Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
April 7, 2008

Learn about ACM's 2,500 online courses and 1,100 online books
MemberNet
CareerNews
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the April 7, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

ACM/CSTA Says AP CS Is Not Being Eliminated
ACM (04/07/08) Gold, Virginia

ACM and the Computer Science Teachers Association are clarifying that AP Computer Science will remain as a choice for students. While a Washington Post article on Friday, April 4, reported that several AP courses-- including the computer science AB course--were being eliminated by the College Board, a second and more popular AP Computer Science course will not be affected. The College Board is eliminating only the less popular course known as AP Computer Science AB. The College Board also announced they will continue to work closely with the CS community to redefine AP Computer Science. An email message sent to teachers from the College Board stated, "Appropriate College Board committees will focus their efforts on improving and supporting the AP Computer Science A program, which will be enhanced during the next five years to better represent a full-year, entry-level college computer science sequence. Our intensified commitment to AP Computer Science A will ensure that the course provides the best possible college-level academic experience and is supported by an increased array of curricular resources and professional development opportunities that will benefit AP Computer Science teachers." For more information, see http://usacm.acm.org/usacm/weblog/index.php?p=593
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Chip Industry Confronts 'Software Gap' Between Multicore, Programming
EE Times (04/03/08) Merritt, Rick

The chip industry has just begun to deal with a perceived software gap between multicore processors and a dearth of parallel programming tools and programming methods, as evidenced at the recent Multicore Expo where a number of chipmakers discussed their multicore product plans while others cautioned that software designed to exploit these new chips has a long way to go. A survey of embedded system developers by Venture Development Corp. finds that about 55 percent are using or plan to use multicore chips in the next year, while Intel's Doug Davis says the volume of shipped Intel processors that use multiple cores will rise from around 40 percent in 2007 to 95 percent in 2011. On the other hand, vendors polled by the VDC survey said only about 6 percent of their tools were enabled for parallel chips last year, and this figure will only climb to 40 percent in three years. RapidMind chief scientist Michael McCool expressed a need for a new programming model to help developers achieve a better understanding of how to optimize their applications for parallel chips, and this model would have to offer a maximum degree of automation while delivering override options and drill-down mechanisms to users. At the Expo, the Multicore Association revealed that it has concluded work on an applications programming interface for inter-core communications, and is currently focused on the definition of an embedded virtualization standard. However, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Wen-mei Hwu warned against the creation of a new computer language to better serve parallel chips, arguing that "if you really want to have a million people do something, don't ask them to speak Latin," and stating his preference for an evolutionary approach.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


US Reveals Plans to Hit Back at Cyber Threats
ZDNet (04/02/08)

The U.S. Air Force Cyber Command (AFCYBER) is just as focused on being able to attack through the Internet as it is on defending U.S. cyber infrastructure. A senior U.S. general says AFCYBER is developing capabilities to inflict denial of service, confidential data loss, data manipulation, and system integrity loss on its enemies. These cyberattacks could be combined with physical attacks. U.S. Eighth Air Force Lieutenant general Robert J. Elder Jr. says offensive cyberattacks in network warfare make kinetic attacks more effective. "Cyber gives us a huge advantage but adversaries look at our capabilities and see areas they can undermine," he says. "We need to protect our asymmetric advantage--on the one hand by having people further exploit cyber, and on the other by having mission assurance." The problem is made more important by the military's reliance on the public Internet. The U.S. military infrastructure runs through the public Internet system to both launch and defend against attacks, and military networks such as the Global Information Grid are linked to U.S. government and critical national infrastructure systems, which are linked to the public Internet. Adversary systems are subverted through public channels by the U.S. military, but it also leaves the military open to attack through the same channels, Elder says. Other concerns for the military include the possibility of supply-chain vulnerabilities, where holes are introduced into chipsets during manufacturing that an adversary could later exploit, as well as within electronics. Elder says AFCYBER also needs to develop the ability to quickly pinpoint where an attack is coming from and be able to retaliate, and to deter potential attackers.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Security Pros Launch Open-Source CERT
eWeek (04/03/08) Naraine, Ryan

With backing from Google, security consulting firm Inverse Path, and the Open Source Lab at Oregon State University, a group of computer security professionals created the Open Source Computer Emergency Response Team (oCERT), a new organization designed to be the go-to place for security incident response when an open-source project has been affected. OCERT will include Tavis Ormandy and Will Drewry from the Google Security Team, Andrea Barisani and Rob Holland from Inverse Path, and Marcel Holtmann from Intel. In addition, active open-source distributions or projects with a good record of being responsive to dealing with security-related problems will be asked to join and actively participate in the oCERT effort. The team and its backers will work to manage advance vulnerability warnings, coordinate the patch release notification process, and punish vendors that delay offering security fixes. In addition, oCERT will provide security vulnerability mediation for the security community, and maintain reliable security contacts between registered projects and vulnerability researchers that need to get in touch with a certain project about infrastructure security issues. Barisani says oCERT hopes to reduce the impact of a security incident on smaller projects that have some or no infrastructure security.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Usability or User Experience--What's the Difference?
E-Consultancy (04/02/08) Stewart, Tom

User experience is often contrasted to usability, with the latter frequently being defined as a system's ease of use while the former is considered a blanket term for the relationship between people and technology, writes Tom Stewart, chair of the ISO subcommittee responsible for the International Standard for Human Centered Design. He says ISO's definition of usability is much closer to the concept of user experience as encompassing issues that include usefulness, desirability, credibility, and accessibility, and the new version of ISO 13407 will employ the term user experience. "In the revised standard we define [user experience] as 'all aspects of the user's experience when interacting with the product, service, environment or facility' and we point out that 'it is a consequence of the presentation, functionality, system performance, interactive behavior, and assistive capabilities of the interactive system," Stewart says. He hopes that incorporating the user experience within the human-centered design process will avoid marginalization and turn user experience into a primary business motivator for a wide array of systems. "Whatever we call it, getting the relationship between people and technology right is critical to a project's success and the intelligent application of a structured, people-centered approach to design can only be a step in the right direction," Stewart says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computer System Consistently Makes Most Accurate NCAA Picks
Georgia Institute of Technology (04/03/08)

Georgia Institute of Technology professors have developed Logistic Regression Markov Chain (LRMC), a computer ranking system that consistently predicts NCAA basketball rankings more accurately than other available methods. LRMC correctly picked all four of this year's finalists, and has correctly identified 30 of the last 36 Final Four participants. Over the same nine-year stretch, the NCAA seedings and various polls correctly identified only 23 teams, and the Ratings Percentage Index identified 21 teams. LRMC was originally designed by Joel Sokol and Paul Kvam, and has been maintained and improved by Sokol and George Nemhauser. The system uses only basic scoreboard data, including teams played, which team had home court advantage, and the margin of victory, as well as information such as the quality of each team's results and the strength of each team's schedule. In addition to choosing the Final Four, LRMC also correctly identified several over-rated and under-rated teams as potential upsets. When determining the value of home court advantage, LRMC considers how much playing at home helps a team win, instead of how many points home court is worth. The researchers also have been able to show that very close games are often "toss-ups," in which the better team barely wins more than half of the time, so winning a close game should not be worth as much as winning easily, and loosing a close game should not hurt a team's rankings as much as losing in a blowout.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


IBM Develops Natural Disaster 'Magic Potion'
VNUNet (04/02/08) Dixon, Guy

IBM says its algorithms for modeling and managing natural disasters are a "magic potion" for allocating resources effectively during wildfires, floods, famines, or diseases. Mathematicians at IBM developed the algorithms, which are capable of determining the quickest way to provide relief, uncovering fraud in health insurance claims, automating complex risk decisions for international financial institutions, and detecting patterns in medical data for new insights and breakthroughs. "The challenge lies in matching high-end mathematical programming technologies with high-impact business and societal problems, while using open platforms and standards," says Dr. Daniel Dias, director of the IBM India research laboratory. IBM Global Business Services teamed up with scientists in India and the United States to develop the algorithms. "We are creating a set of intellectual properties and software assets that can be employed to gauge and improve levels of preparedness to tackle unforeseen natural disasters," says Dr. Gyana Parija, senior researcher and optimization expert at IBM's India Research Laboratory in New Delhi.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


A Lab With Big Ideas
Diamondback (04/04/08) Yu, Chris

Maryland University's Human-Computer Interaction Lab is responsible for many devices used everyday by consumers, including a feature found on iPods and embedded hyperlinks. Professor Ben Shneiderman says the goal of the lab is to make technology easier to learn and more accessible to people. One of the major contributions HCIL has made is the lift-off touch screen found on the iPod Touch and iPhone, which lets people make selections on the device only after their finger lifts off the screen, enabling them to make adjustments if they touch the wrong button. HCIL was also the first to develop embedded hyperlinks, which highlight words within the text of a Web page so users know that word is a link that will lead to another page. A major focus of the lab is to develop technology that will help children learn. To accomplish this, HCIL created the International Children's Digital Library, the largest online library for children's books in the world. The library's interface is based on what kids say they want, and many of the technologies used in the library are designed by children through brainstorming sessions. The lab also is working with physicians at Washington Hospital Center to develop a tool that will allow doctors to search patient records more easily.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Linux Kernel Community Grows, But Elite Group Remains
IDG News Service (04/01/08) Kanaracus, Chris

A new report from the Linux Foundation shows that roughly 3,700 developers from more than 200 companies and organizations have contributed to the kernel since 2005. During the past three years, the top 10 individual developers have contributed almost 15 percent of the changes to the kernel, and the top 30 developers have submitted 30 percent of the changes, according to the report. The top developer, Al Viro, has contributed 1,571 changes to the kernel, more than any other individual developer. The report also shows the widespread penetration of Linux in enterprise computing. Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin says the report is necessary given the lingering public perceptions of Linux. "I do think there continues to be groups of people out there who perceive open source and Linux as some kind of random hobbyist movement," Zemlin says. "It's amazing that after Linux is running the New York Stock Exchange, that people would still doubt it's ready for prime time." Kernel contributors are divided into three categories--developers performing work on their own time with no financial contributions coming from a company, developers for whom a corporate affiliation could not be found, and developers tied to companies and foundations. Zemlin believes corporate contributions will increase as new products come to market. Nevertheless, he says the kernel is not in danger of being taken over by corporate interests.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The AI Chasers
Futurist (04/08) Vol. 42, No. 2, P. 14; Tucker, Patrick

Artificial general intelligence (AGI) remains an elusive goal after over 50 years of research, since the semantic and philosophical problems that have impeded progress toward AGI are as challenging as ever despite the resolution of many technical problems, writes the World Future Society's Patrick Tucker. Adaptive A.I. founder Peter Voss outlines two paths for AGI creation--the continued tinkering of mundane computer programs to improve their sophistication or the specific engineering of an AGI system--that form the core of the philosophical schism in the AI research community. Many researchers say the first step on the road toward a thinking machine is the development of a learning machine, while Google's Peter Norvig says compelling humanistic thought from a learning system involves teaching that system to understand language. Powerset CEO Barney Pell projects that within the next five years people will be able to interact with search engines using straight questions rather than keywords, while AI will eventually become so common that people will regard it as practically a household utility. Meanwhile, Novamente founder Ben Goertzel is convinced that the development of AGI will be sparked by the advancement of AI in virtual worlds and online games, and many AI watchers believe that the growing volume of knowledge posted on the Web and the development of AI systems to handle that knowledge will combine to yield systems capable of humanistic behavior and information processing. Many researchers dismiss the notion of AI systems eventually running amok and waging war against humanity, although Self-Aware Systems founder Stephen Omohundro warns of the possibility of "an AI that takes off on is own momentum, on some very narrow task, and, in the process, squeezes out much of what we care most about as humans." Another speculative scenario is that AI advances to such a degree that a great deal of mankind's accumulated skills and knowledge becomes superfluous to daily life.
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link to Publication Homepage
to the top


Engineers Make First 'Active Matrix' Display Using Nanowires
Purdue University News (03/31/08)

Purdue University engineers say they have developed an active-matrix display using transparent transistors and circuits that could lead to electronic paper, flexible color monitors, and "heads-up" displays in car windshields. The transparent transistors are made of nanowires as small as 20 nanometers, which are used to create an organic light-emitting-diode (OLED) display. The nanowires formed the basis of a proof-of-concept active-matrix display, which is able to precisely direct the flow of electricity to produce video because each pixel has its own control circuitry. OLEDs are currently used in cell phones, MP3 displays, and prototype TVs, but it is difficult to make them small enough for use in high-resolution displays. Northwestern professor Tobin J. Marks says nanowire-transistor electronics could solve that problem because the fabrication method used in the active-matrix display is scalable. Unlike CMOS chips, nanowire thin-film transistors could be produced inexpensively under low temperatures, making them suitable for use with flexible plastics that would melt at high temperatures. Liquid-crystal displays use a backlight to light the screen, with the pixels acting as filters to create colors and images. However, OLEDs emit light directly, which eliminates the need to backlight the screen and could lead to more vivid, flexible, and thinner screens. The displays also are transparent, and until the pixels are activated the display area looks like lightly tinted glass.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Conversations: Jon Bentley
Dr. Dobb's Journal (03/31/08) Blake, Deirdre

Avaya Labs research scientist Jon Bentley is currently working on a mathematical theory of authentication that can quantify the assurance of security secrets. Bentley says that his 1976 Ph.D. thesis included a section in which he attempted to describe the process of designing an algorithm, and that he believes his approach has stood the test of time. "The principles include generalizing, using high-level and abstract description of algorithms, examining degenerate cases, and employing standard speed-up tricks," says Bentley. Before getting immersed in the details of designing an algorithm, Bentley says, the most important step is to find out what the real problem is. Bentley says that sometimes algorithm design and algorithm analysis proceed hand-in-hand, such as when students design an algorithm so that it can be analyzed. The purpose of algorithm design is to develop a good algorithm, while the purpose of algorithm analysis is to understand how good an algorithm is. "Sometimes, though, people design algorithms and report that they are fast without analyzing their runtime," he says. "What a delightful challenge for an algorithm analyst! I've walked both sides of that street. My most frequently cited paper was for the 1975 ACM Undergraduate Student Paper competition; it introduced multidimensional binary search trees, which Don Knuth called 'k-d trees.' I described an algorithm for nearest-neighbor searching, but I couldn't even begin to analyze it. Many folks have made great progress on the analysis since then." He says programming is subtle, that we must learn to be "humble programmers," and that there are lot of tools available, including precise specifications, formal methods, and extensive tests. Bentley adds, however, that one of the best tools is the eyes of really smart friends.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


IT Job Security Plummets Five Times Faster Than Nationwide Average
Network World (04/02/08) Brodkin, Jon

Job security for IT professionals dropped more than 10 percent from January to February of this year, greatly surpassing the average job security declines seen nationwide, according to the ScoreLogix Job Security Index. IT Job security fell 10.2 percent in February, the eighth decline in 13 months and the largest drop in over a year, while job security nationwide for all industries fell only 1.9 percent. "This reduced demand for IT jobs, which has lowered job security level in the IT sector, can be attributed to outsourcing, offshoring, and relocation of production to cheaper, foreign locations," say ScoreLogix analysts in a report. "In addition, companies have reduced their investment in IT infrastructure because of lack of compelling, technologically superior upgrades--since existing infrastructure works just fine. Besides, the economy is weak and offers every incentive to cut costs and scale back non-essential, avoidable investments in technology related products and services." ScoreLogix founder and CEO Suresh Annappindi says the chances of an IT professional losing his or her job seem to have flatlined and probably will not increase or decrease significantly anytime soon, though the IT sector is performing much worse than the overall national economy. Cisco security expert Jamey Heary says that IT job cuts could have impacts well beyond the personal suffering of the employees, and that economic recession and related budget cuts in IT security could leave companies vulnerable to cyberattacks.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Merging Man and Machine to Reach the Stars
Space.com (03/28/08) Hsu, Jeremy

Robotic space missions have emerged as a cheaper and less risky alternative to manned missions, but former NASA historian Roger Launius says that "the lack of a compelling story associated with robotic spaceflight means that side of the equation has not been developed as well as the human side." Launius has co-authored a book with American University professor Howard McCurdy which makes the argument that humans and robots are mutually dependent on each other to succeed in space exploration. They say proponents of manned spaceflight have a legitimate reason to get humans off the earth--to ensure the species' survival though interplanetary colonization--but they must make this motivation plain. Using survival as the primary rationale for funding space missions is a tough sell, while Dittmar Associates CEO Mary Lynne Dittmar notes that "young people seem to be able to relate much more easily to robotic missions, and therefore get more excited about them." Interstellar voyages are beyond the current physical capabilities of both robots and humans, and Launius thinks merging man and machine into cyborgs is one possible solution.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Soccer Robots Compete for the Title
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (03/28/08)

The "RoboCup German Open" will take place April 21-25, 2008, in Hall 25 at the Hannover Messe. Organized by the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS) in Sankt Augustin, RoboCup will bring together more than 80 teams of researchers from more than 15 countries to pit their robots against each other. RoboCup will offer a soccer tournament broken down into nine leagues, such as for robots on wheels, on four mechanical paws, or two legs. The completely independent robots will feature cameras and sensors for scanning the ball, other robots, and the pitch; internal processors for converting data into game tactics such as defense strategies; and innovative engines for powering them across the field and faking out opponents. "Just like real players, they fall down and get up again, go after the ball autonomously and score goals," says Dr. Ansgar Bredenfeld, who is in charge of the RoboCup at IAIS. In addition to the soccer games, RoboCup will offer a "RoboCup(at)Home" category in which service robots compete on performing domestic tasks. Also offered will be a "RoboCup-Rescue" category in which rescue robots complete an obstacle course; a RoboDance in which robots participate in a dancing competition; and a competition for people under 20 years of age. "Many components that were originally designed for robot soccer have since made their way into other applications, for instance in localization technology for inspection robots," says professor Stefan Wrobel, executive director of IAIS.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


A Library Visit in 3D
ETH Life (03/20/08) Cosby, Renata

A group of students at ETH Zurich's Information Systems Lab used the Second Life virtual environment to study and tackle a number of problems typical of library book-lending by visualizing an automated library that employs radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. The virtual library featured a checkout counter, a help desk, detection gates, a self check-in area, and a female avatar, while books were equipped with RFID tags and RFID readers were placed at various locations. The Smart RFLib System boasts a three-tiered architecture consisting of data acquisition, query processing, and visualization. In the acquisition tier, RFID readers and antennas capture data about tagged books and people with tagged library cards, and this data is cleaned and compressed according to a time period or an event; the query processing tier analyzes the collected data, spots key events such as theft, and prompts the proper action or alert, updating the database; the visualization layer triggered by the database update delivers a 3D model of the results to the viewer. To ease the compression of the immense volumes of data acquired by RFID tag readers, the project group devised a pair of techniques--regular responses sent back by book-tags or data that is harvested only when a tag captures new information. The standard client-server architecture for Second Life spots changes in the status or position of objects from within, but Second Life cannot monitor all the information about library books, people, or policies that one would wish to keep tabs on. The ETH Zurich students had to develop an additional Web interface as a complement to their Second Life visualizer that allowed virtual visitors to make their own inquiries about books, check their current status as borrowers, and watchdog the system in real time.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To be removed from future issues of TechNews, please submit your email address where you are receiving Technews alerts, at:
http://optout.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

To re-subscribe in the future, enter your email address at:
http://signup.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

As an alternative, log in at myacm.acm.org with your ACM Web Account username and password, and follow the "Listservs" link to unsubscribe or to change the email where we should send future issues.

to the top

News Abstracts © 2008 Information, Inc.


© 2008 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.