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ACM TechNews
June 27, 2008

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Welcome to the June 27, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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New Flavors of Web Addresses (Like .Sports) Are on the Way
New York Times (06/27/08) P. C5; Carvajal, Doreen; Stone, Brad

ICANN has unanimously approved new rules that will allow governments, companies, and organizations to use a name, brand, or generic word to create a new Web address extension. Under the new rules, which ICANN says are the biggest changes to the Internet's addressing system since its creation, the City of New York could create the domain name .nyc, for example. In addition, a company such as Coca-Cola could use its brand name to create the domain name .coke. In order to create the new domain, governments, companies, and organizations would have to submit an application to ICANN. The application would then go through an independent review process, at which time third parties could challenge it on the grounds that the proposed suffix represents a possible threat to "morality and public order." The new rules also stipulate that conflicts between two parties that want to create the same domain name will be settled through auctions. ICANN officials are planning to implement the changes slowly, and plan to address many concerns and unanswered questions--including how much the new domains will cost--during a public review process that could last at least a year. ICANN also plans to seek public comment on the new rules before its next major meeting in November. Activists such as People for Internet Responsibility cofounder Lauren Weinstein worry that the system will create new opportunities for those who try to exploit the Internet address system. Others worry that the system will confuse Web users and cause legal fights over applications to register trademarks.
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University of Portsmouth Researchers Work on CCTV That Can Hear
Computer Business Review (06/25/08) Navuluri, Bhavana

University of Portsmouth researchers are working on a three-year project to incorporate artificial intelligence capabilities into visual recognition software that would enable CCTV cameras to turn in the direction of a certain sound and capture it in about 300 milliseconds. "So, if in a car park someone smashes a window, the camera would turn to look at them and the camera operator would be alerted," says David Brown, director of the Institute of Industrial Research. Portsmouth will not have the algorithms capture full conversations, but they will be capable of listening for specific words associated with violence. The idea is to develop shapes of sounds that can be recognized by the software of the CCTV cameras. "The software will use an artificial intelligence template for the waveform of sound shapes and if the shape isn't an exact fit, use fuzzy logic to determine what the sound is," Brown says.
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Institute for CyberScience to Expand Computer Power for Research
Penn State Live (06/25/08) Messer, Andrea; Fong, Vicki

The Pennsylvania State University Institute for CyberScience (ICS) is working to expand the computing power available to researchers. ICS director Padma Ragahavan, who specializes in parallel scientific computing and computational science, says ICS researchers will look at scalable computing and the transformation of data to knowledge. ICS, along with other Penn State institutes, will be working on high-impact, large-scale research efforts that aim to improve life on Earth through the environment, biological sciences, and innovation, including problems such as infectious diseases, global energy needs, personalized therapies, and material design. "Simply making something bigger does not necessarily work," Ragahavan says. "The algorithms are complex, and scaling does not always work in the parallel computing environment from multicore processors to petascale systems." In complex networking, ICS will work on everything from theory to systems design and processes, network searching and retrieval and scalable computing, and network sensors and data fusion. In modeling, ICS will work on simulations, continuous models, models of models, and real-time systems. ICS will work with other major university units, including the Applied Research Laboratory, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Materials Research Institute, the Social Science Research Institute, and the Penn State Institute of Energy and the Environment.
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Rogue Code Could Seriously Skew US Presidential Election Results
IT Business Canada (06/25/08) Jackson, Brian

Experts at A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable and Transparent Elections (ACCURATE) say rogue programmers could disrupt U.S. elections that use electronic voting systems. ACCURATE warns that a single rogue programmer writing code for one of the many elections that use e-voting machines could completely distort election results. "One programmer could make a change in the software that would affect 100,000 votes," says ACCURATE investigator David Dill. The 2002 federal Help America Vote Act provided funding to replace traditional voting machines with direct-recording electronic (DRE) systems, and some states have been using e-voting systems since the 2006 Congressional elections. ACCURATE director Avi Rubin says having the entire country vote on a single day presents quite a problem, and while he does not think the country should switch back to punch cards, he still cautions that the U.S. should stay away from DRE machines. The main problem is that they cannot be audited, Rubin says, so the machines could produce the wrong results without anyone ever knowing. Rubin, who will serve as a poll clerk in the upcoming presidential elections, says the anonymous paper survey used to evaluate a training session he ran was more secure than the Diebold Accuvote machines that will be used to register votes in Maryland in the presidential election, because the machines could be compromised by a virus and it would be much more difficult to alter the survey on paper. ACCURATE is working on an open source threat modeling system called AttackDog that calculates all the possible iterations of steps that would be needed to rig an election system to find key points where such efforts could be thwarted.
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Mobile Linux Standards Forum Gives Up
ZDNet UK (06/26/08) Meyer, David

The Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum announced that it will merge with the Linux Mobile Foundation, which analysts say is a significant setback in the effort to create a formal mobile Linux standard. The merger will put the attempted standardization of mobile Linux on hold indefinitely. LiPS and LiMo are complementary in many ways, with LiPS working to create a formal standard for mobile Linux, and LiMo looking to create a shared implementation of an open source mobile platform. Many members of LiPS had already switched to LiMo, but pressure from new mobile open source groups is pushing the industry away from formal standards as the focus shifts to getting products to market. LiMo chief Morgan Gillis says LiPS was a sincere effort to create coalescence on mobile Linux, but LiMo offered a different formula that the industry has found to be more attractive. "The outcome of work by organizations like LiMo, Android, and others may end up creating a standard that is more formalized after the fact," says outgoing LiPS head Bill Weinberg. "The sense of urgency in the industry has to do with the feeling that other players are breathing down their necks. An injection of urgency can cause a change in course and a change in plans." Weinberg says the change of pace was an indirect result of Apple's iPhone, which prompted other companies to accelerate their development efforts.
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Online Service Lets Blind Surf the Internet From Any Computer, Anywhere
University of Washington News and Information (06/25/08) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington researchers have developed WebAnywhere, an Internet-based screen-reading program that blind and visually impaired users can access from any computer. The free software turns screen-reading into an Internet service that reads aloud Web text on any computer with speakers or headphones. University of Washington professor Richard Ladner will demonstrate the program in Dallas at the National Federation of the Blind's annual convention. Free screen readers already exist, as do sophisticated commercial programs, but they all must be installed on a machine to be used. WebAnywhere is the first accessibility tool that is hosted on the Web, and does not have to be downloaded to be used. WebAnywhere processes the text on an external server and sends the audio file to play in the user's Web browser. UW computer science doctoral student Jeffrey Bigham, who developed WebAnywhere under Ladner's supervision, says the development team plans to create updates that will enable users to change the speed at which the text is read, and add other popular features found in existing screen readers. "Traditional desktop tools such as email, word processors, and spreadsheets are moving to the Web," Bigham says. "Access technology, which currently runs only on the desktop, needs to follow suit."
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Aussie Scientists Push Transistor Barrier
ZDNet Australia (06/25/08) Serpo, Alex

Scientists in Australia have used nano fabrication to build a wire that is only three atoms thick. Researchers with the Center for Quantum Computing Technologies worked with a scanning tunnel microscope as they placed single phosphorus atoms in a wafer of silicon, says the center's Michelle Simmons. Single atom fabrication represents a key step in the effort to build single atom transistors. "We are interested in the fundamentals of what can and can't be done," Simmons says. "The semiconductor industry must figure out when Moore's Law will fail." Single atom transistors are critical for the development of quantum computers. IBM has shown considerable interest in the research, and believes it could lead to new chip architectures that will impact the future of computing as well as medicine.
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Robot Snakes Slither Forward
CNet (06/24/08) Lombardi, Candace

Norwegian research company the SINTEF Group is developing an aluminum robot designed to crawl through pipes, both horizontal and vertical, using a snake-like squirming motion. "When the robot enters a vertical pipe, it lifts its head in the pipe and meets the pipe wall," SINTEF says. "It can then either move sideways with its abdomen against the pipe and twist itself upwards, or it can topple backwards, attach itself to the pipe wall, in the same way as we would put our feet against a shaft wall to hold on, and then roll upwards." The unfinished prototype, when completed, will contain about 11 modules connected by joints, reaching a total of about 1.5 meters in length. The researchers are using a Lego Mindstorms robot with an attached camera that navigates a pre-programmed pipe system, and are working on a visual system that will allow the robot to detect pipe turns so it can navigate itself as needed through any system of pipes. SINTEF's robot is similar to the ACM-R5, an amphibious robot developed at the Hirose-Fukushima Robotics Lab at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan. Carnegie Mellon University roboticists are also working on a snake-like robot.
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Artificial Brain Predicts Death-Row Executions
New Scientist (06/25/08) Marks, Paul

Loyola University researchers have developed a computer system that can predict which death row prisoners will have their sentences carried out. The researchers found that the people most likely to be executed are inmates who have had the least amount of education, and not those who committed the most heinous crimes. The researchers studied the 3,228 inmates on death row in 2006, and were initially unable to detect any similarities in the 53 inmates that were executed. To discover what factors might be linked to executions the researchers created an artificial neural network and entered the profiles of 1,000 death row inmates between 1973 and 2000, half of which had been executed. Each inmate's profile contained 18 factors, and profiles for 300 more inmates from the same period were then submitted to the artificial neural network for analysis. The system was able to correctly predict the outcome of more than 90 percent of those 300 inmates. To find out what factors had the greatest impact on the likelihood of execution, the researchers retrained the neural network multiple times, each time withholding information on one of the factors. Gender was a significant factor, with women rarely being executed, while race, which has been suspected as being a key factor, was not found to be as important as previously thought. The most significant factor, by far, was education level, specifically the number of years the inmate spent in high school.
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Network Designed to Help Health Care Professionals
ICT Results (06/19/08)

The European Union-funded Doc@Hand project has developed a computer system designed to give health care professionals access to a broader range of medical information. Doc@Hand is designed to automatically provide information to health care professionals rather than expecting those professionals to seek out all relevant information. The data can be delivered to a computer or mobile device. Such speedy access to information should lead to faster and better diagnosis and decision-making. The Doc@Hand project was part of an effort to fight colon cancer by a network of hospitals and other health organizations through improved screening and early referral of potential cases by primary care doctors to cancer specialists at the Hospital Clinic de Barcelona. Drawing from the user's profile and previous search history, the system aims to improve the quality of information returned. The system also has a powerful XML-based search engine and a subsystem that includes a linguistic parser and a system of ontologies designed to provide better search results. For example, a search for one word will deliver multiple words from the same class that can be regarded as semantically equivalent, creating richer search results. Doc@Hand was first tested using clinical notes and comparing the results to the information health professionals said they would expect. The system was able to provide about 92 percent of the expected information.
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New Green Supercomputer Powers Up at Purdue
Campus Technology (06/20/08) Schaffhauser, Dian

Researchers at Purdue University are using a new supercomputer that requires one-fortieth the power of traditional supercomputers and costs less. The supercomputer is expected to lower energy costs by 75 percent to 80 percent and also reduce the cooling costs. The machine's processors require 600 milliwatts of power each, the equivalent of what a cell phone or small flashlight draws. The unique architecture of the supercomputer enables it to consume less power and have a non-traditional processor, but the design also means it is better for researching some science than others. Rudolf Eigenmann, interim director of Purdue's Computing Research Institute, says the supercomputer will be good for research in chemistry, genetics, and nano-electronics. "We've put this computer to use from the first day, but we will also be looking for more areas in which we can use lower-power computing," Eigenmann says.
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Where the Wild Things Are: Computer Science Professor's Breakthrough Maps the Cool Quest
Columbia University (06/20/08) Poratta, David

Columbia University professor Tony Jebara has developed Citysense, a tracking software service that can highlight the hottest clubs and hangouts in real time, similar to how a Doppler system highlights inclement weather. Citysense uses machine learning to process data gathered from thousands of cell phones, GPS-equipped cabs, and other devices that indicate where people are gathering. Citysense calculates how many people are at each location and enables users to look on their cell phones to see which places are drawing the biggest crowds. The technology can also be used to see if traffic is backed up or flowing. Citysense does have privacy implications. Although information is gathered anonymously, it could be used by marketers and consumer researchers looking to enhance their sales pitches and learn where people shop or hang out. Citysense is currently available for San Francisco and will soon be available in Chicago, followed by five additional cities. Citysense was co-developed by MIT's Alex Pentland, and is an extension of Sense Network's Macrosense system, which is a more complex data-gathering and processing application. "There is no single equation describing human activity, but by computing statistics from millions of locations and flow between them, it becomes possible to find clusters, trends, explanations, and predictive patterns," Jebara says.
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A Display That Tracks Your Movements
Technology Review (06/20/08) Greene, Kate

Samsung and Reactrix Systems are developing interactive advertising displays that enable users to wave their hands to play games, navigate menus, and use maps. Reactrix chief scientist Matt Bell says the Wii, iPhone, and Microsoft's Surface have made people more open and ready to interact using their hands and gestures. The idea behind Reactrix's system is to use a camera to detect a person's body and then use computer vision algorithms to understand the images. In Reactrix's current models made in collaboration with Samsung, the company uses a stereoscopic camera with two lenses; next to the camera an infrared light projects an invisible pattern onto the people in front of the screen. Each lens captures a slightly different view of a person's movement, and based on the differences in the images, the system can determine the person's distance and movement down to a fraction of an inch. Bell says the software is designed to disambiguate people and objects and figure out scenarios such as when people are holding hands or standing shoulder to shoulder.
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Efficiency Experts Seek to Save Precious Minutes in Deploying Ambulances
Cornell News (06/16/08) Ju, Anne

Cornell University researchers are working to fine tune a computer program that promises to improve the efficiency of ambulatory operations. The amount of time it takes emergency medical technicians to reach a destination is critical, and the computerized approach being studied attempts to reduce response times by determining the best way to scatter ambulances across a municipality in order to constantly maintain optimal coverage. The three researchers--an expert in simulation optimization, an authority in the field of dynamic programming, and a student of applied mathematics--are working such data as call patterns, geographical layout, and real-time locations of ambulances into the computer program. The goal is to determine where ambulance bases should be located and where the ambulances should be directed after finishing a call. What the team is finding, based on its research, is that instead of returning an ambulance to its base after a call, it may be more efficient to dispatch it to an area that is lacking coverage--even if no calls have been received from that zone at the time. "If everyone is constantly going back to the base assigned, they're ignoring what's going on in real time in the system," says researcher Shane Henderson, the team's simulation optimization expert, who previously has worked on emergency medical system planning.
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Technology: It's Where the Jobs Are
BusinessWeek (06/24/08) Hesseldahi, Arik

Jobs in the technology industry are growing at a steady rate, particularly in big cities, reveals a new AeA survey. The Cybercities 2008 survey found that 51 cities added high-technology jobs in 2006, the most recent year for which data is available. While slowing economic conditions have slowed the growth rate since the 2006 data was collected, AeA researcher Matthew Kazmierczak says the tech industry is still strong and has not yet shown a negative growth rate. Seattle showed the most growth with a net 7,800 new jobs added during the survey period. New York and the Washington D.C. metro areas were next, each adding more than 6,000 jobs. Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif., saw the fastest growth by percentage, with tech-employment figures jumping 12 percent. Silicon Valley had the highest concentration of technology workers, 286 technology workers for every 1,000 workers, as well as the highest paid tech workers, with the average tech worker earning $144,000 a year, nearly double the $80,000 national average for tech jobs. The survey also found that technology wages are 87 percent higher, on average, than the rest of the private sector, and tech wages are growing faster. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor predicts that more than 850,000 IT jobs will be added during the 10-year period ending in 2016, a 24 percent increase. After factoring in retiring tech workers, there could be a total of 1.6 million available tech jobs in the near future, meaning one in every 19 jobs created over the next decade will be in technology.
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Computing Sustainability
Economist (06/19/08) Vol. 387, No. 8585, P. 78

The Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI) is a group of technology firms that has joined the Climate Group, a nonprofit environmental club, in an effort to examine how information and communications technologies (ICT) affect climate change. A recent Climate Group report found that the ICT industry actually creates about as much emissions as the aviation industry. In 2007, the world's electronic equipment created 830 million tons of carbon dioxide, about 2 percent of total emissions from all human activity. Even as technology becomes more energy efficient, emissions from technology are expected to grow to 1.4 billion tons by 2020, and while PCs, mobile phones, and networks will account for 56 percent of these emissions, emissions from data centers will grow the fastest. However, the Climate Group found that the environmental benefits that result from this technology offset the emissions. The study calculates that ICT could help to reduce emissions in other industries by 7.8 billion tons by 2020, five times ICT's own footprint. Technology such as videoconferencing and teleworking reduces emissions caused by travel, and using computers to improve logistics could save 1.5 billion tons. Using data networking inside a smart electrical grid to better manage demand and reduce unnecessary energy consumption could save 2 billion tons, and computer-enabled smart buildings that automatically control and shut off lighting and heating and cooling systems could save 1.7 billion tons. The researchers say that new technical standards are needed to enable appliances and devices to communicate with electrical systems and regulate how much power is delivered.
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Why Women Quit Technology Careers
Computerworld (06/16/08) Vol. 42, No. 25, P. 34; Melymuka, Kathleen

If half the men in science, engineering, and technology roles quit midcareer the trend would be considered a national crisis, yet more than half of the women in science and engineering leave the field midcareer. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, recently discussed the research that went into the Athena Factor, a research project examining the career trajectories of women in technology. The research found that there are more women in lower areas of science and technology than most people realize, and Hewlett says that women are excelling in science, engineering, and technology despite the fact that schools are not very good at encouraging them. She says that between the ages of 25 and 30, 41 percent of professionals with credentials in science and technology are female. However, later in their careers, 52 percent of the women drop out, with the attrition rates among women jumping between the ages of 35 and 40. Many of the companies involved in the Athena Factor project are experimenting with programs aimed at reversing this trend. Cisco Systems has launched the Executive Talent Insertion Program for the lateral recruiting of senior women and multicultural talent. Intel has created a women's engineering forum that will showcase women's research, fight isolation, create solidarity and mentoring, and support creativity. General Electric has initiated a program called Restart in its Bangalore global research center that will reach out to women who left earlier in their careers to facilitate their return.
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Sight for the Blind and Speech for the Deaf
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/27/08) Vol. 54, No. 42, P. A13; Rampell, Catherine

Carnegie Mellon University professor Priya Narasimhan and her students are developing technologies designed to turn cell phones into tools that can give hearing- and vision-impaired people more independence. Cell phones are appealing for their convenience and affordability, and they can be purchased already equipped with text-to-speech software that many handicapped people already use. Narasimhan has thus far advised one student project to adapt cell phones for use by the deaf, and three for their use by the blind. One of the adaptations for the blind employs a program that enables users to retrieve scheduled bus routes on their smart phones from the transit system's Web site, and to have the schedules read aloud by the handset. In the second project for the visually impaired, a tiny bar-code reader is connected to the cell phone, which retrieves product names from a free online Universal Product Code database as an aid for people shopping for groceries or other products. The third cell phone project seeks to help blind people more easily identify currency by taking pictures of their bills with a cell phone camera, and having software match the bills to a database and then name the denomination. The project devised to help deaf users involves the employment of text-to-speech software on cell phones, and the use of a gesture-recognition glove that can convert the wearer's hand movements into spoken words, thus easing communication with hearing users who do not know American Sign Language.
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