Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
April 23, 2008

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

Welcome to the April 23, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Net Neutrality Battle Returns to the U.S. Senate
CNet (04/22/08) Broache, Anne

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday titled "The Future of the Internet," Democratic lawmakers argued for a bill that would prohibit broadband operators from creating a "fast lane" for certain types of Internet content and applications. The proposal was criticized by the cable industry, Republican politicians, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, who argued that there is no demonstrated need for such action at this point. Much of the discussion at the hearing focused on whether the FCC already has sufficient authority to take action against network operators that interfere unreasonably with their customers' Internet use. Comcast argued that the federal agency does not, while Democrats said their legislation is necessary to clarify the FCC's enforcement role. "To whatever degree people were alleging that this was a solution in search of a problem, it has found its problem," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). "We have an obligation to try and guarantee that the same freedom and the same creativity that was able to bring us to where we are today continues, going forward." Martin said the FCC does not need to write new regulations because it already has the authority to enforce its existing broadband connectivity principles, which say consumers have the right to access the lawful Internet content and applications of their choice.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


FBI Organizes Defense Against Cyber-Attacks
United Press International (04/21/08) Waterman, Shaun

Last summer, the FBI quietly assembled the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force, a group that includes intelligence, law-enforcement, and U.S. government agencies charged with detecting and fighting cyberthreats against the United States. "A network can be attacked by a terrorist group, a foreign power, or a hacker kid from Oklahoma City," says Shawn Henry, the FBI's deputy assistant director of its cyberdivision. "Networks need to be protected from all threats because once [sensitive] data has been stolen, it can be transferred anywhere." The group operates out of an undisclosed location in the Washington, D.C. area. The Department of Homeland Security released documents in early April that indicated that members of the Secret Service and several other agencies would be added to the task force as well. The FBI also asked for another 70 agents and over 100 support personnel to be assigned to its cyberdivision next year. "We're sharing investigative and threat information," Henry says. "Looking at the attacks [each agency is] seeing and the methodologies being used." He says the group looks at all cyberthreats, but is focused on those that threaten U.S. infrastructure. Moreover, despite recent Congressional testimony by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, which identified Russia and China as the U.S.'s chief cyber-adversaries, Henry says the task force is "adversary neutral."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Renaissance and Computer-Human Interaction Meet at CHI '08 in Italy
Ergonomics Today (04/21/08) Anderson, Jennifer

Specialists in computer-human interaction from around the world gathered in Florence, Italy, from April 5-10, 2008 for CHI 2008, sponsored by ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction. During the conference, key issues in ergonomics were addressed, including the balance between art and science, design and research, and practical motivation. For Glasgow School of Art professor Irene McAra-McWilliam, computer products are useful objects that also mediate relationships and particular cultural codes. Design is capable of reinterpreting and refreshing current practice, she says. "With the design of networked products such as iPods and mobile telephones it has become crucially important for designers to consider the dynamic of the relational sensibility as well as the aesthetics of three-dimensional form," McAra-McWilliam says. Meanwhile, Microsoft Research researcher Bill Buxton says great design is about providing the product's user with a great experience. Every person in the food chain who has a hand in producing a product should be involved in design, he says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UCSC Computer Scientists Develop Solutions for Long-Term Storage of Digital Data
University of California, Santa Cruz (04/21/08) Stephens, Tim

University of California, Santa Cruz researchers led by professor Ethan Miller have developed a new approach to long-term data storage that uses hard drives to provide energy-efficient, cost-effective storage. The archiving system, dubbed Pergamum, is a distributed network of intelligent, disk-based storage devices designed to store vast quantities of digital data. "The problem is how to build a large-scale data storage system to last 50 to 100 years," Miller says. Pergamum was designed to provide reliable, energy-efficient data storage using off-the-shelf components, and to evolve over time as new storage technologies are developed. Miller says the objective is to avoid "forklift upgrades" that involve completely abandoning old systems and transferring every piece of data to an entirely new system. Pergamum is built from individual blocks including a hard drive, a small, low-power processor, a flash memory card, and an Ethernet port. The units, or tomes, have very low power demands, and power can be delivered over the network using Power over Ethernet technology. Pergamum has two levels of redundancy to protect against disk failures and errors in data writing, and tomes can be added to expand the system, replace faulty disks, or upgrade to new technology. As computer users increasingly rely on digital technologies for storing all of their personal data, "there is a risk that an entire generation's cultural history could be lost if people aren't able to retrieve that data," says UCSC graduate student Mark Storer. "But we've never demonstrated that digital data can be reliably preserved for a long time."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Congressman to Press on With Paper-Ballot Emergency Voting Bill
Computerworld (04/18/08) Weiss, Todd R.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) says the House's recent failure to pass the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act will not slow his efforts to get the bill passed. Holt says the bill will make the nation's elections more accurate and secure by helping states transition from direct recording electronic (DRE) machines to systems with paper ballots. "I'm still hopeful that it's possible to get some of this done before this year's November elections," Holt says. "Anything we can do to reduce the unresolved questions and disputes this November we should do." The bill would provide federal funding to states and municipalities to switch from DRE machines to paper-based systems. Holt says the bill is an optional program that would reimburse districts for switching to paper-ballot systems. The White House issued a statement saying the administration "strongly opposes" the bill because it would create a program that is largely redundant with existing law. Holt says there is still some support for such a measure in the Senate, which could allow the House to revisit the issue. "I wouldn't say it's dead for this year, but unfortunately, the window is open only a crack," Holt says. For information on ACM's acitivities involving e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


A Supercomputer Takes Humanities Scholars Into the 21st Century
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/22/08) Fischman, Josh

The National Endowment for the Humanities is offering 1 million hours of high-performance computing time, distributed in pieces of 100,000 to 500,000 CPU hours, that can be used for humanities-based research efforts. The grants will be administered through the Humanities High Performance Computing Program. All of the computing will be done at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which has a Cray supercomputer that can reach speeds of 101.5 teraflops per second, as well as four other supercomputers. In addition to actual supercomputer time, the humanities scholars will have the opportunity to train using the machines. Endowment chair Bruce Cole says the supercomputers can help humanities researchers find patterns in the huge amounts of unstructured data that they work with. "That's where we think this can help," Cole says. "It's a subset of a lot of other stuff we are doing, such as the National Digital Newspaper Program, which is taking 30 million pages of microfilm, the first great draft of history, and digitizing them." Vernon Burton, a historian and director of the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, says it is an exciting opportunity. "I think it has the potential to move forward the basic boundaries of human knowledge," Burton says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Students Get Taste of Real-Life Cyber Defense in National Championship
Campus Technology (04/22/08) Schaffhauser, Dian

Baker College in Flint, Mich., won the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) this weekend by defeating defending champion Texas A&M University. The competition required participants to manage and protect network infrastructure from live, hostile activity. The teams had to correct problems on their networks, perform normal business tasks, and defend the network from a red team. Fifty-six schools competed in the third-annual NCCDC, up from five in 2005. In addition to Baker and Texas A&M, teams from the Community College of Baltimore County, Mt. San Antonio College of Los Angeles County, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the University of Louisville emerged from the regional competitions. "We had many visiting faculty members benefit from last year's national competition as they experienced first-hand what it would be like to have to protect a company's infrastructure in a hostile Internet environment," says Greg White, director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio, the host of the event. "Some of the faculty even changed their instructional programs as a result of lessons learned from the competition."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Laptops as Earthquake Sensors
Technology Review (04/22/08) Davison, Anna

Earthquake researchers in California will use the motion sensors built into laptops to provide an earthquake-sensing network that will collect information on major quakes and possibly provide an early warning system. The Quake Catcher Network is beta testing a distributed computing network of several hundred laptops. Initially, the network will focus on the quake-prone San Francisco Bay and Greater Los Angeles Basin areas of California. Stanford earthquake seismologist and project participant Jesse Lawrence says the goal is not to predict earthquakes, but to measure them very quickly and get the information out before any damage is done. California already has hundreds of sophisticated seismometers placed throughout the state, but they are spaced relatively far apart. University of California, Los Angeles professor Paul Davis says the distributed network is not intended to replace those seismometers, but it will "fill in the gaps." The researchers have developed software that uses Macintosh laptops to record seismic activity and display seismic data on a screensaver. All Apple laptops manufactured since 2005 are outfitted with accelerometers, as are many IBM, Acer, and Hewlett-Packard laptops, to detect sudden acceleration to protect the hard drive. Lawrence says desktops also can easily be outfitted with inexpensive USB shake sensors.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Universal 'Babelfish' Could Translate Alien Tongues
New Scientist (04/18/08) Reilly, Michael

A linguist and anthropologist in the United States believes it is possible to build a universal translator that would enable humans to communicate with intelligent aliens, if contact was ever made. University of California, Berkeley's Terrence Deacon believes language develops from the need to describe the physical world, which would restrict the construction of a language. Even if an alien race used scents to communicate, the language would still have an underlying universal code that could be deciphered, as in mathematics. Words serve as symbols, and no matter how abstract they are, their reference to a physical object limits their relationship to other symbol words, which would define the grammatical structure that emerges from putting words together. As a result, researchers one day might be able to develop devices that use sophisticated software to translate alien language on the spot. Florida Atlantic University's Denise Herzing believes the theory can be tested by studying dolphins.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


DARPA Pushes Machine Learning With Legged LittleDog Robot
Scientific American (04/15/08) Greenemeier, Larry

DARPA's LittleDog project is an effort to build an autonomous legged robot that is aware of its environment and capable of deliberately placing its feet to avoid falling. The software used in LittleDog determines the robot's route and its cameras and leg sensors help it detect obstacles to avoid missteps. DAPRA wants LittleDog, a follow-up to its BigDog project, to be able to move across progressively more difficult terrain at increased speeds. "BigDog and LittleDog are related in that they are both focused on solving the problems that will enable legged robots to accompany war fighters as they cross complex terrain," says DARPA's Tom Wagner. Phase three of LittleDog's development process is scheduled to begin this summer. Phase one challenged six teams of roboticists to improve on the basic robot platform developed for BigDog. Successful completion of phase one required each team's LittleDog to move at a rate of at least a half inch per second over terrain that included obstacles 1.9 inches high. Successful completion of phase two required being able to more 1.7 inches per second over obstacles 3.1 inches tall. Phase three calls for LittleDog to move at a speed of 2.8 inches per second with obstacles 4.3 inches tall. One of the biggest challenges in LittleDog's development was improving the original software so the robot could read any map and navigate the map's terrain. Robotics Institute professor James Kuffner says DARPA's testing strategy forces the roboticists to write software that works on a variety of terrains instead of hard coding for certain situations.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Serious About Games
Baltimore Sun (04/20/08) P. 1A; Emery, Chris

Nearly 400 U.S. colleges and universities, including MIT and Carnegie Mellon, now offer formal training in game development, ranging from elective courses to full degree programs. The increasing complexity of computers and game systems requires teams of dozens of artists, producers, and programmers to create a game. "Twenty years ago, a game was made by one guy, or two or three people," says International Game Developers Association executive director Jason Della Rocca. "The games you see now take up to 200 people to make. You need a more institutionalized pipeline of training developers." Vocational schools have a lead in issuing certificates in game development, but universities are catching up as more students demand full degree programs. The University of Maryland Baltimore County's program provides broad-based training in visual arts and computer science. UMBC computer science professor Marc Olano says the school's gaming classes are designed to give students a solid education that will make them employable outside of the game industry. However, there are plenty of jobs for gaming majors. The average developer's salary was $73,000 last year, according to Game Developer magazine, while computer and video game sales have tripled since 1996. "Students are demanding these types of programs, and schools are listening," Della Rocca says. "These classes do well in terms of filling classrooms."
Click Here to View Full Article - Web Link May Require Free Registration
to the top


Researchers Tout 'Functional Encryption' That Knows Who's Who
Network World (04/21/08) Messmer, Ellen

University of California, Los Angeles researchers have developed a new cryptography method called "functional encryption" that makes use of elliptic-curve encryption to secure stored data. "The mathematical system will produce an encrypted record that only people matching the criteria can decrypt," says UCLA professor Amit Sahai. "To do this, you get a personalized key that expresses your attributes bound up in one key." A user's key would be able to decrypt the data because the data, which is always stored in encrypted form, uses a mathematical process to recognize anyone with the right key and the appropriate attributes for accessing the data. Sahai says the user is recognized through the math included in the message. He says the goal is to improve server-based security to the point that the server has no idea what it is holding while still enabling authorized people to obtain the data through the mathematics of the security system. Sahai says a new version of the security tool will be available for review so experts can test its efficacy.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UA Researchers Create Self-Healing Computer Systems for Spacecraft
University of Arizona (04/18/08)

University of Arizona researchers are developing hybrid hardware/software systems that could eventually use machine intelligence to allow spacecraft to fix themselves. Arizona professor Ali Akoglu is using field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) to build self-healing systems that can be reconfigured as needed to emulate different types of hardware. Akoglu says general-purpose computers can run a variety of systems but they are extremely slow compared to hard-wired systems designed to perform specific tasks. What is needed, Akoglu says, are systems that combine the speed of hard-wired systems with the flexibility of general-purpose computers, which is what he is trying to accomplish using FPGAs. The researchers are testing five wirelessly-linked hardware units that could represent a combination of five landers and rovers on Mars. Akoglu says the system tries to recover from a malfunction in two ways. First, the unit tries to fix itself at the node level by reprogramming malfunctioning circuits. If that fails, the unit tries to recover by employing redundant circuitry. If the unit's onboard resources cannot fix the problem, the network-level intelligence is alerted and another unit takes over functions that were done by the broken unit. If two units go down, the three remaining units divide the tasks. "Our objective is to go beyond predicting a fault to using a self-healing system to fix the predicted fault before it occurs," he says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Next Step in Robot Development Is Child's Play
ICT Results (04/18/08)

The European Union-funded RobotCub project will send an iCub robot to six European research labs, where researchers will train iCub to learn and act independently by learning from its own experiences. The project at Imperial College London will examine how "mirror neurons," which fire in humans to trigger memories of previous experiences when humans are trying to understand the physical actions of others, can be translated into a digital application. The team at UPMC in Paris will explore the dynamics needed to achieve full body control for iCub, and the researchers at TUM Munich will work on developing iCub's manipulation skills. A project team at the University of Lyons will explore internal simulations techniques, which occur in our brains when planning actions or trying to understand the actions of others. In Turkey, a team at METU in Ankara will focus on language acquisition and the iCub's ability to link objects with verbal utterances. The iCub robots are about the size of three-year-old children and are equipped with highly dexterous hands and fully articulated heads and eyes. The robots have hearing and touch capabilities and are designed to be able to crawl and to sit up. Researchers expect to enable iCub to learn by doing, including the ability to track objects visually or by sound, and to be able to navigate based on landmarks and a sense of its own position.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


DARPA Seeks Architecture-Aware Compilers
Government Computer News (04/18/08) Jackson, Joab

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has issued a call for research proposals to design compilers that can dynamically optimize programs for specific environments. As the Defense Department runs programs across a wider range of systems, it is facing the lengthy and manual task of tuning programs to run under different environments, a process DARPA wants to automate. "The goal of DARPA's envisioned Architecture-Aware Compiler Environment (AACE) Program is to develop computationally efficient compilers that incorporate learning and reasoning methods to drive compiler optimizations for a broad spectrum of computing system configurations," says DARPA's broad area announcement. The compilers can be written in the C and Fortran programming languages, but the BAA encourages work in languages that support techniques for the parallelization of programs. The quality of the proposals will determine how much DARPA spends on the project, which will run at least through 2011. Proposals are due by June 2.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


What Brain Drain?
Computerworld (04/21/08) Vol. 42, No. 17, P. 28; Brandel, Mary

There appears to be little concern among IT managers about the impending retirement of baby-boomer IT professionals and the apparent loss of knowledge and expertise this would entail, coupled with a decline of computer science enrollments. Just 42 percent of 488 companies surveyed by Buck Consultants in 2006 regarded the aging workforce to be a significant issue, while 29 percent ascribed little or no significance to the trend. Peter Cappelli, author of "Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in the Age of Uncertainty," says the relatively small population of older IT workers is one reason why the boomers' retirement means so little to IT, while consultant and author Dave DeLong notes that the impact of a loss of key IT staff to retirement is hidden, gradual, and indefinite. "Often, management doesn't know what knowledge is at risk," DeLong points out. Barbara Ring of the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies determined that there needed to be sufficient time for knowledge transfer, mentoring, and other measures to maintain the company's intellectual property and prevent a brain drain as its aging personnel retire over the next five to 10 years. She is working to identify which Chubb IT professionals will soon reach retirement age, as well as their years of service, which technologies and applications they support, and the importance of their knowledge to the company. Edward Jones CIO Vinny Ferrari says the organizational culture is the ultimate determiner of how severe a brain drain retirement will cause, and he uses Edward Jones as an example of a company whose culture encourages informal knowledge sharing and easy mobility. This guarantees that IT professionals pass on what they know prior to retiring, Ferrari says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Tracing Information Flow on a Global Scale Using Internet Chain-Letter Data
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (03/25/08) Vol. 105, No. 12, P. 4633; Liben-Nowell, David; Kleinberg, Jon

Carleton College's David Liben-Nowell and Cornell University's Jon Kleinberg traced the global-scale circulation of information at a person-by-person level using techniques to recreate the propagation of Internet chain letters, and discovered that propagation unfolds in a tree-like configuration rather than as a wide, epidemic-style diffusion. This suggests that information is disseminated across a network in a more complex way than previously assumed, and the authors defined a probabilistic model founded on network clustering and asynchronous response times that generates trees with this characteristic architecture on social-network data. Two principles are encapsulated by Liben-Nowell's and Kleinberg's models--that many recipients may elect not to forward the chain letter, and only a small number of recipients will decide to post the letter publicly. The authors write that the accurate reconstruction of the information's route is a computationally intensive challenge, in view of the extensive mutations the data experiences. Also, the spreading patterns of the real chain letters strongly clash with the predictions of less complicated theoretical models, while simple probabilistic models that include the speed with which individuals respond to information can yield synthetic spreading patterns that bear a close resemblance to observed real-life patterns. "The pattern of the diffusion ... seems initially in conflict with the small-world nature of the social network in which it is embedded; but the models discussed here show that such patterns are capable of arising from natural processes operating in real social networks," Liben-Nowell and Kleinberg observe. "In the end, the structure of a small world, in which most people are connected by short paths, need not be at odds with a world in which an antiwar appeal, embedded in an email chain letter, can pass through several hundred intermediaries before arriving in one's inbox."
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.