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ACM TechNews
April 21, 2008

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Welcome to the April 21, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Internet Gridlock to Occur in Just Two Years
ZDNet UK (04/21/08) Donoghue, Andrew

Without significant new investment, the Internet's current network architecture will reach the limits of its capacity by 2010, warned AT&T's Jim Cicconi at the Westminster eForum on Web 2.0 in London. "The surge in online content is at the center of the most dramatic changes affecting the Internet today," Cicconi says. "In three years' time, 20 typical households will generate more traffic than the entire Internet today." Cicconi says at least $55 billion in investments are needed in new infrastructure over the next three years in the United States alone, and $130 billion worldwide. The "unprecedented new wave of broadband traffic" will increase fifty-fold by 2015, Cicconi predicts, adding that AT&T will invest $19 billion to maintain its network and upgrade the core of its network. Cicconi adds that more demand for high-definition video will put an increasing strain on the Internet's infrastructure, noting that eight hours of video is loaded onto YouTube every minute, and that HD video consumes seven to 10 times more bandwidth than normal video. "Video will be 80 percent of all traffic by 2010, up from 30 percent today," he says.
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Where Are the Women?
Gazette (Montreal) (04/19/08) Whittaker, Stephanie

Information technology educators are concerned that not enough women are enrolling in programs that lead to high-tech jobs. Although the number of women entering computer-related programs rose in the late 1990s, "in the past five years, there's been a diminishment in their numbers," says Bill Lynch, associate dean of undergraduate programs and student academic services at Concordia University in Montreal. Lynch says women accounted for about 20 percent of students studying information technology programs at Concordia in 2001, but currently represent only about 10 percent. "I really don't know why this is happening," says Cathy Dutton, co-chair of the computer science technology department at Montreal's John Abbot College. "It may be that there's a perception that it's not a people-person job. Or, it may be the legacy of the dot-com bust." The dot-com bubble burst turned many potential technology students, both male and female, away from careers in the technology sector. Educators say that despite the demand for high-tech graduates, there is still a perception that jobs in the IT sector are scarce and insecure. In fact, there is a shortage of IT graduates overall, both male and female. Dutton says high-tech companies are working to reverse the perception that there are no jobs in the field, with companies such as Microsoft making trips to universities to push the profession. CSC's Josee Riopelle says she is worried about the industry's ability to fill vacant positions, and as older employees leave the workforce over the next few years there could be a severe lack of qualified people.
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Crowd Laps Up Driverless, Robot Cars
Press Telegram (CA) (04/20/08) Stevens, Joe

Three driverless cars successfully navigated the 1.97-mile track on Saturday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach in California. The cars' developers say such cars will be a common occurrence in the future, and the race was part of getting the public used to the idea of driverless cars. Sebastian Thrun, the director of Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Lab, says he believes some type of driverless car will be on the road in the next 20 years. Although experts say that autonomous cars can generally travel about 100 miles without problems, there are still issues to work out before they can be used by the public. "One of the biggest challenges for us is robotic perceptions," says Stanford senior researcher Mike Montemerlo. "The robot sees the world, but understanding the environment is very difficult." Some problems go beyond technology, such as who would be liable in a robotic-car accident. Meanwhile, others say that robotic cars will never be used on the road due to safety concerns. However, Thrun says robotic cars will make the roads safer. "One of the main reasons we're developing this technology is for safety," he says. "Let's say you're out, have too much to drink, then you can get in your car that could drive you home."
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Malicious Microprocessor Opens New Doors for Attack
IDG News Service (04/15/08) McMillan, Robert

Hackers can attack a microprocessor in order to gain unauthorized access to a computer system, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The team demonstrated the attack on April 15 during the Usenix Workshop on Large-Scale Exploits and Emergent Threats, a conference for security researchers held in San Francisco. The researchers used a special processor running the Linux operating system, programmed it to launch malicious firmware, then used a special login password to log into the machine. "This is like the ultimate back door," says Samuel King, an assistant professor in the university's computer science department. "There were no software bugs exploited." Criminals who want to employ this strategy in the real world would have to figure out how to get a malicious CPU onto someone's machine. The U.S. Department of Defense warned of such an attack in a February 2005 report, and offshoring could give hackers an opportunity to attack a PC's microprocessor. Such an attack would be nearly undetectable, but the team also has plans to develop tools that could identify a malicious processor.
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Researchers Map the Math in Music
Princeton University (04/17/08) MacPherson, Kitta

Music professors Clifton Callender at Florida State University, Ian Quinn at Yale University, and Dmitri Tymoczko at Princeton University have developed a new way of analyzing and categorizing music using the complex mathematics found in music. The new method, called "geometrical music theory," looks at sequences of notes, chords, rhythms, and scales, and categorizes them so they can be grouped into "families." The families can be given a mathematical structure that can be represented by points in complex geometrical spaces, similar to x-y graphing used in algebra. Different categorizations produce unique geometrical spaces, reflecting the various ways musicians in different times understood music. The researchers say that having tools for conceptualizing music could lead to a variety of applications, such as creating new instruments, new musical toys, and new visualization tools. Tymoczko says the most satisfying part for him is being able to see the logical structure that links many different musical concepts. "To some extent, we can represent the history of music as a long process of exploring different symmetries and different geometries," he says.
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20 (Rare) Questions for Google Search Guru Udi Manber
Popular Mechanics (04/16/08) Derene, Glenn

The job of search has generally become exponentially harder because people's expectations of what search can do are so high, and one step toward fulfilling those expectations is refining search results to reflect not only what search experts know about the Web, but also what other people have searched for, says Google's Udi Manber in an interview. He says that Google is very focused on addressing the frustration that people feel when Web searches fail to retrieve the precise answers they are looking for, noting that "very often it's something missing from the Web, like a restaurant that does not put their location on their page." Manber says Web content still lacks a substantial degree of search-engine friendliness, and he argues that people should more deeply consider how other people would look for their content and put the appropriate keywords onto their Web pages. At the same time, searchers have a responsibility to consider what words content providers use to describe their content. Manber says retaining a profile and Web history of users can improve their searches, and acknowledges that a balance must be struck between maintaining users' privacy and keeping the search engine effective. He says Google elected not to fold into its search algorithm the ability to manually change results if the results are erroneous, because "we have to find what weakness in the algorithm caused that result and find a general solution to that, evaluate whether a general solution really works and if it's better, and then launch a general solution." This approach, Manber contends, imposes less bias.
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Security Experts Split on 'Cyberterrorism' Threat
Reuters (04/16/08) Trevelyan, Mark

International experts in attendance at the security conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London called for increased cooperation to fight threats to computer networks, such as the botnet attacks that paralyzed Web sites and caused severe disruptions to key services in Estonia last year. "No one country can stand alone in facing cyber attacks and threats," said Husin Jazri, the director of CyberSecurity Malaysia. He added that cyberspace is borderless and that attacks typically do not originate from within a country. That was the case with the attack on the Estonian computer networks last year, which the country's government believes was perpetrated by Russia after a diplomatic dispute over Estonia's decision to move a Soviet-era war memorial. However, Estonian defense ministry official Christian-Marc Liflander said it has been difficult to prove who sponsored the attacks. He added that he believed such attacks represent the beginning of an era of cyber terror and possibly cyber war. But Stephen Cummings of the British government's Center for the Protection of National Infrastructure said he saw no evidence that terrorists were using cyber attacks to wreak havoc on certain countries. He added that he believed talk of cyberterrorism--which he called a "myth"--could distract people from addressing the real risks from electronic attacks.
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Graphene Used to Create World's Smallest Transistor
University of Manchester (04/18/08) Waddington, Alex

University of Manchester researchers Kostya Novoselov and Andre Geim have demonstrated that graphene can be carved into tiny electronic circuits with individual transistors nearly the size of a molecule. Geim and his colleagues discovered graphene, the first one-atom-thick material, four years ago, and it quickly became a hot subject in physics and materials science. The Manchester researchers have now shown that it is possible to carve nanometer-scale transistors from a single graphene crystal. Graphene, unlike other known materials, remains highly stable and conductive when cut into devices only a nanometer wide. Graphene transistors also show good performance at sizes below 10 nanometers, the size limit at which Silicon technology is predicted to fail. Still, "it is too early to promise graphene supercomputers," Geim says. "Unfortunately, no existing technology allows the cutting of materials with true nanometre precision. But this is exactly the same challenge that all post-silicon electronics has to face. At least we now have a material that can meet such a challenge."
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Robots That Can Assist With Elder Care Created by UMass Amherst Researchers
University of Massachusetts Amherst (04/15/08)

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers have developed uBot-5, a robotic assistant designed to care for the elderly and improve their quality of life. The robot can call 911 in an emergency, remind patients to take their medication, assist with grocery shopping and help people talk to others such as health care providers. Family members can access the robot and talk with the robot's ward using an Internet connection, even guiding the robot around the home to look for someone. Doctors can use the robot to perform virtual house calls. "For the first time, robots are safe enough and inexpensive enough to do meaningful work in a residential environment," says computer scientist Rob Grupen, who developed the ASSIST project with computer scientists Allen Hanson and Edward Riseman. An array of sensors serve as the robot's eyes and ears, allowing it to recognize activities such as walking or sitting. The robot can also recognize abnormal events, such as a person falling, to alert a medical caregiver. The robot can ask a person to smile, raise both arms or speak, actions that it can recognize. The robot can also detect and move obstructions and carry approximately 2.2 pounds and has the potential to perform household tasks that require dexterity, such as cleaning and grocery shopping. The uBot-5 also has a Web cam, a microphone and a touch-screen LCD display that acts as an interface for communication.
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5 IT Skills That Won't Boost Your Salary
Network World (04/18/08) Dubie, Denise

Advances in technology continue to create demand for new IT skills, while making other skills obsolete. HTML programming is a high-tech skill that will no longer boost the pay of IT professionals. Companies want Web 2.0 technologies such as AJAX, and expertise in AJAX and XML has increased salaries by 12.5 percent in the last six months of 2007, according to Foote Partners. Legacy programming languages such as Cobol, Fortran, PowerBuilder, and Jini noncertified skills were among the lowest-paying skills over the second half of last year. Demand for Novell's network operating system NetWare has been surpassed by interest in Windows Server and Linux skills. Non-IP network expertise and know-how in technologies such as IBM's System Network Architecture (SNA) is another low-paying skill. "For networking, IP skills have replaced SNA skills," says Foote Partners CEO David Foote. The demand for PC tech support skills is also in decline.
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US Army Develops Robotic Suits
BBC News (04/16/08) Mirchandani, Rajesh

The robotics firm Sarcos is conducting outdoor testing at a research facility near Salt Lake City on a lightweight aluminum exoskeleton (XOS) that promises to give users superhuman powers. The robotic suit is designed to sense every move of the person who wears it, and instantly move with the person. Though XOS can match the agility of a human, it can boost the strength and endurance of its user. The robotic suit could enable the military to establish quicker supply lines, reduce injuries among soldiers who lift heavy items, allow troops to bring heavier weapons into combat, and enable soldiers to carry wounded colleagues. Sarcos must find a way to create a mobile power supply that can last for a considerable amount of time, among other issues that still need to be resolved. Early prototypes are expected to be delivered to the U.S. military next year, and more refined XOS suits could be used within eight years.
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Positioning Systems Used by iPhone and iPod Breached
ETH Life (04/17/08) Cosby, Renata

Researchers at ETH Zurich have shown that Skyhook's WiFi Positioning System (WPS) and similar public WLAN positioning systems are vulnerable to location spoofing attacks. Under Skyhook's localization process, Apple iPods or iPhones find their position by detecting neighboring access points, and send this information to Skyhook servers. After the servers return the access point locations to the iPod or iPhone, the device computes its location based on this data. However, the devices have to report detected Media Access Control addresses, which can be forged by rogue access points and easily impersonated. In addition, the access point signals can be jammed and those in the vicinity of the devices can be eliminated. ETH Zurich professor Srdjan Capkun and colleagues were able to impersonate access points from a known location and jam signals sent by access points in the vicinity to eliminate them, which ultimately shows that location spoofing attacks were possible. "Given the relative simplicity of the performed attacks, it is clear that the use of WLAN-based public localization systems, such as Skyhook's WPS, should be restricted in security and safety-critical applications," Capkun says.
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Storm Clouds Looming for Internet, Experts Say
Network World (04/17/08) Reed, Brad

Experts at FutureNet, an annual conference held to address communications services, say the Internet architecture will face severe challenges over the next few years that could significantly strain the Web's effectiveness. One of the most prominent issues facing the Internet is the impending shortage of IP addresses, which some forecasters say could occur within the next few years. IPv4 offers about 4.7 billion possible IP addresses, but it is running out of capacity. Juniper's Ron Bonica says there are three likely solutions to this problem. The first is to sick with IPv4, which would create some immediate problems with the impending shortage of IP addresses but would also lead to the creation of an IP address trading system through which companies and individuals that own an excessive number of addresses could sell them at market value. Another possibility would be a rapid deployment of IPv6, the next generation Internet Protocol that is capable of supporting several billion more addresses than IPv4. Bonica says many companies and organizations are reluctant to make the switch because it will require significant investments on the part of end users and ISPs, and transition mechanisms to help make the switch have not been deployed yet. Bonica says the third option is a compromise between these two solutions that involves a gradual shift from IPv4 to IPv6. Another issue addressed FutureNet addressed was the strain more IP addresses will place on routing tables, which are not scalable and cannot adapt to exponential increases in IP addresses. "The basic, fundamental problems of scaling a network haven't been addressed in any innovative manner," says American Registry of Internet Numbers Chairman John Curran.
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Robots, Games, Hackers: First IT-Olympics at Iowa State Celebrates Computer Smarts
Iowa State University News Service (04/16/08) Jacobson, Doug

About 200 high school students from Iowa will gather at Iowa State University for the first IT-Olympics. The competition, on April 25 and 26, will include three events. The first is to build LEGO robots that can push, flip, and fight each other in a gladiatorial event. The second event is to create video games that teach a science, technology, or math concept to middle schoolers. The third is to build computer networks that must then be protected from teams of hackers. The event is intended to show students that information technology can lead to interesting studies, good jobs, and creative challenges. The competition is part of a larger Iowa State program called IT-Adventures that is trying to build interest in computer careers by establishing high school IT clubs throughout Iowa. The program provides free computers, mentors, and learning materials. So far, 40 IT clubs have been established. "The students were already interested in computers," says Nancy Peterman, a teacher at Kuemper Catholic High School. "But this competition expands their exposure to computers. It helps give them an idea if that's a direction they want to go." Organizers say the IT-Olympics will help students see that there is a strong demand for workers with computer and technology skills.
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Mobile Computing Gets Academic
Government Computer News (04/14/08) Vol. 27, No. 8, Marshall, Patrick

Mobile computing will be the focus of research and teaching at the Mobility Research Center, a new facility that Carnegie Mellon University plans to open this fall at its Silicon Valley site. James Morris, dean of Carnegie Mellon West, says mobile computing makes sense as an academic discipline because billions of people around the world are being introduced to computation and the Internet because of handheld devices such as cell phones, rather than desktop or laptop computers. "The United States needs to have that perspective as we look at a global market for computing devices on the Internet," Morris says. Context-aware applications and services, serendipitous collaboration, and rich semantic information to enable novel data and media management, visualization, and access will be specific interests of the multidisciplinary program. "We have probably 30 faculty members who work in various areas--anything from antenna design [to] anthropology and psychology--and we're getting a lot of these people together into teams to perform research to look at the way people are going to use mobile devices in the future," Morris says.
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Mapmaker for the World of Influenza
Science (04/18/08) Vol. 320, No. 5874, P. 310; Enserink, Martin

University of Cambridge professor Derek Smith has invented a method for mapping out the evolution of the influenza virus, and he is helping flu researchers employ this method as a tool to aid critical decision-making. Smith reasoned that it was possible to map flu strains based exclusively on each strain's antigenic distance from the others, and nine years ago he partnered with several researchers to turn this theory into a viable technique. Ian Barr of the World Health Organization's Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza in Australia says scientists can track the virus' evolution in near real-time thanks to Smith's work. Smith can analyze questions on a global scale, thanks to the access he has to antigenic and genetic data through his close relationship with the four WHO Collaborating Centers. The maps generated by Smith's method raise WHO members' confidence that they are taking the right course of action to halt or prevent the spread of influenza, says WHO flu expert Keiji Fukuda. Smith's latest aspirations include anticipating farther in advance which flu strains will become dominant in a given year, while Smith and a close collaborator are attempting to predict a strain's antigenic profile directly from its gene sequence.
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