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ACM TechNews
May 23, 2008

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


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Cryptography Expert Wins ACM Award for Advances in Protecting Privacy of Information Retrieval
AScribe Newswire (05/22/08)

ACM has named Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Lab researcher Sergey Yekhanin the winner of the 2007 Doctoral Dissertation Award. Yekhanin has developed a new way to keep a query private when the user is accessing a public database. With new families of private information retrieval schemes and a special kind of error-correcting codes known as locally decodable codes, the research supports the kind of anonymity that will improve the security and use of cyber-infrastructure. The research has also helped further protection for data storage, secure multi-party computation, and computational complexity. MIT nominated Yekhanin, whose dissertation is titled "Locally Decodable Codes and Private Information Retrieval Schemes." He will receive the Doctoral Dissertation Award and its $20,000 prize at the annual ACM Awards Banquet on June 21, 2008, in San Francisco, Calif. Benny Applebaum, a post doctoral candidate at Princeton University, Yan Liu, a research staff member at IBM Research, and Vincent Conitzer, assistant professor of computer science and economics at Duke University, received honorable mention and will each receive a $10,000 prize.
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Computer Programs Decide Humans' Fates, Set Social Policy, Panelists Say
Wired News (05/22/08) Singel, Ryan

The growing intelligence of computer applications acting as agents of users raises privacy and legal issues, said Brooklyn College of the City of New York professor Samir Chopra, who spoke at a panel during ACM's Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference in New Haven, Conn. Other panelists emphasized that computer systems are already acting as agents and making decisions such as if someone is a known terrorist, a likely threat at the border, or a deadbeat parent late on child support. University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron noted that government agencies are now using software to make the decisions, instead of just for decision support. Citron cited Colorado's public benefits computer system that determines whether people are eligible for Medicaid and food stamps, which denied food stamps to people with prior drug convictions, a direct violation of state and federal law. "Humans trust computers," Citron said. "And the programmers didn't check for legal compliance; they checked for bugs." Such errors are likely to worsen as more decisions are delegated to computer systems, he said.
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E-Voting Banned by Dutch Government
InterGovWorld.com (05/21/08) Udo de Haes, Andreas

The Netherlands has banned the use of electronic voting machines in future elections due to concerns that the technology was too vulnerable to eavesdropping. "Developing new equipment furthermore requires a large investment, both financially and in terms of organization," according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. "The administration judges that this offers insufficient added value over voting by paper and pencil." The Dutch government also banned voting printers, which were criticized by a group of experts led by Bart Jacobs, a professor at Radboud University in Nijmegen, over similar security concerns. The Netherlands will make use of electronic vote counting, and will conduct tests to improve its effectiveness. The local activist group "Wij vertrouwen stemcomputers niet" (We don't trust voting computers), led by computer hacker Rop Gonggrijp, declared the decision a victory for those who want verifiable election results.
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'U2 3D' Film Director Selected as SIGGRAPH 2008 Featured Speaker
Business Wire (05/20/08)

The Irish artist who co-directed and produced a film on the rock band U2 will be a featured speaker at ACM's SIGGRAPH 2008. Catherine Owens will present "Giving Technology Emotion: From the Artist's Mind to 'U2 3D,'" which will address her experiences involving the first digital 3D, multi-camera, real-time production. "Catherine's ground-breaking work with 'U2 3D' is an excellent example of how the computer graphics industry continues to evolve and push the boundaries for the next generation," says Jacquelyn Martino, SIGGRAPH 2008 Conference Chair from the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. "Even the most complex technologies and films begin with an idea and emotion." Owens also directed the band's "Original of the Species" music video, which makes use of CG motion capture technology and is considered a precursor for her work on 'U2 3D.' Supportive feedback led SIGGRAPH to implement a multiple featured speaker format last year. SIGGRAPH 2008 is scheduled for Aug. 11-15, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
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Open-Source File Format Is to Be a Part of Microsoft Office
New York Times (05/22/08) P. C2; O'Brien, Kevin J.

Microsoft says it plans to give customers the ability to open, edit, and save documents in Open Document Format within Microsoft Office 2007 software starting next year. The free update will allow users to save text documents in ODF format and adjust Office 2007 to automatically save documents in ODF. Starting next year, Microsoft will also allow users to open and save files in Adobe's Portable Document Format 1.5 and PDF/A formats. Microsoft's Chris Capossela says the decision comes from Microsoft's commitment to making its programs more compatible with rival software. Ivar Jachwitz of Standards Norway, the Norwegian national standards-settings body, says proof of Microsoft's commitment to ODF and interoperability will be seen next year when the updated version of Office is available to users. "We have heard a lot of promises from Microsoft, but as of yet, we are hoping for results," Jachwitz says. The International Organization for Standards (ISO) designated ODF as the world's first global interchangeable document standard in May 2006, but Microsoft recently won ISO approval for Office Open XML (OOXML), a competing interchangeable format that the company plans to develop into an open format.
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Google Carves an Android Path Through Open-Source World
CNet (05/22/08) Shankland, Stephen

Google's Android project marks an attempt to apply open-source programming to develop a software stack for mobile devices, and Android elements that will emerge as open-source software include a music and audio decoder from PacketVideo and speech-recognition software from Nuance. But a major challenge of the project is bringing in outside developers on a venture whose code has been gestating within the company in a proprietary manner. "The community comes at the early inception of a product, not when you decide you're ready to ship a product," says Red Hat CTO Brian Stevens. However, Google engineering director Andy Rubin says Android had to begin as a closed-source project so that it could achieve stability before a transition to open source. Google will offer a certification test suite based on the work of project maintainers so that compatibility among different versions of Android will be sustained. Rubin says it was Google's desire to avoid the GNU General Public License (GPL) that motivated its decision to engage in certain projects on a solitary basis. "The thing that worries me about GPL is this: Suppose Samsung wants to build a phone that's different in features and functionality than [one from] LG," Rubin says. "If everything on the phone was GPL, any applications or user interface enhancements that Samsung did, they would have to contribute back. At the application layer, GPL doesn't work."
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45th Design Automation Conference Offers Six Full Day Tutorials
Business Wire (05/19/08)

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) will offer six educational, full-day tutorials designed to give middle management and design engineers an opportunity to improve their skills in a number of design methods. ACM's Special Interest Group on Design Automation (SIGDA) sponsors DAC, which takes place June 8-13, 2008, in Anaheim, Calif. The tutorials will be held Monday, June 9 and Friday, June 13. "Bridging a Verification Gap: C++ to RTL for Practical Design" will describe how to use high level synthesis technology to create the RTL description and formal verification technology to verify the RTL. And "Robust Analog/Mixed-Signal Design" will focus on the art of analog design, from the viewpoint of analog/mixed-signal (AMS) designers, and the design of robust analog circuits. Other tutorials include "Programming Massively Parallel Processors: the NVIDIA Experience," "DFM Revisited: A Comprehensive Analysis of Variability at all Levels of Abstraction," "Low Power Techniques for SoC Design," and "System Level Design for Embedded Systems." "We encourage design engineers, CAD developers, managers in design, and EDA companies to consider attending a full-day tutorial this year," says Narendra Shenoy, 45th DAC Tutorial Chair. For more information on the full-day tutorials, and to register, visit www.dac.com.
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MIT Helps Develop New Image-Recognition Software
MIT News (05/21/08) Chandler, David

MIT researchers led by Antonio Torralba, a professor in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has found that it takes only a few pixels of information to identify the subject of an image. The researchers say their work could lead to advances in the automated identification of online images and eventually could enable computers to see like humans do. The researchers were seeking the shortest numerical representation that can be derived from an image while still providing a useful representation of its content. Being able to create a small representation would be an important step toward automatically cataloging the billions of images on the Internet. Automatic identification would also provide a way to index pictures downloaded from a digital camera without having to go through each picture individually. The technology could eventually enable robots to autonomously understand the data collected by their cameras, allowing them to determine where they are and what they are viewing. To discover how little image information is needed for people to recognize the subject of a picture, the team reduced images to lower and lower resolutions and determined how many images at each level people could identify. Torralba says people's familiarity with images allowed them to recognize them even when coded into numerical representations containing as little as 256 to 1024 bits of data. He says using such small amounts of data per image makes it possible to search for similar pictures, and because the method uses the entire image, it can be applied to large datasets without human intervention.
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Experts Warn of Cyber Terrorism Threat
Associated Press (05/20/08) Zappei, Julia; Vatvani, Chandni

The International Multilateral Partnership Against Cyber Terrorism, which involves both public and private groups from the around the world, will create a new center in Malaysia to fight cyberterrorism. The center is likely to open by the end of 2008 and will provide such services as emergency response and training. Information technology has changed how terrorists operate, said Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union, at a May 20 conference in Malaysia attended by representatives from more than 30 countries. He said that cybersecurity needs to be incorporated into "every aspect of keeping ourselves, our countries, and our world safe." Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that nations must work together to safeguard facilities such as nuclear power plants, dams, telecommunication networks, and energy services from cyberterrorism.
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Faster Wireless Networks
Technology Review (05/21/08) Graham-Rowe, Duncan

The U.S. military is underwriting a project to develop a new generation of mobile ad-hoc networks that facilitate faster and more reliable tactical communications between personnel and vehicles, says BAE Systems' Greg Lauer. His company has developed a new wireless-network protocol that sends a description of the data rather than the data itself, which will be tested within the next year by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It has been demonstrated under simulation that the efficiency of a network using the protocol was five times higher than that of a traditional network. The project that fostered the protocol's development hints at the potential of network coding, which can eliminate data bottlenecks by having the destination node receive independent packets from various sources, with each packet containing a fragment of data that meshes together to retrieve the complete content once all the packets have been received and processed. MIT professor Muriel Medard says this method consumes less bandwidth and also makes it unnecessary to keep track of which node sent what. Under the aegis of the DARPA-funded program, BAE and MIT developed protocols that could be used to send information to multiple destinations by tapping network-coding principles. In simulation, the network utilizing the protocol was shown to reduce bandwidth requirements to one-fifth of what a conventional network needs without a downgrade in quality. Medard believes network coding could eventually be harnessed to uncover evidence of data tampering.
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European Research Consortium Turns Focus on Transactional Memory
HPC Wire (05/21/08)

The VELOX project is a three-year European-led research effort to develop seamless transactional memory (TM) systems for multi-core computers that integrate well at all levels of the system stack. The project is backed by the VELOX consortium, coordinated by the Barcelona Supercomputing Center, that unites nine research and systems integration organizations. As multi-core chips become more popular, eventually becoming the architecture of choice for mainstream computing, they will require programs to be rewritten in parallel for computers that have multiple processing cores. One of the fundamental issues in developing parallel programs is finding a coordinated and orderly way of accessing shared data. The TM programming paradigm has a strong chance to become the approach of choice for handling multi-core data. Combining sequences of concurrent operations into atomic transactions could lead to a significant reduction in the complexity of programming and verification, making parts of the code appear to be sequential without needing to program fine-grained locks. The VELOX project will develop an integrated TM stack that can span a system from the underlying hardware to the high-end applications.
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Microsoft Gives Students a Peek at the Future
San Francisco Chronicle (05/23/08) P. C1; Gage, Deborah

Microsoft invited visitors to its Mountain View, Calif., research lab on May 22nd to demonstrate about a dozen of the company's most innovative projects. The visitors included high school students, who were given a private lunch with Microsoft researchers. Microsoft employs about 800 people at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley and four other research labs around the world, including one in both China and India. A sixth lab is scheduled to open this summer in Cambridge, Mass. Projects usually originate with researchers and then find their place in a product. One of the projects on display fights botnets by automatically detecting computer servers that send spam, which can be identified because the servers' Internet protocol addresses keep changing. Another project, called Pinq, obscures personal data during online searchers, and could be used by companies looking to keep sensitive financial and health care data safe. Microsoft's Silicon Valley lab is also working on tools to improve online markets, determine how online search results should be ranked, and how bugs can be found in large networks.
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The Very Model of a Modern Transistor
ICT Results (05/21/08)

Performance models for two types of power transistors will lead to more efficient smart electrical circuits, which will make technologies such as cars and home appliances more reliable and environmentally friendly. Improved transistors would use energy sources in a more efficient and economical manner, leading to greener power supplies and electronics. The double-diffused metal oxide semiconductor (DMOS) and the lateral-insulated gate bipolar transistor (LIGBT) are both important power transistors in the electronics market, but a lack of accurate models on how DMOS and LIGBT behave under different conditions has lead semiconductor manufacturers to overcompensate in their design. The over-dimensioning of the power circuit chips has resulted in a waste of the energy they consume and of the materials used to make them. Researchers working on the European Union funded Robuspic project say they have developed the models needed to make DMOS and LIGBT chips less costly and better for the environment. The researchers say semiconductor and system manufacturers can use the models to design more efficient power transistors and smart circuits.
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Army Aims to Take Guesswork Out of Cyberdefense
Government Computer News (05/20/08) Jackson, William

The Cyber-Threat Analytics (Cyber-TA) project, funded by the Army Research office, will create a global system to gather and correlate security events to provide users with early warnings on upcoming attacks, as well as aid in the configuration on sensors, filters, and other devices intended to detect and respond to such events. The project's goal is to create software that can be used to help program security devices. Livio Ricciulli, chief scientist at MetaFlows, a project participant, compares the Cyber-TA's tools to Google's page-ranking algorithms, and says the project is applying similar principles to cybersecurity warfare. Open-source organization Emerging Threats is also participating in the project, providing specialized threat signatures to complement signature updates from Sourcefire for its open-source Snort intrusion detection and prevention system. Ricciulli says the project wants to create a way of configuring sensors with a global understanding of what is happening around them. MetaFlows is updating previous Cyber-TA research by expanding algorithms for programming network security devices. The project is funded through the end of 2009, and additional National Science Foundation funding will last through 2010.
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Better Business Decisions With Real-Time Data
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (05/21/08)

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) professor Hermant Jain is developing a cross-disciplinary Real Time Enterprises Research Program that will attach intelligent cyber devices to physical objects through the Internet. The program will enable smart appliances to communicate with the electric company to find the least expensive time to run a cycle, giving them the ability to shut down or turn on based on programmed decision rules. Other applications could include tracking attendance at a summer festival by monitoring ticket bar codes, or improving health care by continuously monitoring patients in the hospital and at home. Jain says the decreasing cost of networks and sensor devices has made it practical for many businesses to deploy real-time information systems. UWM professor Matthew Petering, who has been working with Jain on programming and other aspects of software involved in real-time systems, says there has been "explosive" growth in the use of micro- to nanoscale embedded devices and sensors in all aspects of manufacturing. "We are working to develop a service-oriented, event-driven, smart cyber-agent (SES) approach for real-time management of global manufacturing enterprises that combines the ideas of both centralized and decentralized control," Petering says.
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Cat Brain Could Provide Bionic Eye Firmware
New Scientist (05/21/08) Axt, Barbara

Software developed by researchers at the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute can perceive moving images in much the same way as a cat's brain, a development that researchers hope will lead to implants that make it possible for people to see without an optic eye nerve. The researchers developed the software by recording the responses of 49 individual neurons in the part of a cat's brain called the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), which receives and processes visual information from the retina, via the optic nerve, before sending it on to the cerebral cortex. Using a mix of simple stimuli such as dots and bars, and then shifting to more complex moving artificial scenes, the researchers determined the basics of the LGN's response to visual features. The collected data made it possible to build a software model of the LGN that can approximate how the neurons would respond to real scenes. The model was tested against scenes recorded on a camera attached to a cat's head. The model's predictions were 80 percent accurate when viewing artificial scenes, but accuracy fell to 60 percent when viewing the scenes from the camera or scenes from a movie with independently moving elements. Nevertheless, the researchers say being able to predict LGN activity from moving images at all is significant.
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Schools, Businesses Must Adapt to 'Thumb Generation,' Study Says
Network World (05/15/08) Fontana, John

Generation Y is placing new technology demands on schools and will also put the same pressure on their future employers in the next three to five years, says "Technologies to Teach the Thumb Generation," a new Basex report. The report says that young people are used to being connected and having access to a number of computing devices, and the modern classroom will need to be equipped with high-tech tools to help them process and retain information. The report cites classroom-capture systems, which would allow students to access lectures and materials at a later time, and interactive white boards, which use the pull model (student to teacher) for the flow of information, as potential tools for the next-generation learning space. In the workplace, those born from 1981 to 2000 will be well prepared to use social-networking tools, similar to the way the current generation was ready to use technologies such as instant messaging. Such technology will be a key to retention and improved productivity, so companies will need to educate themselves on security and the proper use of the tools in the workplace.
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Web Searching in a Multlingual World
Communications of the ACM (05/08) Vol. 51, No. 5, P. 32; Chung, Wingyan

The abundance of multilingual Web sites carries significant implications for Web searching, and Web search portals seek to address this challenge, writes Santa Clara University's Wingyan Chung. He reviews search engines in the emerging languages of Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic, and notes for instance that the Arabic Web accounts for less than 1 percent of total Web content despite the fact that the language is spoken by over 284 million people in nearly two dozen countries. Chung says it is a typical feature for Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic search engines to present results as lists of textual items, which can restrict comprehension and analysis by users. He recommends that any prospective search-engine developer should carry out a domain analysis before building a portal in any specific language, including a review of existing portals and technologies to guarantee comprehensive coverage. The mitigation of information overload requires pre- and post-retrieval analysis, which is supported by modules that include encoding conversion, summarization, categorization, and visualization. Chung rated three prototype search portals--the Chinese CBizPort, the Spanish SBizPort, and the Arabic AMedPort--by comparing them to benchmark search engines in each of the three languages, and the results indicate that Web searching in a multilingual world is supported by the framework. Though information overload is indeed alleviated by post-retrieval analysis methods, the degree of such improvement varies across domains. On the basis of his findings, Chung advises system developers and IT managers to embed browse support and analysis tools within their online search systems and portals to enhance traditional textual list displays, while remaining cognizant of the fact that such tools are still susceptible to error mainly because of vagaries in natural-language processing and high computational costs.
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