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ACM TechNews
May 19, 2008

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Welcome to the May 19, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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BCS Editor in Chief Receives SIGMETRICS Achievement Award
PublicTechnology.net (05/19/08)

Erol Gelenbe, the editor-in-chief of the British Computer Society Computer Journal, will receive the ACM SIGMETRICS Achievement Award. Gelenbe holds the Dennis Gabor Chair in the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department at Imperial College London. ACM says Gelenbe is "the single individual who, over a span of 30 years, has made the greatest overall contribution to the field of computer system and network performance evaluation through original research, mentoring and doctoral training, creation and direction of world class research groups, wide-ranging international collaboration, and professional service." Gelenbe will be invited to give the opening keynote at the ACM SIGMETRICS 2008 Conference in Annapolis, Md., on June 3, 2008.
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High-Tech Japanese, Running Out of Engineers
New York Times (05/17/08) P. A1; Fackler, Mark

Japan is starting to run out of engineers and is facing a declining number of young people entering engineering and technology-related fields. Japanese universities are calling the problem "rikei banare" or "flight from science." The decline has prompted the launch of advertising campaigns that make engineering look sexy and cool, and companies are now importing foreign workers or sending jobs to where the engineers are, such as Vietnam and India. Educators, executives, and even young Japanese people say Japanese youth are behaving like Americans and choosing better-paying professions such as finance and medicine, or more creative careers such as the arts, instead of following their parents into what many see as the less-glamorous world of engineering. Although the first signs of a declining interest in engineering in Japan were seen almost two decades ago, only now are Japanese companies starting to feel the pressure. The Japanese ministry of internal affairs estimates that the digital technology industry is already half a million engineers short. The problem is likely to worsen because Japan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world. Efforts to import engineers have been largely unsuccessful, partially because of Japan's ingrained xenophobia, the country's language, and a closed corporate culture. The county has started to accept more foreign engineers, but nowhere near the number the industry needs.
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Q&A: Software's Advance Is So Steady, You Probably Don't Even Notice It
Computerworld (05/19/08) Anthes, Gary

William Scherlis, director of Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Software Research, disputes the assumption that the evolution of software is lagging in comparison to hardware. He says "the market drives us to create new value, and so we're improving tools, languages, and processes at the top end just as quickly as we 'routinize' and automate at the low end." He cites software framework technologies as key to the breakthrough of cleanly separating infrastructure provisioning from infrastructure usage. Scherlis says the concept of service-oriented architecture involves the construction of a series of protocols supporting the rich, flexible frameworks model, and notes that "SOA is appealing because it gives you a sense that you can plug and play." Meanwhile, he says developers will need to make a great effort toward leveraging multicore chips' concurrent processing potential, given the culture's emphasis on testing and code inspection. He cites his work with analysis-based verification, which he envisions as an alternative to running code repeatedly in the hopes of spotting errors. The process involves a mathematical analysis that delivers an overview about the full spectrum of all possible runs. Scherlis postulates that the management of enterprise-scale architectural innovation that frames the operation of the numerous small teams, which function seemingly separately, is perhaps the most pressing matter looking ahead.
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Researchers Teach 'Second Life' Avatar to Think
Associated Press (05/19/08) Hill, Michael

Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers are using Second Life's virtual world to test the abilities of intelligent machines. A Second Life avatar, Edd Hifeng is a steel-gray robot controlled by a computer at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Artificial Intelligence and Reasoning Laboratory. The computer is endowed with a limited ability to converse and reason. Rensselaer lab director Selmer Bringsjord says Second Life is an excellent place to test artificial intelligence because it is a controllable environment. "It's a very inexpensive way to test out our technologies right now," Bringsjord says. He says Edd is a forerunner to more sophisticated creations that could possibly interact with people inside 3D projections of places, which could be used for training emergency responders, for example. Edd does not roam Second Life freely, and is restricted to places researchers assign for tests. Edd also has limited interaction abilities, and can only understand English that has previously been translated into mathematical logic. University of California, Santa Cruz professor Michael Mateas says virtual worlds can advance AI research without forcing scientists to solve difficult problems, such as creating a virtual human. "It's a fantastic sweet spot--not too simple, not too complicated, high cultural value," Mateas says.
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Report: Government's Cyber Security Plan Is Riddled With New Spying Programs
Wired News (05/15/08) Singel, Ryan

The Bush administration's proposed National Cyber Security Initiative is criticized by a budget report from the Senate Armed Services Committee for being more about spying than about safeguarding government networks, for its planned use of unproven, early-stage technology, its secrecy, and the possible unlawful or inadvisable nature of its projects. "[S]ome of the projects support foreign intelligence collection and analysis generally rather than the cybersecurity mission particularly," the report says. "That is not to say that the proposed projects are not worthwhile, but rather that what will be achieved for the more than $17 billion planned by the administration to secure the government's networks is less than what might be expected." The initiative's alleged objective is to lower the risk of federal government networks being attacked and breached by extending the tools that currently shield classified networks to all federal government networks, and also to dramatically subtract the number of Internet connections in order to make the patrolling of the government's e-perimeter less difficult. Many of the plan's specific elements are of a classified nature, but in January U.S. intelligence chief Michael McConnell expressed a desire in the New Yorker that the National Security Agency should start monitoring the Internet. The Armed Services Committee's analysis says the whole project is effectively shut out from healthy public debate because the bulk of the initiative, including most of the non-classified data about the project, is flagged as being "For Official Use Only."
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University Research Helps USA Compete
USA Today (05/19/08) P. 6B; Jones, Del

Enacted 27 years ago, the Bayh-Dole Act allows universities to patent and commercialize inventions that come from federally funded research, which has lead to breakthroughs in technology and medicine. For example, Stanford University owns the patent on Google's Internet search technology, and last year the university earned $48 million from 428 technologies it has licensed to companies. Texas Instruments CEO Rich Templeton says the United States is in a great position because it has the best research universities in the world, although he says they need more funding. According to Templeton, the corporate R&D labs like Bell Labs do not exist on the same scale as they did in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and research has now moved to a university setting. Templeton says university researchers dream of what can be done or what is possible, and they also have a powerful ability to assemble multidisciplinary teams, bringing electrical engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists, and medical researchers together with ease. Government-funded university research allows universities to conduct research into areas such as nanotechnology, which may not have a commercial application for 10 years. Templeton says we should not fear foreign companies looking to establish partnerships with U.S. universities as they will only make U.S. universities stronger, which will lead to a healthier economy.
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How Did That Chain Letter Get to My Inbox?
National Science Foundation (05/16/08) Cruikshank, Dana W.

Cornell University's Jon Kleinberg and Carleton College's David Liben-Nowell, backed by the National Science Foundation, Google, Yahoo, and the MacArthur Foundation, studied how chain emails are spread over the Internet. The researchers examined two email petitions that circulated within the past 10 years--one that supports public radio, which started in 1995, and the other in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which started in 2002. The researchers were able to find 316 copies of the public radio petition containing more than 13,000 signatures, and 637 copies of the Iraq petition with almost 20,000 signatures. The researchers mapped how the messages traveled from recipient to recipient using a tree diagram. An analysis of the diagram found that instead of traveling like a virus, with each message producing multiple direct "descendents," 90 percent of the time only a single descendent was selected. The study also found that the messages rarely took the most direct route between two inboxes, even when two people were connected by a few degrees of separation, and it was not uncommon for a recipient to receive the same message multiple times. "The chain letters themselves often got to people by highly circuitous routes," Kleinberg says. "You could be six steps away from someone, and yet the chain letter could pass through up to 100 intermediaries before showing up in your inbox."
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Jaguar Upgrade Brings ORNL Closer to Petascale Computing
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (05/15/08) Williams, Leo

Upgrades to Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Jaguar supercomputer, a Cray XT4 located at ORNL's National Center for Computational Science (NCCS), have more than doubled its performance. The system now uses more than 31,000 processing cores to provide up to 263 trillion calculations per second. "The U.S. Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been making huge strides in providing more and more simulation capabilities to advance some of the world's most important scientific and engineering research," says Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. "This upgrade is another big milestone in leadership computing and we, along with many others around the world, are looking forward to learning about the scientific breakthroughs that are borne as a result of this powerful new computing capability." The new computing power available in Jaguar will be able to double the systems contribution to DOE's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program. In 2008, the NCCS will host 30 INCITE projects from universities, private industry, and government research laboratories, contributing more than 140 million processor hours on Jaguar.
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900K Pounds Helps Queen's Lead the Way in Next Generation Computing
Queen's University Belfast (05/13/08)

The U.K. e-Science Core Program has awarded the Belfast e-Science Center (BeSC) at Queen's University a grant to continue developing next-generation computing technology that could replace the World Wide Web. BeSC is using grid technology to develop its new software and the computing technology will have an enormous processing capability. The software will allow the computing technology to act as a single database, even though data will be stored on different machines around the world. "We have been fortunate to have been involved in this national e-Science initiative from the very beginning and shape its nature," says BeSC director Ron Perrott. "It has been really exciting, rewarding and stimulating to be involved, particularly since e-Science has now permeated all areas of research and has been taken up by the European Union and other leaders in technology."
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Key Advance Made in Quest to Develop Computers That Use Quantum Photonics
Stanford University (05/14/08) Orenstein, David

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Barbara have demonstrated a logic gate that can enable the interaction between two particles of light, technology that could advance the creation of quantum computers. The key development is a solid-state device that can create interactions between two light particles, or photons. "We have demonstrated a system composed of a single quantum dot in a cavity that can be used to realize such a gate, and we demonstrated that two photons can be made to interact with each other via this system," says Stanford doctoral student Ilya Fushman. Stanford professor and project leader Jelena Vuckovic says previous demonstrations of interactions between photons required systems that used complicated atom-trapping techniques that are not as practical as their semiconductor-chip implementation, which is made with materials and manufacturing techniques that are already used by chip makers. The researchers say they are still working to create a full logic gate, and other challenges include eliminating manufacturing imperfections and consistently placing the quantum dots where they need to be in the crystals. "We are hopeful that these engineering challenges can be overcome to open the path to chip-based high-fidelity quantum logic with photons," Vuckovic says.
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Tim Berners-Lee and Media Standards Trust Win News Challenge Grant
Journalism.co.uk (05/15/08) Luft, Oliver

Sir Tim Berners-Lee has received a Knight News Challenge grant for a project that will help news organizations discern fair and accurate news among online information. Berners-Lee's Web Science Research Initiative and the Media Standards Trust in the United Kingdom have been awarded a $350,000 grant for their Transparent Journalism project, which calls for creating a system that will allow content creators to add information about sources and context to their reports via additional metadata. The extra data would be used by search engines to return articles from established news agencies. A decentralized, open source project, Transparent Journalism plans to launch a Web site later this year. "What we are trying to capture is really just basic information about news articles, who they are written by, which news organizations they are written on behalf of, when they were last edited and published, and we want to allow news organizations to do that in the simplest possible way," says Media Standards Trust's Martin Moore. "Where at all possible we want to make it extremely quick or build-in the ability to do that within an application or content management system."
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In Aching Economy, IT Job Market Still Healthy
TechTarget (05/14/08) Church, Zach

Job growth in the IT market has stayed strong despite the slowing economy, and although salary growth has slowed in the past year, industry employment surveys show that IT is still a good career choice. Dice Holdings' Tom Silver notes that unemployment in IT is about 3 percent while unemployment in the national job market is about 5 percent. Silver says that although salaries for new IT employees dropped more than 2 percent in 2007, down to an average of about $41,500, IT salaries as a whole improved about 1.7 percent over the past five years. Meanwhile, a quarterly survey by Robert Half Technology found that 14 percent of IT departments plan to expand their departments this quarter, while only 2 percent plan to reduce their staff. Robert Half's Chris Ferguson says there are still a number of markets with a demand for or shortages of highly skilled IT professionals. Skills that are most in demand include network administration, Windows administration, desktop support, and database management, according to the Robert Half survey.
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Carnegie Mellon Engineering Researchers Automate Analysis of Protein Patterns in Tissues
Carnegie Mellon News (05/12/08) Swaney, Chriss

Carnegie Mellon University biomedical engineering PhD student Justin Newberg and professor Robert Murphy have developed software that will help bioscience researchers characterize protein patterns in human tissues. Newberg says the automated protein pattern recognition tool is important for identifying biomarkers that could be useful in cancer diagnosis and therapy. The distribution of proteins in a cell or a group of cells can be used to identify the state of surrounding tissue, and the software toolbox can be used to develop novel approaches for screening tissue. Newberg notes that researchers are increasingly collecting large numbers of images because of the availability of automated microscopes. Such images provide an opportunity to improve the understanding of biological processes, but they also create a need for an automated bioimage analysis tool. In a research article in the Journal of Proteome Research, Newberg and Murphy describe how they applied their tools to accurately analyze images of eight major subcellular location patterns. They say their work proves that automated analysis of the whole Human Protein Atlas is feasible, and the two plan to continue to study and characterize all of the proteins in the atlas.
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IBM's Answer to the Food Crisis
BusinessWeek (05/14/08) Hamm, Steve

Researchers at the University of Washington and IBM's World Community Grid will access a cluster of nearly 1 million PCs distributed around the world in an effort to develop more nutritious, robust strains of rice quickly by completing complex genetic calculations in only one or two years, calculations that might have taken 200 years if running on the University of Washington's computers. "We can make things happen much faster. We should be able to get new strains to farmers within five years," says University of Washington professor Ram Samudrala. Samudrala is head of the Nutritious Rice for the World research project, which aims to gather genetic information on rice and use mathematical algorithms and 3D modeling to discover exactly how the proteins within the rice interact with each other. Computer modeling is being done through the World Community Grid, launched by IBM in 2004 as part of its corporate social responsibility program. The Grid is essentially a dispersed supercomputer that relies on individuals to donate their spare computing power when they are not using their PCs. The Grid is so powerful that it is ranked as the No. 3 supercomputer in the world. There are currently seven projects using the Grid, including research into AIDS, cancer, muscular dystrophy, and climate change in Africa.
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Wireless World Is Almost With Us
Guardian Unlimited (UK) (05/07/08) Johnson, Bobbie

Everyone will eventually be living in a wire-free world of sensors and high-tech cars, predicts British media regulator Ofcom in a new report. The report, "Tomorrow's Wireless World," highlights several areas in health and transportation where wireless technology could have a significant impact. The report suggests, for example, that body-area networks which monitor vital changes in the body and send a stream of information back to hospitals or doctors could transform the health care industry. In transportation, Ofcom predicts there will be widespread deployment of in-flight broadband services, as well as the use of new wireless technologies on trains, buses, and cars, including an intelligent transport system that will allow cars to communicate with each other to improve safety. "This technology is currently being developed by many of the major car manufacturers around the world and could be fitted to vehicles by 2015," the report says. The report also predicts that RFID technology and use will become increasingly complex. Many of the technologies in the report have already been deployed. Engineers at IBM have developed a system that uses the human body as a conduit for data, and General Motors is working with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to develop a fully-automated car.
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The Promise of Prediction Markets
Science (05/16/08) Vol. 320, No. 5878, P. 877; Arrow, Kenneth J.; Forsythe, Robert; Gorham, Michael

Evidence suggests that prediction markets can be utilized to help generate projections of event outcomes with a lower rate of error than conventional forecasting techniques as well as enhance decision making. "Prediction markets reflect a fundamental principle underlying the value of market-based pricing: Because information is often widely dispersed among economic actors, it is highly desirable to find a mechanism to collect and aggregate that information," the authors write. "Free markets usually manage this process well because almost anyone can participate, and the potential for profit (and loss) creates strong incentives to search for better information." However, state and federal Internet gambling restrictions have limited the establishment of robust and liquid prediction markets in the United States, and it is the authors' opinion that the establishment of a legal safe harbor for specified types of small-stakes markets would encourage innovation in both their design and use. The authors suggest a two-step process to enable the use of prediction markets while still satisfying lawmakers' and regulators' concerns. The first step is the creation of safe-harbor rules for selected small-stakes markets by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Entities the authors rate as eligible for safe-harbor treatment include nonprofit research institutions, government agencies that wish to carry out research similar to that of nongovernmental research outfits, and private businesses and nonprofits that are not chiefly involved in research. The second step would consist of congressional support for the CFTC's efforts to develop prediction markets, and congressional underwriting of any costs the commission incurs in promoting innovation.
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