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ACM TechNews
June 6, 2008

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Welcome to the June 6, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Call It Predictable: Cellphone Users Are Easy to Find
New York Times (06/05/08) P. A23; Schwartz, John

New research that followed 100,000 cell phone users in Europe suggests that most people follow strict patterns and can be found in one of a few locations at any time, and that people generally do not travel far from home. Even when people do travel long distances, they still display similar patterns. The researchers say that being able to create general rules and algorithms defining people's movement could lead to computer models used for understanding emergency response, urban planning, and the spread of disease. Northeastern University Center for Complex Network Research director and project author Albert-Laszlo Barabasi says that reducing individual behavior into electronic datasets creates huge opportunities for science. The researchers tracked 100,000 cell phone users selected at random from a population of 6 million for six months, with a user's location being revealed whenever one of them made a phone call. Previous efforts to track people's movements have used various currencies and complex formulas to predict behavior, but the researchers say cell phones work better because people tend to carry them wherever they go.
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13th Annual Workshop for Women in Design Automation to Welcome Students to the 45th DAC
Business Wire (06/05/08)

The Workshop for Women in Design Automation (WWINDA) has awarded 12 sponsorships that will enable graduate students to attend the 45th Design Automation Conference (DAC) and participate in the workshop. Sponsorships cover the cost of travel and workshop registration. WWINDA is a part of DAC, which will be held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, Calif., from June 8-13, 2008. Scheduled for Monday, June 9, WWINDA focuses on issues in the electronic design automation field that are important to women, and provides participants with a forum for sharing ideas and networking with fellow professionals. Mar Hershenson, vice president of product development in the custom design business unit at Magma Design Automation, will give the keynote address. "The topic of this year's workshop, 'Achieving Career Balance in an Unbalanced World,' is one that is valuable at any stage of one's career," says Peggy Aycinena, 2008 chair, WWINDA. "We are thrilled that a growing number of companies realize the importance of introducing graduate students in EECS to the EDA field before graduation."
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Google Loses Big in H-1B Lottery as Congress Gets New Visa Push
Computerworld (06/05/08) Thibodeau, Patrick

Two U.S. senators are supporting a bill that would give foreign nationals with advanced degrees permanent residency in the United States. Meanwhile, Google has publicly complained that 90 of its 300 H-1B applications were rejected due to the lottery system. The Senate legislation, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Judd Greg (R-N.H.), would allow foreign national graduates of U.S. universities to obtain permanent residence status as long as they have a job offer. The new bill is a companion bill to legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). The two bills would exempt science, technology, engineering, and mathematics advanced degree graduates from the annual 140,000-person limit on permanent residency, employer-based visas. "Ensuring that the U.S. is competitive in technology means making sure that future innovators are putting their knowledge to work here, not competing against us abroad," Boxer says. She says the best way to do that is to offer them residency. A Google spokesperson says that nine out of 10 of the company's U.S.-based employees are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but argues that "we also need to hire exceptional candidates who happen to have been born elsewhere" to remain an innovative company.
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A New Way to Protect Computer Networks From Internet Worms
Ohio State University Research News (06/04/08)

Ohio State University researchers have developed a technique that can automatically detect Internet worms within minutes of when a worm has infiltrated a computer network. Ohio State University's Ness Shroff says Internet worms spread very quickly, and can flood the Internet with junk traffic or overload computer networks and cause them to shut down. For example, in 2001, the random scanning worm Code Red infected 350,000 machines in less than 14 hours. The key to detecting worms early, the researchers found, is to monitor the number of scans that machines on a network send out. When a machine starts sending too many scans, a sign that it has been infected, it should be isolated and checked for viruses. Shroff says the difficult part of developing the technique was figuring out how many scans were too many, as machines perform scans naturally when users search for Web addresses and perform other tasks. The researchers used simulations to test their method against the Code Red worm and the SQL Slammer worm of 2003, simulating how far the virus would spread depending on how many networks on the Internet were using the same containment strategy. In the simulations, the researchers were able to prevent the spread of Code Red to less than 150 hosts on the entire Internet 95 percent of the time. To deploy this technique, network administrators would have to install software to monitor the number of scans on their networks and to allow for some downtime among computers during quarantine, which Shroff says would not be a problem for most organizations.
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Second Annual National Institute on CyberLaw: Expanding the Horizons
Association for Computing Machinery (06/06/08)

The Second Annual National Institute on CyberLaw: Expanding the Horizons, co-sponsored by ACM and scheduled for June 18-20 in Washington, D.C., will investigate developments involving the Internet and computers, particularly in the domains of business law, criminal law, and intellectual property. Issues to be covered at the event include identity theft, pornography and sexual predators on the Internet, computer crime and procedure, the future of ICANN and control of the Internet, civil copyright enforcement, ethics for managing electronic documents and evidence, digital forensics, and tracking, data mining, and marketing of data acquired from Internet users. There will also be a debate on the NSA Wiretap Program and the U.S. Constitution, with panelists that include Time Warner's David A. Kris, Electronic Privacy Information Center director Marc Rotenberg, and Andrew C. McCarthy, director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center for Law and Counterterrorism. A discussion titled "Criminal Aspects of Identity Theft: Financial Records, Data Mining, and Online Threats" will be presented by Donald A. Purdy, Jr. of Allenbaugh Samini, U.S. Homeland Security Department chief privacy officer Hugo Teufel, and Christopher Painter of the U.S. Department of Justice. The final session, titled "The Future of Computing, the Internet, and the Law: Legal Developments in Virtual Reality," will be moderated by program chair Andrew Grosso of Andrew Grosso & Associates, while featured speakers will include University of San Francisco School of Business Management professor Jonathan P. Allen, IBM Systems & Technologies Group executive Stephen Mortinger, Sean F. Kane of Drakeford & Kane, and FTI Consulting managing director Mark D. Rasch.
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A Digital Mind-Body Mapping Expedition
University of British Columbia (06/05/08) Vol. 54, No. 6, Waugh, Basil

University of British Columbia professor Dinesh Pai is leading a research team that is trying to reverse engineer the brain to model mind-body interactions, such as the sensations someone feels when they take a cold can out of the fridge. Pai says no one has completely mapped the processes at the level of specific neurons, muscles, and tendons. "Essentially, we are reverse engineering the brain to produce the first working computational model of the complex interplay between our minds and our bodies," Pai says. The team's mapping and modeling efforts have already produced some of the world's most realistic computer simulations of the human body. Pai says the research is guided by a desire to discover and model exactly what happens under our skin. Modern robots have as much in common with human movements as helicopters do with seagulls in that they both face similar challenges but use completely different solutions, Pai says. The team has been cataloging body parts and functions using magnetic resonance imaging, and tracing their interactions with the brain. This information is used to create a working 3D computer model of these functions. The team's findings could enable doctors to test surgical outcomes by giving patients a MRI and creating a personalized computer model for each patient. Pai's and PhD candidate Shinjiro Sueda's outlines on how the team's modeling of body movements can help make digital animations more realistic will be published at ACM's SIGGRAPH conference.
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IBM Water Cools 3D Chips
EE Times (06/05/08) Johnson, R. Colin

IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory recently demonstrated a set of water-cooled 3D chip stacks, which the company expects to commercialize for its multicore servers as early as 2013. By stacking memory chips between processor cores, IBM can multiply interconnections by 100 times while reducing the feature size tenfold. The stack is cooled at a rate of 180 watts per layer by water that flows through 50-micron channels between the stacked chips. "Electrical interconnects are in a wiring crisis; the wiring does not scale the way transistors scale, because the width of wires is shrinking but their length is not," says IBM Zurich researcher Thomas Brunschwiler. "Our solution is to go to the third dimension to stack multicore dice and have the interconnections go in between them vertically, which can decrease their length by up to 1,000 times." Three-dimensional, water-cooled chip stacks will interleave processor cores and memory chips so the interconnects run vertically from chip to chip through copper vias surrounded by silicon oxide. Optimizing the cooling structures for even smaller chip dimensions is the next step, and ultimately the researchers expect to develop a hierarchy of cooling structures.
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Microsoft Sees Parallel App Development as Future Trend
InfoWorld (06/04/08) Krill, Paul

Microsoft anticipates that application development will increasingly accommodate parallel systems, particularly as multicore processors become a preferred method for building more powerful computers. Microsoft's Brian Harry says the problem with parallel programming is data dependency. Multiple, independent operations will be running on the same data, making the data dependencies increasingly difficult to handle, Harry says. As a step toward parallel programming, Microsoft has developed its Parallel Extensions to the .Net Framework, which simplifies the development of concurrent applications by providing library-based functions for the introduction of concurrency into applications written in .Net languages, including C# and Visual Basic.NET. The extensions are available in a Community Technology Preview format. Microsoft's S. "Soma" Somasegar says this is a baby step, and that programming for parallelism will need to be extended to more programmers, not just the elite programmers. Harry says Web-based applications have performed well with current paradigms, but high-scale Web applications could benefit significantly from parallel processing.
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At Google, a Search Guru's Dream Comes True
CNet (06/05/08) Shankland, Stephen

Udi Manber, Google vice president in charge of search quality, serves as supervisor of the company's search algorithm. He says that search's ability to retrieve items from massive volumes of data was not obvious six or seven years ago. "The idea that people will do the search themselves--that it'll democratize the whole thing and you don't have to go to a professional--that's the revolution," Manber notes. He says Google is learning that user expectations of what search can do grows over time. Manber says the propagation of change throughout the Google search system takes place very rapidly, and he comments that "if something new happens in the world and you search for it ... within an hour you will see in the direct results pages that relate to that story." When the same search is performed in a different county, Manber says Google will tune the results by the country in which the user is searching. Manber says Google's strategy is universal search, but he acknowledges that "if you have cases of searches where some things matter more and you want to allow people to operate on those or navigate those parameters, then we'll give you more tools to do that. But you shouldn't have to navigate to a specific site to do that."
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Europe Prays That Cathedrals to Computing Will Help Industry
IDG News Service (06/03/08) Sayer, Peter

European researchers and politicians are hoping that the development of a few key high-performance computing (HPC) centers will boost science and industry throughout Europe, but their efforts to build a petascale supercomputer capable of a million billion calculations per second have already fallen behind similar efforts in the United States and Japan. European commissioner for the Information Society Viviane Reding says supercomputers are essential to advancing the frontiers of research and are the "cathedrals" of modern science. "HPC is a competitive factor not just for research, but for the whole economy," says French minister for research Valerie Pecresse. "We have to catch up in HPC." In just six months, France has increased its HPC capacity by a factor of 25, to about 470 teraflops, Pecresse says. She says the next goal should be to reach petaflop computing. Through the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe, 14 European countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain, will direct their existing HPC efforts toward the creation of three to five petascale European supercomputer centers. Argonne National Laboratory associate laboratory director Rick Stevens says the U.S. may already have its first petascale computer. "It looks like Los Alamos and IBM may have reached a petaflop with Roadrunner," Stevens says. Roadrunner was built using 6,912 dual-core Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices, and 12,960 IBM Cell eDP accelerators. Early tests indicate that the Cell processors have reached 1.33 petaflops while the Opterons reached 49.8 teraflops, Stevens says.
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What Comes After Silicon?
Christian Science Monitor (06/05/08) P. 13; Turner, James

Scientists say that the silicon computer chip is about to hit its physical limits, to the point where increasing transistor density to boost computing power and speed will no longer be feasible. The latest integrated circuits from Intel boast approximately 2 billion transistors, and Advanced Micro Devices executive Craig Sander says that "as transistors or their components continue to get smaller, we will reach a point where the placement of individual atoms will affect their behavior." The proper operation of a chip requires the proportional shrinkage of the thickness of its silicon layers to the length and width. Recent debate has focused on the possibility of maintaining Moore's Law--the continuous doubling of computer power every two years--through the use of more esoteric computing technologies, such as optical computing or quantum computing. In quantum computing, a bit exists simultaneously as both 1 and 0. Intel fellow Mark Bohr believes the biannual doubling of computing power can be sustained for at least another decade, while Sander thinks Moore's Law could be kept up thanks to upcoming innovations. "The Nanoelectronics Research Initiative, of which AMD is a member, is sponsoring ... university research to find new physical-switching mechanisms that don't require the movement of [an] electronic charge," Sander says.
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Taking Computer Chat to a Whole New Level
ICT Results (05/30/08)

The European Union-funded Talk and Look, Tools for Ambient Linguistic Knowledge (TALK) project aims to enable verbal human-computer interaction in everyday language through the development of adaptive spoken dialog systems capable of learning from user interactions, says project coordinator Oliver Lemon. The project involves the application of machine-learning techniques in Information State Update (ISU) systems devised by TALK's predecessor projects. In this approach, information is recorded in the course of human-computer-dialogue and saved in the system's "information state." Lemon says the method "allows a level of flexibility, adaptivity, robustness, and naturalness of interaction which is superior to the previous techniques, which rely on simple finite state machine representations which essentially model conversations as enormous graphs." The TALK technologies are additionally applicable to different languages, operating systems, and graphical interfaces, making it more time- and cost-effective to develop other applications that employ the technology. ISU and machine-learning technologies have yielded SAMMIE, an in-car dialog system that lets users control a MP3 player through speech, and TownInfo, a service that offers tourists a talking guide of the site they are visiting. Another significant achievement is MIMUS, a smart-home system for wheelchair users that uses spoken dialog.
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Making the Impossible Possible
Cardiff University News (06/03/08)

The United Kingdom's Cardiff University now has an advanced supercomputer that will allow researchers to run projects that were previously considered too difficult or time consuming. Projects include working with the new Positron Emission Tomography scanner to detect cancers at a smaller size than previously possible, developing more accurate radiotherapy plans for cancer, mapping the structure and function of the brain, simulating earth mantle and tectonic plate movements to better understand earthquakes and volcano eruptions, recreating the formation of stars and planets, and working with engineers to model hydrodynamic processes that can be used for tidal and wave power. The high-performance computer, which will be run by Advanced Research Computing @ Cardiff (ARCCA), will also be used to study the arts, humanities, and social sciences. In addition to being one of the most powerful computers at a British university, it will also be one of the greenest. The computer houses 10 energy-efficient water-cooled racks. "The new high-performance computer will allow a wide variety of studies previously dismissed as impossible or impractical," says ARCCA director Martyn Guest. "We look forward to talking to academics from all fields about how ARCCA can help them achieve their research objectives."
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HP Aims to Shrink IT's Carbon Footprint
CNet (06/03/08) Wenzel, Elsa

Hewlett-Packard's Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab has launched the Sustainable Data Center project with the goal of reducing power use in data centers by 75 percent. The five-year initiative is part of a larger effort to support the development of more sustainable technology and consumer products. HP also has plans to replace copper wiring in servers with laser-based communication as part of the lab's Photonic Interconnect project. "We want to dematerialize the data center," says Sustainable IT Ecosystem Lab director Chandrakant Patel. "Imagine circuit boards in close proximity that communicate with light." By 2009, Patel plans to establish a Web-based sustainability hub that would help create models of the carbon footprint of consumer products, and include every aspect of manufacturing and disposal.
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Motion-Capture System Adds Costume to the Drama
New Scientist (05/29/08) Robson, David

Special effects using the 3D movements of real actors were once only available to big-budget filmmakers, but digital motion capture could soon be available to low-budget productions because of new software that records movement without using markers. Motion capture is usually done using highly visible markers on a tight, dark suit worn by the actor to help the camera track their movements. However, the vision-processing software used to track these markers sometimes loses track of the markers and errors must be corrected by hand. Researchers from Stanford University and the Max-Planck Institute Informatik say they have developed software accurate enough to capture the full movements of a person without markers. The method starts with the creation of a 3D digital clone of the actor using a laser scanner. Eight cameras then capture the actor's movements from different angles as he or she acts out a scene. The recording of the person's movement is then analyzed to animate the 3D clone. The vision-processing software finds the outline of the actor in each frame, using the eight different images to capture his or her movement. The software compares the relative positions of features on the eight original images to calculate other details such as creases in the actor's cloths. The final 3D animation of the actor can then be inserted into the movie setting. The new method is not confused by loose clothing, allowing the actors to wear costumes during the recording. Capturing the movement of real cloths, instead of simulating cloths with the computer, could make the animations appear more realistic, as well as possibly improve the actor's performance. The technique used to capture the movements of clothing could one day be used to capture facial expressions, according to 4D View Solutions motion capture expert Richard Broadbridge.
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New Computers Change Shape, Respond to Touch, Says Prof
Queen's University (06/02/08)

Queen's University professor Roel Vertegaal is developing prototypes of new "non-planar" devices in the school's Human Media Laboratory. Vertegaal says these new "organic user interface" computers will take on forms and functions no computer could manage today, such as soda cans with browsers that display RSS feeds and movie trailers, or computers that respond to direct touch and can change shape to better accommodate data. A section on organic user interfaces, co-edited by Vertegaal and Ivan Poupyrev of the Sony Interaction Laboratory in Tokyo, is featured in the June issue of Communications of the ACM. Vertegaal says several recent developments in computer technology have enabled researchers to reach beyond the rigid, traditional designs of current interfaces. The first development is advancements in touch input technologies that enable users to control devices through two-handed, multi-finger touch interfaces. The second development is the creation of flexible displays made from pliable circuit boards with organic LEDs. The third development is the Kinetic Organic Interface, which enables the design of computers that adjust their shape according to some computational outcome, or through interactions with users. Some of the projects at the Human Media Lab include a completely foldable paper computer and an interactive Coke can with a cylindrical display that plays videos on its surface and responds to touch.
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China's Cyber-Militia
National Journal (05/31/08) Vol. 40, No. 29, P. 16; Harris, Shane

China-based computer hackers, including those working on behalf of the Chinese government and military, have deeply intruded into U.S. federal and corporate information systems, stolen strategic information from American executives prior to business negotiations in China, and accessed U.S. electric power plants, possibly causing major outages, according to U.S. government officials and computer security experts. Among those sounding such warnings is former Cyber Security Industry Alliance President Tim Bennett, who says these incidents emphasize the poor security of critical U.S. electronic infrastructure, as well as government and company officials' lack of acknowledgment of such vulnerabilities. Another information-security expert says that hackers in China have been aggressively mapping the technology infrastructure of American companies, leading to concerns that such mapping is a prelude to information theft, network corruption, and other malevolent activities. "The Chinese operate both through government agencies, as we do, but they also operate through sponsoring other organizations that are engaging in this kind of international hacking, whether or not under specific direction," says federal counterintelligence official Joel Brenner. "It's a kind of cyber-militia." At a recent hearing, Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) criticized the private sector's "halfhearted approach" to enhancing security, while Cybrinth CEO Stephen Spoonamore says U.S. officials should be more forthcoming about system breaches if the security of U.S. electronic infrastructure and the sensitive information and operations embedded in that infrastructure is to be fortified. Military analysts say China's aggressive pursuit of offensive cyber-capabilities is one tool in a series of "asymmetric" warfare tactics to counter U.S. military might, which neither China's nuclear arsenal nor armed forces can match. The U.S. military is preparing for the day when China or any other nation or hacker group launches a full-bore cyberattack against the country's critical infrastructure through programs such as the Air Force's Cyberspace Command.
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Energy-Efficient Ethernet
IEEE Spectrum (05/08) Vol. 45, No. 5, P. 13; Patel-Predd, Prachi

Although Ethernet-based local-area networks can offer connections speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, many users do not need that much bandwidth most of the time. Studies show that, on average, people use their Ethernet links to full capacity less than 5 percent of the time, but the circuitry on the network-interface controller always runs at full speed, wasting power. University of South Florida, Tampa professor Ken Christensen says there is no need to have a 1-gigabite link when there is no traffic on the link. Christensen and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Bruce Nordman have developed the Adaptive Link Rate scheme to save some of the wasted Ethernet power. Their solution is to adapt the Ethernet link's speed to match a device's needs. For example, the machine would only have a 100 Mbps link for simple tasks such as checking email, but would switch to a 1 Gbps link when performing more demanding tasks such as downloading a large file. At low data speeds the network controller chip's circuits would work at a slower clock rate, and some could even be turned off to reduce power consumption. Christensen and Nordman estimate that if such a method was deployed in homes, offices, and data centers running at 1 Gbps, switching to 100 Mbps whenever possible could save over $300 million in energy costs. However, the researchers note that switching Ethernet speeds is time-consuming; it can take up to two seconds. To make the technique practical, the rate switch would have to happen in less than a millisecond, meaning the researchers need to find a much faster protocol for the two ends of an Ethernet link.
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