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April 30, 2008

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Welcome to the April 30, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Race Is on to Advance Software for Chips
New York Times (04/30/08) P. C9; Markoff, John

Three competing teams of computer researchers are working on new types of software for use with mulitcore processors. Stanford University and six computer and chip makers--Sun Microsystems, Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel--are creating the Pervasive Parallelism Lab. Previously, Microsoft and Intel helped finance new labs at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The research efforts are in response to a growing awareness that the software industry is not ready for the coming availability of microprocessors with multiple cores on a single chip. Computer and chip manufacturers are concerned that if software cannot keep up with hardware improvements, consumers will not feel the need to upgrade their systems. Current operating system software can work with the most advanced server microprocessors and processors for video game machines, which have up to eight cores. But software engineers say that most applications are not designed for efficient use of the dozens or hundreds of processors that will be available in future computers. The university efforts will share some approaches, but will try different experiments, programming languages, and hardware innovations. The efforts will also rethink operating systems and compilers. The Berkeley researchers have divided parallel computing problems into seven classes, with each class being approached in different ways. The Stanford researchers say they are looking for new ways to hide the complexity of parallel computing from programmers, and will use virtual worlds and robotic vehicles to test their efforts.
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Has U.S. Science Lost Its Competitive Edge?
ScienceNOW (04/29/08) Mervis, Jeffrey

Speakers at a symposium held by the U.S. National Academies warned that the United States has not risen high enough above the gathering storm of global competition in science. "Not much has happened here, but a lot has happened elsewhere," says Georgia Institute of Technology President G. Wayne Clough. Former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine highlighted a series of steps taken by other counties, including scholarships for Chinese graduates to study abroad and a multibillion-dollar nanotechnology initiative by the Indian government, to chastise U.S. policy makers for what he believes is an inadequate response to international competitiveness. "There will be winners and losers, and the losers are the ones who insist on looking backwards," said former Intel CEO Craig Barrett. "We continue to subsidize 19th century technology--like in the $290 billion farm bill--rather than the 21st century technologies that will allow us to remain competitive." The symposium was held to assess the progress made since the release in October 2005 of the report "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." The report outlined 20 recommendations for improving U.S. science, including the top priority of training more and better science and math teachers followed by sustained increases in federal research funding for physical sciences. Although legislation that incorporated many of the recommendations became law last summer, funding for most of the initiatives does not exist.
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Academic Leaders in Robotics Research Announce Effort to Create National Strategy for Robotics Growth
Carnegie Mellon News (04/24/08) Watzman, Anne; Spice, Byron; Grovenstein, Lisa Ray

Carnegie Mellon University is one of 11 universities that is developing an integrated national strategy for robotics research. The initiative, backed by the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), will establish a unified robotics research agenda for federal agencies, industry, and universities. The United States is the only nation involved in advanced robotics research without such a roadmap. Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute director Matthew T. Mason says the failure of the robotics community to previously establish a single voice has resulted in inconsistent funding and missed opportunities. The effort, launched last year, includes representatives from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the universities of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California-Berkeley, Southern California, Utah, and Illinois. CCC principal investigator Henrik I. Christensen, the chair of robotics at Georgia Tech, is leading the group in the development of the roadmap with involvement from the industry. This spring, the CCC will host a series of workshops and in the fall a National Robotics Senior Leadership Conference will be held in Washington, D.C. "It is essential that the United States begins to solidly outline a leadership position in robotics," says Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon.
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Anita Borg Institute Encourages Students to Apply for Scholarships for the 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference
Business Wire (04/28/08)

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) is accepting scholarships for the 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference now through June 15, 2008. The scholarships are made possible by grants from ABI, the National Science Foundation, and sponsors, and cover conference registration, lodging for three nights, and travel expense reimbursement. Most of the scholarships will go to undergraduate and graduate students, but junior faculty and members of non-governmental organizations and nonprofits are also encouraged to apply. More than 900 applications were received last year, and 115 full scholarships and 23 partial scholarships were awarded, says ABI's Deanna Kosaraju. A scholarship committee will conduct blind reviews of the applications, score each one, and award scholarships to the candidates with the highest scores. "We consider academic achievement, potential in the field, and need," Kosaraju says. "But we also look for thoughtful, creative, well-written essays that stand out." ACM will co-present the Oct. 1-4, 2008, conference at the Keystone Resort in Colorado, which will feature plenary sessions, panels, poster sessions, and workshops. For more information about the Grace Hopper Conference, visit http://gracehopper.org/2008/
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Google Diving Into 3D Mapping of Oceans
CNet (04/30/08) Mills, Elinor

Google is planning the creation of a 3D oceanographic map, ostensibly called Google Ocean, that should allow people to visualize underwater topography, locate specific sites or attractions, and use pan and zoom functions to navigate the environment. Oceanographers say such a tool would be very helpful, given the lack of an oceanographic terrain or depth model in Google Earth. Tim Haverland with NOAA's Fisheries Service notes that "you can't get in a submarine and in essence fly through the water and explore ocean canyons yet." The project could potentially encourage more collaboration and advance oceanographic research. Sources familiar with the matter say Google Ocean will include a basic layer that displays the sea floor's depth and will function as a spatial framework for additional information. Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor Dave Sandwell theorizes that Scripps' Predicted Depth Map will be a source for at least some of Google Ocean's basic sea floor data. He and others speculate that Google will probably enhance the sea floor's clarity through the utilization of high-resolution grids from oceanographic institutions showing the depths of select regions of the seas. "Tiles" from multibeam and predicted topography gathered by Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory also could be used as a supply of Google Ocean data, although LDEO professor William B.F. Ryan says that "Google would have to put the tiles on their servers because their public of millions would bring the servers at Columbia University to their knees."
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Xerox Showcases Erasable Paper, Smart Documents
IDG News Service (04/29/08) Shah, Agam

The Palo Alto Research Center has developed paper that can be printed and reprinted up to 100 times. PARC scientists have demonstrated the paper can be reused after printed text automatically deletes itself from the paper after 24 hours. PARC's Eric Shrader says the paper contains specially-coded molecules that form the printed content when exposed to ultraviolet light emitted from the printer. The molecule returns to its original form within 24 hours to erase the content and can be instantly reset by exposing the paper to heat. PARC scientists also demonstrated various technologies that make documents more intelligent by providing a deeper meaning to data. The technologies can cross-reference similar data and images from the Internet and incorporate other sources such as email messages and corporate networks. PARC's hybrid categorization technology, for example, can provide more accurate answers to questions than a search engine, says Xerox's Christopher Dance. Meanwhile, Xerox is developing Factspotter, a data mining program for locating specific information among images and words. Factspotter can categorize a document and provide context to words and images based on information from the document and similar images from the Web. Another PARC project is developing intelligent redaction algorithms that automate the process of blacking out certain parts of a document considered confidential.
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Less Geek, More Citizen: Computer Scientists Push Social Relevance
University at Buffalo News (04/28/08) Goldbaum, Ellen

University at Buffalo computer science lecturer Michael F. Buckley is leading a national effort to change how computer science is taught in college. Buckley's students learn about Buddhism and read "The Tao of Pooh," and he has them visit a center for children with disabilities to design technologies that could improve the children's lives. Buckley says his approach is "computing for a cause," and he believes such socially relevant computing could save computer science from its current doldrums. "Creating practical solutions to socially relevant problems focuses incredible philanthropic and creative energy," Buckley says. "When students work on these projects, they see themselves less as geeks and more as citizens." Microsoft agrees, and has been funding Buckley's efforts since 2004. Students at the UB Assistive Technology Lab have designed and developed more than 20 socially valuable technologies, several of which have been licensed to companies that are starting to introduce them to the marketplace. With support from Microsoft, the Applied Science Group of Buffalo, and colleagues at Rice University, Buckley developed a Web site to make it easier for computer science departments at other colleges and universities to start socially relevant computing programs. Eventually, Buckley hopes to attract interest from high schools so students enter college with some awareness of the societal value of computer science. "Too often, undergraduate computer design courses lack social relevance," Buckley says. "They don't help students figure out how it's relevant to society's technology needs."
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Cray Links With Intel in Super Deal
EE Times (04/28/08) Merritt, Rick

Cray has announced an agreement to work with Intel in the development of supercomputers, processors, and interconnect technologies. The agreement also could impact the supercomputer maker's deal to develop a commercial supercomputer for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Cray will license Intel's QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) technology, use Intel processors in systems starting as early as 2011, and collaborate with Intel on new processor technologies. Still, Cray says it will continue to use processors from Advanced Micro Devices for the foreseeable future. Cray and IBM divided an award of about $500 million 18 months ago to separately develop commercial supercomputers for DARPA's High Productivity Computing Systems program, and in its bid Cray said it would use AMD processors for the proposed Cascade system. But now Cray wants to use Intel processors with QPI that provides links at up to 6.4 GTransfers/second. The company plans to work out a modified agreement with DARPA in the next few months.
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One Breach Is One Too Many in Cyber Warfare
Monterey County Herald (CA) (04/29/08) Howe, Kevin

Students from the Naval Postgraduate School's computer science department, along with students from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine service academies, and the Air Force Institute of Technology recently tested their cyberspace defensive abilities against a team of computer hackers from the National Security Agency. In its eighth year, the annual cyberwar exercise is intended to give students a chance to "get their hands dirty" while learning about vulnerabilities in computer systems, says Naval Postgraduate School senior lecturer Scott Cote. The students were given computers that had compromised programs that needed to be found before they were exploited by the NSA hackers. The students were limited to defensive strategies only, and were given a limited budget for hardware and firewall software to add to the realism of the exercise. Only one cyber attack from NSA got through the NPS firewall during the four-day exercise, but Cote says it only takes one mistake for hackers to wreck an entire system. The Air Force Institute of Technology was the top scorer, Cote says, and the undergraduate teams did not do as well, but that is because they do not have as much experience. However, he says students come away with an understanding of how systems can be attacked, the amount of damage that can be done, and how to prevent attacks.
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Artificial Intelligence Boosts Science From Mars
European Space Agency (04/29/08)

European Space Operations Centre scientists are using artificial intelligence to significantly improve the European Space Agency's Mars Express as it searches for signs of life on Mars. The spacecraft creates huge amounts of scientific data that needs to be downloaded to Earth at the right time in the right sequence or data packets could be permanently lost when the limited on-board memory is overwritten by new data. The data downloads have traditionally been managed by human-operated scheduling software to create command sequences that are sent to Mars Express, instructing it when to dump specific data packets. The downloading problem involves several constantly changing factors, including spacecraft orientation, ground station availability, space-ground communication bandwidth, on-board storage availability, and how much data has been collected by the spacecraft's seven instruments. Since 2005, AI researchers at Italy's Institute for Cognitive Science and Technology and mission planners and computer scientists at ESOC have been developing an artificial intelligence technique to do the work. The new Mars Express AI Tool (MEXAR2) has successfully passed initial testing and validation and is now part of the Mars Express mission planning system. MEXAR2 works by analyzing the variables that affect data downloading and intelligently projecting which data packets might be lost due to memory conflicts. The program then optimizes the data download schedule and generates the command for the download. ESA's Fred Jansen says MEXAR2 has largely eliminated any loss of stored data packets.
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Microsoft Funds Research for Computer Energy Efficiency
CNet (04/28/08) LaMonica, Martin

The University of Tennessee, Stanford University, Harvard University, and the University of Oklahoma have received a $500,000 grant from Microsoft Research to pursue research on improving the energy efficiency of computers. Tennessee will develop frameworks that address power and performance improvements in virtualized data centers, and Stanford will design a sensor network that gathers data and analyzes power consumption. Harvard will create a "dynamic runtime environment" that ties power consumption to computational load, and Oklahoma will develop a simulation framework for studying "low-power microarchitectures for innovative multicore systems." Microsoft awarded the grants through its Sustainable Computing Program, which supports the development of hardware and software that consumes less power.
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On the Battlefield, There Are No Surprises
University of Southern California (04/24/08) Mankin, Eric

University of Southern California researchers in the Viterbi School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute (ISI) are helping develop Deep Green, a DARPA project that could enable future combat commanders to anticipate enemy movements. Deep Green combines anticipatory planning with adaptive execution to help battlefield commanders think ahead, identify problem areas, and predict the likelihood of multiple outcomes. Deep Green also is able to search for and recruit additional computing resources if the situation requires more processing power. Deep Green has several components, including interfaces for receiving guidance from and providing options to commanders, battlefield simulations, and techniques for searching the area for future options. Paul Cohen, who heads one of the two ISI groups involved, says the name Deep Green refers to the IBM chess-playing computer Deep Blue, as Deep Green will hopefully be able to simulate and predict warfare the same way Deep Blue could compute the outcome of a chess game. Cohen's contribution, a program called Adversarial Continuous Time and Space Search (ACCTS), represents collections of interacting combatants through fluents, a concept similar to time-space operators called vectors. Fluents represent periods in which activities of the units modeled do not conflict or interfere with each other or complete their mission or arrive at their goal. When the units do, a decision point is reached and new vectors have to be assigned, creating new fluents.
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Superbots, Self-Reconfigurable Robots
Technology News Daily (04/28/08)

University of Southern California researchers continue to make improvements to self-reconfigurable superbots. The researchers describe superbots as versatile, self-healing, metamorphic machines that are inexpensive to duplicate, and add that the direction of their research is influenced by nature and biologically-inspired approaches. "We use a distributed framework inspired by the biological concept of hormones," says SuperBot team leader Dr. Wei-Men Shen. "In this digital hormone framework, modules are viewed as autonomous agents or cells that are nameless, but communicate and reconfigure with hormone-like messages to perform locomotion, manipulation, self-reconfiguration, and self-healing." One focus of the research is to improve the robots' prediction capabilities and to develop algorithms that allow for "surprise-based learning." The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), which is funding the research, believes the project could have some key implications for future warfighters. NASA, which has a SuperBot program of its own, also plans to make use of the results of the AFOSR-funded project.
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Integrating Embedded Systems
ICT Results (04/25/08)

Researchers at the European Union-funded DECOS project say they have developed tools that will make embedded systems operate more smoothly. The DECOS team aimed to reduce the number of integrated systems necessary to complete certain tasks, and to ensure that integrated applications would not interfere with each other. The team developed a dependable middleware of high-level services based on several time-triggered core protocol services. The protocols were developed to respond to safety-critical applications requirements, with a special focus on real-time applications, allowing for lower development costs and higher protocol efficiency and predictability. The researchers created a prototype tool-chain and test-bench, which includes validation and certification support, hardware and software components, and basic software building blocks. Using the package, the DECOS researchers applied the prototype to automotive, avionics, and industrial control embedded systems. The automotive trial tested adaptive lighting and door positioning. For industrial control, the DECOS architecture helped suppress critical vibrations during nano-imprinting. In aerospace, the DECOS team developed a demonstrator for a shift in airplane flap control. Project deputy coordinator Erwin Schoitsch says, "It's a long-term proposition, but we demonstrated that it was feasible."
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Information Security Set for Explosive Growth
Campus Technology (04/24/08) Nagel, David

Compliance and public confidence issues will cause information security to dramatically expand over the next few years, predicts a Frost & Sullivan and (ISC)2 report. Worldwide, the number of information security professionals is expected to increase from 1.66 million in 2007 to about 2.7 million by 2012. The report says that, as a percentage, most of the growth will occur in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, though the Americas will dominate in raw numbers, expanding from 685,700 professionals in 2007 to more than 1.1 million in 2012. The 2008 (ISC)2 Information Security Workforce Study polled 7,548 respondents from the public and private sectors in the fall of 2007. The report says that forces driving the expansion of information security include regulatory compliance initiatives that make executives responsible, organizations' needs to prevent damage to their reputation and to maintain public confidence, and possible financial losses for failing to meet regulatory requirements. Frost & Sullivan estimates that the potential cost of a data breach varies between $50 to $200 per record lost, not including intangible losses that result from damage to the organization's reputation. The top security concerns include intrusion prevention, risk management solutions, vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, and incident management. To support these technology and security goals, 40 percent of respondents said that they will personally acquire additional certifications within the next 12 months.
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Critical Infrastructure Central to Cyber Threat
Federal Computer Week (04/24/08) Bain, Ben

Cybersecurity specialists at the GovSec, U.S. Law and Ready Conference and Exposition in Washington, D.C., warned that the nation is increasingly prone to cyberattacks that could have a disastrous effect on vital physical infrastructure. Among those in attendance at the event was US-CCU director Scott Borg, who said that scalable cyberattacks could destroy a large number of electricity generators that would take years to replace. Such an event would likely result in deaths as well as an economic calamity. "We are talking about things much bigger than the Great Depression," Borg says. "We are talking about consequences that are only exceeded by use of nuclear weapons." Borg also voiced concern about the federal government's efforts to consolidate access points to its systems--efforts he said could make those systems more vulnerable to damage from attacks. He added that cybersecurity and military efforts should begin to focus on resiliency, creating robust systems, and protecting critical infrastructure instead of focusing solely on perimeter defenses.
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Shape-Shifting Robots Take Form
New Scientist (04/26/08)No. 2653, P. 36; Hecht, Jeff

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is making a sizable investment in reconfigurable robots, such as modular "mesoscale" machines that can assemble themselves into any desired shape. Developers are planning to demonstrate a system with a minimum of 1,000 modules over the next two years. This deviates from traditional areas of investigation into shape-shifting robotics systems such as nanoparticle fluids. A key challenge to making reconfigurable robots feasible is giving the modular devices an efficient way to align themselves relative to each other, and University of Pennsylvania roboticist Mark Yim is working with modules comprised of two metal pieces connected by a motorized hinge, and with magnet-equipped plates on the side and bottom. Some modules are also outfitted with a digital camera and processor to effect navigation. The default configuration of shape-shifting robots is an important question, but a "snake" design becomes impractical when thousands of modules are involved, so researchers are testing an architecture where modules are organized into a lattice-like 3D pattern. Cornell University roboticist Hod Lipson says building more sophisticated structures via reconfigurable robotics may require a probabilistic rather than deterministic approach, involving large numbers of modules getting shaken up so that they fill a desired volume. Special algorithms will be required to address the control and communication needs of the many modules, while reducing the size of each module even to mesoscale calls for an incredible feat of engineering.
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The Eyes Have It ... Finally
CITRIS Newsletter (04/08) Slack, Gordy

Rural patients in India can be connected to eye doctors through cheap and reliable broadband furnished by University of California, Berkeley professor Eric Brewer's CITRIS-supported Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) project, whose network includes 13 clinics and three hospitals. UC Berkeley computer science student Sonesh Surana says the clinics are facilitating videoconferences with ophthalmologists for about 3,000 rural patients per month. The TIER group utilized Wi-Fi cards based on the 802.11 networking standard, and extended and narrowed its penetration while maintaining decent transmission speed by tweaking the software and focusing the signal from routers with high-gain directional antennas. There must be a direct line of sight between stations in order to sustain a connection, but TIER member Rabin Patra says obstacles can be circumvented by the addition of a relay on a tower. The system has the speed and reliability to support videoconferencing as well as the transmission of clear ophthalmologic images and other data, and Surana says it can penetrate regions that lack cable, wires, and cell phone coverage. One of the core appeals of the system is its inexpensiveness: The onetime Wi-Fi gear costs just $800 per link, and operation is very cheap following system setup. Since the system went operational three years ago, local villagers have been able to fix and maintain the networks themselves, while Surana is working on built-in mechanisms that can alert users on both ends to incipient system breakdowns. He is also focusing on finding ways to tell users whether a system crash is caused by a power failure or something else that could be repaired.
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