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ACM TechNews
June 13, 2008

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Welcome to the June 13, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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BU Prof Unlocks a Business Algorithm
Boston University (06/13/08) Daniloff, Caleb

Boston University professor Shanghua Teng and Yale University professor Daniel Spielman will receive ACM's Godel Prize at the International Colloquium on Automata, Languages, and Programming (ICALP), awarded by ACM's Special Interest Group on Algorithms and Computing Theory and the European Association for Theoretical Computer Science. The $5,000 award is given for outstanding papers in theoretical science. Teng and Spielman are being recognized for their 2004 paper in the Journal of the ACM titled "Smoothed Analysis of Algorithms: Why the Simplex Algorithm Usually Takes Polynomial Time." The paper explains why a common algorithm, used to solve efficiency problems in fields ranging from airlines to online games, functions so well, particularly in business. The simplex algorithm, developed in 1947 by George Dantzig, has practical applications in almost all areas of business, including advertising, distribution, pricing, production planning, and transportation. The simplex algorithm is designed to find a solution in a reasonable amount of time, but scientists have been able to create worst-case scenarios by introducing abnormalities that cause the algorithm's running time to grow exponentially, creating a situation where it could take virtually forever to find a solution. Smoothed analysis gives an explanation for why the simplex method behaves so well in practice despite the danger of its worst-case complexity. Teng's and Spielman's work also represents an advance in predicting the performance of algorithms and heuristics.
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U.S. Still Leads the World in Science and Technology; Nation Benefits From Foreign Scientists, Engineers, RAND Study Finds
AScribe Newswire (06/11/08)

Despite perceptions that the United States is losing its competitive edge, it remains the dominant leader in science and technology, concludes a new RAND Corporation report. The United States accounts for 40 percent of the world's spending on scientific research and development, employs 70 percent of the world's Nobel Prize winners, and is home to three-quarters of the world's top 40 universities, the report says. The flow of foreign students studying sciences, and foreign scientists and engineers, has helped the United States build and maintain its worldwide lead, even as other nations increase research and development spending. The study says that continuing the flow of foreign-born talent is critical to the United States keeping its lead. "Much of the concern about the United States losing its edge as the world's leader in science and technology appears to be unfounded," says report co-author Titus Galama. "But the United States cannot afford to be complacent. Effort is needed to make sure the nation maintains or even extends its standing." Although China has invested heavily in research and development, the majority of world innovation and scientific output is still dominated by the United States, Europe, and Japan, say RAND researchers. However, other nations are rapidly educating their populations in science and technology, with the European Union and China graduating more scientists and engineers every year than the United States. The report suggests establishing a chartered body to periodically monitor and analyze U.S. science and technology performance and the condition of the nation's science and engineering workforce, and making it easier for foreigners with U.S. university degrees in science and engineering to stay indefinitely in the United States and for highly skilled labor to immigrate to the United States.
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Optical Network Is Key to Next-Generation Research Cyberinfrastructure
California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (06/11/08)

Larry Smarr, director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, announced at the TeraGrid '08 Conference that the use of remote high performance computers for scientific advancement is on the cusp of a revolution thanks to the establishment of state, regional, national, and global optical networks. He says the National Science Foundation-funded OptIPuter project can help remove the last obstruction to this revolution. "The ... project has been exploring for six years how user-controlled, wide-area, high-bandwidth lightpaths--termed lambdas--on fiber optics can provide direct uncongested access to global data repositories, scientific instruments and high performance computational resources from the researchers' Linux clusters in their campus laboratories," Smarr says. "This research is now being rapidly adopted because universities are beginning to acquire lambda access through state or regional optical networks interconnected with the National LambdaRail, the Internet2 Dynamic Circuit Network, and the Global Lambda Integrated Facility." The OptIPuter employs dedicated lightpaths to form end-to-end uncongested 1 Gbps or 10 Gbps Internet protocol (IP) networks, and its network infrastructure and supporting software boasts high bandwidth, security, lower cost per unit bandwidth, and controlled performance. The critical bottleneck is most campuses' failure to install the optical fiber paths needed to link from the regional optical network campus gateway to the end user. Smarr is a participant in Quartzite, an experiment at the University of California, San Diego to produce a switching complex capable of switching packets, wavelengths, or entire fiber paths to facilitate rapid configuration, under software control, of the different types of network layouts and capabilities needed by the end user. "Quartzite provides the 'golden spike' which allows completion of end-to-end 10 Gbps lightpaths running from TeraGrid sites to the remote user's lab," Smarr says.
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IBM's Answer to IT Skills Crunch: Woo Students
Network World (06/13/08) Cox, John

IBM is releasing a set of Web-based tools and resources to help college students refine their marketable skills for the fastest-growing IT job opportunities. IBM will add a section to its Academic Initiative program Web site that will include tutorials, games, skills assessments, and online forums designed to supplement and be incorporated into regular college and university courses. "The information system--the hardware and software and networking 'complex'--is what's driving the services-oriented businesses," says IBM Academic Initiative director Kevin Faughnan. "They need young workers who have the skills to continue innovating." Companies can no longer afford the lengthy and costly internal training programs that have been a standard in the industry, Faughnan says, and young workers need to enter new jobs with the skills they will need already in place. He also says the nature of these skills and the role they play in the developing global economy means that IT skills are no longer limited to IT professionals. Consequently, IBM's outreach efforts extend beyond computer science departments to include such fields as marketing, accounting, security, and business process reengineering. For example, Brandeis University is using IBM's 3D video game Innov8 as a tool for teaching business process management. Many of the new student resources are focused on emerging skills that are in high demand, particularly Web services, Web application development, database skills, and open source programming.
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'Saucy' Software Updates Finds Symmetries Dramatically Faster
University of Michigan News Service (06/10/08) Moore, Nicole Casal

University of Michigan computer scientists have developed open-source software that reduces the time it takes to find symmetries in complicated equations from days to a few seconds. Finding symmetries can reveal shortcuts to answers that, for example, verify the safety of train schedules, find bugs in software and hardware designs, or improve common search queries. The algorithm updates a program called "saucy" that the researchers developed in 2004. The software's applications include artificial intelligence and logistics. In complicated equations, symmetries reveal repeated branches of the search for solutions that only need to be solved once. Current programs that search for symmetries can take days to find results, even if no instances are found. The new method can finish in seconds even if there are millions of variables. An artificial intelligence capable of recognizing symmetries could quickly help a computer generate a plan or an optimal schedule, and the computer would know when the order of tasks was interchangeable. The algorithm converts a complicated equation into a graph and searches for similarities in the arrangement of the vertices. It narrows the search while exploiting "sparsity," or the fact that almost every node on the graph is connected to a few other nodes. Other symmetries can be derived from sparse symmetries, and the number of distinct symmetries can grow exponentially with the size of the system.
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Technical Impact Award in Honor of Richard Newton's Legacy Announced Today at Design Automation Conference
Business Wire (06/10/08)

The ACM Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM SIGDA) will jointly sponsor an award honoring the late Dr. Richard Newton with the IEEE Council on Electronic Design Automation (CEDA). The A. Richard Newton Technical Impact Award in Electronic Design Automation will be a yearly award that honors outstanding technical achievements in the field of electronic design automation (EDA). An individual or individuals will be recognized for their contributions to EDA over a significant period of time, based on influential research published by either ACM or IEEE nominees at least 10 years ago. Newton, a key figure in design automation academia and industry, and dean of engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, died last year. "Throughout his brilliant career, Richard Newton had a wonderful capacity for creative thinking that spawned others toward innovative thinking or new techniques that have been put into practice," says Diana Marculescu, chair of ACM SIGDA. "We wish to keep that essence of him alive." A call for nominations will be made in October, and the first award will be presented at the 46th Design Automation Conference in San Francisco in 2009.
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DOD Funds Research Into Info Sharing
Government Computer News (06/10/08) Jackson, William

The Defense Department has awarded $7.5 million to six universities to fund a five-year research program that will work to solve the problem of sharing sensitive information without compromising privacy or security. University of Maryland-Baltimore County professor Tim Finin says information sharing is complex and contains a lot of social, organizational, and technical implications. Finin is one of the lead researchers on the program, along with researchers from Purdue University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of Texas at San Antonio. One area of focus will be the development of a flexible, robust language for expressing policies about information sharing to help automate the process. Other areas that will be addressed include personal information in public-facing online forums such as social networking sites, and digital rights management, which Finin says has gotten a bad reputation because it has been approached in a heavy-handed and crude manner. The problem of data mining while still preserving privacy will also be researched. One of the most fundamental problems will be discovery, as ignorance of what data other organizations have can prevent information sharing even when policy permits it.
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Designing Microchips That Contain Multiple Selves
Rice University (06/11/08) Almond, B.J.

Rice University engineers have designed integrated circuits that can change their function depending on the user's needs. The researchers say the polymorphic chip technology, which was unveiled at this week's Design Automation Conference, could be used to improve device security, content provisioning, application metering, device optimization, and other tasks. Rice University professor and principal project investigator Farinaz Koushanfar says using "n-variant" integrated circuits makes it possible to design portable media players that are inherently unique. "New methods of digital rights management can be built upon such devices," Koushanfar says. "For example, media files can be made such that they only run on a certain variant and cannot be played by another." Content providers could use n-variant chips to sell metered access to software, music, or movies because the chips can be programmed to switch from one variant to another at a specific time or after a file has been accessed a certain number of times. The polymorphic chips can switch between variants based on both external triggers and automated, self-adaptive triggers, says Rice computer science graduate student Yousra Alkabani. Alkabani says that by switching between variants, and designing each variant in a security-conscious way, it will be impossible for someone to compromise the chip.
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Call for Participation: 2008 ACM Workshop on Secure Web Services (SWS)
XML Daily Newslink (06/10/08)

Organizers of the 2008 ACM Workshop on Secure Web Services (SWS) have issued a call for participation in exploring the security challenges of technologies such as XML and Web services security protocols and issues such as advanced metadata, general security policies, trust establishment, risk management, and service assurance. Experts will have an opportunity to present research results, discuss their practical experiences, and share innovative ideas about Web services security. Organizers are interested in topics such as Web services and GRID computing security; authentication and authorization; frameworks for managing, establishing, and assessing inter-organizational trust relationships; Web services exploitation of Trusted Computing; Semantics-aware Web service security, and Semantic Web Secure orchestration of Web services; and privacy and digital identities support. SWS is scheduled for Oct. 31, in Fairfax, Va. The workshop will be held in conjunction with the 15th ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS-15).
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Apple in Parallel: Turning the PC World Upside Down?
New York Times (06/10/08) Markoff, John

Steve Jobs' presentation at the opening session of Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference included a description of the next version of the Mac OS X operating system, dubbed Snow Leopard, which will be designed for use with parallel processors. Jobs says Apple will find a solution to the problem of programming the new generation of parallel chips efficiently. He says Apple will focus on "foundational features" that will be the basis for a future version of the Mac operating system. At the core of Snow Leopard will be a parallel-programming technology code-named Grand Central. Snow Leopard will utilize the computer power inherent in graphics processors that are now used in tandem with microprocessors in almost all personal and mobile computers. Jobs also described a new processing standard that Apple is proposing called Open Computing Language (OpenCL), which is intended to refocus graphics processors on standard computing functions. "Basically it lets you use graphics processors to do computation," Jobs says. "It's way beyond what Nvidia or anyone else has, and it's really simple."
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All Hail RoadRunner's Petaflop Record -- Now, What About the Exaflop?
Computerworld (06/09/08) Thibodeau, Patrick

Now that IBM's RoadRunner supercomputer has broken the petaflop barrier, reaching more than one thousand trillion sustained floating-point operations per second, supercomputer developers say the next step is an exascale system capable of a million trillion calculations per second, a thousand times faster than a petaflop. At the upcoming International Supercomputing Conference in Dresden, Germany, University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra will give a presentation on exaflop systems in the year 2019. Dongarra says performance gains are following a predictable path, with the first gigaflop system being built 22 years ago. Dongarra says there will be exaflop computing in 11 years, and that by then every system on the Top500 computing list will be at least a petaflop. He says the greatest achievement with the RoadRunner system is the programming that allows the system to utilize different processor technologies. To achieve exascale systems, Dongarra says developers will have to create new programming languages and algorithms that can calculate at high degrees of concurrency to complete calculations quickly. The difficulty in reaching that level of programming, and changing to new methods, could be the roadblock that prevents exaflop computing from being realized in a similar timeline, he says.
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Tell Me By the Way I Walk
EurekAlert (06/09/08)

Researchers in India are developing a form of biometrics that could allow law enforcement and security agencies to recognize suspects based on how they walk. C. Nandini of the Vidya Vikas Institute of Engineering & Technology and C.N. Ravi Kumar from the S.J. College of Engineering in Mysore, India, say that when viewed from the side, everyone has a recognizable and unique gait. The researchers say a camera with a side view could capture a set of key frames, or stances, as an individual walks to a security desk at an airport, military installation, or bank, for example. Key frames from an individual's complete walk cycle can be converted into silhouette form and analyzed using so-called Shannon entropy, height measurements, and the periodicity of the gait used to classify the person's gait. The recorded gait can be compared to a database, and the data could be used to track suspected terrorists or criminals. The researchers say gait recognition has a significant advantage over more well-known biometrics such as fingerprinting and iris scanning because it is unobtrusive and can be used to identify an individual from a considerable distance.
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Supercomputers Crank Up in Three Japanese Universities in Collaborative Pursuits
Campus Technology (06/06/08) Schaffhauser, Dian

Japan's University of Tokyo, University of Tsukuba, and Kyoto University have new supercomputers that use open-source hardware and system software. The universities launched the T2K Open Supercomputer Alliance in July 2006, and they jointly developed common specifications for the supercomputers because they intend to use the machines collaboratively. Tokyo's supercomputer has a theoretical peak performance of approximately 140 teraflops, which would make it the fastest supercomputer in the nation. Tsukuba's machine has a theoretical peak performance of about 95 tflops, while Kyoto's supercomputer has a theoretical peak performance of about 61 tflops. The universities will use the supercomputers for researching subatomic particles, nuclear energy, and astronomy; and for performing scientific calculations for climate modeling, weather forecasting, and genetics and biomedical research.
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Researchers Design Band-Aid-Size Tactile Display
PhysOrg.com (06/06/08) Zyga, Lisa

Researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in Korea and the University of Nevada have developed a flexible tactile device that can be wrapped around a finger like a band-aid. The display is based on soft actuator technology, allowing it to be wrapped around almost any part of the human body. Project coauthor Ig Mo Koo says the major advantage a wearable tactile display has over normal tactile displays is flexibility. "When you apply a normal device to a non-flat surface like human skin, it is impossible to stimulate the whole skin through its shape," Koo says. "In the case of a wearable tactile display, however, it can be applicable to many kinds of surfaces without the limitation of stimulus area because of its flexibility." The researchers say the display could be used for interfaces for the visually impaired, as well as for a tactile display cloth, a virtual reality keyboard, a tele-surgical glove, or a tele-feeling transferring system. The key material in the display is an electroactive polymer that can stimulate the skin without using any additional electromechanical transmission. The polymer consists of eight layers of dielectric elastomer actuator films that have been sprayed with electrodes in a specific pattern. The device also has a protective layer to separate the electrodes from the skin. The display sends information to the wearer when electrodes induce a voltage across the films. Koo says the team plans to improve display performance and develop new applications such as a tele-feeling transferring system and a glove-type tactile display device.
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NASA: 'Extreme Programming' Controls Mars Lander Robot
Computerworld (06/05/08) Gaudin, Sharon

Approximately 30 NASA engineers and programmers work to write and test 1,000 to 1,500 lines of software code every day that is sent to the Mars Lander, which is searching for elements that could support life on Mars. Matthew Robinson, the robotic arm flight software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says the team writes the code sequences to run different parts of the Phoenix spacecraft, including the robotic arm, the cameras, and analysis equipment. A single mistake could cause the spacecraft to sit idle for a day, wasting time that could be used to explore Mars. "It's a challenge because we have a two- to three-day strategic plan, and then each day that plan is refined," Robinson says. "You have to build 20 to 30 sequences, and each can have 50 lines of code in it." The developers use the C programming language to build their own software for a Linux operating system, and are expected to be dealing with such extreme programming for about three months, after which the drastically cold temperatures on Mars will cause the Lander to freeze and stop working. Keeping the robotic arm and the rest of the Lander running is a huge challenge. Robinson says a 3D elevation map was recently used to write code to make the arm reach down and touch the ground. The next day the arm was sent instructions to scoop some soil and hold it so on-board cameras could take pictures of it, followed by another practice scoop the next day.
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'Herds' of Wary Cars Could Keep an Eye Out for Thieves
New Scientist (06/05/08) Robson, David

Frostburg State University researcher Hui Song together with Pennsylvania State University researchers have developed the Sensor-network-based Vehicle Anti-Theft System (SVASTS), a vehicle security system that uses networks of cars constantly communicating with each other using concealed wireless transmitters to prevent thieves from stealing one of the cars in the network. Song says multiple sensors hidden throughout a car would make it difficult, if not impossible, for a thief to disable the system in a short period of time. He says the design of the network should also produce fewer false alarms than traditional car alarm systems. To secure a vehicle, the driver uses a remote to switch on the transmitters, which then work to join a network of other nearby cars. The group acts as each others' sentinels, choosing partners that need the lowest signal strength for communication to prevent the system from consuming too much energy. The car continues to send and receive signals until the owner returns, at which point its sends out a "goodbye" signal to tell the other cars it is leaving. If the signal stops without the "goodbye" signal, the other cars report a theft by relaying a message to a central base station. The base station would notify nearby security guards, police officers, and the owner. The system was tested using a small number of cars, with researchers driving off in some cars to test SVATS response. The system detected all such "thefts" within just four to nine seconds.
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What Is Biomimicry?
Christian Science Monitor (06/12/08) P. 13; Peter, Tom A.

Robots inspired by nature are designed to function in the real world and survive in unpredictable environments through biomimicry, in which the machines' movements are modeled after those of animals. "If you're controlling a robot with a computer program, unless you've anticipated every possible situation it's going to get into, it will eventually get into a situation where it has no escape strategy and it will be stuck," says Northeastern University biology professor Joseph Ayers. "Animals never get stuck." Whereas many autonomous machines rely on sophisticated sensor networks and software to plot every move they take, robots designed for biomimicry use simple mechanics to emulate the instinctive movements and locomotion of animals. The Stickybot, modeled after the gecko, uses the mechanical equivalent of the tiny hairs lining the lizard's feet so that it can seamlessly climb nearly any surface. "Instead of using sensing and control and computers, you try to build the mechanism so it does the right thing without any of that higher-level supervision," says Harvard University engineering professor Robert Howe, who with a graduate student, built a robot hand capable of naturally picking up objects.
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