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ACM TechNews
July 23, 2008

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Welcome to the July 23, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Smaller PCs Cause Worry for Industry
New York Times (07/21/08) Richtel, Matt

Silicon Valley start-up CherryPal has introduced a low-powered personal computer for surfing the Internet and checking email. Cherry Pal's $300 desktop PC is about the size of a paperback and uses 2 watts of power. CherryPal is the latest computer company to use cloud computing, or data managed and stored on distant servers and not on the actual machines, to offer small, low-cost machines. Companies such as Asus and Everex in Taiwan have pioneered the concept, but the broad appeal for the new computers, often called netbooks, has forced the bigger computer companies to take notice. Dell, Acer, and Hewlett-Packard are among the big industry players who plan to enter the space for the device that has little onboard memory, Intel is providing a low-powered chip, and Microsoft has made its Windows XP operating system software available for the unit. Asus has sold out the 350,000 global inventory for its Linux-based Eee PC, which was introduced in 2007, and its supply has been short ever since. "HP, Dell and these other PC makers have learned that if there's consumer interest, you can't just sit back and let someone else steal all the thunder," says Tim Bajarin, an industry analyst with Creative Strategies, a technology consulting firm. The market could grow from fewer than 500,000 in 2007 to 9 million in 2012, according to IDC. However, some PC makers such as Fujitsu continue to hold out because profit margins are already thin for the industry and netbooks offer little margin.
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A New Competitor to LCD
Technology Review (07/21/08) Patel-Predd, Prachi

A pixel that uses two micromirrors to block or transmit light could be used to create displays that are faster, brighter, and more power-efficient than liquid crystal displays (LCDs). Microsoft Research has published the novel pixel design in Nature Photonics, and says that its design is also simpler and easier to fabricate, paving the way for less expensive displays. Three factors prevent LCDs from producing the highest-quality image: first, the pixels do not turn completely off; second, switching from black to white can take between 25 to 40 milliseconds, which is long enough to cause fast-moving images to blur; and third, LCDs are almost impossible to use in bright ambient light. The new telescopic pixels can switch off and on within 1.5 milliseconds. In the "off" state, both mirrors reflect light back to the source, while in the "on" state, a voltage applied between the disc that is the first mirror and a transparent electrode bends the disc out of the way, allowing light to bounce off the disc, toward the second mirror, and through the display. Microsoft Research's Michael Sinclair says that the ultrafast response time translates to simpler, low-cost color displays. He says because the telescopic displays switch so rapidly, a red, green and blue light-emitting diode could be put behind each pixel to create different colors, reducing the complexity and cost of the display. The telescopic pixels are also significantly brighter because LCD displays use polarizing films, a liquid-crystal layer, and color filters, which allows only 5 percent to 10 percent of the light to get through. The telescopic pixels allow about 36 percent of the light through, meaning a less powerful backlight could be used. Sinclair says Microsoft Research is aiming to create large, low-cost displays, potentially replacing small computer displays with "whiteboard-sized" thin screens that IT workers can use without having to shrink windows.
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National ICT Careers Week Held to Encourage More Women
iTnews Australia (07/23/08)

A National Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Careers Week is being held throughout Australia from July 18 - August 2 in an effort to encourage more women to enter the ICT field. The week will include hundreds of events held across the country with activities from more than 200 businesses, educational institutions, government agencies, industry and professional bodies, and women's groups. The effort, created by the ICT Industry Leadership Group, is managed by the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) and the Australian Computer Society with the objective of encouraging young people to study and enter careers in any number of professions in the field. If successful, ICT Career Week will help ensure Australia continues to create a highly skilled workforce that will generate and sustain economic growth and innovation. "ICT covers so many different industries; banking, finance, mining, telecommunications, and part of that has come through the incredible diversity of the workforce but we don't have enough women studying and working in this area," says AIIA NSW executive officer and AIIA National Workforce policy manager Michel Hedley. Hedley says the ICT industry employs about 500,000 people across Australia, but women account for only 15 percent to 20 percent of that workforce, whereas once women accounted for 25 percent. Hedley says a target percentage should be between 30 percent and 35 percent. "Science and engineering subjects are always more popular with men, but women are great users of technology such as mobile phones," says Hedley, adding that he has already received such positive feedback about Career Week that another one has been scheduled for July 2009.
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Influx of Voters Likely to Test New Machines
New York Times (07/21/08) Urbina, Ian

Election officials and voting monitors are more concerned about the unfamiliarity of new voting equipment on voters for the upcoming elections than the technology. At least 11 states are switching to optical scanners that will read paper ballots to offer a more reliable paper trail than touch-screen machines. Shortages of paper ballots or electronic machines have been blamed for causing long lines and leading people to leave polling sites without voting. Election Data Services President Kimball W. Brace says about 55 percent of voters will use paper ballots read by optical-scan machines, compared with 49 percent in 2006, and a third will use touch-screen machines, down from 38 percent. Most of the 30 states with touch-screen machines are not likely to provide backup paper ballots, but Ohio is among those that will do so for the first time in a presidential election. Ohio's electronic machines broke down in 2004. Also, more than half the states will use new statewide databases to verify voter registration and help reduce fraud.
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Details of Major Internet Flaw Posted by Accident
IDG News Service (07/21/08) McMillan, Robert

On July 21, a computer security company accidentally published details of a major flaw in the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), several weeks before the error was supposed to be disclosed. The flaw was discovered several months ago by IOActive researcher Dan Kaminsky, who has been working with Internet software vendors, including Microsoft and Cisco, and the Internet Systems Consortium to fix the problem. The companies released a patch for the bug a few weeks ago, and encouraged corporate users and Internet service providers to patch their DNS systems as soon as possible. When announcing the discovery of the flaw, Kaminsky asked members of the security research community to withhold public speculation on the precise nature of the flaw to give users time to patch their systems, and he planned on disclosing details of the flaw during a presentation at the Black Hat security conference on Aug. 6. Some researchers took Kaminsky's request as a personal challenge to find the flaw before Kaminsky revealed it, while others complained about being kept in the dark about the technical details. On July 21, Zynamics.com CEO Thomas Dullien made a guess about the bug, admitting that he knew very little about DNS, but his findings were quickly confirmed by Matasano Security, a vendor that had been briefed on the issue. Matasano made a post that acknowledged Dullien's identification of the flaw, but the post also contained technical details of the bug, saying that an attacker could use a fast Internet connection to launch what is known as a DNS cache poisoning attack against a Domain Name server and succeed, for example, in redirecting traffic to malicious Web sites within about 10 seconds. The attack takes advantage of several known DNS bugs and combines them in a novel way.
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Safer Blood Transfusions, Chemotherapy, Being Developed By UMass Amherst Researchers, Health Care Professionals
University of Massachusetts Amherst (07/22/08) Clarke, Lori A.

University of Massachusetts Amherst computer scientists are working with health care professionals to analyze medical procedures, like blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatments, with the intention of improving patient safety and to analyze the flow of patients in emergency rooms to reduce waiting time. "Health care workers are dealing with new machinery and medical activities that are increasingly complex, and a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine found that medical accidents account for almost 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year," says UMass professor of computer science Lori Clarke. "Computers can help by detecting flaws in the processes used to deliver medical care, and confirm that efforts to fix the flaws don't create other problems down the line." One of the first procedures the team of computer scientists analyzed was a process for performing blood transfusions that is based on a national standard and is a solid representation of blood transfusion processes used at hospitals throughout the country. The procedure was selected by adverse events, including giving patients the wrong type of blood or giving blood to the wrong patient, have been reported nationally and could cause serious harm or even death. The researchers aimed to isolate flaws in the process so it could be made safer. Analysis revealed a "deadlock," detectable through software engineering techniques, which is essentially a situation where the participants would have to wait endlessly that occurs when a nurse submits a request for blood, but the blood bank needs the nurse to determine the patient's blood type first, causing both parties to wait on the other. The researchers developed technologies that identified the cause of the problem and proposed a solution, which was requiring nurses to check the availability of the blood type before notifying the blood bank. The researchers also identified a problem in chemotherapy, where doses are based on the patient's height and weight, but a patient's height and weight were measured only once at the beginning of treatment. The researchers employed software engineering tools usually used to define and analyze complex software systems, including the special language Little-JIL. The project will eventually create a suite of tools that the UMass researchers hope will be used by the Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies health care organizations.
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House Defeats Paper Ballot Funding
Federal Computer Week (07/21/08) Hardy, Michael

The U.S. House of Representatives recently rejected a bill that would have provided funding for the purchase of paper ballots as a backup to electronic voting systems for the upcoming election. The bill would have instructed the Election Assistance Commission to establish a program to provide grants in time for the November election. University of Maryland professor of computer science Aviel Rubin, a long-time critic of electronic voting, says he was disappointed by the House's decision, and says that it is a real "missed opportunity," adding that he hopes we will not be sorry in November. Supporters of electronic voting machines say the machines are fast, accurate, and easy to set up for disabled and non-English speaking voters. Critics say the machines can be inaccurate and are prone to technical problems that can affect the outcome of an election. Touch-screen machines in particular are a cause of concern because some models do not provide a paper record of votes that would be needed if a recount was called for. The bill would have provided state and local election jurisdictions with the money to buy paper ballots as a failsafe measure. VotersUnite.org co-executive director John Gideon says e-voting critics should stop trying to get federal legislation passed. "It is just not going to happen," he says. "Not only do the Republicans not want it, but the House and Senate leadership does not seem to be on our side." Gideon says e-voting critics should instead go to state legislatures and election authorities for help, adding that such a strategy has already worked in many states.
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Information Sharing Tackles Emergencies in Italy, and Beyond!
ICT Results (07/17/08)

Fast reactions and the ability to seamlessly share information are critical in emergency situations, which is why firefighters in Italy are implementing a new communications platform developed by European researchers. The Italian Ministry of the Interior has issued a formal decree regarding the sharing of data between the fire department and other emergency services that defines communication protocols for exchanging data and information between emergency service command and control rooms. The move is the first time that an emergency organization in Italy will open its databases to other similar organizations, as long as they adopt the communication protocol defined and developed by the REACT project. The REACT project refined and combined two established communications protocols, the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), a de facto standard, and the upcoming Tactical Situation Object (TSO) standard. TSO is used like a dictionary for removing local expressions from language, specifically the code and language of data and procedures, while CAP is used to structure data from different sources and formats into messages that can be used by any application. Combining the two protocols essentially standardizes the information so that it can be used across jurisdictions, threat types, and warning systems. "A car crash might need an ambulance on the scene, but not necessarily the fire services," says REACT coordinator Uberto Delprato. "But if the crash involves a petrol tanker, fire-fighters will definitely be needed. The tools we are putting in place in Italy can process the information in each context and deliver it to the appropriate services, fast." Trials in Germany and the United Kingdom will determine whether REACT's platform will be used there as well.
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Software Helps the Blind Use the Web
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (07/20/08) Blankinship, Donna Gordon

The University of Washington's WebAnywhere program allows blind people to use the Internet in entirely new ways, specifically from public computers. Computer-based software that helps blind people use the Web has been available for a while, but the software costs up to $1,000 and few public computers have such software programs installed. WebAnywhere is a free program that can be accessed on any computer through a Web browser. WebAnywhere will read any page out loud, as long as the computer has speakers or a headphone jack, and the program can skip around section titles, tab through charts, or read the page from top to bottom. WebAnywhere could be made better with some tweaking, but it is a significant improvement over the total lack of public access, according to Brown University student Lindsay Yazzolino, who has been blind since birth. Yazzolino says she would like to see a better search function and fewer keystrokes required for navigation, but loves that the program is free. WebAnywhere developer Jeffrey Bigham, who taped the University of Washington's first blind computer science doctoral candidate in computer science Sangyun Hahn using the program while it was still in development, says he hopes others will make improvements to his open-source software. The more sophisticated text reader programs can read other languages, do more complex searches, use a more natural speaking voice, and allow users to increase reading speed, but they are expensive and are widely unavailable.
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Study: Six Fields in Top 20 Recession-Proof Professions
Computerworld (07/15/08) Weiss, Todd R.

Networking and systems administration, testing and quality assurance, software design and development, software implementation analysis, database administration, and IT management with mobile IT and Web 2.0 proficiencies are six IT fields identified by JobFox.com as being recession-proof in a new study of the 20 most recession-proof professions. "Everybody is trying to improve the ways they do business, to streamline in a tough economy," says JobFox.com's Barry Lawrence, which makes workers in these professions highly desirable. People with skills in software design and development were ranked fourth in July's monthly listing of the most wanted job candidates. Networking and systems administration, database administration, software implementation analysis, and testing/quality assurance professionals were ranked 10th, 18th, 19th, and 20th, respectively. The JobFox.com studies "hit a number of jobs that will be in strong demand," says outplacement consultant John Challenger. "They are all core functions that most companies need."
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University Researchers Develop E-Book Reader
Diamondback (07/17/08) Zeleznik, Alyssa

Researchers from the University of Maryland have teamed up with scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, to develop a prototype of a unique e-book reader. The electronic device is designed to work more like a book, in that it has two separate screens to imitate turning a page. Most e-book readers are single-page devices. The dual-display reader is slightly smaller than a typical book and reads handouts, forms, term papers, spreadsheets and books that have been converted into electric documents. E-book readers have been slow to catch on, largely because of their price, but they could potentially compete with textbooks. "An electronic version of a textbook would be considerably easier to carry around, and the activities people do with textbooks tend to intersect with what electronic books are good at: Namely, searching for a specific topic, or jumping to a section of interest," says Nicholas Chen, the lead graduate student on the project. Chen, who is also affiliated with the university's Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, says the team hopes to add a feature that will allow users to write on a page or highlight a section.
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Free Laptop-Tracking System Hits the Streets
Linux Insider (07/14/08) San Miguel, Renay

A new open-source service has been launched that allows consumers and businesses to track lost or stolen laptop computers. Unlike existing commercial products, Adeona, named after the Roman deity of safe returns, does not require users to provide any personal data. When Adeona is installed on a laptop, encrypted connections are established to the open source OpenDHT storage servers on the Web. Tracking a laptop to its last-known Internet protocol (IP) addresses and Internet nodes that were used to connect to the computer involves another download and a password. Outside companies or law enforcement agencies will not see the information about the laptop. "We think that one of the cool contributions of this type of research is not only can you develop a system that successfully tracks your laptop, but it can do so with privacy mechanisms in place," says Thomas Ristenpart, a graduate student from the University of California, San Diego. Adeona, which is available for free, is a year-long project involving researchers from UCSD and the University of Washington.
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CCTV Camera Identifies People by Race
IDG News Service (07/14/08) Kirk, Jeremy

London's Royal College of Art engineer Benjamin Males has written software for the RTS-2 (Racial Targeting System), a camera that determines a person's race. Males says he built the system in an attempt to raise awareness of privacy issues among the public, which often is unaware how frequently it is surveyed by closed-circuit TV (CCTV), particularly in the United Kingdom. Males bought a CCTV camera from eBay and wrote the software for the program using C++, partially using Intel's Open Source Computer Vision Library. Males put the camera on a motor so it can follow people as they walk past the camera, which supplies an image of a person's face to a laptop. Software then takes a color sample from the subject's nose and cheeks and averages the pixel values to determine the person's race. Males has taken the portable system to places such as Covent Garden and Kensington High Street in London, areas that are popular with tourists and shoppers. Nearly everyone who passed by either did not notice the camera or barely paid attention, evidence that shows how people are used to being monitored, Males says. "The device isn't that sophisticated," he says. "This software exists at a much more sophisticated and dangerous level in the commercial world."
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UA Computers Really Fast, and Green
University of Arizona (07/15/08) Harrison, Jeff

The University of Arizona's (UA) two newest high-performance supercomputers offer elite overall processing power and energy efficiency. UA's Altix ICE system is ranked as the 237th most powerful computer in the world on the Top500 list, and the 50th greenest supercomputer on the Green500 list. The system is composed of two machines, a 628-core CPU shared-memory system, and a lower-cost, high-performance cluster that has 1,392 core processors and is capable of accommodating additional nodes if provided by researchers. Together, the high-performance system offers 19.4 teraflops of processing power. Additionally, the new machines take up less space and require less air conditioning than the system they replaced. The new system is also connected to UA's chilled water lines, which helps reduce the air conditioning requirements for the room by 20 percent. The system also uses fewer power components, power supplies, and fans. UA assistant director of research computing Michael Bruck says the system still has redundancy, but without duplication of components on every motherboard. Water-cooling systems are becoming popular in high-performance computers for cost reasons. As systems get increasingly large, power consumption becomes more important than the price of the computer. Currently, 97 research groups spread across eight colleges and 30 departments use the system.
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