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ACM TechNews
April 4, 2008

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Welcome to the April 4, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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New Data Show Strong Labor Market for Scientists and Engineers
National Science Foundation (04/03/08) Mixon, Bobbie

The job market for scientists and engineers remains strong, and an ample supply of workers is ready to fill those jobs, concludes three new reports from the National Science Foundation. NSF data shows that the number of people working in science and engineering occupations increased by 4.2 percent and unemployment in those fields dropped to 2.5 percent in 2006, the lowest unemployment rate since the early 1990s. "On the supply side, we can say that the current S&E labor force is expanding, new graduates are coming out, and people are able to find employment, or are continuing their education," says Nimmi Kannankutty, the NSF program manager responsible for compiling the survey data. NSF collects data on scientists and engineers through three national surveys--the National Survey of College Graduates, the National Survey of Recent College Graduates, and the Survey of Doctorate Recipients, which are collectively known as the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System. NSF's report on recent college graduates found that in 2006 there were 1.9 million new science, engineering, and health graduates with degrees earned between 2003 and 2005. Nearly all of these graduates either entered the work force or continued their studies in higher education. Women made up 50 percent of the new graduates. Meanwhile, NSF's report on U.S. doctorates found that 45 percent of graduates who earned a doctoral degree from a U.S. university held a postdoctoral position at sometime in their career.
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SIGCHI Announces Best of CHI 2008 Award Winners
AScribe Newswire (04/03/08)

The ACM Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) has announced the winners of the annual "Best of CHI" awards. Honored technical papers and notes submitted for CHI 2008 include "Improving the Performance of Motor-Impaired Users with Automatically-Generated, Ability-Based Interfaces," which discusses driver attention and driving behavior for three different interaction techniques; and "Large Scale Analysis of Web Revisitation Patterns," which focuses on the different ways people revisit Web pages and analyzes their actions. Other winners include "An Error Model for Pointing Based on Fitts' Law," "Designs on Dignity: Perceptions of Technology Among the Homeless," "In-Car GPS Navigation: Engagement with and Disengagement from the Environment," "Multimodal Collaborative Handwriting Training for Visually-Impaired People," and "The Network in the Garden: An Empirical Analysis of Social Media in Rural Life." "These papers and notes display not only extraordinary scholarship, but they capture the range of topics the community deems important," says Desney Tan, CHI 2008 technical programs chair. "This year CHI is continuing its trajectory to solving problems in domains with broad societal impact, such as homelessness, emerging technologies and emerging markets, universal accessibility, and healthcare, among others." CHI 2008 takes place April 5-10 in Florence, Italy.
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Canadian Voting Machine Enters American Political Machine
InterGovWorld.com (03/27/08) Lombardi, Rosie

The University of Ottawa's Scantegrity, originally a proof of concept called Punchscan, is an open-source program designed to provide end-to-end verifiable voter results, says PhD student Aleks Essex. "Scantegrity gives voters a privacy-preserving receipt," says Essex. "It doesn't show other people how you voted, but it does allow you to have a way to check to ensure your vote gets counted." The concept is similar to the confirmation numbers issued by hotels, Essex says, which allow hotel customers to look up their confirmation number, but it does not display the room number. Scantegrity also features software independence, which means if a software error is made, the mistake can not go through the process undetected, Essex says. The software also contains a tool that performs a cryptographic self-audit to verify computations. The development team plans to invite the Ottawa Linux users group to review the system to help make it more secure. It is unlikely the technology will ever be used in Canada, which still uses paper and pencil ballots and has such strict regulations that even the type of pencil is regulated, but it could find a home in the United States. Scantegrity team leader David Chaum says two American municipalities have expressed interest in using the program, and Essex says it has been presented to several American organizations in an effort to attract research funding. "The question now is whether our technology will be certifiable," Essex says. "A group of election experts and scientists is saying a window should be allowed to give new voting technologies a chance, and there's legislation pending to allow that."
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AP Language, Computer Courses Cut
Washington Post (04/04/08) P. A4; de Vise, Daniel

Students will not be able to take the Advanced Placement computer science AB course after the 2008-2009 academic year with hopes of earning college credits. The College Board has decided to cut the computer course because of underenrollment. The computer science AB course attracted 5,064 students, and had 1,163 teachers. U.S. history and English literature are among the most popular AP subjects, and they attract hundreds of thousands of students each year. The College Board is also eliminating Italian, Latin literature, and French literature. These classes are "all less commonly taught disciplines in high schools," says Trevor Packer, vice president of the College Board for AP. "And they're under fire sometimes" in school systems that focus more on core subjects. He says there are no plans to cut more classes for the next five years.
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45th Design Automation Conference to Feature Diverse Keynote Lineup
Business Wire (03/31/08)

Justin R. Rattner, chief technology officer of Intel; Dr. Sanjay K. Jha, chief operating officer and president of Qualcomm CDMA Technologies Group; and Jack Little, president and a co-founder of The MathWorks, will be the keynote speakers for the 45th Design Automation Conference (DAC). ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM/SIGDA) sponsors DAC, which takes place June 8-12, 2008, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif. Rattner will give the opening keynote on Tuesday, June 10, on "EDA for Digital, Programmable, Multi-Radios." Jha will deliver a keynote presentation on "Challenges on Design Complexities for Advanced Wireless Silicon Systems," on Wednesday, June 11. And Little will present "Idea to Implementation: A Different Perspective on System Design," as the final keynote address on Thursday, June 12. "This year's keynote speakers represent a wide spectrum of our participants, with a major device manufacturer, a wireless system manufacturer, and a system design solution provider, so they will offer compelling information and useful insights for all of our attendees," says Limor Fix, general chair of the 45th DAC executive committee. For more information about DAC, or to register, visit http://www.dac.com/45th/index.aspx
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Tech Jobs Still on Rise in the U.S.
Investor's Business Daily (04/02/08) Detar, James

The U.S. high-tech industry added a net of 92,400 jobs in 2007, a third less than the 139,000 in 2006, according to the annual Cyberstates report from the American Electronics Association. As a result, total U.S. high-tech employment rose to 5.9 million last year. Software services added 82,600 jobs, followed by 45,800 positions in engineering and tech services, but the manufacturing sector lost 29,800 jobs due to outsourcing to lower-cost regions abroad. Tech employment rose in 47 states with California leading the way with 21,400 jobs, followed by Texas, Virginia, New Jersey, and New Mexico. AeA, which used government data, also found that the average tech industry wage was 87 percent higher than the average private sector wage. "We added ... well-paying jobs with wage growth that is twice as fast as the private sector," says AeA's Matthew Kazmierczak. AeA expects job growth to slow this year due to the downturn in the economy. "It's a good news, bad news scenario, but mostly good news," says Insight 64 analyst Nathan Brookwood.
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Software Vendors, Manufacturers, Universities, and Labs Meet in HPC Applications Summit
NCSA News (04/02/2008) Bell, Bill

The Council on Competitiveness and the University of Southern California's Information Science Institute sponsored a high-performance computing application software summit that attracted more than 100 HPC experts from universities, manufacturers, and research laboratories. "Simulation-based engineering is fundamental to our nation's leadership--in manufacturing, medicine, security, energy," says ISI's Robert Graybill. "The community working on the software for simulation-based engineering is small and fragmented. The effort required to make the most of it is large and expensive." Council on Competitiveness vice president Suzy Tichenor says companies must increasingly run multidisciplinary and full life-cycle simulations to stay competitive in the global marketplace, but many companies cannot accomplish this with current application software. Panel discussions at the summit focused on the requirements that end users in research and development have for multiphysics software and problems surrounding pricing and licensing that software. Another discussion focused on how best to conceive a software framework for integrating codes that need to work together to run multiphysics models. The summit organizers plan to spend the next few months updating a concept paper prepared for the summit, defining the technical and business problems a consortium would address, exploring how the consortium would be organized, and securing interest from institutions.
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Matrix-Style Virtual Worlds 'a Few Years Away'
New Scientist (04/03/08) Barras, Colin

Brookhaven National Laboratory's Michael McGuigan says supercomputers are on the verge of being able to create virtual worlds that are realistic enough to pass a "Graphics Turing Test" in which a human judge viewing and interacting with an artificially generated world should be unable to reliably distinguish it from reality. McGuigan says the key to passing a Graphics Turing Test is to be able to combine photorealism with software that can render images in real time, which is defined as a refresh rate of 30 frames per second. McGuigan tested the ability of one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, the Blue Gene/L at Brookhaven National Laboratory, to generate realistic artificial worlds, focusing on the supercomputer's ability to mimic the interplay of light with objects. McGuigan found that conventional ray-tracing software could run 822 times faster on the Blue Gene/L than on a standard computer, allowing it to convincingly mimic natural lighting in real time. Although the Blue Gene/L is still too slow to render high-resolution images fast enough to pass the Graphics Turing Test, McGuigan believes that supercomputers capable of passing the test are only a few years away. Others believe that being able to pass the Graphics Turing Test involves more than just realistic graphics, and should involve being able to generate a real-time simulation that includes realistic simulated behavior.
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Software Tackles Production Line Machine 'Cyclic Jitters'
NIST Tech Beat (04/01/08) Blair, John

Engineers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed the EtherNet/Industrial Protocol Performance Test Tool, software that enables manufacturers to anticipate how individual machines will perform in the data communication system. Data from the software provides information that will allow vendors to better tune the performance of their equipment. Frequently, vendors use different documentation techniques to define the performance characteristics of network devices, which can make it difficult for manufacturers or plant engineers to compare the high-speed data transmission characteristics of similar devices. Determining how different performance characteristics relate often requires time-consuming searches through vendor manuals or contacting vendor company engineers. Standardized tests can determine how well devices conform to communication specifications, but until now manufacturers could never be sure how well a device would actually work under normal or abnormally heavy transmission conditions on the factory floor. The EtherNet/IP Performance Test Tool collects device information from the user, generates a set of test scripts based on that information, analyses performance data, and reports results to the user. The Open DeviceNet Vendor Association plans on using the test tool as part of a new performance laboratory service later this year.
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Hypercubes Could Be Building Blocks of Nanocomputers
PhysOrg.com (04/01/08) Zyga, Lisa

Multi-dimensional structures called hypercubes could serve as the building blocks in future nanocomputers. University of Oklahoma researchers Samuel Lee and Loyd Hook say tomorrow's nanoelectronic-based devices will be dominated by quantum properties that will require new architectures and structures. "Compared to today's microcomputers, the main advantages of future nanocomputers are higher circuit density, lower power consumption, faster computation speed, and more parallel and distributed computing capabilities," Lee says. For example, while current integrated circuits process information as a continual flow of electrons, nano-integrated circuits would process individual electrons. Lee and Hook are working on a variant of the hypercube called the M-hypercube, which could provide a higher-dimensional layout to support the three-dimensional integrated circuits needed for nanocomputers. M-hypercubes are composed of nodes, which act as gates that receive and pass electrons, and links that act as the paths that electrons travel along. "The unique structure of hypercubes, including M-hypercubes, has been shown to be effective in parallel computing and communication networks and provides a unique ideal intrinsic structure which fulfills many of the needs of future nanocomputing systems," Lee says. "These needs include massively parallel and distributed processing architecture with simple and robust communication linkages."
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European Union, NATO to Tackle Cybercrime
Associated Press (03/31/08)

Cybersecurity experts are meeting in Paris this week to discuss how governments should counter and prevent cybercrimes designed to cripple the Internet and cause data loss, theft, and fraud. Gilles de Kerchove, who coordinates anti-terror efforts for the European Union's 27 countries, says an attack that shuts down the Internet could significantly amplify a terror attack. Participants at the meeting also will discuss new guidelines for cooperation between police and investigators and Internet service providers. At the meeting the Council of Europe will review the implementation of the Convention of Cybercrime, the only legally binding international treaty to address online crime such as hacking and Internet fraud. University of Cologne computer law lecturer Marco Gercke says the challenges posed by cybercrime are different from conventional terror attacks because computers exchange data so quickly across international boarders. "Compared to regular terror attacks, it is much easier for the offenders to hide their identity," Gercke says. "There are at least 10 unique challenges that make it very difficult to fight computer-related crime." At a separate meeting in Romania, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit debated its guidelines for coordinating national cyber defense efforts.
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Map Reading for Dummies
ICT Results (04/02/08)

PReVENT is a European-based research initiative that aims to combine satellite navigation with in-car wireless communication systems, terrain scanning, and vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The project could result in a system that can track a driver's route, monitor the terrain and driving conditions, track upcoming bends and intersections, and warn drivers about hazards such as dips in the road and vehicles in the driver's blind spot. One PReVENT subproject, MAPS&ADAS, is developing safety-enhanced digital maps and a standard interface for an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS). MAPS&ADAS would inform drivers of upcoming hazards by scanning the maps for the "speed profile" of the road ahead, right-of-way patterns, and other information. MAPS&ADAS has not developed a full prototype because data transmissions between car components varies between manufacturers, but it has developed a standalone system that focuses on "Dynamic Pass Prediction," which is intended to aid in passing other cars and warn drivers of upcoming hazards. Manufacturers can adapt this system to work with their own models. Other PReVENT subprojects include LATERALSAFE, which uses sensors to scan the car's blind spot; SAFELANE, which ensures that drivers stay in the correct lane; and INTERSAFE, which helps drivers navigate intersections.
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Networks Promise 'Accident-Free' Cars
BBC News (04/01/08)

The application of embedded sensor networks to automobiles would enable vehicles to monitor each other's speed and position, dramatically reducing the risk of accidents. "I think that we may, in the future, go beyond just communication to using the network to interact with the environment," says University of Illinois Convergence Lab professor PR Kumar. "For example, cars on a highway may talk to each other and find out each others' speeds ... these cars could then cooperate with each other to avoid accidents." Embedded sensor networks represent a shift away from computer-based networks to sensors that communicate directly with each other. The next stage is an "actuator network" in which computers are able to act on the information they receive from the sensors, which could mean reducing speeds if slower traffic conditions are detected, for example. Kumar admits that numerous problems need to be solved before such a network can be implemented, including how the cars are controlled, whether it is through a centralized computer system or through cooperative collaboration between cars. There are also problems regarding the priorities of the networks and how they may conflict, as well as simply ensuring that cars do not crash. However, a typical car already has 60 to 70 microprocessor, "so we already have taken a step into this world of complexity," Kumar says.
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NICS Unleashes 'Kraken' Supercomputer
HPC Wire (04/04/08) Vol. 17, No. 14,

The National Institute for Computational Sciences' "Kraken" supercomputer is slated to come online in mid-summer, and will soon reach petascale capacity. Kraken, officially known as the Cray XT4, is designed specifically for sustained application performance, scalability, and reliability, and will include key components of the Cray Cascade system to prepare the user community for highly productive petascale science and engineering. The computer and NICS are the result of a $65 million National Science Foundation Track II award to the University of Tennessee and its partners to provide next-generation supercomputing for the U.S. science community. NICS project director Phil Andrews says the institute is looking for "large, tightly coupled applications" to exploit the new Cray-designed interconnect, and among the scientific fields that NICS will explore with the help of Kraken are climate, fusion energy, biology, lattice QCD, and astrophysics. Climate simulation is expected to be a particularly important field for research efforts aided by supercomputing systems, as climate change continues to assume an important position in both science and policy. Kraken will be fully connected to the NSF-supported TeraGrid supercomputer network. "Combined with the more traditional approaches of theory and experiment, scientific computation is a profound tool for insight and solution, as researchers move their problems for modeling and simulation from existing terascale systems to petascale systems later this year and onward to exascale [quintillion calculations per second] systems in the next decade," says UT's Thomas Zacharia.
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How PARC Sees Printers Boosting Clean Tech
CNet (04/02/08) Kanellos, Michael

The Palo Alto Research Center is examining ways of applying technology originally developed for copiers and printers to the clean-tech industry. For example, PARC scientists are working on a water purification system that uses rotational force to remove particles and microorganisms. The technology for this device came from previous research done for Xerox on how toner powder moves in waves when ejected above a charged surface. Another PARC project has developed a way to enable inkjet nozzles to print grid lines, the thin black strips in solar cells that transfer electricity from the silicon to a wire. Using inkjet technology, PARC can print grid lines as thin as 60 microns, which leads to a 6 percent improvement in relative efficiency in the experimental solar panels. In an ongoing project, PARC researchers are working to apply the adaptive control systems that manage the internal operations of printers and use them to control data centers. Instead of controlling the paper feed, the adaptive system could shut down a bank of servers to cool part of a data center. PARC is also working on a series of membranes that would convert carbon dioxide into fuel. Carbon dioxide from a power plan would be funneled through the membranes and mixed with hydrogen to make methane or another hydrocarbon.
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Total Recall: Storing Every Life Memory in a Surrogate Brain
Computerworld (04/02/08) Gaudin, Sharon

Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell is dedicated to his vision of a personal computer as a storage system for one's personal life record, so much so that he has been recording and storing information about every personal moment of his life--emails, phone conversations, pictures, etc.--on his laptop for nine years as part of the MyLifeBits project. Bell's goal is to create a repository where one's personal memories can be retrieved in astonishing detail, and since 2003 he has been wearing a SenseCam digital camera that automatically takes snapshots without user interaction so that a record of events is preserved as they happen. "This was built to be entirely personal, to aid the individual," Bell says. "You will leave a personal legacy--a record of your life." MyLifeBits software developed by Microsoft Research's Jim Gemmell and Roger Lueder records Web pages, IM transcripts, and radio and television programs through the use of hyperlinks, fast search, annotations, and saved queries. Bell figures that he could store a complete life record from beginning to end on a terabyte of storage. He projects that the digitization of memories will be routine within two decades.
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IT on the Campuses: What the Future Holds
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/04/08) Vol. 54, No. 30, P. B6

The future of IT on campus was the subject of a discussion between Catalyze Learning International President Mark David Milliron, Richard Garrett of Eduventures, and Richard A. DeMillo, dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing. DeMillo says IT velocity is currently being driven at Georgia Tech by the impulse to stay a step ahead of industry forces, and to that end the school has replaced its core curriculum with a curriculum called Threads that improves flexibility by offering 28 degrees instead of one degree. Milliron says that "some of the big conversations that people are really pushing, which is really encouraging to see, is that they are beginning to talk about ending the 'segregation'" of their facilities conversations and technology conversations. Garrett talks about the migration of online higher education from rhetoric to reality as demonstrated by its increasing popularity, but points out that "in terms of day-to-day application, actually having an online degree that actually embodied [the promise of online education]--I think that is still a horizon for innovation." Milliron says higher education lags far behind the online business model of companies such as Amazon, which combines data mining and predictive modeling to offer customers a better choice of purchases and services than universities, which have nowhere near the breadth of information at their disposal to help students in their experience. He adds that students must be taught to learn beyond technology and nurture their faculties for critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making, since they will be living in world where data about them will be widely exploited.
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When Markets Beat the Polls
Scientific American (03/08) Vol. 298, No. 3, P. 38; Stix, Gary

Internet-based financial markets appear to be better predictors of elections than polls, an example being the accuracy with which the Iowa Electronic Markets (IEM) have forecast the outcome of presidential elections from 1988 to 2004. Yet a fundamental comprehension of prediction markets' workings remains evasive, and economists are still struggling to devise theories to provide definitive answers. Developers of IEM and other prediction markets say a market, unlike a poll, takes a reading of whom people think will win the election rather than whom they will vote for and supplies a monetary incentive to make the best choice. The market also accepts anyone who wishes to trade, depends only on the fluctuation of prices, and represents the probability of a candidate winning or receiving a given portion of the vote on election day. A study of trading patterns undertaken by University of Iowa researchers uncovered a select group of "marginal traders" who would buy and sell actively when the share price was not properly valued, but the inability to identify specific qualities of this class of traders has caused some economists to doubt their existence. Even with the debate raging and no resolution in sight, IEM has inspired the development of other prediction markets that trade on virtually any conceivable event, while such markets are being increasingly embraced by both the public and private sector as decision-making aids. "Prediction markets will never replace traditional surveillance systems, but they may provide an efficient and relatively inexpensive source of information to supplement existing disease surveillance systems," says University of Iowa professor Philip M. Polgreen.
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