Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org
ACM TechNews
May 5, 2008

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

Welcome to the May 5, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Pursuing the Next Level of Artificial Intelligence
New York Times (05/03/08) P. B3; Markoff, John

Stanford University researcher Daphne Koller's work in artificial intelligence, which has earned her the first-ever ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in Computing Sciences, taps an 18th-century probability theorem, and her methods have been used to enhance computer vision systems and in understanding natural language, while future applications are expected to drive the augmentation of Web search. She developed tools that helped facilitate a new type of cancer gene map based on analyzing the behavior of a large number of genes that are active in an assortment of tumors, which yielded a new explanation of how breast tumors spread into bone. Koller's work has concentrated on the Bayes rule, which describes how to convert a current assumption about an event into an amended, more accurate assumption after observing additional evidence. The application of her theoretical work into the area of information extraction could potentially lead to software systems capable of reading Web pages, organizing the information, and comprehending unstructured text. Koller is currently working with biologists at the University of California, San Francisco, and her expertise is seen as valuable in gaining a deeper understanding of cellular processes because computation is playing an increasingly important role in biology. Her work has already had a profound commercial impact, and her peers say this will expand in the coming decade. "She's on the bleeding edge of the leading edge," says Willow Garage machine vision researcher Gary Bradski.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


White House Plans Proactive Cyber-Security Role for Spy Agencies
Washington Post (05/02/08) Krebs, Brian

The White House could soon announce a policy in which U.S. spy agencies would play a role in collecting intelligence on cybersecurity threats, said an anonymous administration official. The official noted that the intelligence community is uniquely poised to counter cyberattackers who are continuously developing new intrusion strategies and taking advantage of unknown security holes in software and hardware to expose government networks. President Bush signed a directive in January that empowered the intelligence agencies to monitor all federal network traffic to prevent intruders from stealing sensitive data or disrupting vital systems, and the official said the directive will enable cyberthreat intelligence sharing between the government and the private sector. "We want a broader information flow to the private sector of the threats we're seeing, so that they can increase their security posture as well," the official stated. The majority of the 18 strategic objectives outlined in the cyber initiative are classified, but the official said the administration plans to issue additional details on at least a dozen of those goals, as soon as the Office of Management and Budget releases rules for assigning classification levels for data collected and shared under the new program. The SANS Institute's Alan Paller says intelligence agencies often face a dilemma in sharing new threat information with allies and the private sector because spy agencies frequently obtain intelligence by leveraging the same security holes in software and hardware used by America's enemies. The Center for Democracy & Technology's Jim Dempsey says the Bush administration has a tendency to tag even the most innocuous information as classified, which means the intelligence community may share less information with the private sector rather than more. "The more information that gets classified, the less likely the initiative will succeed," he says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Closing the Achievement Gap in Math and Science
National Science Foundation (05/01/08) Zacharias, Maria C.

The latest results from the National Science Foundation's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program show that elementary and middle-school students have improved their proficiency in math and science, and that the achievement gaps between African-American and Hispanic students and white students in elementary school math, and between African-American and white students in elementary and middle-school science, are narrowing. The MSP program supports institutions of higher education and K-12 schools by partnering higher education science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) faculty with K-12 teachers for mentoring and professional development. The most recent results are collected from schools where MSP projects target specific improvements in math or science programs. Data was taken from three years of student scores on state proficiency tests in math and science. Between 2003 and 2006, among approximately 39,000 students at 160 schools, the scores of white students performing at or above proficiency rose 4.6 percent, while the scores of Hispanic students rose 18.3 percentage points, and the scores of African-American students rose 17.9 percent. Asian-American, special education, and limited English students also showed improvements. MSP is now working to determine which strategies had the greatest impact on raising test scores.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Software Allows ISPs and P2P Users to Get Along Without Getting Too Cozy
Northwestern University (05/02/08)

Northwestern University researchers have developed Ono, software that eases the strain that peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing services place on Internet service providers (ISPs). Ono allows users to efficiently identify nearby P2P users and requires no cooperation or trust between ISPs and P2P users. Ono, the Hawaiian word for delicious, is open source and does not require the deployment of additional infrastructure. When ISPs configure their networks correctly, Ono can improve transfer speeds by as much as 207 percent on average, the researchers say. Ph.D. student David Choffnes, who developed Ono with professor Fabian E. Bustamante, says Ono relies on a clever trick based on observations of Internet companies to find nearby computers. Content-distribution networks (CDN), which offload data traffic from Web sites onto their proprietary networks, power some of the most popular Web sites in the world, enabling higher performance for Web clients by sending them to a server close to them. Using the key assumption that the two computers sent to the same CDN server are near to each other, Ono can identify P2P users close to each other.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Electronic 'Pet' Could Replace Passwords and PINs
New Scientist (05/02/08) Barras, Colin

Northumbria University psychologist and computer scientist Pamela Briggs and Newcastle University computer scientist Patrick Olivier say portable electronic pets capable of recognizing their owner's voice and walking style could replace passwords and PINs to secure personal information. Instead of storing a person's biometric signature in a database, that information would be kept in a small electronic pet or "biometric daemon" the owner carries around. The daemon would learn to imprint itself on its owner, after which it would use biometric signals such as a voiceprint, fingerprint, or walking pattern to identify its owner. The connection between the owner and pet would be strengthened by games and interactions between the two. When near its owner, the daemon would receive "nourishment," and act happy as a confirmation of the owner's identity, but a daemon separated from its owner would no longer receive this nourishment and die to protect the owner's information. Olivier says the elements needed to make a prototype daemon already exist, although adequate battery power is still problematic. Briggs says the daemon does not have to be an animal, but it should be something people relate to best.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Carnegie Mellon Technique Accelerates Biological Image Analysis
Carnegie Mellon News (05/01/08) Spice, Byron; Duffy, Jocelyn

Carnegie Mellon University Lane Center for Computational Biology researchers have improved an algorithm that automatically analyzes cell cultures and biological specimens. The new technique improves the efficiency of the belief propagation algorithm, a widely used method for drawing conclusions about interconnected networks and promises to allow for more accurate analysis of microscopic images created by high-speed and high-tech biological screening methods. CMU professor Geoffrey Gordon says current automated screening systems that examine cell cultures look at individual cells and do not fully consider the relationships between cells, largely because examining multiple cells simultaneously requires impractical amounts of computing time. CMU researchers were able to expand the focus from a single cell to multiple cells by increasing the efficiency of the belief propagation algorithm. The algorithm enables a computer to make inferences about a set of data by drawing from multiple sources of information. With biological specimens, the algorithm can be used to see which parts of the image are individual cells or whether the distributions of particular proteins within each cell are abnormal. However, as the number of variables increases, the belief propagation algorithm can become unwieldy, requiring excessive computing time. By improving the performance of the algorithm, the researchers say it can be applied to challenges such as text analysis, Web analysis, and medical diagnosis.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


School Kids Turning Away From Computing Subjects
Computerworld Australia (05/02/08) Hendry, Andrew

Both young men and women are avoiding high school courses that could lead to careers in IT, but young women are dropping those courses faster than young men, says Australia's Charles Sturt University Faculty of Education dean Toni Downes. Downes was a senior member of a research project that examined the interest of male and female high school students in particular high school subjects. The study of 1,334 male and female students found that only 13 percent of girls said they would study IT-related subjects in their senior years, and both boys and girls shied away from high school computing and IT subjects between 2002 and 2007. Downes believes that a shift in computer curriculum from a combination of computer literacy and foundational studies to computing and IT as an academic discipline has contributed to the decline in enrollments, particularly among females. "The reasons are complex, but the reasons that girls give are often the same reasons that disinterested boys give," Downes says. "Sometimes they are making their judgments on careers based on stereotypes, sometimes the girls are making their decisions based on self-limiting identities like 'it's not cool for me to be a nerd' because they think the career is nerdy." Downes says part of the problem is that girls do not engage with technology in ways that allow them to use it playfully, instead of just functionally, so they are not attracted to thinking creatively or critically about how and why technology works.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Symposium to Probe Impact of Internet
New Brunswick Business Journal (04/28/08) Dunne, Melissa

The 2008 International Symposium on Technology and Society, scheduled to be held in Canada in June, will examine the issues surrounding the Internet's intended and actual uses, says Susan O'Donnell, a research officer at the National Research Council Institute for Information Technology and chairwoman of the symposium's program committee. She says an example of how the intended and actual use of the Internet can vary can be seen in Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia was intended to democratize access to accurate information on a wide range of topics, and while it often succeeds in that objective, it has also been used to spread propaganda and falsehoods. The annual symposium will unite close to 100 experts from various fields, include engineering, computer science, social sciences, arts and humanities, community-based researchers, policy makers, and technology users, for a three-day event. University of New Brunswick Fredericton education professor Ellen Rose is set to be a keynote speaker. Rose believes the top issue facing post-secondary institutions and technology is the fast-paced move to offer a variety of courses online. While Internet courses may be cheaper and more convenient for both educators and students, Rose believes it is another example of technology use preceding any thought of its actual impact on society. Rose says online courses eliminate the face-to-face experience, and though there is constant communication with online learning, there is a sense of alienation at the same time.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UM Gets Only U.S. Lab for WiMAX Next Generation Wireless Applications
University of Maryland (05/01/08) Tune, Lee

The University of Maryland has opened the MAXWell Lab, a new laboratory that will provide developers of WiMAX compatible hardware and software with a large test bed for developing applications for wireless technology. The lab, backed by the WiMAX Forum, will be part of Maryland's Institute for Advanced Computer Studies. "It currently is difficult for a WiMAX application developer to test their application in a real environment at a neutral site," says MAXWell Lab director Ashok Agrawala. "This facility will support such testing extensively and the university is an excellent site for such testing." WiMAX can provide data speeds comparable to cable and ISDN services through a wireless service that covers between three and 30 miles, significantly larger than Wi-Fi hotspots. WiMAX also could allow for the creation of metropolitan-area networks as well as provide easier access to the Internet in rural areas not currently served by broadband. "This new laboratory promises the development of path-breaking applications in wireless technology," says University of Maryland President C.D. Mote, Jr.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Assistive Technology Research Institute Partners With Microsoft to Develop SeniorPC Program
Misericordia University (05/02/08)

The Misericordia University Assistive Technology Research Institute (ATRI) in partnership with Microsoft has developed the Elder Interface, software designed to make it easier for people with special needs to use computers. The interface includes larger icons, fonts, and other special features and is part of the SeniorPC initiative launched by ATRI and Microsoft to encourage seniors and others to use computers through training and education exercises. ATRI director of research and development Denis Anson will monitor the training provided to seniors participating in the program to refine training methods to meet the special needs of seniors. Anson says that younger learners like to be shown multiple ways of completing a task to learn what works best for them, while older learners may be confused by multiple options and learn best when provided a single way to complete a task, even if it is not the most efficient. Once the training has been tested, Microsoft intends to launch its SeniorPC program nationwide. Microsoft is also partnering with Hewlett-Packard and Dell to provide special computers through Microsoft Marketplace that will be packaged with the most commonly needed software for email, Web browsing, and writing, along with adaptations that tailor the computer to the needs of seniors.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Green Grid's Datacenter Metrics
HPC Wire (05/01/08) West, John E.

The Green Grid has proposed key metrics--Datacenter Infrastructure Efficiency (DCiE) and Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE)--for end-user organizations to monitor in service of its mission to help members improve datacenter energy efficiency, and Digital Realty Trust executive Jim Smith has insights into how such quantities should be measured. Smith says variables outside the datacenter manager's control play a large part in the variance in the metrics, and from a practical perspective the metrics may be more helpful as point measurements or as long-term trends. Smith indicates that DCiE and PUE exhibit high sensitivity to both server load and changes in the outside environment, such as temperature and humidity shifts. "Higher [server] loads are more efficient in terms of the metrics," he notes, and Digital Realty Trust has opted to modularize its datacenters because of this realization. Smith says it is imperative for the IT community to get measurement programs off and running because they will be critical to understanding what is happening in the datacenter, and it has the added advantage of not being excessively expensive. Smith adds that the installation of automated monitoring is not a costly option. A manager's biggest opportunity to upgrade datacenter efficiency is likely to come during a renovation or during new construction. Smith points out that certain datacenters also will be driven to implement a monitoring program in order to meet new reportage regulations.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


If You Want a Robot to React, Test the Brain
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (04/28/08) Cambourne, Keeli

Australia's The Thinking Systems Group (TSG) recently started work on creating an autonomous robotic hand that uses sensory feedback to mimic the connection between a human's hand and brain. University of New South Wales professor Michael Breakspear, a founding chief investigator of the group and a research fellow for the Black Dog Institute, says the project is not only about building the hand, but also discovering how the brain's hierarchical control systems works. "If we can build this hand there will be important ramifications for neuroscience, including understanding many brain disorders," Breakspear says. TSG's research group consists of a team of experts from the fields of neuroscience, biomedical engineering, computer science mathematics, psychiatry, and physics. The researchers are working on a silicon finger as part of the hand, and have started neuroscience experiments focused on better understanding sensory perception and motor control. A major part of the project is developing technology that can provide feedback from the robotic finger to help the hand determine the amount of force needed to lift an object. The robotic hand is only the first part of what the founding group sees as a long-term project that could lead to discoveries in other neuroscientific areas, and the development of medical instruments and devices.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Web in Infancy, Says Berners-Lee
BBC News (04/30/08) Waters, Darren

Sir Tim Berners-Lee says the World Wide Web is still in its infancy, and in the future the Web will make "all the data in the world" available to every Web user. Berners-Lee predicts that the Web's ability to create collaborative efforts could eventually lead to the Web being used to help manage the planet. "What's exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance," says Berners-Lee, adding that he hopes these new systems will create novel ways of working together effectively and fairly that can be used to manage ourselves as a planet. Robert Cailliau, who worked alongside Berners-Lee, says the ubiquity of the Web makes it appear that its success was inevitable, but that was not always the case. Cailliau helped create one of the early technical proposals for the Web, and later helped convince Cern directors to release the Web to the public. "The difficult part was explaining to them the true nature of what the Web was going to be," Cailliau says. "We had to convince them that this was going to take off and ... the best thing to do was to give it away." Cailliau says Cern played with the idea of asking for some type of royalty, but Berners-Lee was not in favor of the idea, partially because competing technologies, such as the University of Minnesota's Gopher, were offering methods for using hyperlinks to connect documents across computers on the Internet. He says putting a price on the Web would have caused these competing technologies to have taken off instead of the Web.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Robotic Wheelchair Docks Like a Spaceship
New Scientist (04/30/08) Kleiner, Kurt

Lehigh University roboticists have collaborated with Freedom Sciences to develop a wheelchair that uses laser ranging to automatically dock with vehicles. The new system, featuring an onboard computer that uses a light detecting and ranging system, employs radio signals and laser guidance to position the wheelchair onto the forks of a lift that hauls it into a van. The system bounces laser light off two reflectors on the armrests of the wheelchair to determine its position and align it with the forklift. When the vehicle reaches its destination, the system reverses the process for the laser-guided robot wheelchair. The system has achieved a 97.5 percent success rate in tests. "The real challenge is to dock with 100 percent reliability," says Lehigh roboticist John Spletzer. "That is something you can't do with remote control."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Q&A: IT Vet Gordon Bell Talks About the Most Influential Computers
Computerworld (04/29/08) Gaudin, Sharon

Microsoft principal researcher Gordon Bell has spent almost 50 years in the IT industry. Bell was a key engineer and vice president of research and development at Digital Equipment for 23 years, and later he founded the Computer History Museum. Bell is currently working on MyLifeBits, a nine-year project that is designing ways for anyone to capture the memories of their lifetime on a computer. The creation of the integrated circuit and the microprocessor in 1972 is the most influential change or product that he's seen over the years. After graduating from MIT, Bell says he started out in speech work, and he expected speech recognition to be more developed than it is. When asked what computer best illustrates the 20th century, Bell says it is either the IBM 360 mainframe, which was and continues to be the workhorse of computers, or the PC because it has had such a tremendous impact and there are billions of PCs distributed over the world. Bell thinks that telepresence is happening, but happening slowly because developers understood that the network, the IP stack, and other technologies had to improve before telepresence was possible. Looking forward, Bell says he is most excited about combining cell phones and wireless sensor networks and the ability to create radio connections between everything.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Ballot Box Blues
Government Computer News (04/28/08) Vol. 27, No. 9, Dizard III, Wilson P.

Voting process experts generally concur that states that have already deployed direct-recording electronic (DRE) systems have little choice at this point but to stick with the machines through the current election cycle. "The problem with the upcoming [general] election is that any county that doesn't have its election system locked in by now is in real trouble," says Fortify Software chief scientist Brian Chess. Supporters of DREs cite the systems' improved accessibility, among other things, while the voting equipment industry's trade association argues that the security questions raised by state studies do not take real-world conditions or the complete spectrum of anti-fraud safeguards embedded in voting policies and procedures into account. However, in December 2006 the National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a draft report noting that software-dependent systems such as DRE machines cannot be audited against any proof of the voter's intent, which adds fuel to "continued questions about voting system security and diminished public confidence in elections." The organization urged the employment of software-independent systems with a paper trail, pointing out that most states have some type of voter-verified paper records that are either used across the state or on a county-by-county basis. A bill was brought before the House earlier in April that sought to encourage states to discard DRE machines in favor of paper ballots, but the measure failed due to White House opposition based on budget considerations, says Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.).
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Move to Make Social Data Portable
Computer (04/08) Vol. 41, No. 4, P. 13; Heyman, Karen

Demand from social-network users for some degree of data portability so that they can transfer their information between sites without re-entering it every time is growing as rivalry between social-network operators intensifies. Data portability could enable collaboration between multiple social Internet services because they would be using the same data. Craig Knoblock of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute says information integration and the development of universal formats to which data can be written comprise the keys to the enablement of data portability, and technologies that could play an important role in this milestone include the OpenID Foundation's decentralized ID system, which is designed to facilitate collaboration and interoperation between the Web's distinctive login and registration systems; and the OAuth protocol that permits secure and standardized application programming interface-based authentication from desktop or Web-based applications. Among the organizations engaged in data-portability initiatives is the Data Portability Workgroup, which is striving to classify the nature of data portability on social-networking sites, encourage best data-portability practices, and endorse open standards for putting those practices into effect. Other participants in activities related to data portability include Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly says data portability carries concerns about privacy and security. Many data-portability skeptics cite implementation as the critical issue, with OpenID Foundation executive director Bill Washburn noting that "portability of data is being defined on the fly and without much certainty as to what the final definition or destination will be."
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.