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ACM TechNews
July 14, 2008

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Welcome to the July 14, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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When the Phone Goes With You, Everyone Else Can Tag Along
Washington Post (07/12/08) P. A1; Nakashima, Ellen

The launch of the iPhone 3G highlights the growing sophistication of the cell phone and mobile device industry, but also presents new privacy concerns. The iPhone combines GPS functions with the Internet to create a feature that not only pinpoints a location but displays nearby attractions. These features and the information they generate could be used by merchants to target ads, malls to attract shoppers, insurance adjusters to calibrate premiums, or parents to keep track of children. However, many consumers may not realize that by sharing this information they are creating permanent records that network providers, social Web sites, law enforcement, and others could potentially use to track everywhere they have been. "There's a disconnect between our expectations of when we will be observed and who will be observing us and how that information will be used and what the technology is allowing companies to do," says University of Southern California law professor Jennifer Urban. Connected devices such as the iPhone could allow users to locate nearby friends, find nearby events, or access "geo-tagged" photos taken and uploaded by others at the same location. As this information migrates from cell phones to social networking sites, the information suddenly becomes available to hundreds of people, instead of the small number of people who know the user and have his or her cell number. However, the technology continues to inspire researchers. At Microsoft, researchers have collected four years' worth of GPS data from volunteers to build models that estimate road speeds on Seattle-area streets and highways to better understand traffic flow. The wireless industry has guidelines for location-based services that stress consumer notification, consent, and data security, but self regulation is only part of the solution. Security experts say baseline federal legislation is needed to cover all firms that collect personal electronic data.
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Research Bots Leverage Open-Source for Child-Like Intelligence
EE Times (07/10/08) Bains, Sunny

The productivity of artificial intelligence research, especially in academia, could receive a major boost through open-source development, an approach that has been adopted in the creation of sophisticated robots such as iCub, a machine designed to boast the physical and sensory capabilities of a two-and-a-half year-old human. Open source is advantageous to academic research because it spares researchers from the restrictions of using proprietary technology. The iCub, whose development is funded by the European Commission, uses open-source hardware and software designed for easy collaboration. "The iCub open-source simulator can be downloaded quickly and freely, and anyone from a clever high school student to a seasoned researcher can begin to use it immediately, to share their results and to benefit from the collective effort of the surrounding community," says Olivier Sigaud with the Institute for Intelligent Systems and Robotics in Paris. The iCub acquires skills by exploring and interacting with its surroundings and other agents, and its cognitive architecture employs a "modulation circuit" to augment and refine existing skills by using a memory of earlier sensor input and actions in combination with the desire to perform or optimize a specific task. The robot can "rehearse" possible sets of actions and visualize the expected results using its associative memory via an independent circuit, and iCub is equipped with hands capable of dexterous manipulation, a fully articulated head and eyes, and visual, vestibular, auditory, and haptic sensory faculties. An iCub research proposal from Imperial College London calls for the design and deployment of a cognitive architecture allowing the exploration and manipulation of objects in the robot's environment, and the ability to mentally rehearse possible actions using models of the "self" and the environment. A proposal from France's Lumiere University suggests that a robot could gain knowledge about the results of actions that supports a deeper idea of "meaning," such as the ability to comprehend other people's intent, by using "simulated situations," says Peter Ford Dominey of the Laboratory for the Study of Machine Cognition.
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IBM Helps Develop a New Field of Study
Star (Malaysia) (07/10/08)

Universities in Malaysia are working with IBM to develop a new academic discipline in service science, management, and engineering (SSME). SSME combines certain aspects of computer science, operations research, engineering, management sciences, business strategy, social and cognitive sciences, and legal sciences. Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP) and Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) are collaborating with IBM Malaysia, which will provide case studies, teaching material, and access to middleware and hardware for free. "This collaboration will help put together the right kind of skills development and curriculum needed for SSME," says managing director Ou Shian Waei. "The curriculum is there, but we will have to adjust it to address the specific needs of the Malaysian market," says UMP vice chancellor Datuk Daing Nasir Ibrahim. IBM is supporting similar efforts to establish a SSME academic discipline in China and Singapore.
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Beyond 3G, Communications Services of the Future
ICT Results (07/11/08)

The goal of the European Union-funded SPICE project is to develop a wireless telecommunications service platform whose capabilities outclass those of current third-generation (3G) technologies through the establishment of a general architecture for a new series of standards that are device-agnostic and serve consumers, service providers, and operators. "We're aiming these services for 'Beyond 3G,' a term we use to describe what happens next," says project coordinator Christophe Cordier. "It is not 4G. Instead, it is an evolution of currently available technology." The SPICE project is a joint effort between 24 leading organizations in Europe's telecoms research and industry. Among the compelling services the SPICE team has demonstrated is one in which a movie a person is watching can be transferred from a hotel room to a mobile device, while another demo has a Bluetooth-enabled mobile device function as a security token for a user's Internet passwords. A third demo involves a graphics display that users can employ to choose a series of basic logical functions and to rapidly develop customizable services. SPICE is one element of the Wireless World Initiative, a European telecoms research venture designed to ensure that Europe stays at the vanguard of telecoms development.
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Printer Dots Concern Privacy Advocates
USA Today (07/14/08) P. 3A; Frank, Thomas

An increasing number of manufacturers are building color laser printers with technology that leaves microscopic yellow dots on each printed page to identify the printer's serial number as well as the date and time the page was printed, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The technology has existed for years, but the declining price of color laser printers is making the practice a greater consumer threat. The dots can be seen using a blue LED light to allow the Secret Service to investigate counterfeit bills made with laser printers. Privacy advocates say the technology could be abused and used to identify political dissidents, whistleblowers, or anyone else who prints materials that authorities want to track. Electronic Frontier Foundation computer programmer Seth Schoen says there is nothing about the technology that limits its application to counterfeit investigations, and warns that people who are not doing anything wrong could have their privacy threatened. Schoen's tests show that the dots are produced by 111 color laser printers made by 13 companies. Xerox's Bill McKee says the dots are often a requirement to do business internationally, while the Secret Service's Lorelei Pagano says the agency is the only U.S. body with the ability to decode the information printed in the dots.
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Avatars as Communicators of Emotions
Basque Research (07/09/08)

University of the Basque Country PhD candidate Amalia Ortiz Nicolas proposes using avatars in interactive systems to portray nonverbal communication with a focus on emotion. Making interactions between humans and computers more natural and intuitive has been a longstanding objective, and a significant factor in whether a computer application succeeds or fails is the user interface. Interface systems have advanced to the point where 3D graphics, artificial vision, and voice technologies can be combined into multimodal interaction systems. Such interfaces should also take into consideration nonverbal communication such as facial expressions and body gestures. Ortiz says it is necessary to include modules in multimodal interfaces capable of interpreting and generating nonverbal, emotional communication. In her thesis, "Avatars for Emotional Interaction," the use of avatars is proposed as one of the best ways for computer systems to generate nonverbal communication. The thesis focuses on the emotional and affective aspects of verbal communication, with the objective of determining if avatars are capable of communicating emotions. Ortiz designed a generic architecture capable of storing any type of emotional interaction using avatars. Ortiz also designed the tools necessary for both the user and the creator of the interactive system to be able to generate and express emotion.
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Researchers Detect Fake Art From Originals
Penn State Live (07/09/08)

An international team that includes Pennsylvania State University researchers James Z. Wang and Jia Li is working on a digital system to help detect which art pieces are authentic and which are counterfeit. The researchers tested their system on 101 high-resolution grayscale scans of Vincent van Gogh paintings. Wang and Li analyzed each scan in 512- by 512-pixel sections using patterns and geometric characteristics of brush strokes. Art historians identified 23 of the 101 scans as authentic van Gogh pieces, which were used by the system to establish a database defining van Gogh's brushstroke styles. Statistical models were created to capture the unique style, or "handwriting" that defined the artist's work in the 23 scans. The other 78 scans were compared to the generated models to test the algorithms. The findings were compiled in an online system that allows any painting to be compared against existing data to help determine authenticity. "I believe it is very important to study arts and cultural heritages," Wang says. "Through tackling these tough problems, we can advance the core technologies at the same time."
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Internet Breakthrough Promises DVD Downloads in Seconds
News.com.au (07/09/08) Towie, Narelle

A filtering device developed by researchers at the University of Sydney could allow for superfast Internet connections. The circuit uses tiny scratches on a piece of glass to guide information along optical fibers, and filters the series of light flashes of coded information into 64 channels. The scratch circuit allows the electrical components of a computer to handle more information. "This circuit uses the 'scratch' as a guide or a switching path for information--kind of like when trains are switched from one track to another--except this switch takes only one picosecond to change tracks," explains Ben Eggleton, director of Sydney's Center for Ultra-high bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems (CUDOS). Scratch circuits are to be installed where the information is served, such as on the computer of an Internet service provider. The Sydney team considers the device to be a key building block for boosting Internet speeds. "We are talking about networks that are potentially up to 100 times faster without costing the consumer any more," Eggleton says.
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Smart Monitor for Elderly
Manawatu Standard (NZ) (07/08/08) Rankin, Janine

Massey University (MU) researchers are developing the selective activity monitoring system (SAM), a smart digital home system for the elderly that automatically sends text message alerts to caretakers. The prototype system has won an award from the Digital Signal Processing creative design contest, and MU professor Subhas Mukhopadhyay says the challenge now is finding a volunteer to test the system in a real situation. He says as more and more elderly people choose to live privately and independently despite the potential risks, SAM could be used to manage those risks non-invasively. SAM sensors can be installed inside wall sockets to monitor appliance use for any changes that may indicate there is a problem, such as if the home's occupant has not cooked or washed dishes for a while. The SAM software detects changes from what is normal for the occupant. The software can be programmed to send an alarm if the stove has not been turned off for a certain period of time, if the television is not turned off at night, or if the occupant does not get out of bed in the morning, among many other warning signs. Mukhopadhyay says the system is more privacy friendly than motion detectors or intrusive cameras. An advantage of SAM is that it does not rely on the occupant being conscious, recognizing a problem, and being able to push a button for help.
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Award-Winning Paper Looks at Evolution of Gentler Robots
University of Texas at Dallas (07/08/08)

The International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) has named a historical survey of bilateral teleoperation as the "Automatica Best Paper" in the survey/tutorial category. Written by Mark Spong, incoming dean of the University of Texas at Dallas' Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, and his former Ph.D. student, Peter Hokayem, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wurzburg in Germany, the paper notes that a lot of thought goes into getting a machine to perform complex maneuvers. A constant flow of instructions and feedback would be needed to get a robot to grasp a crystal vase of flowers. Spong says that scientists' imagination and comfort level will determine the degree to which they embrace the ability to remotely handle and control robots for fine motor tasks. Spong and Hokayem will be honored at the IFAC Triennial World Congress in Seoul, South Korea, in July.
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Software Turns Hand-Drawn Designs Into PC Files
Computerworld New Zealand (07/08/08) Hedquist, Ulrika

A computer science Ph.D. student at Auckland University believes that allowing computer users to convert hand-drawn diagrams into electronic files will help improve designs. Using pen and paper and then transferring a design to a computer is a cumbersome process, says Rachel Blagojevic, who adds that studies also show that designs drawn straight onto a computer pale in comparison to hand-drawn designs. "If we could use the same kind of interaction that we have with pen and paper, but have this done straight onto the computer, we would not lose the improvement in design," she says. Blagojevic is developing software that is capable of analyzing timing and pen strokes to determine whether the marks constitute writing or drawing, and it uses a simple algorithm to assess the probability and takes the context into consideration. The software works with tablet PCs using a digital pen, but can be adapted for other surfaces.
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When a Suitcase Says Where It's Flying To
University of Bonn (Germany) (07/07/08)

A European Union project led by the University of Bonn is working to develop wireless digital networking technology for everyday objects. The researchers say the technology could lead to grocery stores that allow shoppers to simply put the items they want into a bag and walk out of the store, with the products automatically charging themselves to a credit card without having to go through a conventional checkout. The product would send a signal to a register, informing the store what each customer is taking. The technology, based on radio frequency identification (RFID), is an offshoot of "cooperating objects" technology being developed by the Cooperating Objects Network of Excellence (CONET) project, which involves 11 universities from 10 European countries. The project is led by Bonn professor Pedro Jose Marron, who says cooperating objects can simplify many current challenges, such as luggage management at airports by allowing bags to tell scanners where they should be. Marron cautions that data generated by cooperating objects could be abused for customer or movement profiles, and notes that data protection is a major challenge.
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USD to Increase Tribes' Participation in Computing
Yankton Press & Dakotan (S.D.) (07/06/08)

A $511,336 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund the Getting American Indians to Information Technology (GAIn-IT) project, a three-year initiative by the University of South Dakota (USD) to increase American Indian participation and knowledge in IT. There are significant barriers preventing American Indian students from pursuing computer science courses, primarily a lack of resources both at home and in schools, says USD professor Asai Asaithambi. "We want to positively and productively impact the participation of American Indians in computing by developing community-based programs that make cultural connections to information technology," Asaithambi says. "By providing increased access to culturally-relevant academic programming in computing in their communities so they don't have to leave home, we want residents on the reservations to become more self sufficient and become better prepared for occupations in information technology." Asaithambi says the program will be introduced on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, which is home to Sinte Gleska University (SGU). The program will start with a community-based summer camp to provide opportunities for tribal families to use IT on issues of cultural relevance, including Lakota language revitalization and land resource development. The camp will be used to recruit, monitor, and prepare American Indian students for computing at the high school and college levels. The grant will also be used to create a computing-major readiness program for SGU freshmen and sophomores, distance education and Web-based USD computing courses to aid SGU students, a development program so SGU faculty members can obtain a master's degree or PhD in computing at USD, and an opportunity for SGU students to earn a master's degree in computer science in five years.
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Waiting for the Internet Meltdown
Times Online (UK) (07/06/08) Harris, Mark

More than 85 percent of the available Internet Protocol (IP) addresses have now been taken, and the remainder will be gone by early 2011, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). If nothing is done and IP addresses run out as expected in 2011, Internet speeds will drop and new connections and services such as Internet telephony will either be too expensive or impossible to obtain, experts say. "Shortages are already acute in some regions," the OECD says. "The situation is critical for the future of the Internet economy." Such a situation could be avoided by adopting IPv6, a protocol that can provide billions and billions of new IP addresses. However, there are a number of challenges involved in adopting IPv6. For example, IPv6 is not compatible with the Internet today, which means that Web sites that want to use the new protocol must deploy a whole new Web site using new domain names, servers, and bandwidth. Although adopting IPv6 is a major investment, Web sites such as Google and governments need to make the investment in the technology now in order to forestall the collapse of the Internet, experts say.
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A Brief Report From the CCC Robotics Workshop
Computing Community Consortium (07/04/08) McCallum, Andrew

The Computing Community Consortium's recent workshop, "A Research Roadmap for Robotics in Manufacturing and Automation," focused on the intersection of science, national needs, public policy, and funding. The program consisted mostly of group discussions, breakout sessions, and consolidated discussions instead of prepared speeches. Attendees included former National Science Foundation chief operating officer Joe Bordogna, Clint Kelly, formerly of DARPA, Elena Messina from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, William Joyner from the Semiconductor Research Corporation, and numerous people from industry and academia. A series of discussions focused on what is the state of the art and what is needed for further advances. Discussions also focused on why the country needs robotics, external drivers such as inflation, human-resource costs, energy and the environment, maintenance and management of national infrastructure, and a variety of other topics. After the workshop, several documents were produced, including a draft outline of a roadmap for robotics in manufacturing and automation, which was presented to a Robotics Congressional Caucus. The plan is to have a revision and synthesis of comments by September for a possible review meeting at IROS'08, and a synthesis workshop around November. The goal is to have the first complete document in November and a presentation for university presidents and others in December.
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Computer Researchers Look Past Silicon
SIGNAL Magazine (06/08) Ackerman, Robert K.

Complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips are approaching the limits of their performance and size as defined by physical laws, and some experts foresee the end of the doubling of computing power every 18 to 24 months on CMOS chips within 10 to 15 years. Researchers' short-term goal is to augment CMOS products, and multicore chips, in which multiple processors run in parallel on silicon CMOS, may be one possible solution. A multicore chip carries a programming challenge that may entail a new form of theoretical thinking, says the National Science Foundation's Shankar Basu. Issues that researchers have to contend with include power consumption, leakage, and heat output, and Basu notes that room-temperature, fast-conducting materials show potential in chip technology because they have lower electrical resistance and thus produce less heat. An optical solution, meanwhile, could enhance communication between chips and other system components. Charles Ying with the Materials Research division of NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences directorate says carbon-based graphene is attracting interest as an alternative to silicon, since electrons can travel through the material up to 100 times faster than through silicon chips. Carbon nanotubes also display potential, while one of the more exotic technologies with promise is spintronic technology that takes advantage of the spin states of electrons. Another possibility is a heterogeneous chip that combines CMOS technology and exotic materials, while still another concept is complementary hybrid technology systems.
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