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ACM TechNews
August 1, 2008

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Welcome to the August 1, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Swiss Multicore Project Wins Microsoft Grant
EE Times Europe (07/30/08) Holland, Colin

A project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) is one of seven academic research projects that will share a $1.5 million Microsoft External Research grant as part of the Safe and Scalable Multicore Computing request for proposal (RFP). Microsoft's RFP is intended to stimulate and enable bold, substantial research in multicore software that re-examines the relationships between computer architecture, operating systems, runtimes, compilers, and applications. The goal is to propose new mechanisms and paradigms that will result in safe and scalable concurrent systems and applications, with a focus on mainstream client platforms. The ETH Zurich project, the Reliable and Efficient Concurrent Object-Oriented Programs (RECOOP), is the only non-U.S. project to receive a grant. RECOOP's goal is to develop a practical formal semantics and proof mechanism to enable programmers to reason abstractly about concurrent programs and allow proofs of formal properties of these programs. RECOOP researchers hope to enable precise reasoning on concurrent programs at a level of abstraction comparable with what is possible on sequential programs using modern languages and programming techniques. Microsoft says integrating transactions into the design and implementation of modern programming languages is surprisingly difficult, and the goal of the research project is to remove such difficulties through advancements in language semantics, compilers, runtime systems, and performance evaluation.
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House S&T Committee Review Federal IT R&D Program
Computing Research Association (08/01/08) Harsha, Peter

The federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program was recently reviewed by the House Science and Technology Committee. Committee Chairman Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) said the program "has made a substantial contribution to moving computation to an equal place along side theory and experiment for conducting research in science and engineering" as well as playing a key role in the development of "the computing and networking infrastructure needed to support leading edge research and to drive the technology forward for a range of commercial applications that benefit society broadly." No witness or member of Congress challenged recommendations that the President's Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) issued in 2007, and there was broad consensus that NITRD must improve its interagency planning. The Computing Research Association's Dan Reed testified that the withdrawal of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's support for a sizable portion of university computer science research represented a major loss of what made the federal portfolio for IT R&D so successful--namely the diversity of funding models and mission requirements. Gordon was especially interested in how the NITRD program could comply with PCAST's recommendation that it be rebalanced to stress more high-risk, long-range research, with Reed contending that researchers should entertain more adventurous thinking in their research proposals while reviewers ought to be willing to merit proposals that are high-risk but potentially high-payoff. Members' queries frequently touched on the issue of cybersecurity, partly sparked by talks about the ubiquity of computer devices and people's expanding access to them. There was agreement among panelists that a lot of research must be performed on understanding how to shield cyber-physical systems.
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Study in CACM August Issue Finds Wikipedia Faces No Limits to Growth
AScribe Newswire (07/31/08)

A study published in the August 2008 issue of Communications of the ACM found that Wikipedia is likely to continue to grow while maintaining its usability. The study's authors, Diomidis Spinellis and Panagiotis Louridas from the Athens University of Economics and Business, identified a growth pattern called preferential attachment, making the study the first time this pattern has been studied live on a structure the size of Wikipedia. The study considered two possible growth patterns for Wikipedia, which currently contains 385 Gbytes of data. Either new concepts are added without having corresponding articles, or the number of new concepts will grow slower than the number of articles. In the first scenario, Wikipedia's coverage will deteriorate as articles are drowned in an increasing number of undefined concepts, while in the second case Wikipedia's growth could stall. However, the study found that Wikipedia actually fits in between the two extremes. The researchers found that the ratio of undefined to defined concepts in Wikipedia remained stable over time, and that articles are added to Wikipedia in a collaborative fashion, with contributors often adding a new article when they encounter a missing entry. The researchers concluded that Wikipedia grows by having new articles linked to the most popular existing articles. The preferential attachment growth pattern seen in Wikipedia has also been used to explain the number of species per genus, the Internet, scientific citations, and collaboration networks between people.
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IETF Tackling P2P Data Traffic
Heise Online (Germany) (07/31/08) Ermert, Monika

An Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working group is searching for ways to make data traffic on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks more effective. At a recent developers' meeting in Dublin, Ireland, IETF's Jon Peterson warned that the problem of P2P traffic needs to be handled. Internet service providers say that 50 percent to 80 percent of all data traffic comes from P2P networks. The focus of IETF's efforts is a mechanism that can respond to a P2P user query for the best P2P node, which should solve the problem of having the P2P client use an indirect route to get to a server with the desired content. For example, the mechanism would prevent a server in Dublin from downloading content from a server in Tokyo when the same content is available on a server in London. Other groups working on solutions include Yale University's P4P working group, and a European Union-supported research project working on a solution called Network-Aware P2P TV Application Over Wise Networks. IETF says the first step should be standardizing the interface between P2P applications and the external server that specifies which is the closest, most powerful, or fastest P2P server.
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San Diego Supercomputer Center Director Urges Academia to Make Cyberinfrastructure 'Real'
UCSD News (07/29/08) Zverina, Jan

University of California San Diego Supercomputer Center director Fran Berman says creating a cyberinfrastructure (CI) is essential for future research advancement and discovery. "Fundamental to modern research, education, work, and life, CI has the potential to overcome the barriers of geography, time, and individual capability to create new paradigms and approaches, to catalyze invention, innovation, and discovery, and to deepen our understanding of the world around us," Berman says. She says the challenge is that in the research and education community, CI is simultaneously a work-in-progress and a stable infrastructure driver for invention and innovation, and the academic community struggles to provision and sustain broad-use community CI within a traditional academic framework. Finding a solution will involve a paradigm shift in how academics think about designing, evolving, provisioning, and learning about CI, as well as partnerships between academics, the government, and the private sector, Berman says. Meanwhile, forward-looking academic institutions are launching CI-based initiatives in the hopes of advancing their own research capabilities and educational expertise. "Both research and education initiatives will be critical to ensuring that the academic community can conduct 21st century research and education with 21st century tools and infrastructure," Berman says.
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Experimental Networking Testbed Gets Bandwidth
Government Computer News (07/30/08) Jackson, William

The Internet2 consortium will provide a dedicated 10Gbps circuit to support the Global Environment for Network Innovation's (GENI's) research efforts. GENI aims to provide researchers with an environment to experiment with networking problems and protocols without being hindered by production networks and the requirements of real users. The Internet2's nationwide, high-performance network for the education and research communities was overhauled last year to increase its capacity tenfold to 100Gbps. The 10Gbps circuit being dedicated to the GENI effort will allow GENI subcontractors and developers to access the circuit at every connection point on the network to foster nationwide collaboration. Internet2 CEO Douglas Van Houweling says the donation gives Internet2 an opportunity to use its new capacity to support cutting-edge research in the development of future generations of the Internet.
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Mother Earth Gets Undressed
Nature (07/31/08) Charles, Katrina

Computer scientists and geologists backed by the United Nations' International Year of Planet Earth have created the first digital geological map of the globe. OneGeology integrated national and regional geological maps from across the world to create the database. The geological maps can be accessed for free, and will give users a chance to see what rocks under their feet look like, as cities, forests, and soil are stripped away from the maps. They will be able to see the various colors of different types of rock on the maps, which could be used to find areas for extracting minerals, supplies of water, and offshore territorial boundaries. "Knowledge of the rocks that we all live on has become increasingly important, and sharing knowledge at a time of global environmental change is crucial," says the British Geological Survey's Ian Jackson. OneGeology also helped accelerate the development of a new Web language, Geoscience Mark-up Language, so that countries would be able to share data and make it freely accessible.
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IBM Software Acts as Human Memory Backup
Computerworld (07/31/08) Gaudin, Sharon

IBM researchers have developed Pensieve, software that helps people keep track of what's happened in their lives. Pensieve uses images, sounds, and text recorded on mobile devices to help people recall names, faces, conversations, and events. The software collects and organizes pieces of information, stores them, and helps the user extract the information later. "Today, we're flooded with information. It's an information overload and we're not capable of handling it," says IBM project leader Eran Belinsky. "This would relieve us from the anxiousness or need to try to remember everything." Pensieve is similar to the MyLifeBits' project being conducted by Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell, who is also developing a way for people to remember different aspects of their lives. Bell is trying to store his life on a laptop by collecting telephone conversations, music, lectures, books he's written and read, and photographs. Belinsky says hundreds of IBM employees are currently testing the software.
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Academics to Get a Glimpse of Microsoft's Sphere
CNet (07/28/08)

Microsoft plans to display its spherical surface computer at its annual Faculty Summit. The university researchers attending the event will be among the first people outside of Microsoft Research to see Sphere, a sphere-shaped, multitouch computer that is similar to the company's tabletop Surface computer. A projector is used to beam the "screen" onto a globe-like display, and input is picked up via infrared cameras. Gaming and mapping are among the applications that benefit from the spherical shape of the computer. For example, multiple users would be able to rotate, stretch, and move pictures while using a photo-sharing application. Sphere is largely the work of surface computing expert Hrvoje Benko. Microsoft has not announced any commercial plans for Sphere, but Microsoft's Bill Gates says surface computing could have a place in the home and office.
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CSIRO Develops Technology That Goes Where GPS Can't
Computerworld Australia (07/31/08) Hendry, Andrew

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has developed a new wireless localization system that can track, sense, and communicate in areas where global positioning systems (GPSs) and other wireless technologies do not work. The terrestrial localization system has received a grant to commercialize the technology for use by Australia's emergency services. The technology will allow first-response emergency workers to be tracked through dangerous environments such as collapsed buildings or underground mines where other technologies may not work. GPS systems only work outdoors where an adequate signal can be received, meaning that canyons, cliffs, caves, urban areas, and underground environments are often inaccessible to GPS systems. GPS also relies on infrastructure from the U.S. Department of Defense, so areas that do not receive its signals are also inaccessible to GPS. CSIRO scientist Mark Hedley says the system is based on radio frequency tracking technologies that use a series of nodes placed in an environment, in addition to nodes attached to emergency workers. Hedley says the system measures the distance between the fixed nodes and the node attached to the emergency worker. Using the measurement of the radio signals between the tags and the command and control centers, the system can determine the location of the emergency workers, as well as other useful information.
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Stream Computing Helps Monitor Sick Infants
Computerworld Canada (07/25/08) Lau, Kathleen

A university of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) research project will use advanced stream computing software developed by IBM to help doctors detect subtle changes in critically ill premature babies. The software is intended to help medical professionals make better decisions by monitoring physiological data such as respiration, heart rate, and body temperature, as well as environmental data gathered from sensors, and combining the data with information collected through traditional paper-based methods. UOIT professor Carolyn McGregor says observing subtle physiological changes can help detect life-threatening conditions in premature infants up to 24 hours in advance. The neonatal intensive care unit at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children will be the first to deploy the technology, followed by the IWK Health Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and another unit in Australia. However, the software will first undergo a year-long testing period at UOIT's Health Informatics Laboratory using data previously collected for neonatal intensive care units. When fully developed, the software will be able to process the 512 readings per minute generated by medical devices. IBM has given the researchers access to the prototype software as part of its First of a Kind program, which connects research teams with customers, says IBM T.J. Watson Research Center's Maria Ebling.
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Attackers' Behavior Builds Better Blacklists
Security Focus (07/24/08) Lemos, Robert

Computer scientists at SRI International and the SANS Institute have developed the Highly Predictive Blacklist algorithm, a technique that determines an attacker's preference for victims' networks in order to prioritize additions to blacklists. The technique allows network owners to correlate attacks on their networks with attackers' preferences for other networks, using a system similar to Google's PageRank System. The researchers correlated attackers' choices in targets using firewall logs contributed by participants in the SANS Institute's DShield service. By matching the preferred victims of a known attacker, the researchers were able to develop per-network blacklists that perform better than either massive global lists or more focused local lists. "Our experiments demonstrate that our Highly Predictive Blacklist algorithm consistently creates firewall filters that are exercised at much higher rates than those from conventional blacklist methods," says SRI's Phillip Porras. The blacklists were created in three stages. First, the researchers removed any unreliable alerts from the logs submitted by contributors. Next, relevance-based rankings were used to prioritize attacks for each contributor. Lastly, the system gave priorities to patterns that match known malware propagation trends. The system was tested using 720 million log entries and found to outperform global and local blacklists in more than 80 percent of the cases.
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Say Goodbye to Virtual Bureaucracy
AlphaGalileo (07/29/08)

The participants in the pan-European EUREKA project called Fidelity (Federated Identity Management based on LIBERTY) are looking for commercial uses for the new system. Fidelity is designed to make it easier for people to do business online, without having to worry about remembering their various passwords and user names, and whether their personal information is secure from fraudsters. Internet users would have a single password with an identity provider, who would take care of the virtual paperwork every time they visited a Web site. The identity provider would operate in a formal partnership with service providers, such as Internet stores, and attribute providers that securely host the customers' personal attributes to be shared. "The system gives customers much more control," says Vincent Etchebarne, innovative services developer at France Telecom's Orange. Customers will be able to give limited information, only what a company needs, and at any time have their personal data removed from the records of a company. European telecoms operators Orange, TeliaSonera, and Telenor are behind the project.
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SC08 Technical Program Registration Opens Aug. 4
HPC Wire (07/31/08)

The SC08 international conference on high performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis, co-sponsored by ACM, will offer a technical program that consists of two days of tutorials, three days of technical paper presentations, six panel discussions, 13 workshops, several birds-of-a-feather sessions, and poster presentations. There will be 20 Technical Papers sessions, in which 59 papers out of 277 submissions will be presented. "A 21 percent acceptance rate definitely shows that we took only the cream of the crop, and that's our goal every year," says Technical Papers co-chair Darren Kerbyson. SC08 will feature papers on GPU applications, petaflop architectures, e-science grids, OS kernels, and 10-gigabit wide-area networks, says Technical Papers co-chair DK Panda. Selected workshops include Node Level Parallelism for Large Scale Supercomputers, Grid Computing Environments 2008, Power Efficiency and the Path to Exascale Computing, Bridging Multicore's Programmability Gap, Advanced Modeling and Simulation for Fission Nuclear Energy, and High-Performance Reconfigurable Computing Technology and Applications. Registration opens Monday, Aug. 4. SC08 takes place Nov. 15-21, in Austin.
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Europe's Next-Generation Broadband
ICT Results (07/25/08)

The Multi-Service Access Everywhere (MUSE) project, a joint effort involving Europe's leading technology firms and research institutes, has finished the first phase of an effort to accelerate the rollout of next-generation broadband services. The project has resulted in 10s of megabits per second broadband service becoming available in many European countries. MUSE has helped to establish standards and define a roadmap that has gained industry consensus, helping limit the risks faced by main stakeholders, improve stakeholder confidence, and increase broadband investment. Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, and other countries are now deploying services with Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line (vDSL), an access technology that provides up to 100 Mbps. MUSE researchers looked at broadband access architectures, access and edge nodes, DSL, fiber optic, fixed wireless, back-end integration, interconnection between public and home networks, and generic test suites. "There is often misunderstanding; people think we were just looking at improving the access bit-rate, but that aspect of the project accounted for only 20 percent of our budget," says project coordinator Peter Vetter. "The main challenge was to enable multi-service delivery through an integrated end-to-end approach."
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Girl Power! Summer Camp Grooms Tomorrow's Techies
Computerworld (07/28/08) Vol. 42, No. 30, P. 32; King, Julia

Girls' interest in computing starts to flag in middle school, and one effort to maintain that enthusiasm is Technology Goddesses, a program of technology camps that offers girls instruction in digital design, computer graphics, Web site development, and digital moviemaking. Technology Goddesses founder Cora Carmody with California's Jacobs Engineering Group hopes the program will improve the pertinence and excitement of technology to this group, and eventually reverse the declining numbers of women in technology-related careers. She notes that girls' learning patterns differ from those of boys, and the Technology Goddesses program reflects this by placing participants in a "girl-friendly" learning environment that encourages sociability, teamwork, and exposure to role models who tend to be older girls rather than adults. Technology Goddesses has a partnership with the Girl Scouts. "Through Technology Goddesses, the girls learn to use technology and gain life skills and develop critical-thinking skills," says Jo Dee Jacob, CEO of Girl Scouts, San Diego-Imperial Council. "They educate themselves and others." By bringing in professionals from a wide spectrum of fields, the program demonstrates to girls the infinite career possibilities a background in technology can nurture. IT professionals who volunteer to help at Technology Goddesses camps or start camps of their own can enhance their company's reputation as an IT employer of choice as well as take a look at potential future members of the tech workforce, says Science Applications International Corp.'s Susie Schmitt.
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Flattened Butterfly Network Lets Data Fly Through Supercomputers and Multicore Processors
IEEE Spectrum (07/08) Savage, Neil

A growing problem of increasingly powerful supercomputers and chips that employ multicore processors is the danger that they will route data inefficiently and waste time, energy, and money, and William Dally with Stanford University's computer science department says he and colleagues at supercomputer manufacturer Cray can solve this problem with the development of a "flattened butterfly" architecture. The flattened butterfly upgrades the butterfly architecture by mixing columns of routers and connecting each router to additional processors, reducing the number of router-to-router connections by 50 percent and allowing data traveling between the processors to reach any other processor in fewer jumps even though the physical route may be longer. The flattened butterfly can adaptively detect congestion and overshoots only when necessary. It is demonstrated in Dally's simulations that in multicore processors the flattened butterfly architecture can boost data throughput as much as 50 percent over a standard mesh network, lower power consumption by 38 percent, and shave 28 percent off of latency. The architecture was unveiled by Dally at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) last year, and in June 2008 Dally's team presented the Dragonfly update--a scalable version of the flattened butterfly for very-high-density networks, including supercomputers with 1 million nodes--at this year's ISCA. Dragonfly is capable of grouping 64 routers linked through a flattened butterfly into one virtual router and then link that to other virtual routers using another flattened butterfly. Wires are used to electrically interconnect the grouped routers, while an optical link is used to connect each virtual router to every other one. The system relies on lower-cost electrical links for short routes and can use the optical interconnects for long routes, and Dally says this architecture is perfect for linking data centers.
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