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ACM TechNews
June 11, 2008

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Welcome to the June 11, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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ACM Honors Randy Wang and Digital Study Hall Team for Using Community-Generated Video to Improve Education in India
AScribe Newswire (06/10/08)

Randy Wang and the Digital Study Hall (DSH) team have won ACM's Eugene L. Lawler Award for Humanitarian Contributions within Computer Science and Informatics. Wang and Urvashi Sahni of the Study Hall Foundation founded DSH in 2005, and the project has developed a user-generated video-sharing system that local teachers in South Asia use to improve learning in their classrooms. The cost-effective digital technology allows schools and non-governmental organizations to make videos of the best teachers and to share them with teachers in underserved areas. Wang, currently with Microsoft Research India, describes DSH as "a bit like YouTube meets Netflix in a rural schoolhouse with a dirt floor." DSH currently has 30 pilot schools in five cities in India and Bangladesh. ACM will honor Wang and the DSH team at its annual ACM Awards Banquet on June 21 in San Francisco.
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Tapping Computer Science for a More ACCURATE Vote
National Science Foundation (06/09/08) Cruikshank, Dana W.

A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections (ACCURATE), created in 2005 with a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), is part of NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering directorate's CyberTrust program. ACCURATE project head and Johns Hopkins University professor Avi Rubin is an expert in information security who was drawn to ACCURATE by the challenges associated with improving voting technologies. He says that once the researchers started examining the issue from a scientific perspective, they discovered that a more holistic approach was needed to understand how computers, touch screens, and other technologies work together in elections. To accomplish this, ACCURATE unites experts from various academic fields to find areas that need additional research and to determine how to apply existing technology and research insights to voting systems. One tool that resulted from ACCURATE is AttackDog, which can examine more than 9,000 different ways a voting system can be attacked. The program contains assumptions about each kind of potential attack and countermeasure to create an attack tree. As new potential attack methods become apparent, AttackDog can be updated to consider new threats. Stanford University professor David Dill, who developed AttackDog, says the program is an example of how ACCURATE uses computer science tools and techniques to help local officials improve the security of their elections.
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Pioneers Steer the Course of Cyberspace
USA Today (06/11/08) P. 3B; Swartz, Jon

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society recruits technology executives and academics to debate, argue, and possibly answer some of the most difficult questions surrounding the Internet. The conclusions reached at the Berkman Center could have a far-reaching effect on public policy in the United States and abroad. "We wanted to establish a beachhead for the open principles of the Net at Harvard and extend them to the university and developing world," says Berkman Center co-founder and Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson. Berkman executive director John Palfrey says the digital revolution's biggest challenge is not new business models or Google's search algorithms, but the massive generation gap between those who were "born digital" and those who were not. Since 1998, the Berkman Center has assembled an impressive lineup of contributing inventors, legal scholars, and entrepreneurs who recognized the technical and legal inadequacies of the developing Internet society. The center has helped create copyright laws for the digital age, and formed the Internet Safety Task Force with MySpace and 49 state attorneys general to identify technologies to protect children from online predators. The center has also helped shape the Net neutrality debate. "We don't always solve the problems, but often organize and facilitate the hard conversations that lead to solutions," says Berkman managing director Colin Maclay.
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Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing Introduces New Hardware Track at 2008 Conference
Business Wire (06/09/08)

A hardware track will be offered for the first time at the 2008 Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing Conference. The hardware track will offer a wide range of topics, including "Using Commercial Hardware in Space Computing Platforms" and "Innovating with Chip Multithreading Technologies." Two women students interested in the development of computer hardware will receive scholarships to attend the 2008 GHC Women in Computing Conference. Provided by the VLSI Group at Sun Microsystems Laboratories, the scholarships will cover the cost of travel and registration. Scholarship applications have to be submitted by June 15, 2008. Additional information and an application can be obtained at http://gracehopper.org/2008/participate/student-scholarships/. The 2008 GHC Women in Computing Conference will be held Oct. 1-4 at the Keystone Resort in Colorado.
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Dartmouth Launches Network Security Study
Dartmouth News (06/10/08) Knapp, Susan

Dartmouth researchers are about to launch the Dartmouth Internet Security Testbed (DIST), a project that will study the school's wireless computer traffic to understand how it's being used and how to protect it. Dartmouth computer science professor and DIST principal investigator David Kotz says the campus environment enables the researchers to examine live network activity at scale and in real time. DIST will develop and evaluate current sensing methods to monitor Dartmouth's multiple wireless networks. Kotz says DIST's scope and scale are unique within the academic research community, and that the project will improve network security technology and practices for all Internet users. For example, DIST could help detect unauthorized access points, which can be used to steal users' passwords. The study has been designed to protect the privacy of all campus network users. The researchers will not examine any of the content of wireless network traffic, and instead will view only the header information. The headers indicate the size and origin of the data, but not the type of data or anything about the contents of the communication. The identity of individual wireless devices will be replaced with random identifiers.
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NIST Envisions 'Thinking Machine'
Government Computer News (06/06/08) Hickey, Kathleen

Programmers will be able to build thinking machines capable of reasoning about complex problems using a technology system that will be developed by ontologists, who are experts in the meaning of words and how to use them appropriately to build actionable machine commands. Ontologists will create an open ontology repository for holding a wide range of dictionaries, compendiums of medical terminology, and product classifications. Electronic and scalable, the open ontology repository will allow users to distinguish, compute, reuse, and share data, documents, and services. Information would include conceptual domains and specific disciplines of communities; technical schema such as Resource Description Framework, the Web Ontology Language and the Common Logic Framework; and standard Internet languages such as Extensible Markup Language. "It will save enormous amounts of time and money and facilitate new, complex systems in all sectors for manufacturing control, supply chain management, and even biomedical management systems," says the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Steve Ray.
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GPS Gadgets Can Reveal More Than Your Location
New Scientist (06/03/08) Graham, Flora

Microsoft researchers are working to enable GPS devices to know what you are doing, including specifics such as which mode of transportation you are taking. The researchers say such features could help people analyze and improve their own lifestyles and share useful data with others. A Microsoft team in Beijing, China, has developed a technique to automatically guess a person's mode of transportation using GPS data. The researchers recorded traces from 45 people carrying GPS-enabled gadgets over six months, along with the volunteers' modes of transportation for more than 20,000 kilometers. Analysis found that knowing someone's speed is not enough to predict how they are traveling as factors such as traffic congestion can alter the data. To avoid such problems, the researchers developed statistical methods to improve the accuracy of predictions. The travel prediction system was developed as part of Microsoft's experimental Geolife Web platform for GPS, which aims to allow users to replay past trips, view photos by location, and mine information such as personal traffic congestion hotspots. The researchers say that publicly sharing GPS data could allow people to choose travel routes and destinations based on traffic conditions, although they acknowledge such information exchanges have security implications.
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Hands on Learning for the Visually Impaired
ICT Results (06/06/08)

The European Union-funded MICOLE project is working to make it easier for software developers to build educational tools that will enable students to see, hear, and feel what appears on the computer screen. Project researchers have developed a program that allows both sighted and visually impaired students to learn using the same system. Designed to teach students about the solar system, visually impaired children use a special device similar to a robotic arm to move around the solar system and hear about the planets. Sighted children can guide their visually impaired partners by moving their computer mouse, which increases pressure and resistance in the robot arm to gently nudge the visually impaired user in the right direction. The program is the first of a series being developed by the MICOLE project as part of its multi-modal series. The researchers say that haptic devices, such as the robot arm, could be used to control computers like a mouse does by providing feedback to users through movement, pressure, or raised bumps. Another MICOLE application allows users to draw pictures and use the haptic device to feel the picture. "Adding the sense of touch to information and communication technology is just getting to the point where it can be commercialized," says project coordinator Roope Raisamo. "The more senses you can use, the more multi-modal your computer interface, the more inclusive the technology can be."
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New Zealand Gov't Looks to Boost Confidence in E-voting
Computerworld New Zealand (06/06/08) Bell, Stephen

New Zealand is considering allowing voters to cast electronic ballots up to 17 days before the general voting period and to re-vote if they have concerns over whether their selections were recorded correctly. The country's Chief Electoral Office has released the draft strategy document in an effort to boost confidence in the electronic voting system. New Zealand could conduct limited pilots for advance voting and re-voting electronically during the 2011 or 2014 elections, and the earliest general e-voting is likely to be offered is 2017. Still, "there will need to be a period of extensive public consultation, and policy and legal work in support of new legislation," says the Electoral Office in the strategy document. New Zealand could approach authentication through the government log-on service, which is being used for other government transactions. The strategy document says the potential for malfunctioning machines, a mass denial-of-service attack, and undue influence warrant taking a cautious approach.
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Moving Mountains With the Brain, Not a Joystick
New York Times (06/08/08) P. BU3; Eisenberg, Anne

Emotiv Systems makes a wireless headset system that allows players to mentally manipulate objects in games through its ability to read and process electrical activity from the brain, facial muscles, and other areas when the user concentrates. The noninvasive EPOC headset is equipped with 16 sensors, and employs electroencephalography (EEG) to sense electrical signals from the scalp's surface and translate them into actions that control or augment game play. Emotiv research and development manager Geoffrey Mackellar says the system uses constant feedback to learn more about how users think concurrent with users' growing skills at concentration. He notes that the headset is outfitted with a chip that collects the signals and transmits them wirelessly to a receiver plugged into a USB port of the computer, where most of the processing is executed. University of Maryland professor Nathan Fox says the EPOC device is a version of the EEG cap long used to record brain activity, and medical-grade EEG caps are employed in research to monitor the brain as it plans movement and to convert these plans into onscreen cursor actions so paralysis victims can control a computer, for example. University of Twente computer science professor Anton Nijholt is doubtful that all consumers will be able to master the object manipulation skills that EEG headsets can facilitate. Meanwhile, the OCZ Technology Group has just released a headset called the Neural Impulse Actuator, which reads electrical activity chiefly from muscles and translates it into commands using a headband with three sensors, says OCZ's Michael Schuette.
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Women Look to Excel in IT
Calgary Herald (06/07/08) Sankey, Derek

Organizations such as Women in IT, founded at Ryerson University in Toronto by computer science student Nadia Harris, are providing role models for women looking to enter the IT industry. Women in IT invites prominent women in IT to speak at the school, which Harris says could help encourage more women to enter the computing field. Meanwhile, Telus Corp. recently launched an internal women's network, which the company's Andrea Goertz says has opened up lines of communication, and the company is now aligning with other companies' women's networks to share best practices and bring more attention to the issue. TD Bank Financial Group CIO Heather Ross says the industry needs architects and businesses analysts and people who can translate the value of technology into various business areas, creating a broader constituency of candidates to work in a technology field. Ross is part of the Judy Project, a national network of women in senior executive IT positions who share best practices, discuss challenges unique to women in the field, and perform outreach functions to encourage women to enter the field. Many higher-education institutions are also taking action. The University of Calgary, SAIT Polytechnic, and Mount Royal College recently united to promote high-tech careers for women by showcasing each institution's variety of career opportunities to 9th grade girls. "There's a war for talent on, so we need to focus on creating environments that attract women at all levels," Ross says.
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A Futuristic Linkage of Animals and Electronics
United States Department of Agriculture (06/06/08) Comis, Don

The U.S. Agriculture Department's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is testing the use of global positioning system (GPS) technology to track herd animals. ARS animal scientist Dean M. Anderson has incorporated GPS technology into a Walkman-like headset that allows the user to issue commands to the animals to control their movements across a landscape, and even remotely herd a group of cows into a corral. Anderson has been working with MIT engineers to equip an Ear-A-Round device with high-tech electronics. The prototype is a doughnut-shaped stereo that is worn over each ear. Prior to working with MIT, Anderson patented technology for virtual fencing called Directional Virtual Fencing (DVF), which focused on giving cows "left" and "right" sensory signals to direct their movement. Researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a miniaturized, solar-powered electronics package for DVF devices that is packaged as a headset device. The commands given to the cows through the headset vary from a familiar "gathering song" sung by cowboys during manual round-ups, to irritating sounds such as sirens, to mild electric stimulation if necessary to get cows to move or to avoid going beyond boundaries.
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Keys to Change
Melbourne Age (06/05/08) Molloy, Fran

The keyboard remains the most commonly used interface between people and computers, although touch, handwriting, and voice-recognition technologies are gaining momentum. Wacom's David Spencer acknowledges that keyboards are in no danger of being supplanted by graphics tablets, but he notes that the inputting of text comprises a mere fraction of computer use, while touch-screen interfaces are especially important in situations where convenience and mobility are critical. "In the classroom, for example, our tablet technology is a great adjunct to interactive whiteboards and other teaching tools where a keyboard is quite frankly redundant," Spencer says. "Where you are trying to get information across, where you're trying to get feedback, where you're trying to get interaction, the keyboard is a clumsy knot in the middle." Professor Roope Raisamo of Finland's University of Tampere says handwriting-recognition technology cannot match or outclass the keyboard in terms of speed, while Sue Bennett of the University of Wollongong says keyboard skills are an area of training that most schools lack. Keyboards can also serve as a barrier for learning disabled people, and voice-recognition technology can in certain instances free them up. Tasmanian English teacher Margaret Neilsen discovered that voice-recognition technology software enables her disabled students to write their thoughts and then edit them into a structure. Voice-recognition programs are also proving useful for professionals such as Adrian Kelly, who produces transcripts of conferences and meetings in real time by using voice-recognition software and a computer-aided transcription program.
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'Net Engineer Argues Firewalls Are a Security Distraction
Computerworld Australia (05/30/08) Bell, Stephen

The focus on firewalls has led corporate network experts to spend less time on security in the end system, says Brian Carpenter, the former head of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Carpenter, currently a lecturer at the University of Auckland, discussed the history of the Internet as well as its challenges while giving the Institution of Engineering and Technology's annual Prestige lecture. During his "The Internet, where did it come from and where is it going?" address, Carpenter suggested that firewalls have lessened the momentum of end-to-end transparency for the Internet. He said the extended addressing scheme, IPv6, will replace the need for address translation, but Internet users are so used to conventional firewalls. There are some similarities between his view of end-to-end transfer of data and David Isenberg's concept of a "stupid" network, but he adds that the edge of today's complex networks might be difficult to define, which has also been suggested by Victoria University's John Hine. "The basic principle is still valid," Carpenter said. "It's not obvious that you will make money out of putting very complex services very deep in the network."
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Video Searching Uses People Power
BBC News (06/03/08) Thompson, Bill

The British Parliamentary Web site TheyWorkForYou.com includes clips of debates in the House of Commons, but the feed provided to the site only has BBC-provided captions to indicate who is speaking or what the debate is about. The captions allow the site to clip the video into segments, but there is no way of automating the process or linking the clips to particular speeches, which would enable site users to search through the clips based on their subjects. Instead of developing an artificial intelligence application capable of analyzing the clips, the site is asking Internet users to watch short video clips of Commons speeches and match them to the transcripts made for Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings. Similar to how the SETI@Home project uses spare processing cycles on ordinary PCs to analyze radio astronomy data, the MySociety project will use people's spare time to help categorize the video clips. Users receive an extract from the speech and a piece of embedded video. The user presses "play" and when they hear the exact start of a phrase they press a "now" button to pinpoint where in the video stream that text is said. The MySociety tool is currently a specialized service for the Parliamentary Web site, but it was designed to be replicated and used as widely as possible.
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IBM Scientist Predicts Software's Future
ZDNet Asia (06/05/08) Pinaroc, Joel D.

IBM chief scientist Grady Booch says future software development will lead to bigger, more pervasive, transparent, and advanced programs that cater to the growing complexities users will demand. Booch says that unlike previous generations, today's software developers do not have to worry about infrastructure and computing power, allowing them to build applications that are far more complex and powerful than previously possible. Booch also predicts that future computers will become increasingly faster and microchips will eventually use atoms-to-transistor systems, providing unprecedented computing power. Programmers will benefit from a reliable global Internet that will allow for new levels of software collaboration, particularly as wireless connections become more ubiquitous. However, he says some questions still remain, including what future software will look like, how programmers will build such massive programs, how technology companies will distribute software, and what will be the value proposition of such complex software. Booch also says the human side of programming will remain an issue, with factors such as computing power and the right infrastructure not being a guarantee that software engineers will create the "right" software, which hinges on a programmer's innovation, imagination, social skills, and the ability to realize important issues and address what users may want in the future. Booch also predicts an unprecedented growth in data, driven by the Internet, which will play a significant role in how programmers design software.
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MIT Creating a Car That Helps Drivers Make Decisions
Boston Globe (06/02/08) Batog, Jennifer

Researchers at MIT's AgeLab are developing the Aware Car, a car that can help people be better drivers. The black Volvo SUV contains mini-cameras and infrared lights mounted above the steering wheel to monitor the driver's eye and eyelid movements, wires stored in the console to monitor the driver's heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and a device in the trunk that monitors lane drifting. Data from the devices can be displayed in real time on a computer monitor. AgeLab researchers are using the $1.5 million vehicle to determine how to combine existing technologies to create a car that could help drivers, particularly older drivers, be safer, and help automakers design safer cars. AgeLab director Joseph Coughlin says an aware vehicle would perform better because it would know and understand the driver's habits and could react when the driver alters those habits. MIT's research is aimed at developing vehicles that could coach drivers to make better decisions based on data about how they are driving at that moment. For example, lane sensors and eye monitors would determine when a driver is getting too tired and the car could advise them to pull over, and biorhythm monitors could alert monitor a driver's health, such as blood sugar or heart rhythm, and alert the driver of warning signs.
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Here's Looking at You, Kid
Nature (06/01/08) Vol. 453, No. 7196, P. 708; Merali, Zeeya

An algorithm that measures the quality of new screenplays and compares them to successful scripts in the same genre by uncovering structural patterns has been developed by a scriptwriter and a pair of University of London computer scientists. The software analyzes the frequency and placement of each word in the screenplay, and finds common patterns in popular scripts such as "Casablanca" and episodes of "CSI." For example, in such scripts the tension mounts in waves by shortening the length of successive scenes in blocks to produce "mini-cliff-hangers" that are resolved in a longer denouement. The algorithm can also identify how conflict-imbued incidents are distributed throughout the plot by examining how the locations of groups of frequently used words change in relation to each other. To test the algorithm's predictive abilities, the team altered the script of "Casablanca" to create versions with the same plot but a divergent scene and sub-scene structure so the program would project the resulting film's lack of success. The algorithm's developers hope to blend it with existing automatic screenplay formatting software, and screenwriter and co-developer Adam Ganz believes "we have the potential to separate the truly innovative from films that are superficially innovative but have no deep structure." Screenwriter Amanda Holiday thinks the algorithm could be an excellent tool for rewrites. The group that developed the algorithm has set up a Web site where writers can upload their scripts for preliminary analysis and study frequently occurring word clusters in various popular films.
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