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ACM TechNews
March 10, 2008

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Welcome to the March 10, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Online Vote Discussed for Florida
Miami Herald (03/08/08) Merzer, Martin

Internet voting advocates say the technology should be used if Democrats decide to hold a second primary election in Florida. They say an online election would offer security at least equal to a ballot by mail, would attract more voters, and would cost about $3 million, or about half as much as a mail-in election. Internet voting played a major role in the 2000 Democratic primary in Arizona, the 2004 Democratic primary in Michigan, and was used in 164 countries and territories last month for Democrats living abroad. "Not only can we save the party money, we can get it done faster and we can increase access significantly," says Everyone Counts CEO Lori Steele. Florida's Democratic leadership is considering a ballot by mail if someone picks up the estimated $4 million to $6 million cost, and state party spokesman Mark Bubriski says he has not heard any serious consideration of conducting a re-vote primarily over the Internet. Johns Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin says that beyond Internet voting's security and privacy issues, he worries that voters could be coerced to vote a certain way by an abusive spouse or an overbearing employer. ''I think it is a terrible, terrible idea to take such a meaningful primary and give an attacker the opportunity to compromise privacy or intercept votes and change them,'' he says. Still, electiononline.org director Doug Chapin says many people believe that Internet-based voting is an inevitability and a primary is a good test for the technology.
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Food Industry Tests Techno-Tasters to Judge Flavor
Washington Post (03/10/08) P. A8; Weiss, Rick

Recent improvements in sensors, and in the computer programs that interpret their inputs, have led to the development of electronic taste and smell sensors that could be more accurate than humans. In a recent test, an electronic tongue and nose was able to distinguish between 53 glasses of wine, correctly identifying every bottle. Furthermore, the sensors were able to determine that the grapes used in 23 of the bottles were grown in one region of northern Italy, while the rest were grown in an area only 60 miles away. Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department launched a program last month that uses machines to grade livestock carcasses as USDA Prime, Choice, or Select. The robotic graders, currently being tested at four Nebraska slaughterhouses, capture photographic images of sides of beef as they pass by at rates of up to 400 head per hour. The graders examine the rib-eye muscle, measuring the redness of the meat, the amount of marbling with fat, and the thinness of the outer fatty layer. Human graders confirm the machines results and override the robots when necessary, but officials say the degree of accuracy has been very high. Other countries are making similar advancements. A Japanese consortium recently released a Health and Food Advice Robot that can distinguish between 30 kinds of wine and various cheeses and breads, and warns its owner against poor eating habits. In Russia, St. Petersburg University researchers have developed an electronic tongue that can distinguish among various blends of coffee or soft drinks just as accurately as people.
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45th Design Automation Conference (DAC) Names Exhibitor Liaison Committee
Business Wire (03/03/08)

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) has announced the members of the 45th DAC Exhibitor Liaison Committee (ELC). ELC members include Dave Reed of Blaze DFM, George Harper of Bluespec, Michelle Clancy of Cayenne Communication, Peggy Aycinena of EDA Confidential, and Sabina Burns of Virage Logic, among others. Members of the DAC executive committee will also participate on the committee, which will be chaired by EDA Industry Chair Yervant Zorian of Virage Logic. The ELC will advise the DAC executive committee on exhibitor-related issues and review all other areas of the conference. "The ELC provides an essential role of representing the views of large and small exhibitors to the conference organizers," says Limor Fix, general chair of the 45th DAC executive committee. "Yervant and the rest of the committee are leading important new efforts to help ensure the vitality and vibrancy of the exhibit floor." ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation is a sponsor of the conference, which is scheduled for June 9-13, 2008, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. For more information about DAC, visit http://www.dac.com/45th/index.aspx
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HP Labs Focuses on 'High-Impact' Work
Mercury News (03/10/08) Harris, Scott Duke

Hewlett-Packard last week announced the reorganization of its HP Labs division and held a press event to showcase 14 of its leading research projects. HP plans to narrow the labs' work from around 150 research projects to about 20 to 30 "high-impact" projects in an effort to focus the group's resources on "big bets" with the best chance of profitability. HP Labs program manger Steven Rosenberg has spent 27 years working on a variety of projects, including high-powered computer workstations and artificial intelligence. Rosenberg is currently promoting a new display device. "It's a reflexive display that is highly readable in all kinds of light," he says. "It's flexible. It's light. It's cheap." The display can also withstand a liquid spill. Other projects on display included BRAIN, or Behaviorally Robust Aggregation of Information in Networks, a consulting tool that uses algorithms for business forecasting. Cloud Print would allow people to use their cell phone to print Web documents using any printer with a phone number. Trusted Converged Client uses virtualization technology to enable a business PC to be used for personal and business needs while protecting data from risks on the Internet. WaterCooler is a Web-based service that aggregates a company's blogs, forums, and other communications to stimulate discussion and share knowledge.
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Language of a Fly Proves Surprising
Los Alamos National Laboratory News (03/10/08) Rickman, James E.

Researchers have developed a way to view the world through the eyes of a fly and partially decode the insect's reactions to changes in the world around it. The research has changed scientists' understanding of neural networks and could provide the basis for intelligent computers that mimic biological processes. The researchers used tiny electrodes to tap into motion-sensitive neurons in the visual system of a blowfly. The fly was harnessed into a turntable-like mechanism that mimicked the kind of flight it might undergo when evading a predator or chasing another fly. The neurons' firing patterns were mapped with a binary code of ones and zeroes. The researchers found that the impulses were like a primitive, but very regular "language," with the neurons firing at precise times depending on what the fly's visual sensors were trying to tell it about its visual stimulus. Previous research showed irregular spikes in the neurons' firing, but this is now believed to be a way to conserve energy when there is little change in the fly's surroundings. The simulated flight creates significant change requiring regular neuron firing to process the information. "This may be one of the main reasons why artificial neural networks do not perform anywhere comparable to a mammalian visual brain," says Los Alamos physicist Ilya Nemenman, a member of the research team. The research could improve the analyses of satellite images and facial-pattern recognition.
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People Power Transforms the Web in Next Online Revolution
Observer (UK) (03/09/08) Leadbetter, Charles

Creativity and intelligence enabled by mass collaboration via the Web could spark a revolution in the collective power to solve wide-ranging challenges such as support for the aged, global warming, disaster relief, teaching and learning, and the spread of democracy in repressive countries, writes Charles Leadbetter, author of "We Think: Mass Innovation, Not Mass Production." He calls this form of creativity "We Think," and lists the free, volunteer-created Wikipedia online encyclopedia as a key example. Leadbetter says open access publishing makes scientific research available on a global level without any restrictions, encouraging mass collaboration that in turn raises the productivity of the research community. He predicts that even top-down services will eventually be affected by We Think, citing the School of Everything, a British effort to create a resource for educational services, as one example. Leadbetter points out that children learn things from each other, frequently through social networks and computer games such as World of Warcraft, when they are not in school. "If we could persuade 1 percent of Britain's pupils to be player-developers for education, that would be 70,000 new sources of learning," he writes. "But that would require us to see learning as something more like a computer game, something that is done peer-to-peer, without a traditional teacher."
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'Gambling DNA' Helps Fight Online Fraud
New Scientist (03/05/08)

University at Buffalo researchers Roman Yampolskiy and Venu Govindaraju are developing a system that is capable of tracking how often and how much a poker player bets, increases a bet, bets everything, or folds, and then creating a "gambling DNA" that online casinos can use to determine their identity. The system flags behavior as suspicious when a player does something that is not in line with their personalized profile. Yampolskiy says the software achieves an authentication accuracy rate of 80 percent within an hour and improves as play continues. Jonathan Schaeffer of the University of Alberta Computer Poker Research Group is not convinced that the software will be as successful with the best poker players. "If you are predictable, you can be exploited," he says. "Strong players try not to be predictable."
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'Women Wanted in Europe's ICT Industry'!
eGov Monitor (03/07/08)

Getting young women in Europe interested in a career in information and communications technology (ICT) was the focus of a recent conference in Brussels. The European Commission launched the pilot "Shadowing initiative" two years ago, and last year more than 50 young women spent a day in the workplace with a female senior manager working in the ICT sector. Europe has a shortage of about 300,000 qualified staff in its ICT industry, and some observers believe it will have to make a strong effort to target young people, including women, if it is to maintain its level of competitiveness in the global economy. "If this shortage of computer scientists and engineers is not addressed, it will eventually slow down the European economic growth and Europe runs the risks of falling behind its Asian competitors," says Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "We need to overcome common stereotypes which describe ICT careers as boring and too technical for women, and instead encourage women to succeed in this exciting, innovative and multi-faceted sector." Women received only 19 percent of European engineering degrees in 2004.
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Unique Locks on Microchips Could Reduce Hardware Piracy
University of Michigan News Service (03/05/08)

University of Michigan and Rice University computer engineers' Ending Piracy of Integrated Circuits (EPIC) framework outlines a method for giving individual microchips a unique lock and key to prevent hardware piracy by tapping established cryptography techniques and subtly modifying the chip design process without impacting chip performance or power consumption. The keys would be retained by the patent holder, and used to securely instruct the chip to unlock itself. The enablement of EPIC protection would allow each integrated circuit to be fabricated with some additional switches that function in the manner of a combination lock, and that can each generate an unchangeable random ID number. Rather than being built with an ID number, the chips would be manufactured with the tools needed to produce the number upon activation. Chips fabricated within the EPIC framework would only work properly when they are activated, and activation would require the manufacturer plugging the chip into a phone line or Internet connection and letting it communicate with the patent holder. The chip would securely send its ID number to the holder, who would record the number, deduce the combination to unlock the chip, and securely transmit the key back to the chip. "The goal of a practical system like ours is not to make something impossible, but to ensure that buying a license and producing the chip legally is cheaper than forgery," says UM professor Igor Markov.
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Future 'Quantum Computers' Will Offer Increased Efficiency and Risk
University of Central Florida (03/04/08) Kotala, Zenaida Gonzalez

An unusual observation made by University of Central Florida physics professor Enrique del Barco may lead to a new generation of quantum computers that could render current computer and credit card encryption technology obsolete. Del Barco says the observation furthers the understanding of quantum tunneling of nanoscale magnetic systems, which could revolutionize how we understand computation. According to quantum mechanics, small magnetic objects called nanomagnets can exist in two distinct states, and can switch between states through a phenomenon called quantum tunneling. Low-temperature magnetometry techniques used by del Barco allow for the abrupt change in magnetization to be observed when the nanomagnet switches its poles. Controlling quantum tunneling shifts could help create the quantum logic gates needed to create quantum computing. "Of course, this is far from real life yet, but is an important step in the way," del Barco says. "We must still do more research and a lot of people are already trying to figure this out, including us."
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Visions for Theoretical Computer Science
CRA Bulletin (02/29/08) Vegso, Jay

The University of Washington in Seattle will host a "visioning" workshop on Theoretical Computer Science (TCS) on May 17. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation-created Computing Community Consortium (CCC), the visioning workshop will focus on TCS-related research themes that could have a major impact on society, as well as presenting the future direction of TCS research in "nuggets" that the average person will be able to understand and appreciate. Organizers are asking for feedback from all researchers in the TCS community, including those who are unable to attend the visioning workshop. Members of the organizing committee include Bernard Chazelle from Princeton University, Anna Karlin and Richard Ladner from the University of Washington, Dick Lipton from Georgia Tech, and Salil Vadhan from Harvard University. Public-key cryptography, quantum computation, and raising the P vs. NP question are among the key contributions of the TCS community.
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Research Suggests Mid-Level Computer Screen Displays Can Minimize Musculoskeletal Strain in Schoolchildren
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (03/05/08)

Positioning computer screen displays at mid-level would help minimize computer-related discomfort in children, according to a new study by human factors researchers in Australia. Leon Straker and colleagues found that displays in the mid-level position cause less musculoskeletal strain than high- and book-level displays. The researchers used an optical-capture system to record the 3D posture and muscle activity in the neck and upper limbs of 24 children ages 10-12 as they performed interactive tasks with high-, mid-, and book-level displays. The mid-level display supported a more upright and symmetrical posture and lower average muscle activity. "The data collected in this study provide the first detailed description of 3D head, neck, and arm posture and the associated muscle activity of children reading and entering data with computers and reading and writing with paper," say the researchers. They believe their findings will be helpful in developing guidelines for computer use by children because the study does not apply research on adults to children.
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Volunteer Computing and the Search for Big Answers
Linux Insider (03/04/08) King, Brad

The Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley is the birthplace of the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC), one of the largest volunteer, distributed computing organizations in the world. BOINC's three-person team, led by research scientist Dave Anderson, developed software tools that allow scientists to use computers from around the world to complete problems that require massive computing power, and allow ordinary people to donate time on their computer to advance scientific research. There are currently about 1 million people participating in the various BOINC projects, providing a solution to the difficult problem of how to find enough computing power to solve some of science's greatest problems. "Volunteer computing is interesting because there are about a billion private computers in the world," Anderson says. "Scientists who need a lot of computing power can set up a volunteer computing project and get tens of thousands of nodes working for them." The small collectives that have formed through BOINC and similar efforts, such as IBM's more formally run World Computer Grid, have formed social structures with medals for teams that power through problems, and a hierarchy based on the number of projects completed. Distributed computing has spread beyond the academic and scientific fields, and is the reason books can be ordered from Amazon without serious lag times and why Google can search the Web so quickly.
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Cyber Goggles: High-Tech Memory Aid
Pink Tentacle (03/04/08)

A smart video goggle system developed by researchers at the University of Tokyo has the potential to function as a high-tech memory aid. Head researcher and professor Tatsuya Harada demonstrated the "cyber goggles" last week. The goggles recorded all of the everyday objects that a wearer saw in a room, and the names of the items appeared on the device's screen. The wearer was then able to search the images for footage of a particular object such as a CD or a cell phone. The goggles make use of a compact camera to capture images, a computer (worn on the back of the user) to record video, and ultrahigh-speed image recognition processing software to analyze, name, and file objects. A user can conduct a keyword search of the database, and look into a tiny LCD screen attached to the right-side lens to watch the recorded video.
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Weather Map Interface Lets You Feel the Wind
New Scientist (03/05/08) Inman, Mason

Climate researchers can now use a joystick that simulates touching objects to physically experience the data on their maps, allowing them to "feel" wind speeds and other weather features. The system, which consists of a robotic arm with a joystick at the end, converts climate data into forces that a person can feel. Haptics researcher Cagatay Basdogan of Koc University in Istanbul, Turkey, applied the haptic device after hearing from climate researcher Omer Lutfi Sen of the Istanbul Technical University that his students were struggling with climate information. The system, called Climate Exploration and Visualization (CEVIZ), allows users to physically experience climate variables by applying force to their hand. The controller can guide a person's hand along contours representing areas of high pressure, or push and pull their hand to represent shifting winds as the user moves the cursor over the map. Tests involving 22 people found that they understand climate data much better after using CEVIZ. For example, CEVIZ users were able to pinpoint with greater accuracy where humid air would interact with wind and cooler temperatures to form clouds.
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Can You Count on Touch-Screens?
Software Development Times (03/01/08)No. 193, P. 1; Feinman, Jeff

States' migration away from direct-recording electronic voting machines (DREs) to optical-scan voting is a wise move, according to critics of touch-screen e-voting systems such as John Hopkins University computer science professor Avi Rubin. Optical scan machines are set up so that users write on the ballots to indicate their choice, and this paper-based method allows for auditing and recounts. "I think optical scan has its own challenges, but it does provide a mechanism to audit the election, which I don't think should ever be compromised," says Rubin. "The optical scanners are computers just like the touch-screens but they have much less code in them, and less code means fewer bugs, and it's easier to audit." Fortify Software's Rob Rachwald cites DRE security issues such as memory buffer overflows and password storage for administrators who access the devices as vulnerable points hackers can exploit to rig or unravel elections. The biggest concern about touch-screen voting is that malfunctions could go unnoticed because there is no direct way of finding out whether a problem with the machines had arisen, according to Fortify chief scientist Brian Chess. Rubin concurs, noting that DREs would leave behind no evidence of software tampering. "You can't check a DRE to see if it got the right answer, but you can check an [optical] scan by counting the ballot some other way," he says.
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Eran Segal: Computing Expression
The Scientist (02/08) Vol. 22, No. 2, P. 61; Scheff, Jonathan

Starting a molecular biology lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, last February has enabled Eran Segal to find the right balance between computer science and biology. Segal, who earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from Tel-Aviv University in 1998 before studying computer science and genetics at Stanford University, is currently a senior scientist at Weizmann. At Stanford, Segal designed computational models of gene expression, including a method for identifying groups of coregulated genes and their regulators. Segal studied under Daphne Koller at the computer science department, who says the research was part of a new movement to come up with testable hypotheses about regulatory relationships that could be determined in the lab. He was also involved in designing a model that identified 22,163 pairs of genes that are coexpressed in the DNA of humans, flies, worms, and yeast. "We were the first to do this for gene-expression data across species," Koller says. Segal left Stanford in 2004 and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at Rockefeller University, before returning to Israel and joining Weizmann. "Now, I find a biological problem and find the algorithm for tackling that problem," Segal says.
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