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ACM TechNews
March 28, 2008

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Welcome to the March 28, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Coming Together to Help Grow the Next Generation of Computing Leaders
National Science Foundation (03/26/08)

Rice University professor Richard Tapia says many minority students enrolled in undergraduate computer science programs at top-tier research universities feel isolated and unsupported. As a result, Tapia says, many leave the field to pursue different majors in more welcoming degree programs where they feel they have support and a high probability of success. Tapia and colleagues from nearly a dozen universities are collaborating with private industry and other groups, including ACM, to provide support and to prevent what Tapia calls the "loss of the precious few" minority students majoring in computer science. Tapia serves as the director of the Empowering Leadership (EL) Alliance, an organization that aims to provide minority students with a community of support as they pursue their degrees. "At the nation's top institutions, there are many choices inside and outside the university environment that offer vibrant opportunities and a welcoming environment," Tapia says. "We aim to provide both within the computing disciplines." In October, students from around the country met in Orlando for the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference, where they were able to interact with national leaders in computing from the academic and business sectors. The EL Alliance also has an online mentoring group that connects undergraduate and graduate students with national leaders in computing who can offer expertise and advice as students progress through their academic careers.
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SC08 Tech Program Submissions Deadline Extended
HPC Wire (03/28/08)

Members of the high performance computing community have until Friday, April 4, to submit abstracts for papers, including those for the Gordon Bell Prize competition, to SC08. However, the deadline for full papers, in addition to proposals for tutorials, workshops, and panels, for the SC08 Technical Program has been extended to April 14. SC08 is accepting submissions at https://submissions.supercomputing.org/. "SC08 is the conference of record for the technical high performance computing community, and the premiere opportunity for exhibitors to reach the technologists, managers, and leaders that are shaping the landscape of HPC," says SC08 general chair Patricia Teller. ACM and IEEE Computer Society sponsor the international conference for high performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis, which is scheduled for Nov. 15 in Austin. SC08 will feature technical and education programs, invited speakers, workshops, tutorials, an exhibit area, demonstrations, and opportunities for hands-on learning. For more information about SC08, visit http://sc08.supercomputing.org/index.php
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H-1B Backers Seek White House Help for Foreign Students
Computerworld (03/27/08) Thibodeau, Patrick

H-1B visa supporters are asking the Bush administration to extend the time that foreign graduates can work on student visas from one year to 29 months. The proposed action is a stop-gap plan that would not increase the federal government's cap on H-1B visas, but would make more workers available to technology companies. Increasing the amount of time a foreign graduate could work in the United States, through a program called Optional Practical Training, would give students a better chance of getting H-1B visas, and the changes can be made without legislative action. Supporters of the plan have been urging the Department of Homeland Security to approve the extension. Other efforts to increase the number of foreign workers eligible to work in the United States include convincing Congress to release H-1B visas that were authorized by lawmakers in previous years but not used, which could provide an additional 300,000 visas. Victor Johnson of NAFSA, a Washington-based association that promotes international education, says that for universities to succeed in attracting foreign students, the United States needs to have a supportive climate that includes H-1B visa reform.
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Yahoo Is Joining an Alliance That Has Google as Leader
New York Times (03/26/08) P. C7; Helft, Miguel

Google, MySpace, and Yahoo are forming the OpenSocial Foundation, a nonprofit organization that will develop standards for programmers to use to create applications that can run on any social network or Web site that wants them. Analysts say Google originally formed the OpenSocial alliance last fall in response to the growing popularity of Facebook, which has attracted thousands of outside developers who create programs for the site and that has significantly contributed to Facebook's popularity. Although Facebook is not part of the OpenSocial Foundation, several Facebook application developers say they will make their programs compatible with the new standard. Google and Yahoo says the foundation will "ensure the neutrality and longevity of OpenSocial as an open, community-governed specification for building social applications across the Web." The OpenSocial Foundation will launch within the next three months.
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Foldable, Stretchable Circuits
Technology Review (03/28/08) Greene, Kate

University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and Northwestern University researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to use ultrathin silicon to build sheets of foldable and stretchable circuits. Manufactured from thin sheets of silicon on plastic or rubber, the bendable circuits could lead to devices such as wearable computers and implantible health monitoring systems. Illinois professor John Rogers says the entire thickness of the circuit is 1.5 microns. It is the thinness of the circuit that makes it naturally bendable. The researchers developed two types of chips. The first is foldable, but to ensure the circuit would work regardless of how it was twisted or bent, the researchers placed the silicon, or whatever part of the circuit is most fragile, at a distance between the top and bottom of the circuit sheet that experienced the least amount of strain. Proper placement optimizes the electronics and enables them to work as if they were on a solid wafer. The second circuit was made by optimizing circuit sheets and bonding them to prestretched rubber that was extended in both directions. When the rubber was allowed to relax, the silicon layer bucked in a complex, wavy pattern. The researchers are able to locate positions on the circuit where the wavy structure will form when the rubber is released, Rogers says, allowing them to chose the locations so they do not overlap any fragile or strain-sensitive components of the circuit.
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Program Announced for 45th Design Automation Conference
Business Wire (03/25/08)

The 45th Design Automation Conference (DAC) will offer 138 papers on the latest developments in the design of electronic circuits and systems and EDA, as part of its technical program. ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM/SIGDA) is a sponsor of the conference, which will feature eight special sessions, six full-day tutorials, seven panels and an additional 20 pavilion panels on the exhibit floor, and six hands-on tutorials. "Once again, DAC will provide participants with a remarkable array of effective channels to educate themselves on the latest ideas and products, to exchange information, and to network and identify collaboration opportunities," says Limor Fix, general chair of the 45th DAC executive committee. DAC will take place June 8-12, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., and will also offer 13 workshops on a number of design topics, additional co-located events in MEMOCODE 2008 and NANOARCH2008, and an adjunct event in the Global STC (Semiconductor Test Consortium) Conference. Intel CTO Justin R. Rattner will give the opening keynote on "EDA for Digital, Programmable, Multi-Radios" on Tuesday, June 8, while Qualcomm CDMA Technologies Group President Dr. Sanjay K. Jha will give the keynote on Wednesday. MathWorks President Jack Little will give the final keynote on "Idea to Implementation: A Different Perspective on System Design." There will be 36 technical sessions, and multicore technology will be the focus of a special session. DAC attracts nearly 10,000 visitors from EDA, chip, and electronics companies as well as universities each year. For more information about DAC, visit http://www.dac.com/45th/index.aspx
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Americans Still Wary of Voting Machines for 2008
Agence France Presse (03/23/08)

Despite the growing use of computers in elections in the United States, many jurisdictions are reconsidering their voting technology amid growing concerns that the systems are vulnerable to software and hardware glitches, manipulation by hackers, and a variety of other problems. Five states that had revamped their voting systems after 2000 are undertaking a second overhaul because of their discontent over electronic machines, according to the Pew Center on the States. About 80 percent of the votes cast in the U.S. include the use of computers, and about 38 percent use direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, reveals a study by the University of Iowa's John McCormally. Many DRE machines do not leave a paper trail, which makes recounts or audits impossible. Computer scientist Alan Dechert, who heads the Open Voting Consortium, says paperless touch-screen voting systems have failed in numerous cases. Verified Voting Foundation project director Warren Stewart says the growing doubts over the reliability of paperless systems could be problematic during the 2008 presidential election. Stewart says it is highly probable that the election could come down to one state where a situation cannot be resolved because of an inability to recount electronic vote tallies. He says the most reliable systems are optical-scan devices in which voters mark their choice on paper ballots that are then read and tallied by computerized scanners.
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How to Succeed in the High-Tech Boys' Club
InfoWorld (03/25/08) Schwartz, Ephraim

The number of incoming undergraduate women choosing to major in computer science fell 70 percent between 2000 and 2005, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). Stanford University professor Shelley Correll concludes in a study that women often judge their own skills very harshly in an effort to combat gender stereotypes, and NCWIT CEO Lucy Sanders and VoiceObjects CEO Beatriz Infante agree that women must be heavily encouraged to overcome their anxieties about their abilities and pursue senior leadership positions. Consultant Susan Major says women must walk a tightrope between coming off as too aggressive or too soft, and believes changing business culture to emphasize teamwork and collaboration would be very beneficial to women. Infante suggests that women should not be afraid to wield power like male executives and display an aggressive approach to business as men do, arguing that the self-confidence such behavior exhibits would work in their favor and enhance their credibility as leaders. LSI CTO Claudine Simson says the shrinking enrollment of females in high-tech may be attributed to the discouragement they feel at the prospect of working in a field characterized by long hours and economic instability, as well as the stress this may place on their desire to fulfill their family responsibilities. "The image of computing is still a white geeky guy sitting by a terminal eating junk food," Simson says, adding that women need to be made aware that computing requires a broader range of skills than just programming.
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Inspiring Girls to Tech
SiliconValley.com (03/26/08) Antonucci, Mike

Microsoft held a DigiGirlz tech camp Tuesday at its campus in Mountain View, Calif. The one-day event gave the 70 or so high-school girls in attendance a chance to learn more about career opportunities in technology. The young girls were impressed by the positive attitudes of the women who discussed their careers during a morning panel, and California CIO Teri Takai followed up with an afternoon talk on gaining confidence and empowerment. The tech camp also gave the girls an opportunity to obtain instruction on building Web pages, maintaining privacy and data security online, using the Internet on cell phones, and other techniques and practices. For Microsoft, the event is an acknowledgment that there are not enough women in computer science and software engineering, and in executive technology positions. "The technology universe is definitely male-dominated," said panelist Veronica Belmont, who hosts and produces the Web show "Mahalo Daily" for Mahalo.com. Microsoft will offer DigiGirlz camps in about two dozen cities through August.
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Carbon Could Enable Fastest Chips
EE Times (03/25/08) Johnson, R. Colin

University of Maryland researchers say carbon-based transistors could outperform the fastest chip materials, including indium antimonide. The researchers recently characterized graphene monolayers, sheets of pure carbon one atom thick, and found that graphene-based transistors appear to be able to achieve their maximum speed at room temperature. The researchers measured the electron mobility of graphene monolayers between 50 Kelvin and 500 Kelvin and found the electron mobility to be about 15,000 cm2,Vs regardless of temperature. "What we now think is that phonon scattering of electrons in graphene is very weak, and that leads us to believe that we are being limited by impurities," says team leader Michael Fuhrer. "If we can remove those impurities, we think we can achieve electron mobilities of 200,000 cm2/Vs at room temperature--which is more than 100 times better than silicon." To achieve the highest possible mobility, the silicon dioxide substrate needs to be removed. The researchers are considering switching to silicon carbide, diamond, or removing the substrate completely and using air gaps beneath graphene transistor channels.
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Professor: Computers Plus People Equals Risk
IDG News Service (03/27/08) Kirk, Jeremy

London School of Economics professor of information systems Ian O. Angell says companies are relying too much on technology to run their business, a dangerous practice given technology's inability to account for unpredictable situations. Angell says the problem is that business information systems make assumptions that do not necessarily match up with real-world events. Those assumptions are then used to make decisions, which leads to false conclusions. "When companies use the tools of technology to solve a problem, they may or may not succeed, but what is certain is that completely unexpected phenomena happen," Angell says. The conclusions made by computers are only as good as the numbers people put into them, which can often be altered or misleading, he says. People now automatically believe whatever they see on the screen, which Angell calls a "glass cockpit effect." He believes that digital security needs to be redefined, and notes that the marginal events that lead to larger security problems are only noticed in hindsight.
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UCSC Computer Scientist Phokion Kolaitis Earns 'Test-of-Time' Award
University of California, Santa Cruz (03/26/08) Stephens, Tim

ACM's Symposium on Principles of Database Systems (PODS) has awarded its first Alberto O. Mendelzon Test-of-Time Award to ACM Fellow Phokion Kolaitis, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Santa Cruz's Baskin School of Engineering. ACM PODS recognized Kolaitis for his 1998 paper "Conjunctive-query containment and constraint satisfaction," along with another paper published that year. The papers had "the most impact (in terms of research, methodology, or transfer to practice) over the intervening decade," according to the ACM PODS award committee. Kolaitis co-authored the paper with Moshe Vardi, and it was published in the Proceedings of PODS 1998. The paper discussed two key challenges for databases and artificial intelligence, and offered a deep complexity analysis. Kolaitis specializes in computer logic, database theory, and computational complexity.
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Phones With Feeling Are More Useful
New Scientist (03/24/08)

Stephen Brewster and colleagues at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom consider tactile feedback to be key to making it easier to type on touch-screen phones such as iPhone. Their approach to replicating the feel of a keyboard is to create sophisticated sensations for buttons similar to the way in which cell phones vibrate. For example, the team has used software to create a single pulse 30 milliseconds long that gives the feeling of a button being clicked. They have also created a half-second-long buzz for when a finger has slid from one button to another, and there is a "rough" feeling that tells the user they have strayed to another key. Testing shows that typing speed and accuracy when working with such haptics is closer to the use of a real keyboard. They will discuss their research in April at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Florence, Italy.
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DSLs Lead Development Paradigm Shift
eWeek (03/26/08) Taft, Darryl K.

The software development community needs to move beyond its use of static, procedural languages and frameworks and start using language-oriented programming. ThoughtWorks senior application architect Neal Ford, speaking at TheServerSide Java Symposium on March 26, says domain-specific languages (DSL) are designed for specific tasks. Ford says ThoughtWorks colleague Ola Bini envisions a future stack of basic programming tools consisting of a "stable language" at the bottom level, with dynamic languages built on top of that, and DSLs added at the top layer. Ford says that DSLs improve the software development process by "eliminating noise," and that programmers experienced in dynamic languages tend to build DSLs on top of their low-level language. "Using DSLs evolves the way we build and use frameworks, escalating our abstraction levels closer to the problem domains and farther from implementation details," Ford says.
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Eye-Controlled Robot May Make Heart Surgery Safer
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (03/22/08) Randerson, James

British researchers are developing software that will allow surgeons to direct a medical robot with their eye movements. An eye-tracking device that can precisely determine where a surgeon is looking is designed to work with the software, which would then create a 3D map of an area of tissue that is under observation. "What that does is it uses the surgeon's brain as a way in to calculating the depth of the tissue," says Lord Darzi, a surgeon who heads the Hamlyn Center for robotic surgery at Imperial College London. The Hamlyn Center researchers are also working on "augmented reality," which would allow surgeons to explore the surface of the tissue to the structure they are operating on, and virtual "no-go zones" that could help prevent surgeons from cutting a healthy blood vessel by mistake. They are testing their work on the sophisticated Da Vinci robotic surgeon.
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Hello, Gorgeous! Meet the Laptop You'll Use in 2015
Computerworld (03/26/08) Nadel, Brian

Laptop design is expected to undergo significant changes over the next seven years and move away from the current clamshell format, predicts Intel's Mike Trainor and other experts. One futuristic notebook concept, the Compenion, features a slide-up lid, a panel that doubles as a keyboard and scribble pad, an 11-inch screen, and 0.75-inch thickness. V12 Design's Canova eliminates the traditional display and mechanical keyboard in favor of two touch-sensitive displays, and can alternate between sketchpad, e-book, and piano keyboard functions depending on how it is held. The Cario from independent designer Anna Lopez replaces the lid hinge with a bar that serves as a carrying handle, and can be used on desks and in cars, where it can be mounted on the steering wheel and project images onto the windshield via a microprojector. The screenless Siafu device, which is designed for visually impaired users, instantly renders images as corresponding 3D shapes by using an oil-based synthetic material that is reactive to electrical fields. New materials such as more rugged and easily reparable plastics and more sophisticated peripherals are some of the technological innovations driving the transformation of laptops. Furthermore, tomorrow's laptops are expected to be smarter and capable of more advanced tasks thanks to multicore processors; the replacement of the CPU's front-side bus with an integrated controller that boosts the efficiency of data distribution through faster operation; the expansion of storage capacity and solid-state memory; sequential red, green, blue backlighting that will eventually be succeeded by organic LEDs; and 3D displays. A migration from lithium-ion cells that have to be built in cylinders to lithium polymer cells that can come in assorted shapes and sizes will take place, while inductive charging could greatly simplify powering up the notebook.
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NIST Unveils Tool to Foil Attacks via DNS
Government Computer News (03/25/08) Campbell, Dan

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) network researchers Scott Rose and Anastase Nakassis have written a paper that introduced a method federal systems administrators can use to protect their systems from the attacks launched over the Domain Name System (DNS). Rose and Nakassis say that DNS security extensions (DNSSEC) that are originally meant to protect DNS zone data contain an unintentional side effect that enables an attack precursor known as "zone enumeration." Although zone enumeration is possible without DNSSEC, the traditional methods of enabling zone enumeration are often impractical because they use time-consuming or processor-intensive brute force techniques that are often repelled by intrusion detection systems. Rose and Nakassis also note that there are several techniques that allow networks to realize the intended authentication and integrity benefits of DNSSEC while simultaneously "reducing DNS information leakage." Such techniques are important because the need to protect network operations with methods offered by DNSSEC will only increase as DNS becomes more and more important. In addition, the techniques could improve DNSSEC authentication and integrity protection, which would in turn protect DNS zones and stop attempts to compromise data.
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CS Gets With Parallel Program
EE Times (03/24/08)No. 1519, P. 1; Merritt, Rick

Mainstream computers will be unable to exploit performance gains from next-generation multicore processors without an easy-to-use parallel programming model, the provision of which will require one or more milestones. Intel and Microsoft recently announced a five-year plan to commit $20 million to underwrite work at new parallel computing labs at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concurrent with a nearly completed design for a FPGA-based system whose purpose is to investigate parallel computing concepts. The goal of the Berkeley Emulation Engine version 3 is to help researchers rapidly prototype processors with hundreds or thousands of cores and study new programming methodologies. Berkeley computer science professor (and former ACM president) David Patterson believes graduate courses must be changed to reflect the shift to parallel programming, while undergraduates need to be informed about this trend. The first demo vehicles for the Berkeley lab will probably stem from projects focusing on image retrieval and parallel browser applications. The FPGA-based system forms the nucleus of the multi-university Research Accelerator for Multiple Processors program, which is part of a wide-ranging exploration of new ways to build computers. "What I am hoping is things like [the FPGA-based system] will revitalize research in computer architecture," says Microsoft Research's Charles Thacker.
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