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ACM TechNews
August 22, 2008

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Welcome to the August 22, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Intel Moves to Free Gadgets of Their Recharging Cords
New York Times (08/21/08) P. C4; Markoff, John

Intel has developed "wireless resonant energy link" technology that could enable the wireless recharging of handheld devices and other gadgets and appliances. The technology uses a magnetic field to broadcast up to 60 watts of power to a distance of two to three feet. Intel says it can broadcast that power while losing only 25 percent of the power during transmission. The technology builds on the work of Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Marin Soljacic, who pioneered the idea of wirelessly transmitting power using resonant magnetic fields. Both the Intel and MIT researchers are exploring a phenomenon known as "resonant induction," which makes it possible to transmit power several feet without wires. Induction is already used to charge devices such as electric toothbrushes, but those applications require the device to be placed in a base station. The MIT group has demonstrated efficiencies of 50 percent while transmitting power several meters. Intel also is testing whether the technology could be used to power supercapacitors, which can be recharged far more quickly than modern batteries. Intel's Justin Rattner says that someday countertop appliances such as coffeemakers may only need to be placed on the counter to be powered. Intel researchers are experimenting with antennas less than two feet in diameter to remotely power a 60-watt light bulb.
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Space Age Engineers to Verify Control Software for Future Robotic Inter-Planetary Missions
University of Leicester (08/20/08)

The University of Leicester will help develop new verification and validation techniques for next-generation satellite systems. Researchers from Leicester's Control and Instrumentation Research Group are involved in an international consortium that is working to improve mission-critical control software for the rendezvous of groups of satellites. The European Space Agency (ESA) is funding the two-year project. "Future ESA missions, like the autonomous robotic satellites which will collect and return samples from the surface of Mars, require control systems involving complex requirements, system architectures, software algorithms, and hardware implementations," says University of Leicester senior lecturer Declan Bates. "It is essential to show that the control system is sufficiently robust to ensure the desired safety levels under a large number of adverse and unforeseen conditions." Engineers from the Spain's GMV, Canada's NGC Aerospace, and the University of Oxford are also involved in the project.
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Universities Detail Declines in Federal R&D Funding for Science and Engineering Fields
National Science Foundation (08/21/08) Mixon, Bobbie

Federal funding of academic science and engineering research and development (R&D) rose 1.1 percent in current dollars to $30.4 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2007, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF). However, the NSF's latest Survey of Research and Development Expenditures at Universities and Colleges found that R&D funding fell for the second straight year after adjusting for inflation. In inflation-adjusted dollars, R&D funding decreased 1.6 percent from FY 2006, following a decline of 0.2 percent in FY 2005. The federal government still accounted for 62 percent of R&D funding in FY 2007. Overall, R&D expenditures totaled $49.4 billion in FY 2007, as nonfederal funding grew 5 percent. Industry funding increased 11.2 percent to $2.7 billion; state and local government funding grew 6.1 percent to $3.1 billion; academic institutions' contributions rose 6.6 percent to $9.7 billion; and funding from nonprofit organizations, nongovernmental entities, and other sources increased 10 percent to $3.5 billion.
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Better Access to Scientific Articles on EU-Funded Research: European Commission Launches Online Pilot Project
EUROPA (08/20/08)

The European Commission (EC) is working to ensure that the results of the research it funds through the European Union's (EU's) 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7) are disseminated as widely and as efficiently as possible to guarantee maximum exploitation and impact in the world of researchers and beyond. The EC recently launched a pilot project that will give unrestricted online access to EU-funded research results, primarily research articles published in peer-review journals, after a six-month to 12-month embargo period. The pilot project will provide access to about 20 percent of the FP7 program budget, and will include research projects in health, energy, environment, social sciences, and information and communication technologies. The open access pilot project will run until the end of FP7, and aims to ensure that the results of EU-funded research are made available to everyone. Grant recipients will be required to deposit peer-reviewed research articles or final manuscripts from their projects in an online repository. Researchers will have to make their best effort to ensure that access to these articles is given either six or 12 months after publication, depending on the research area. The embargo period is intended to allow scientific publishers to get a return on their investment. "The rapid development of digital technologies offers researchers unprecedented possibilities for the timely and efficient sharing of information," says EU commissioner for information society and media Viviane Reding. "Our new pilot will harness that potential, making it easier for researchers, businesses, and policy makers to address global challenges like climate change by providing them with access to the latest research."
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UC San Diego Computer Scientists Propose New Data Center Architecture Based on Commodity Network Elements
University of California, San Diego (08/20/08) Fox, Tiffany

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) computer scientists have proposed a new way of building data centers that could lower costs and provide more computing capability for end users. UCSD professor Amin Vahdat's paper, "A Scalable Commodity Data Center Network Architecture," was presented at the annual ACM SIGCOMM meeting in Seattle. "Large companies are putting together server farms of tens of thousands of computers--even approaching 100-thousand--and the big challenge is to interconnect all these computers so that they can talk to each other as quickly as possible, without incurring significant costs," Vahdat says. "We are proposing a new topology for Ethernet data center connectivity." The research addresses problems inherent in modern data center networks with large-scale computation or storage requirements. Vahdat say the work addresses the problem of data center network connectivity in a world where consolidation is increasingly common in data centers. The UCSD researchers propose creating a data center that has scalable interconnection bandwidth, making it possible for an arbitrary host in the data center to communicate with any other host in the network at the full bandwidth of its local network interface. The approach requires no modifications to end-host network interfaces, operating systems, or applications, and is backward compatible with Ethernet, IP, and TCP.
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Microsoft Launches Free Photosynth for Combining Shots Into One Picture
Seattle Times (08/21/08) Romano, Benjamin J.

Microsoft Live Labs has released Photosynth, a free program that creates three-dimensional virtual environments, or synths, from overlapping photographs. Dozens of synths are available for viewing on the Photosynth Web site, including some from National Geographic, which assigned photographers to document wonders of the world such as Stonehenge using Photosynth. Photosynth group manager David Gedye says if the project is successful, then the researchers have invented a new form of media that is halfway between photos, computer games, and video that offers rich detail, user-controlled navigation, and cinematic qualities. Microsoft suggests that people create synths using from 10 to 300 photos taken specifically for Photosynth. The photos should cover the subject from all sides and from a variety of perspectives. A moderately powerful computer can calculate a synth from about a dozen photographs in about five minutes by matching elements they have in common to reconstruct the subject. Larger synths can take several hours to process, depending on the size of the photos and the power of the machine, which is still a significant improvement over the original application. Live Labs group project manager Alex Daley says when Photosynth was demonstrated two years ago it took 36 hours on a large cluster of computers to calculate synths.
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Risk Assessment Planned for Voting Systems
Government Computer News (08/19/08) Jackson, William

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) wants to conduct a formal risk assessment of voting systems to identify an acceptable level of risk, as well as appropriate security controls, for all types of voting systems used in federal elections. The assessment will apply principles established in the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), as well as procedures and guidelines for FISMA compliance created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Although the EAC does not have authority over state and local jurisdictions, the commission provides a set of voluntary guidelines for certifying voting systems used in many states. The EAC has released a request for proposals for a contractor to conduct a "scientifically founded voting system risk assessment." The commission is looking for a multidisciplinary team of academic researchers, security and software engineers, security professionals, and election administration professionals to conduct the work. The first phase will produce reference models for election processes to define the operational context in which voting systems are used, and models for each generic type of voting system, such as paper ballot, optical scan, or Direct Recording Electronic machines. The second phase will analyze risks associated with each technology and perform assessments of potential harm from those risks. The third phase will identify an acceptable level of impact for voting systems.
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The 160-Mile Download Diet: Local File-Sharing Drastically Cuts Network Load
University of Washington News and Information (08/19/08) Hickey, Hannah; Muzzin, Suzanne

University of Washington (UW) and Yale University researchers have proposed P4P, an approach to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing in which users share preferentially with nearby computers. Such a system would allow P2P traffic to continue to grow without crippling the Internet, and could provide a basis for future P2P systems. A paper on P4P will be presented at ACM's Special Interest Group on Data Communications conference. Paper co-author and UW professor Arvind Krinshamurthy says initial tests indicate that the network load could be reduced by a factor of five or more without compromising network performance, while simultaneously increasing speeds by about 20 percent. In traditional P2P networks, on average, data packets travel 1,000 miles and take 5.5 metro-hops, which are connections through major hubs. In the P4P network, data packets traveled 160 miles on average and made only 0.89 metro-hops, significantly reducing Web traffic on routes between cities where bottlenecks are most likely to occur. Tests show that only 6 percent of file-sharing is currently done locally, while in a P4P network, local file-sharing increased to 58 percent. P4P require more cooperation between the ISP and the file-sharing host, but it does not force companies to disclose information on how they route Internet traffic.
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Simple and Secure Networked Home
ICT Results (08/18/08)

The European Union-funded ESTIA project has demonstrated software that enables a person to control audiovisual equipment and other products in the home through a single, remote interface. Networked devices are automatically recognized by the system, and the network can be administered using a variety of home electronics, including TVs, cordless phones, PDAs, or a PC. An increasing number of home-based electronics are being manufactured with networking and remote-control capabilities, even washing machines, dryers, and ovens, but few people are using these features. ESTIA lead researcher Lars Dittmann says this is because people perceive the control of networked devices as too complicated, particularly because most networkable devices have their own proprietary control systems, and due to trust and control issues. The ESTIA researchers aimed to address these issues by creating an interface that gives users a personal identity with different access rights to different networked devices. For example, the interface enables people entering the house to type in a four-digit code on a pad by the door, allowing the house to monitor who is there. If an adult is in the house, the children would be allowed to use the oven or microwave, but if the children are home alone their access may be limited to the TV. The ESTIA home networking architecture selects and uses whatever networking technologies are available, from IP-based networks to KNX, a wire-based platform for building control systems.
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What Linux Will Look Like in 2012
InformationWeek (08/14/08) Yegulalp, Serdar

Linux is projected to evolve over the next four years into an operating system that is easy for non-Linux-savvy users to employ, with Serdar Yegulalp projecting a three-way split between three fundamental Linux usage models: For-pay, free to use, and free/libre. The most common model, free to use, is a free distribution with support optional, and additional optional support for closed-source elements such as proprietary, binary-only device drivers; free/libre distributions are wholly free. "Over the next few years, the distinctions between these three licensing models will become heavily accentuated by both the Linux community and by the creators of these distributions themselves," writes Yegulalp. He expects the Linux desktop of 2012 will develop into a bare-bones, click-and-go interface to ease non-technical users' adoption of Linux, while Linux hardware circa 2012 should include an array of mobile devices, including phones, netbooks, and products that use open architectures. Yegulalp anticipates a migration toward hardware with open standards and accessibility, while application trends he foresees include the browser assuming the role of application deployment framework. The running of Linux in parallel with any other operating system will be greatly simplified via virtualization in the Linux kernel, while Windows apps could be run side-by-side with Linux apps through the use of a virtual machine and cut-and-paste functionality. Yegulalp expects Linux to become even more dominant among servers, also partly thanks to virtualization. "Linux's mutability allows for its use not only as a server platform but as hypervisor and container for other operating systems," he writes.
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'Virtual Archaeologist' Reconnects Fragments of Ancient Civilization
Princeton University (08/13/08) Shekhar, Chandra

Archaeologists in Greece are working to reconstruct wall paintings that contain clues about the ancient culture of Thera, an island civilization buried under volcanic ash more than 3,500 years ago. At their current rate, the task will take more than a century of work, but the process could become much easier thanks to an automated system developed by a team of Princeton University computer scientists. The new technology could change how people do archaeology, says Princeton University dean of faculty and computer science professor David Dobkin. Reconstructing an excavated archaeological object is like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle, only much more difficult because the object has been broken into thousands of tiny pieces, many of which lack any distinctive color, pattern, or texture, and may possess edges that have eroded over centuries. The task of reassembling artifacts normally falls to humans, with archaeologists sifting through fragments and using a trial and error approach to find matches. Previous efforts to create computer systems that could be used to automate parts of the process generally relied on expensive, unwieldy equipment that could only be operated by a trained computer expert. Princeton's new system uses inexpensive, off-the-shelf hardware and is designed to be used by archaeologists and preservationists. The system uses a combination of powerful computer algorithms and a processing system that mirrors the procedures traditionally followed by archaeologists. In 2007, a team of Princeton researchers went to Akrotiri, initially to observe and learn from the conservators at the site, and eventually to test their system. They successfully measured 150 fragments using their automated system.
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Virtual Hand Gets Under the Skin
New Scientist (08/14/08) Barras, Colin

Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver presented realistic animations of the hand at the recent ACM SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference in Los Angeles. The team modeled the bones, tendons, and muscles of the hand and forearm, and created software to coordinate the contraction and relaxation of muscles and forces transmitted by tendons to produce hand gestures. They used a layer of skin to clothe the virtual muscles and tendons. Motion capture technology is unable to provide such a view of the movement of muscles and tendons underneath the skin. The new hand animation models would make it possible for surgeons to predict the results of hand surgery. "Using our technique, you can show what effect rerouting a tendon would have on the hand before you actually do the surgery," says Shinjiro Sueda, head of the research team. Sueda, Andrew Kaufman and Dinesh Pai are also offering a graphics software plug-in so animators can improve the realism of their hand animations.
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Comprehensive Study Shows IPv6 Shift Isn't Happening
Extreme Tech (08/18/08) Hachman, Mark

Despite predictions that the Internet's IPv4 protocol will run out of addresses sometime in 2011, little seems to have been done to transition to IPv6, the new protocol that will provide enough Internet addresses for the near future, according to an Arbor Networks study. The study found that the there were only about 600 Mbps of inter-domain IPv6 traffic between June 2007 and June of this year, or just 0.0026 percent of the amount of overall IPv4 traffic. The study also found that IPv6 traffic peaked twice between Nov. 4 and Dec. 25 of last year. Arbor's Scott Iekel-Johnson says the largest of these spikes happened when 1,168 people in attendance at a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force were asked to turn off IPv4 functionality on their network connections and routers and test to see which sites could be accessed. Iekel-Johnson says the fact that just under 1,200 people caused the largest spike in IPv6 traffic over the last 12 months "speaks volumes" about the lack of adoption of the new protocol. He called for action to spur the adoption of IPv6, such as a company issuing a mandate to adopt the protocol. "If Comcast says to its customers, okay, you need to go over to IPv6 because we're out of addresses and we want to add customers, that will force the issue," Iekel-Johnson says.
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Planning to E-Vote? Read This First
Scientific American (08/18/08) Greenemeier, Larry

With less than three months until the U.S. presidential election, many states continue to struggle with electronic-voting technology. In an effort to avoid the problems that plagued the 2000 presidential election, and to meet the requirements of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, many states and counties rushed to obtain e-voting systems, but now those machines also are problematic. Faulty e-voting systems could allow voters and pool workers to place multiple votes, crash the system with a virus, create fake vote tallies, and cause miscounts through other errors, according to studies commissioned by California and Ohio within the past year. "Nothing we do now will affect the November election," says Stanford University professor and Verified Voting Foundation founder David Dill. "We don't know how to make secure paperless voting." In Ohio, problems with e-voting technology have cost the state $112 million, including discrepancies during the primary election when the county board of elections determined that the Premier DRE system malfunctioned and failed to count votes from memory cards uploaded to the system's vote tabulation computer server. Ohio secretary of State Jennifer Brunner commissioned Project EVEREST to study e-voting technology throughout Ohio. The team of academics and private researchers found exploitable weaknesses in all three e-voting vendors' systems. EVEREST researcher and Pennsylvania State University professor Patrick McDaniel says e-voting systems have to be completely redesigned with security in mind, which, in the short term, means adding more thorough vote-auditing capabilities so discrepancies can be investigated.
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The New Face of R&D
Computerworld (08/11/08) Vol. 42, No. 32, P. 32; Anthes, Gary

IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Microsoft's research and development agendas all emphasize the growing importance of collaborative partnerships with universities, customers, and other companies. IBM, HP, and Microsoft are embracing open innovation, which subscribes to the belief that useful ideas originate from both within and without and that companies market the yields of those ideas through both internal and external channels. Henry Chesbrough with the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Open Innovation says IBM has refocused the bulk of its research efforts toward services and support technologies, and the company's R&D approach uses "collaboratories," which are regional joint ventures with universities, foreign governments, or commercial partners that harness local skills, funding, and sales pathways to quickly bring new technology to market. IBM Research director John Kelly announced that IBM would make a three-year, $100 million-plus commitment to each of four "high risk" basic research areas, including a new integrated systems and chip architecture, business integrity management via advanced math and computer science, and nanotechnology, cloud computing, and Internet-scale data centers. Less than a year after hiring former University of Illinois at Chicago engineering dean Prith Banerjee as head of HP Labs, HP announced that it would concentrate on smaller "big bet" research projects in five areas--information explosion, dynamic cloud services, content transformation, intelligent infrastructure, and sustainability--that Banerjee believes are most critical to customers in the next 10 years. Greater collaboration with other companies, universities, and venture capitalists constitutes a sizable portion of HP's R&D strategy. Microsoft, meanwhile, announced a major expansion of its Beijing research campus and the opening of a new lab in Cambridge, Mass. "We are growing outward into areas where computer science intersects with other disciplines, like AIDS research, computational biology and the environment," says Microsoft Research director Richard Rashid.
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