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April 18, 2008

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Welcome to the April 18, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Net Neutrality Hearing Hits Silicon Valley
Washington Post (04/18/08) P. D2; Kang, Cecilla

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday heard testimony from legal scholars, Web startups, the Christian Coalition, and the Songwriters Guild of America during a debate on the impact Web regulation would have on high-tech innovations and investments, copyright protection, and freedom of speech. The primary issue is whether the Internet needs rules to mandate that it remain open and unaltered by network operators. Supporters of openness say allowing phone and cable companies to restrict content could unfairly limit consumers. However, allowing network controls could prevent the illegal sharing of copyright material online. None of the nation's largest service providers attended the hearing despite requests by the FCC. FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin urged the commission to evaluate the issue in the narrower context of specific attempts to limit access, but the Silicon Valley panelists took a broader view of net neutrality and how such policies could affect consumers. Some expressed concerns that venture capitalists may invest less if they feel the Internet will be controlled by the government and corporations, while others said that industry proposals do not go far enough to protect consumer interests.
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Paper Ballot Technology Drive Downshifts as House Nixes Funding to Replace E-Voting Machines
Government Computer News (04/16/08) Dizard III, Wilson P.

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted against a bill that would have provided funding to help states replace their electronic voting machines with paper ballots. The White House and some Republican leaders expressed concern about the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008 because of its cost. The bill would have reimbursed states that convert back to paper-based voting systems this year, and covered the cost of recounting paper ballots to verify elections. "I'd like to ask the opponents how much spending is too much to have verifiable elections in the United States," says Rep. Rush Holt (D-Ohio), the chief sponsor of the legislation. Some states have already gotten rid of their high-tech direct recording electronic (DRE) voting terminals due to the rising number of reports about their flawed software.
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Reality TV, Web 2.0 and Mediated Identities
University at Buffalo Reporter (04/17/08) Vol. 39, No. 29, Donovan, Patricia

A study by University at Buffalo researchers examining television viewing and communication patterns among young adults has found a relationship between television viewing and "promiscuous friending" on popular social networking sites. The researchers link this behavior to ordinary people copying the behavior exhibited by reality TV celebrities. Researchers say such people are creating "mediated social selves" that are intended to be identities created for, presented on, and "known" through the media. The study says that heavy reality television (RTV) viewers spend more time on sites such as Facebook, have larger social networks, share more photos, and are more likely to become online "friends" with people they have no off-line relationship with, a practice known as promiscuous friending. The study suggests an erosion of the distinction between the everyday world and the celebrity world in which ordinary people claim intimacy with the completely mediated identities of celebrities through celebrity social network profiles. Heavy RTV viewers also produce a larger number of mediated selves and have a greater intimacy toward, and an urge to interact with, the mediated social image of others. The study used social cognitive theory as the theoretical foundation for a survey of 456 young adults. The researchers analyzed the amount of time subjects say they spent every day watching RTV, news, fiction, and educational programming, and the amount of time they were logged online daily, the size of their online social networks, the percentage of their online friends they had met face to face, and the number of photos they shared online. The study will be published in the proceedings of the 2008 ACM Conference on Hypertext and Hypermedia, which takes place June 19-21 in Pittsburgh.
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25 Radical Network Research Projects You Should Know About
Network World (04/16/08)

There are many interesting network research projects of note that could lead to significant breakthroughs in all kinds of areas, including a Defense Department-funded initiative to create faster computers that consume less power and are less costly to build through the development of a hybrid material that blends computer memory functions usually carried out by magnetic components and computer logic operations typically executed by semiconductor components. A joint project between Penn State University and Australia's Queensland University of Technology has yielded an algorithm that can classify Web searches as informational, navigational, or transactional, while Israeli researchers have furnished a topographical map of the Internet using a program that tracks interactions between Internet nodes. Air Force Institute of Technology researchers are engaged in a project to spot and halt insider security threats and industrial espionage using data mining and social networking methods, and the University of Arizona's federally funded Dark Web project seeks to track and analyze the activities of terrorists and extremists using the Internet to spread propaganda, enlist members, and orchestrate attacks using a combination of spidering, multimedia analysis, link analysis, and other techniques. Easing the development and use of Web applications is the goal of the Fluid Project, an effort by the University of Toronto, the University of California, Berkeley, and others to build a software architecture and reusable components. A model for measuring visual clutter has been created by MIT researchers, while Penn State researchers say image searching could be greatly enhanced via software that tags images upon uploading to Yahoo's Flickr or other photo systems and also automatically updates the tags according to people's interaction with the photos. Voice-based Web navigation is the goal underlying University of Washington researchers' design of "Vocal Joystick" software that uses sounds and voice volume to execute tasks, and the National Science Foundation is underwriting research to make computers sensitive and responsive to users' emotional states.
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Problem-Solvers of the World Unite in Banff
Business Edge (04/18/08) Vol. 8, No. 8, Keenan, Tom

At the 32nd annual ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) in Banff, Canada, 300 of the world's top IT students gathered to solve some extreme challenges. In addition to the competition, students heard speeches from event sponsor IBM on how technology will help society, with advancements such as instant language translation and improving mass transit systems. The challenges ranged from trying to measure a city's skyline to trapping someone in underground tunnels. "These scenarios--that you're a SuperSpy and there's a villain trapped in a labyrinth--disguise some very real problems," says IBM Lotus division director of strategy Doug Heintzman. "What we're looking for is how people think through problems, how they divine the most efficient ways to find the answer to a particular problem." Kevin Waugh, from the University of Alberta, this year's host of the competition, says teams do not really work together in terms of solving a problem, but there is resource allocation, which frequently falls apart before people start working together again in the last hour of the competition. Heintzman says the challenge organizers face is to find enough problems of varying complexity to fit into a five-hour period that will allow the best team to distinguish themselves. However, he says "the real problems ... are how do we solve global warming or reduce the impact of a certain pandemic." For more information about ICPC, https://cm2prod.baylor.edu/login.jsf
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UW to Lead $6.25 Million Project Creating Electronic Sherlock Holmes
UW News (04/16/08) Hickey, Hannah

The University of Washington will lead the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, a seven-university research effort intended to improve computers' ability to interpret data and predict the behavior of complex systems. The Defense Department is backing the five-year initiative with a $6.25 million grant. "A complex monitoring system has far too many pieces of information for any one person to look at," says UW computer science professor and principal investigator Pedro Domingos. "This award lets us do the research to develop a system for the military to look at all the available information that might be valuable and use it to predict behavior." The new system will use the power of reasoning much like Sherlock Holmes. The military has millions of possible clues, including sensors on soldiers, satellite maps, road monitors, unmanned aerial drones, and reports from reconnaissance missions. The system will use this information to make decisions and predict an adversary's next move. Domingos says existing systems only look at a single type of sensor data, but more complex situations require going to a higher level and integrating different types of information. For example, a computer could combine X-rays, photographs, test results, and patient information to make a tentative diagnosis automatically. The diagnosis could also be based on information from sensors that track a patient's movements and heart rate for weeks at a time.
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ISPs Meddled With Their Customers' Web Traffic
InfoWorld (04/16/08) McMillan, Robert

Researchers at the University of Washington and the International Computer Science Institute say that about one percent of the Web pages being delivered on the Internet are being changed in transit, a practice that can introduce security vulnerabilities. In July and August, the researchers tested data sent to about 50,000 computers and found that a few Internet service providers injected ads into Web pages on their networks. The researchers also found that some Web browsing and ad-blocking software was making Web surfing more dangerous by introducing security vulnerabilities into Web pages. To obtain their data, the researchers wrote software that would test if someone visiting a test page on the University of Washington's Web site was viewing HTML data that had been altered in transit. In 16 incidents ads were inserted into the Web page by the visitor's ISP. The research also found that pages were sometimes changed by popup blockers within security products, and that some products inserted vulnerabilities into the pages they processed. The research will be presented this week at the Usenix Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation in San Francisco. "One of the next steps for the community is to create better and stronger mechanisms for understanding what is happening," says UW professor Tadayoshi Kohno. "The Web is still very young and we just don't know what's going to happen next."
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Chronopolis Project Launched Under Library of Congress Partnership to Preserve At-Risk Digital Information
UCSD News (04/14/08) Zverina, Jan

The Library of Congress' Chronopolis Digital Preservation Demonstration Project is a digital preservation data grid framework being developed by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego, the UC San Diego Libraries, the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado (NCAR), and the University of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS). A key goal of the project is to provide cross-domain collection sharing for long-term preservation. The partnership is intended to leverage the data storage capabilities at SDSC, NCAR, and UMIACS using existing high-speed educational and research networks and mass-scale storage infrastructure investments to provide a preservation data grid that emphasizes heterogeneous and highly redundant storage systems. "Chronopolis is part of a new breed of distributed digital preservation programs," says UCSD librarian and principal investigator on the project Brian E.C. Schottlaender. "We are using a virtual organizational structure in order to assemble the best expertise and framework to provide data longevity, durability, and access well into the next century." The partnership calls for each Chronopolis member to operate a grid node containing at least 50 TB of storage capacity for digital collections related to the Library of Congress' National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.
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Security From Chaos
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (04/16/08) Cleere, Gail

The Assistant for Randomized Monitoring Over Routes (ARMOR), a Department of Homeland Security-sponsored project at the University of Southern California, is improving security at LAX airport in Los Angeles by predicting risk. The USC researchers have developed a computer model that tells police where to go to conduct random checks based on calculated probabilities of a terrorist attack at specific locations. The software records the locations of routine, random vehicle checkpoints and canine searches at the airport. Police then provide data on possible terrorist targets, their relative importance, and any changing data such as security breaches or suspicious activity. The software then produces random decisions, creating security patterns that are difficult to predict. "What the airport was doing before was not truly statistically random; it was simply mixing things up," says computer science professor Milind Tambe at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), a DHS Center of Excellence at USC. "What they have now is systematized, true randomization." CREATE works with government agencies and researchers to evaluate the risk, cost, and consequences of terrorism, helping policy makers set priorities to find the best ways to counter threats and prevent attacks. Tambe says humans cannot create purely random systems for an extended period of time, as they will eventually make decisions based on prior decisions and experiences. ARMOR recently completed a six-month trial, and airport officials have given the university approval to transfer the software to LAX on a more permanent basis.
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Predicting Stress
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (04/17/08) Randerson, James

University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Vadim Shapiro and his colleagues have developed Scan and Solve, software that can determine the stress on an object based only on its shape, which could help experts preserve pieces of artwork or help treat people's physical problems. The software was used on Michelangelo's David and determined the statue was under a significant amount of stress, particularly around its left thigh, right shin, and ankles. Scan and Solve's conclusions match the real cracks that have started to appear in the marble sculpture. The program could help archivists predict what areas of an ancient artifact may need to be reinforced to prevent damage, even if the statue has not yet shown any signs of stress or damage. "Understanding structural properties of historical and cultural artifacts through computer simulations is often crucial to their preservation," Shapiro says. The software converts a 3D map of an object into a map of the stresses and strains it will experience when subject to certain forces. Although the concept is not new, Shapiro's software simplifies the process and eliminates a series of difficult, error-prone calculations. Traditional computer simulations use a finite element analysis, which breaks the object into a 3D mesh of tiny pieces that approximate the shape. Shapiro's approach runs the analysis directly on the 3D shape data. Shapiro says the technique could also be used on scans of living bones in patients, for example by suggesting the best shape for hip bone replacements.
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Ad Hoc Encyclopaedia for the Information Age
ICT Results (04/14/08)

The goal of the Diligent project is to tackle the processing challenges posed by the enormous volume of raw data that virtual digital libraries (VDLs) must contend with through the creation of a testbed to prove the viability of VDL infrastructure on grid-enabled technology. A grid-supported VDL would permit massive online data repositories to be generated from distributed computing sources, but Diligent has also established a system that blends digital libraries with grid computing to deliver storage, content retrieval and access services, and shared data processing capabilities. Diligent created an infrastructure through the development of the g-Cube system, along with a pair of VDLs to validate the infrastructure's functionality. One VDL was concentrated in the Earth Observation community, while the other was centered in the Cultural Heritage community. Through the Diligent system, scientists, engineers, policy-makers, NGOs, and other experts or stakeholders will be able to team up on an ad hoc basis to think about and exchange applicable information around specific problems. "The system needs to be optimized to improve its quality of service," says Diligent scientific coordinator Donatella Castelli. "We need to develop a production infrastructure and deal with issues like real infrastructure policies."
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'I'm Listening' - Conversations With Computers
Queen's University Belfast (04/16/08) Mitchell, Lisa

The European Commission-funded SEMAINE project is working to develop the Sensitive Artificial Listener (SAL), a system that will be able to talk with humans by reacting to signals such as tone of voice and facial expressions. SAL will be able to adapt its own performance and pursue different actions based on the non-verbal behavior of the user. SEMAINE is led by DFKI, a German center for research on artificial intelligence, and its partner universities, including Queen's University Belfast, Imperial College London, the University of Paris VIII, the University of Twente in Holland, and the Technical University of Munich. Queen's University Belfast professor Roddy Cowie says when people communicate there is an undercurrent of signals that show each other what interests them and what bores them. He says computers cannot do that, which is one of the main reasons communicating with them is so unlike communicating with a human and is so frustrating. The SEMAINE project furthers the research developed by Cowie's HUAINE (Human-Machine Interaction Network on Emotion) project, which developed interfaces for communicating with computers more naturally. "Today when we use technology we adopt a style of communication that suits the machine," Cowie says. "Through projects like HUMAINE, SEMAINE, and others linked to them, we will develop technology that will eventually communicate in ways that suit human beings."
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Blind Users Still Struggle With 'Maddening' Computing Obstacles
Computerworld (04/16/08) Wood, Lamont

For the blind and visually impaired, the world of computers was not designed for them, but when the technology works they have access to more information than anything previously available to them. Blind computer users primarily rely on screen reader software, which describes the activity on the screen and reads the text in various windows, says consultant Gayle Yarnell, who is blind. There are freeware screen readers, and screen readers often come with operating systems such as Windows XP and Vista, but they are generally not powerful enough for serious use. A screen reader's output can generally be sent to computer speakers as a synthesized voice or to a Braille display. Yarnell says Braille displays are better than speech for editing because individual characters can be isolated, and they are a requirement for the deaf-blind. Knowing what the screen is saying is only the beginning, because the user must then issue commands using keyboard shortcuts, which involves a lot of memorization. Microsoft at one point tried to make sure there was a keystroke for every possible action in Windows, but in Vista that usability started to disappear, largely because the effect of a keystroke in Vista depends on the situation about a third of the time. However, Vista does offer some very useful tools, including a Start function that begins with a search field, allowing users to type in the name of an application, command, or document instead of searching for it. Finding ways for screen readers to process new display technologies, particularly on the Web, is a constant struggle, as different standards create new difficulties. Screen readers also often do not work with in-house applications, which can cause many otherwise qualified blind job applicants to be unable to perform necessary tasks.
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Google's KML Format Approved as Open Standard
InformationWeek (04/14/08) Claburn, Thomas

The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) has approved the Keyhole Markup Language (KML) as an international standard and will take responsibility for maintaining and extending it. The approval comes after Google's decision to transfer ownership of KML to the international standards body. "We believe that this is a major step forward for the OGC and for the entire geographic information community, as it provides the first broadly accepted standard for the visualization of geographic information," says Galdos Systems CEO Ron Lake. Google uses the file format in Google Earth and Google Maps. KML provides an XML schema for displaying and describing geographic data in two or three dimensions. Microsoft started using KML in its Virtual Earth geospatial application last October. The OGC includes 345 companies, government agencies, and academic organizations from around the world with an interest in geographic data standards, including NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
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Ensuring Security for Cognitive Radio Networks Goal of CAREER Award Research
EurekAlert (04/15/08) Crumbley, Liz

Virginia Tech researcher Jung-Min Park has received a $430,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program Award to investigate improving the security of cognitive radio technology. Park says that cognitive radio technology could one day be used for two-way communications between tactical military forces or emergency responders. However, the advantages gained by cognitive radio technology are countered by new security threats. "In a civilian cognitive radio network, the motive of a malicious user might be to simply cause mayhem to other users or to receive notoriety," Park says. In a military setting, hostile forces may try to disrupt or disable a network to interfere with communications and gain a tactical advantage. Park plans to conduct an in-depth investigation of critical security issues in cognitive radio systems and networks. The research will include investigations into cooperative spectrum sensing, which occurs when multiple cognitive radio devices collaborate to identify unused radio spectrum bands; on-demand spectrum contention, which are protocols that enable multiple devices to work together with minimum interference; and spectrum etiquette mechanisms, which would prevent the malicious use of cognitive radio devices. "We hope our findings will help service providers and manufacturers develop more secure technology, and also benefit regulators involved in the standardization of cognitive radio systems," Park says.
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Cybersecurity Issues Misunderstood, Experts Tell Congress
Defense News (04/07/08) Vol. 23, No. 14, P. 53; Matthews, William

Since the late 1990s, some cybersecurity experts have been saying that the nation faces an impending all-out Internet attack on its critical infrastructure--one that shuts down the electricity grid and water systems and drains bank accounts. However, those threats remain largely hypothetical, said James Lewis, director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a recent House Armed Services subcommittee hearing. Lewis said the U.S. should worry about Internet-based crime and espionage instead, which are more serious threats. Lewis pointed to the fact that last year U.S. government computers were repeatedly broken into during attacks that appear to have been carried out by the Chinese. In addition to collecting information from the computer systems, which belonged to the U.S. departments of Defense, State, and Commerce, the attackers also likely planted malware in the computer systems, Lewis said. Meanwhile, Internet criminals have created a black market for buying malware, hiring hackers, and renting botnets. In order to protect U.S. computer systems from these threats, the government should put existing security practices to better use, said cybersecurity expert Seymour Goodman, who also testified at the hearing.
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Details Gel for New Supercomputer
Nikkei Weekly (04/14/08) Vol. 46, No. 2332, P. 17; Jimbo, Shinichi

More than $1.1 billion has been reserved for Japan's next-generation supercomputer project by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, with the goal of building a machine that can carry out 10 quadrillion calculations per second by 2012. The supercomputer will boast a novel architecture that integrates scalar and vector processors, and combining these processors' operations is the focus of recently commenced studies. The machine will reside in a three-story building on Kobe's Port Island with approximately 17,500 square meters of floor space. The decision now facing Japan is how the 10-petaflop computer can best be used by the industrial sector, and the Foundation for Computational Science will provide help in this regard with a team of full-time technical support staff. The foundation will also site a support center at the Port Island facility, and the center will be open and ready for business at the same time the supercomputer comes online. The Kansai Economic Federation will hold seminars for association members focused on using the 10-petaflop computer for new businesses and industries, and it will submit proposals for helping industry utilize the machine to the Education Ministry. A current-generation supercomputer will be used for training and research by a University of Hyogo graduate school for computational science that will be located in the same building.
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The Return of Ada
Government Computer News (04/14/08) Vol. 27, No. 8, Jackson, Joab

Lockheed Martin's successful delivery of an update to the FAA's next-generation flight data air traffic control system under budget and ahead of schedule is at least partially attributable to the Ada programming language, which comprises approximately half the code in the En Route Automation Modernization System (ERAM), according to the FAA's Jeff O'Leary. Security and reliability are among the issues that Ada can address, and AdaCore President Robert Dewar notes that a resurgence of interest in the language is occurring. ERAM was required to be fault-tolerant, easily upgradeable, and incapable of losing data; programs had to be capable of recovering from crashes, and the system code must "be provably and test-ably free" of errors, O'Leary says. Ada is distinct from many modern and traditional languages through its strong typing feature, which means that a programmer has to specify a range of all possible inputs for every declared variable, thus ensuring that a malicious hacker cannot enter a long string of characters as part of a buffer overflow attack or that the program will not come crashing down as a result of an incorrect value. Dewar says Ada is still utilized by the Defense Department, especially for command and control systems, while NASA and avionics hardware makers also use the programming language extensively. He points out that in these instances component manufacturers are "interested in highly reliable mission-critical programs," and Ada is also a solid teaching language. Dewar says that while Ada originally had a heavy focus on strong typing and provability, later incarnations have kept the language up to date. The American National Standards Institute and the International Organization of Standards have ratified Ada as a standard.
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