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March 14, 2008

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Welcome to the March 14, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Researchers Ready System to Explore Parallel Computing
EE Times (03/13/08) Merritt, Rick

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are nearly finished building the Berkeley Emulation Engine version 3 (BEE3), an FPGA-based computer that could help researchers find a parallel programming model for advanced multicore processors. BEE3 is intended to help researchers quickly prototype processors with hundreds or thousands of cores and find new ways to program them. The most recent version of the computer was designed as a commercially available system with significant help from Microsoft Research. The system is the centerpiece of the Research Accelerator for Multiple Processors (RAMP) program, a collaborative effort involving Berkeley, Microsoft, Intel, and five other U.S. universities, including MIT and Stanford. "Fundamentally, FPGAs are now large enough and the tool suites good enough that a small number of people can build a fairly substantial system," says Microsoft Research's Charles Thacker. "At the Berkeley wireless lab they have already built a thousand-processor machine with an array of these systems racked up." Thacker says BEE3 could be used across a wide range of applications due to its flexibility and substantial amount of RAM. He calls it the Swiss Army knife of computer research tools.
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SC08 Technical Program Now Accepting Submissions
HPC Wire (03/14/08)

SC08 will begin accepting submissions for its technical program at the conference Web site on March, 17, 2008. The top conference for high performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis is seeking technical papers on all aspects of applications, architecture, grids, networks, performance, and system software, and will offer awards for Best Paper, Best Student Paper, and the $10,000 ACM Gordon Bell Prize. Participants must submit abstracts by April 4, and paper manuscripts and Gordon Bell contributions by April 7. Submissions for tutorials, panels, and independent workshops are also due on April 7. The deadline for posters is July 31. There will be a Best Poster Award, and students will be eligible to participate in the ACM Student Research Challenge. More information on the technical program can be found at http://sc08.supercomputing.org/?pg=techprogram.html, and submissions are to be made at https://submissions.supercomputing.org/. ACM and IEEE Computer Society are the sponsors of SC08, which is scheduled for Nov. 15-21 at the Austin Convention Center in Texas.
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Lecturer Criticizes Accuracy of the Voting Process
Oregon Daily Emerald (03/13/08) Davis, Trevor

Former ACM President Barbara Simons will discuss the policy related to voting machines, security, and the possibility of Internet voting on Thursday at the University of Oregon. "As we've been learning, they're just poorly engineered and tend to break a lot," Simons says of voting machines. E-voting became an interest of Simons around 2000, and in 2001 she helped produce a report on Internet voting as a member of the National Workshop on Internet Voting. "The more I learned, the more appalled I got," Simons says. Advocates of the technology initially saw e-voting machines as a way to make voting more accessible to people with disabilities, and then lawmakers at the federal, state, and local levels were overtaken with a gold rush mentality to purchase and deploy systems that vendors promised would work, she says. Concerns about the security of e-voting machine will lead people to question the results of elections, Simons warns.
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Gates, in Valedictory to Congress, Calls for Better Schooling, More Visas
Washington Post (03/13/08) P. D3; Hart, Kim

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Wednesday urged the House Committee on Science and Technology to find more money for math and science education, more funds for research, and more visas for foreign workers. Gates said the measures are necessary if the United States is to maintain its competitive edge in technology innovation. Gates said that some of the most talented graduates in math, science, and engineering are temporary residents that are unable to get the visas they need to work in the U.S. He said the fact that other countries' smartest people want to come to the United States is a huge advantage that the nation is essentially throwing away. "U.S. innovation has always been based in part on foreign-born scientists and researchers," Gates said. Much of the hearing focused on Gates' recommendation to raise the annual maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas. Although some lawmakers support raising the H-1B visa cap, others argue that the visas take jobs away from American workers and suppress wages.
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$17 Million Grant to Advance Simulations of Hypersonic Flight
Stanford Report (03/10/08) Orenstein, David

Stanford University researchers have reached a $17 million, five-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration to develop predictive simulations of hypersonic flight vehicles. "Predicting phenomena on a computer using simulation technology doesn't require the humongous expenses of physical flight testing and laboratory testing," says project director Parviz Moin. "But hypersonic flight systems cannot be predicted well with today's state-of-the-art simulation capabilities." Hypersonic flight is reached at speeds at least five times faster than the speed of sound--about 3,400 miles per hour at 30,000 feet. Before the last decade, sustained hypersonic flight had only been achieved with rockets. However, rockets must carry their own oxygen supply while jets can use the oxygen in the atmosphere, making them more practical for transportation. The primary focus of the project will be the application of verified and validated computational simulations to predict the behavior of complex systems that do not allow for routine experimentation. The researchers' primary challenge will be to develop algorithms that can model the unique physical phenomena that take place at hypersonic speeds, as turbulence, aerodynamics, combustion, thermal loads, and shockwaves all behave differently at Mach 10 than in conventional airplanes.
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Video Road Hogs Stir Fear of Internet Traffic Jam
New York Times (03/13/08) P. A1; Lohr, Steve

The increasing visual richness of online communications and entertainment, including video clips and movies, social networks, and multiplayer games, poses a threat that could cause massive Internet traffic delays, researchers warn. Some analysts estimate that YouTube consumed as much bandwidth in 2007 than the entire Internet did in 2000. In a report published last November, Nemertes Research projected that Internet demand could outpace network capacity by 2011. However, even those most concerned over the Internet traffic surge say it poses more of a challenge than an impending catastrophe, and most are not predicting a lights-out Internet crash. Instead, they warn that Internet users could experience sluggish download speeds and difficulty with data-heavy services. Nemertes President Johna Till Johnson says the Internet will not collapse, but there will be a growing category of tasks that will no longer be able to be completed over the internet. Johnson anticipates that Internet demand will grow by 100 percent of more per year. Others expect that Internet growth will more likely be about 50 percent per year. Meanwhile, analysts note that routers are getting faster, fiber-optic transmissions are improving, and the software used for managing data packets is getting smarter. Nevertheless, experts agree that if American investment doesn't keep up, the country risks falling behind countries that have made higher-speed Internet access a priority.
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Web Mashups Made Easy
Technology Review (03/12/08) Greene, Kate

Intel Research's Mash Maker project is working to make it possible for people to use their Web browsers to combine information from different sites. For example, if someone was looking for apartments on Craigslist, they could add information about nearby restaurants from Yelp, or put the apartment listings on Google Map. Mash Maker's goal is to allow people to create their own custom-made Web. "Right now, the Web is a collection of islands; each has its own information, but they aren't really interconnected and personalized for you," says Intel researcher Robert Ennals. "We're trying to move to where the Web is a single source of interconnected knowledge, presenting information that you want to see the way you want to see it." Other companies have similar projects in development. Last year, Microsoft introduced Popfly, a programming environment that makes it easy for nonexperts to build mashups. Yahoo Pipes is another project that allows people to combine data from a variety of sources. IBM is working on Lotus Mashups, a program designed to enable users to combine data from different business applications. "The Holy Grail is codeless programming," says Microsoft's John Montgomery. "We're all converging on this idea of end-user programming, which isn't really programming, coupled with community integration."
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MIT Names Its Top 10 Emerging Technologies for 2008
The Inquirer (UK) (03/13/08) Orion, Egan

Graphene transistors will be one of the top emerging technologies of 2008, according to researchers at MIT. Microchips built with graphene have the potential to work faster than silicon-based circuits, produce less heat, and conduct it away more rapidly. The MIT researchers are high on nano radio, in which carbon nanotubes are used to build tiny radios for applications such as medical diagnostics, computer interfaces, and personal communications devices. They see electromagnetic resonance being used to bring wireless power to devices. They expect significant progress will be made in integrating the centralized data synchronicity of Web-based "cloud computing" applications with localized data presence and processing to deliver offline Web applications. Seven of MIT's top 10 emerging technologies are in computer science and information technology disciplines, and the other IT-related developments involve modeling surprise, probabilistic chips, and reality mining. The new technologies are at different stages of development, and some are already in use today.
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Reading, Writing ... and Engineering
Wall Street Journal (03/13/08) P. D1; Chaker, Anne Marie

A growing number of schools are adding engineering to the curriculum to address concerns that American students are falling behind foreign competition in math and science. There has been a decline in the number of Americans interested in engineering, with 62 percent of engineering doctoral degrees awarded to foreign nationals in 2006. Many corporations, including Intel, have provided funding for engineering programs, such as the Engineering is Elementary program that is used at Odyssey Elementary School in Colorado. Over 2,200 middle and high schools are offering engineering courses with support from the non-profit group Project Lead the Way. Some states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, have already added some engineering content to state education requirements. The Department of Education has plans to integrate engineering concepts into federal assessments as early as 2009. While many of the high school courses involve using computers and engineering software, the Engineering is Elementary program consists of 14 units that touch upon the fields of engineering. The units are introduced to the students through stories, such as the story of a girl who tries to create a better place for her pet turtle to live, which introduces the environmental engineering section. In order for an elementary school to purchase materials for each student, it would cost approximately $6,000. However, a program can be started for as little as $40, which provides teacher's with lesson plans and one storybook to be read to the students. These programs have helped increase student interest in engineering. A survey of 100 high-school seniors who completed an engineering curriculum showed that 52 percent were interested in majoring in engineering in college.
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Bush Pushes Cybersecurity
USA Today (03/14/08) P. 6A; Wolf, Richard

Attacks on federal government information systems rose by 152 percent last year, according to the Department of Homeland Security. While the rise can be attributed partly to better reporting methods, officials admit hackers and foreign governments are becoming more successful at breaking into government networks. President Bush announced a 10 percent increase in cybersecurity spending for the coming fiscal year, bringing total funding to $7.3 billion, a 73 percent increase since 2004. For DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and members of Congress, the budget boost could not have come soon enough. "There are more bad guys out there," says Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). The lawmaker chaired a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing recently during which he told attendees that in 31 percent of breaches, "agencies do not know who took the information or how much information was taken." This is no surprise to the Government Accountability Office, whose separate study found that 20 of 24 major government agencies have inadequate cybersecurity defenses. Meanwhile, the DHS is completing Cyber Storm II, a week-long simulated attack to test the strengths of federal agencies against attacks on communications, information technology, and chemical and transportation systems.
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Robotic Drumstick Keeps Novices on the Beat
New Scientist (03/10/08) Inman, Mason

Computer scientist Graham Grindlay has developed the Haptic Guidance System (HAGUS), a machine that uses a haptic interface to teach people how to play the drums. HAGUS, which Grindlay developed at MIT, has a drumstick attached to a set of motors. The user grasps the drumstick with a hand, straps their arm in position with the adjacent brace, and lets the action of the motors guide their hand. A music teacher can program specific beats for HAGUS to teach to beginners. Grindlay found that users will be able to learn new rhythms more quickly, play more accurately, and have better timing than if they tried to play a beat after just hearing it. "More difficult, coordinated motions would be especially good for this kind of system," Grindlay says. His research does a "wonderful job" of showing how haptics can help beginning musicians, says Chris Chafe of Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics.
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Wireless Networks That Build Themselves
ICT Results (03/06/08)

European researchers are working on the RUNES project, an effort to develop software tools for enabling mobile devices to form self-organizing wireless networks across a variety of communications technologies. RUNES (Reconfigurable Ubiquitous Network Embedded Systems) consultant and dissemination manager Dr. Lesley Hanna says an ad-hoc network needs to be able to assemble itself from nearby devices without a human administrator, and must be able to adapt as devices move into and out of wireless range. Hanna says the challenge is building self-managing networks that work reliably on a large scale, with a variety of operating systems, and with low-power consumption. RUNES created software that would bridge the gap between the operating systems used by mobile sensor nodes and the high-level applications that use data from the sensors. RUNES middleware is modular and flexible so programmers can create applications without having to have extensive knowledge on the detailed working of the network devices supplying the data. "A lot of people have been looking at embedded systems networking, but so far there has been a reluctance to take the plunge commercially," Hanna says. "RUNES' open-source model is an excellent way to stimulate progress."
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Computer Teams From Around the World to Battle in Banff Next Month
Canadian Press (03/12/08) Bennett, Dean

The 32nd annual Battle of the Brains will take place next month in Banff, Alberta, Canada, when about 300 students from around the world gather to compete to solve computer problems. IBM's Doug Heintzman says the contest is one of the best ways to get access to the world's best and brightest computer students. On April 9, 100 teams composed of three students each will work on the same 10 problems, ranging in difficulty from the simple to the impossible. The team that answers the most questions in five hours wins. Heintzman says the problems are fundamental questions of grid theory, series theory, or math or physics presented as real-life scenarios. Each student is chosen for an area of expertise, including grid series, deep math, deep physics, algorithms, programming, data structures, numerical computations, artificial intelligence, text processing, or pattern recognition. The competition has recently been dominated by teams from Asia, eastern Europe, and Russia. The winners receive scholarships and other prizes.
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Molecular Machine Takes Control
MSNBC (03/10/08) Boyle, Alan

The first molecular machine capable of parallel processing has been announced by Japanese researchers. Seventeen duroquinone molecules were coaxed to assemble into the machine on a gold surface, and the control molecule can be flipped to any one of four configurations with electrical pulses from the tip of a scanning tunneling microscope; those flips can subsequently alter the states of the other 16 molecules. This breakthrough fuels visions of nanofactories that can manufacture vast quantities of custom-designed molecules, potentially enabling revolutionary medical applications such as non-surgical removal of brain tumors, says Anirban Bandyopadhyay of Japan's International Center for Young Scientists. The molecular machine is still not ready for practical use partly because the input/output device needs refinement, with Bandyopadhyay saying that other techniques would be devised for working devices. He says that researchers intend to build a massively parallel supercomputer that combines cellular automation and the human brain's neural network. "In this concept, highly interconnected arrays of cells communicate with all their neighbors at a time, following a particular equation," Bandyopadhyay says. "In principle, these unconventional processors are astronomically powerful compared to existing processors."
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Educating the Computer
Washington Technology (03/10/08) Vol. 23, No. 4, P. 28; Beizer, Doug

Lockheed Martin researchers are working on the Generalized Integrated Learning Architecture (GILA), a type of machine learning designed to create new computer-learning capabilities that let systems learn complex workflows by observing warfighters performing regular duties. GILA, a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project, is focused on tasks such as air operations center planning and military medical logistics, which should make it possible to create multiple types of military decision-support systems that learn by watching experts instead of relying on hand-encoded knowledge, which is expensive and prone to errors. "This is fairly new ground in the sense that it's an approach to using machine learning that hasn't really been pursued to a great degree by researchers," says program manager Ken Whitebread. The successful testing of the first phase of the technology has led to a phase two award for Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories. During the second phase of the project, Lockheed Martin is attempting to enable a computer to learn to manage combat air space using manned and unmanned aircraft. The technology is designed to help create orders by automatically learning flight planners' tasks from experts. Initially, the machine-learning technology will be used as an added layer of capability available to the Pentagon, and not as a total replacement for current procedures, strategies, and techniques. "The point is to be able to get the system to learn the task on its own without having to do extremely expensive development of the program," Whitebread says.
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ICANN Looks Toward End of U.S. Agreement in '09
IDG News Service (03/07/08) Gross, Grant

ICANN is considering what it will do when its memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce ends in Sept. 2009 as part of a midterm review of the agreement that included public comments at a hearing held by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in February. ICANN's agreement with the Commerce Department was renewed in 2006, but the organization has taken steps toward transparency and independence over the past few years, says Paul Levins, ICANN's executive officer and vice president of corporate affairs. Although some credit the Joint Project Agreement for ICANN's success and claim that it operates with little oversight from the Commerce Department, representatives from foreign countries have criticized the U.S. government's oversight of a global organization. Even after the JPA expires, ICANN still has a contract to operate the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority with the United States, so they would not be completely free of oversight, Levins says. In addition to governance issues, ICANN critics say the organization has to do more to cater to the international Internet community. "It is our opinion that ICANN is living up to its mandate and that the endeavor of transitioning ICANN into a private sector entity is taking shape," wrote Kenya Network Information Centre Chairman Anthony Mugambi. "Conclusion of the JPA would, however, provide the next logical step toward full transition some time in the future." Levins says ICANN wants to move toward autonomy while ensuring that the Internet addressing system remains beyond the reach of any one entity.
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Next Generation of Video Games Will Be Mental
New Scientist (03/13/08)No. 2647, P. 40; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

The first video games that allow users to drive game action with the power of their minds could debut commercially this year thanks to breakthroughs with companies that are developing hardware and software that can reportedly detect and harness brainwaves. This milestone hinges on the incorporation of biofeedback into the games themselves, whereas up to now biofeedback has been used by game designers to assess new products. Emotiv has devised a sensor-equipped headset that lets players control game aspects, such as manipulating on-screen objects, by thought. Helping fuel the movement toward mind-controlled video games is the success of innovative products such as Nintendo's Wii console, which features a gesture interface for game control via a handheld wireless motion sensor. "With the Wii, Nintendo did something right in designing a suite of tailored games" that take full advantage of its unique interface, notes Microsoft researcher Desney Tan. Manual control will still be a primary element of mind-game products, which will offer additional features through biofeedback. Perhaps the most formidable challenge the emerging mind-game industry faces is interference, as signals from nearby electrical devices and muscular activity can distort brainwaves. Developing software that can identify and filter out such signals is the solution, says NeuroSky CEO Stanley Yang.
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Different Engines
Computerworld (03/10/08) Vol. 42, No. 11, P. 34; Anthes, Gary

Research teams across the United States are constructing mechanical computers under the aegis of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is seeking machines that are rugged enough to stay operational under extremely high temperatures. Scientists say "nanomechanical" computers will boast far more energy efficiency than traditional semiconductors while generating less heat and enduring voltage spikes that can prove destructive to regular processors. GE Global Research has grown nanowires from a silicon base via a "bottom-up self-assembly" method. The aim is to create an electromechanical relay switch produced by mating nanowires to conventional circuit etching via lithography, with the creation of logic gates the eventual goal. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a transistor fashioned from "nanomechanical pillars," and professor Robert Blick says he has coaxed the pillars to function as physical switches he calls nanoelectro­mechanical single-electron transistors. Blick and colleagues will attempt to engineer nanomechanical memories from pillars that can represent 0 or 1, depending on whether they swing left or right. Speed limitations are likely to initially restrict nanomechanical computers to applications where extremely rapid processors are unnecessary and in places where temperatures could reach several hundred degrees Celsius, Blick says. "In the future, there will be microcontrollers everywhere," he predicts. "They will be very simple processors based on alternative principles, where one is endurance to extreme environments and the second is energy efficiency."
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