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June 2, 2008

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Welcome to the June 2, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Campus Tribute Honors Missing UC Berkeley Researcher
Daily Californian (06/02/08) Dongallo, Angelica

University of California, Berkeley alumnus Jim Gray was honored with a special tribute at the university on Saturday. Gray disappeared in January 2007 while sailing his boat to the Farallon Islands near the San Francisco Bay. Gray received a bachelor's degree in math from UC Berkeley in 1961 and then became the first person to earn a doctorate in computer science from the university in 1969. He would go on to work as a programmer at companies such as IBM, Tandem Computers, and Microsoft. Gray helped develop e-commerce, online ticketing, and automated teller machines. He received ACM's A.M. Turing Award in 1998. "I think he was a wonderful guy in the sense that he was a towering intellect, but still had time to advise [others]," said Shankar Sastry, dean of the College of Engineering, who spoke at the tribute. UC Berkeley, ACM, IEEE, and Gray's family were among the sponsors of the day-long event, which offered a technical session after the tribute.
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Design Automation Conference Professional Development Fund to Award More Than $170,000 This Year
Business Wire (05/28/08)

The Design Automation Conference (DAC) and sponsoring groups will award more than $170,000 in Professional Development Funds this year to students and professionals in the EDA industry. The A. Richard Newton Graduate Scholarships, the P.O. Pistilli Advancement in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Program, the Young Student Support Program, and the University Booth Program will be among the recipients of the funds. For example, the A. Richard Newton Graduate Scholarships will receive $24,000 to support graduate students who are pursuing research in electronic design automation and circuit design. The Young Student Support Program will receive $28,000 to help defer the cost of registration fees, banquet tickets, and travel expenses for students attending DAC. Funds will also be used to provide scholarships to students from underrepresented groups, and to seed university booths and workshops at DAC and the Design Automation Summer Schools. "DAC is committed to ensuring the continued growth of the EDA industry, and we reflect that by making this annual pledge to continuing education both within academia and in professional development," says Steve Levitan, 45th DAC Past Chair, who oversees the DAC Professional Development Fund. Over the past 15 years, more than $2.2 million has been awarded in DAC Professional Development Funds. DAC is scheduled for June 8-13, 2008, at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif.
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The Changing Face of IT
Imperial Valley News (05/30/08)

Too few African Americans, Hispanics, and women are graduating with degrees that prepare them for jobs in IT, an issue that has prompted Microsoft to hold a Web conference that includes leading engineering and diversity experts. Statistics from the National Center for Women & Information Technology show that African Americans accounted for only about 11 percent of bachelor's degrees in computer science and Hispanics accounted for about 7 percent in 2006-2007. Women accounted for only 19 percent of computing and information science undergraduate degrees in 2006-2007, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. NCWIT also cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics predictions that computer-related occupations are some of the fastest-growing occupations, and will add up to 822,000 more jobs to the U.S. economy by 2016. The Web conference will discuss reasons for the shortage and how to increase diversity in IT fields. "The lack of diversity in the IT field presents itself not because pursuing a engineering degree is too hard and blacks and Hispanics turn away, but because too few students, of any race or ethnicity, are exposed to math and science," says National Society of Black Engineers executive director Carl Mark. "There is also a lack of role models in these communities attracting students to these disciplines. Major IT corporations like Microsoft have to find a way to build the existing pipeline of talent by exciting students about careers in IT."
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Intelligent Computers See Your Human Traits
PhysOrg.com (05/29/08) Zyga, Lisa

University of Toronto (UT) researchers have developed a system capable of recognizing six human emotional states by analyzing a human's face to determine how he or she is feeling. The system can recognize the emotions in people from different cultures, who speak different languages, with an 82 percent success rate. "Human-centered computing focuses on understanding humans, including recognition of face, emotions, gestures, speech, body movements, etc.," says UT's Yongjin Wang. "Emotion recognition systems help the computer to understand the affective state of the user, and hence the computer can respond accordingly based on that perception." Wang and UT's Ling Guan note that facial and vocal expressions play an important role in characterizing some emotions but a smaller role in other emotions. The researchers used a step-by-step method to add a single feature at a time to their program to find the most relevant features for identifying an unknown emotion. The researchers then used a multi-classifier scheme to separate possible emotions based on combinations of facial and vocal features. Wang says the most difficult part of enabling a computer to detect human emotion is the vast variance and diversity of vocal and facial expressions due to culture, language, and individual personality.
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Arkansas Election Officials Baffled by Machines That Flipped Race
Wired News (05/29/08) Zetter, Kim

Election officials in Faulkner County, Arkansas, are trying to determine how two voting machines allocated votes cast in one race to an entirely different race that was not even on the electronic ballot. The problem resulted in the wrong candidate being declared the winner in a state House race. Election commissioner Bruce Haggard says he does not understand how the error could have happened. The error occurred on two touch-screen voting machines made by Election Systems & Software, which were the only machines used in Faulkner County's East Cadron B voting precinct. Haggard says the night before the election officials noticed that the electronic ballot on the two machines was missing the State House District 45 race, so officials printed paper ballots to be used just for that race in the precinct. Voters used the machines to cast votes for other races, and cast paper ballots for the District 45 race, but a post-election examination revealed that despite the fact that the electronic ballots on the two machines did not display the District 45 race, the machines recorded votes for that contest. Officials eventually determined that the machines took votes cast in the Cadron Township Constable race and put them in the non-existent District 45 race. Haggard says officials were able to determine where the votes came from because the machines produced a voter-verifiable paper audit trail, which correctly showed that there was no District 45 race on the ballot and therefore there were no votes cast in that race on the machines. Haggard says he expects ES&S to provide a reason for why the machines distributed the votes incorrectly, and he has asked the secretary of state's office to conduct an examination with ES&S, which Haggard says will likely take place in June.
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Computer Model Reveals How Brain Represents Meaning
Carnegie Mellon News (05/29/08) Spice, Byron; Wazman, Anne; McElhinny, Kelli

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed the first computational model capable of predicting the brain activity patterns associated with words. Previous research has shown that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to detect which areas of the brain are activated when a person focuses on a specific word. CMU researchers led by computer scientist Tom M. Mitchell and cognitive neuroscientist Marcel Just have gone a step further by predicting the activation patterns for concrete nouns that do not have fMRI images. The research could lead to the use of brain scans to identify thoughts and could have applications in the study of various diseases. The computer model was constructed using fMRI activation patterns for 60 concrete nouns and by statistically analyzing a set of texts totaling more than a trillion words through machine learning. The computer model uses both sets of information to predict the activation patterns for thousands of concrete nouns contained in the texts with accuracies significantly greater than chance. To predict the fMRI activation pattern for any concrete noun within the texts, the computational model determines the noun's co-occurrences within the texts with 25 sensory-motor verbs such as touch, eat, drive, or lift, and builds an activation map based on how those co-occurrences affect each vowel. Mitchell says they have identified several basic building blocks that the brain uses to represent meaning, and that by combining the building blocks with the computational method used to capture the meaning of a word could predict neural activation patterns for any concrete noun.
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Home-Brewed Clusters That Could Change the World
HPC Wire (05/27/08) West, John E.

The SC08 supercomputing conference's annual Cluster Challenge pits undergraduate teams against one another to see who can build and configure a cluster that performs the most work, using real computational codes, in the shortest amount of time. The Cluster Challenge Web site says the event is designed to spotlight the ability of potential users around the world "to harness open source software to solve interesting and important problems," while Challenge co-chair Brent Gorda says the competition's undergraduate element sends companies the message that cluster-proficient talent is available at their local college or university. A team is composed of up to a half-dozen undergrads, a supervisor, and an optical vendor partner that is encouraged to provide training, equipment, and financial support. The competition plays a vital role in the recruitment and training of next-generation high-performance computing professionals, and four of the six teams from last year's Challenge are making presentations this month, and three of the schools represented in the contest are currently teaching cluster-oriented classes. Challenge participants are required to fit the cluster compute hardware into a single 42U rack driven by a pair of 120-volt, 13-amp circuits. "At the event one team achieved an amazing 420 GFlops of performance on HPL [Linpack]," says Gorda. "That score would have put them in the Top 500 in 2003, only four years earlier." SC08, sponsored by ACM and IEEE, takes place Nov. 15-21, 2008, in Austin, Texas.
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Voting 2.0. Part 2: The Open Source Proposition
Linux Insider (05/30/08) Noyes, Katherine

Stanford University professor and Verified Voting Foundation founder David Dill says the trustworthiness of an electronic voting machine can only be ensured with a voter-verifiable audit trail, and his group currently recommends a system whereby voters fill out a paper ballot and place it into a scanner that also serves as a ballot box. The scanner counts or records the ballot, or gives the voter an opportunity to correct the ballot if it is mismarked. A bigger issue is whether any voting technology should be proprietary, and an open source voting system is being urged by groups such as the Open Voting Consortium, which believes that a paper trail alone cannot guarantee the transparency of all aspects of an election. An Ubuntu-based open source system designed by the consortium is also voter-verifiable because it lets the public review in advance the screens they will see on Election Day, represented as pre-rendered picture files. Princeton University professor Ed Felten says the public should be allowed to view the source code and comprehend the design of the technology, while less important is giving people the ability to modify the software. Dill acknowledges that an open source solution is desirable, although it is not a panacea by any means. "Open source can still be buggy and malicious, and it's also still very hard to know that that software is what the machine is actually running," he says.
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Google Reaches Out to Developers
BBC News (05/29/08) Shiels, Maggie

Though Google executive Vic Gundotra admitted at the Google IO developers conference that ensuring the company's profitability is a key impetus behind its open source efforts, he said "the more money Google makes, the more it pours back into open source projects." A conference demo highlighted new applications for the Android mobile operating system, Google's open source smart phone software platform. Such applications include a way to unlock phones by drawing shapes on the touch screen, a compass tool that enables automatic map orientation when a user looks at photo images of a city, and a magnifier that zooms in on Web content. Gundotra downplayed the idea that Android is ready to compete with Apple's iPhone, while many Google IO attendees were there to hear about Google's App Engine, a development platform designed to put the browser ahead of the desktop, and which Google's Kevin Gibbs said would be available to everyone. Google reported that its Google Earth 3D visualization software could now be incorporated into Web sites via a simple plug-in. Google Earth technical lead Paul Rademacher predicted that the software should prove very popular with property sites and travel sites. Google is attempting to attract developers away from desktop application design and toward Web applications, with Gundotra noting during his keynote speech that "we want to accelerate the capability of the browser."
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Method Uses 'Bluetooth' to Track Travel Time for Vehicles, Pedestrians
Purdue University News (05/27/08) Venere, Emil

Indiana Department of Transportation engineers have created a method that uses Bluetooth signals from cell phones and other wireless devices to constantly update vehicle and pedestrian travel times. The method represents a potentially low-cost approach that could provide information for everything from the speed of the morning commute to the wait in airport security lines. "This is incredibly valuable information that could be used for many purposes, including better traffic signal timing and management of construction work zones to reduce congestion, as well as real-time traffic information for motorists," says Purdue University professor Darcy Bullock. "Now we have a way to measure how slow traffic is on a given stretch of road or how long it's taking people to get through airport security at a given concourse and time of day." Bullock is developing the method along with Indiana DOT engineers Jason S. Wasson and James R. Sturdevant. The method uses the identifying addresses from Bluetooth devices in consumer electronics. Each device has its own unique signature, allowing it to be tracked by detectors installed at intersections or along highways or other locations. Travelers would be able to access the travel-time information using the same mobile devices that provide the system with information. "It gives you quantitative 24-hour feedback on traffic flow, information we can use for design and operation decisions," Wasson says. Sturdevant says data from the system could provide information on short-term factors such as congestion for construction zones, as well as long-term trends that require design changes.
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Messaging Without Barriers
ICT Results (05/28/08)

The goal of the COnverged MEssaging Technology (COMET) project is the development and deployment of a messaging architecture and framework allowing users to send, receive, navigate, and manage their messages using any network technology and access device, regardless of location or time of day. "From an end-user perspective, COMET allows a messaging user to send and receive messages without having to know what messaging technology his or her counterpart is using," says COMET project manager John van Kemenade. "The user simply can focus on the message itself." An important component of the project architecture is the Message Routing Protocol, which permits the exchange of single messages and instant message dialogues between distinct and previously non-interoperable message domains. Kemenade says the foundation of COMET's message convergence approach is seamless and presence-aware message inter-workings between the legacy message domains, which gives the system an awareness of when and where recipients are reachable, and by what type of message service. The consortium behind COMET produced a highly intuitive messaging user experience model and client software that can operate on desktop computers, handsets, set-top boxes, and other devices, and is capable of managing all messaging with a consistent user experience. The consortium collaborates closely with several international industry bodies—among them the Open Mobile Alliance, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and the 3rd Generation Partnership Project—to contribute to a unified suite of standards to facilitate seamless, global messaging. The project's researchers are hopeful that a more consistent and intuitive messaging service will permit the entry of new groups, including those that are not particularly technology-proficient, into the "electronic messaging community."
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Robots Go Where Scientists Fear to Tread
Georgia Institute of Technology (05/27/08)

Scientists are working to understand how and why the world's ice shelves are melting, and while much of the data they need—such as temperatures, wind speed, humidity and radiation—can be obtained by satellite, old-fashioned on-site measurement is more accurate. However, static ground-based weather stations do not allow scientists to collect data from as many locations as they would like and many of the locations are volatile ice sheets that could crack, shift, or fill with water. To help scientists collect the data they need safely, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, working with Pennsylvania State University, have designed special robots called SnoMotes to travel to these potentially dangerous areas. The SnoMotes work together to cover the necessary area and gather assigned scientific measurements. Data collected by the SnoMotes could give scientists a better understanding of the important dynamics that influence the stability of ice sheets. The SnoMotes, based on a sturdy kit snowmobile designed for children, are not remote-controlled, but rather they navigate autonomously using cameras and sensors. To use SnoMotes, scientists will select a location for investigation and create a "safe camp" that the SnoMotes will be launched from. The SnoMotes would then be programmed with their assigned coverage area and requested measurements. The scientists will be able to monitor the SnoMotes' progress and reassign locations and data collection from the safe camp. The first phase of the SnoMote project is focused on testing the mobility and communications capabilities of the rovers, while later versions will include a more developed sensor package and larger rovers.
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Researchers Develop Wall-Climbing Robots
Computerworld (05/27/08) Gaudin, Sharon

SRI International, a nonprofit, independent research and development organization, has developed an electrical adhesive technology that could allow robots to climb walls, which could be used by the U.S. military for reconnaissance operations. SRI International's Philip von Guggenberg says the new electrical adhesive technology, called compliant electroadhesion, provides an electrically controllable way to stick machines to a wall. The researchers induce negative charges into the wall, while simultaneously imposing positive charges into the robot, using an on-board battery source; the resulting attraction allows the robots, using either feet or tracks, to scale vertical surfaces, including walls made of concrete, wood, steel, glass, drywall, and brick, even if the surface is covered with dust or debris. Von Guggenberg says regular robots can be retrofitted with the technology to make them wall climbers. The robots could be used for reconnaissance or to climb to higher areas to establish wireless networks. Von Guggenberg would not say if the government has made a commitment to use the technology, but he did say that the technology should be ready for use in the real world in six to nine months.
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Interactive Websites Draw Minds, Shape Public Perception
Penn State Live (05/25/08)

Penn State media researchers say the interactive look and feel of a corporate Web site can help shape positive perceptions about the organization if the site has a likable design and features that engage the target audience, particularly job seekers. Penn State professor of film, video, and media studies S. Shyam Sundar and former undergraduate student Jamie Guillory are researching how interactivity in Web sites influences the public's perception of an organization. Sundar says interactivity acts as a volume knob that boosts whatever effect a site has on people, be it positive or negative. The Penn State researchers want to see if the same effect is true even if people viewing the site are highly engaged, or whether they form their opinions based on the features a Web site has only if they do not know enough about a topic. In the study, 116 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to one of seven Web sites representing low, medium, and high levels of interactivity. The students were asked to review the career sections of those sites because those pages require a higher level of involvement. Features on the sites included allowing a person to click a link for job inquiries, follow a link for information on a specific job, submit an online application, and view video footage of the company and its employees. The students then answered questions on their perceptions of an organization based on their experience on the Web site. The results indicated that there is a significant positive relationship between the level of interactivity on a career Web site and job seekers' perception of that organization. "We found that both liking and involvement are significant mediators such that people who saw a high interactive Web site liked it more, and they also got involved as a result of liking it more," says Sundar.
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To Make a Security Point, Hackers Tweak an Implantable Pacemaker
Sacramento Bee (CA) (05/17/08) P. A4; Dahlberg, Carrie Peyton

A team of researchers has proven that with enough time, energy, and expertise a pacemaker can be hacked, though there is currently little to no risk for patients with pacemakers. Harvard cardiologist Dr. William Maisel, who specializes in heart rhythms and was on the team, says hacking is not an important risk for patients right now, but that they just want the industry to be thinking about where society is going with such devices. Maisel worked with computer experts from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the University of Washington to demonstrate that an implantable defibrillator could be accessed and altered remotely, possibly resulting in either a dangerous shock or the withholding of a potentially lifesaving one. The timing of the research is fitting, with a greater variety of implantable electronic gear being developed, particularly as the gear becomes more versatile and easier to operate from a distance. Pacemakers can send signals to bedside monitors to provide data for doctors, and some devices can be detected and reprogrammed quickly in an emergency room to help save a patient's life. UC Davis Medical School professor Larry Wolff, who specializes in implanting defibrillators, says he believes in time it will be possible to make programming changes to implanted medical devices over the telephone. Researchers at the Medical Device Security Center tested a pacemaker in a lab, using $30,000 worth of commercially available equipment to assist with the hack, altering the device from less than an inch away.
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Religion Is a Product of Evolution, Software Suggests
New Scientist (05/27/08) Callaway, Ewen

Evogod is a computer program designed to determine if religion can emerge as an evolutionary adaptation, following a theory that the non-religious were gradually purged from human populations by natural selection. Oakland University evolutionary anthropologist James Dow wrote Evogod to concentrate on the evolutionary advantages people receive from their interactions with one another, and focused on the assumption that the desire to proclaim religious information to others is a genetic trait. Essentially, the model assumes that a small human population is genetically predisposed to communicate unverifiable information to others, and that they passed on this trait to their offspring while also interacting with people who did not circulate unreal information. Religion thrived in scenarios where Dow employed the assumption that non-believers would be attracted to believers because of some clear, but arbitrary, signal. "Somehow the communicators of unreal information are attracting others to communicate real information to them," Dow says.
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Colleges Mine Data to Predict Dropouts
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/30/08) Vol. 54, No. 38, P. A1; Rampell, Catherine

Purdue University and other colleges are using data mining to measure student performance in an effort to predict dropouts and intervene in order to enhance retention. Purdue uses a risk algorithm based on academic variables such as GPAs and standardized-test scores, along with the frequency with which students log into a course Web site, which rates their academic performance on a traffic light graphic and sends emails recommending that they confer with an instructor or get outside help. The variables used to measure student performance can differ among schools, and not all of the variables are academically oriented. For example, administrators at the University System of Georgia ascribe a lot of value to the "locus of control," which is a personality-test measure used to ascertain the degree of control students feel they have over their destinies. In most instances, students are unaware that their performance is being analyzed in order to predict their likelihood of retention, and in certain cases the universities attempt to keep them ignorant of this. Such projects have thus far yielded modest gains in student retention, but officials are hopeful that these rates will show improvement once new policies inspired by the data mining-based analytics are perfected. Retention experts admit that sometimes students who are statistically pegged as being at risk for dropping out end up succeeding, while conversely, students whose high-school records predict success can fail.
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