expert at De Montfort University in Leicester, to create a computer algorithm based on a mathematical model of the social interactions of swarms. The Particle Swarm Optimization (PSO) algorithm improves an image's contrast and detail without distorting it. PSO views each version of an image as an individual member of the swarm; adjusts contrast levels, edge sharpness, and other image parameters; and then determines whether the change is better or worse based an objective fitness criterion. "The objective of the algorithm is to maximize the total number of pixels in the edges, thus being able to visualize more details in the images," the researchers say. The enhancement is repeated to create a swarm of images in computer memory that are graded relative to each other, with the fittest at the front of the swarm until the single, most effectively enhanced individual is rendered. The technique could be used to improve CCTV quality, and images produced with camera phones or other lower quality cameras.
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Overhaul of Net Addresses Begins
BBC News (02/04/08)

The master address books for the Internet were updated Feb. 4 to include the IP version 6 (IPv6) format. The update is the beginning of a massive effort to overhaul the Internet's addressing system to correct a shortage available addresses. Just 14 percent of the addresses available under the IPv4 format are still open, and those are expected to be completely allocated by 2011. Upgrading to IPv6 would add an almost unlimited pool of addresses to the Internet. Some companies have already begun using IPv6 on large internal networks and Cable TV suppliers are using it for cable boxes in consumers' homes. Still, the results of the switch will not be felt for a long while, and home routers may eventually need to be upgraded or replaced so they can use the longer IPv6 addresses. "It's not a Y2K problem per se," said ICANN President Paul Twomey. "But there's going to be a crush, so we need to get people applying for them now."
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Accidental Algorithms
American Scientist (02/08) Vol. 96, No. 1, P. 9; Hayes, Brian

"Holographic" or "accidental" algorithms comprise a new and unanticipated algorithmic family that offers efficient techniques for several problems whose solutions could only previously be worked out by brute-force computation. The algorithms facilitate deeper investigation into the barrier between P problems, which are problems with at least one polynomial-time algorithm, and nondeterministic polynomial (NP) problems. Within the NP class reside NP-complete problems, which stand out by virtue of having a polynomial-time solution that can be adapted to rapidly solve all problems in NP. Problems known to be NP-complete currently number in the thousands, and collectively they form a massive weave of interdependent computations. Harvard University's Leslie G. Valiant says holographic algorithms get their name from the fact that their computational power extends from the mutual cancellation of many contributions to a sum, much like the optical interference pattern responsible for generating a hologram. Holographic reductions tap a class of transformations that do not necessarily connect individual problem instances, but they do retain the number of solutions or the sum of the solutions. This is adequate for certain counting problems.
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