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ACM TechNews
August 25, 2008

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Welcome to the August 25, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Bristol Receives Accolades for Innovative Research
University of Bristol News (08/20/08) Rooney, Sadia

The University of Bristol has received two 2008 Hewlett-Packard Labs Innovation Research Awards. The winning proposals, from the university's Department of Computer Science and Department of Physics, were chosen from 450 applications. The awards will enable the recipients to collaborate with HP Labs on a variety of high-impact research areas, including information explosion, dynamic cloud services, content transformation, intelligent infrastructure, and sustainability. Award recipient and computer science lecturer Walterio Mayol-Cuevas will lead a project to develop novel computer vision methods that could lead to camera-enabled devices that recognize and identify objects or places from how they look. The research also could develop virtual post-it notes visible only to selected people. Award recipient and professor of physics Robert Richardson will lead a project focusing on liquid crystal colloids with the goal of developing new technologies for updateable physical display surfaces to improve users' experience when interacting with the digital world. "Having this research partnership with HP Labs will bring the necessary focus and drive to make a positive contribution to augmented reality, a field of computer research combining real-world and computer-generated data," Mayol-Cuevas says. "It is a big challenge, as with any other area of research, and we are looking forward to starting the work."
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E-Voting Vendor: Programming Errors Caused Dropped Votes
IDG News Service (08/22/08) Gross, Grant

Premier Election Solutions, formerly known as Diebold Election Systems, admitted that its machines have dropped votes, saying a programming error caused hundreds of votes to be dropped in Ohio's March primary elections. The votes were dropped as the machines' memory cards were uploaded to vote-counting servers. Premier originally blamed the error on antivirus software, but the company now admits that a logic error in the machines' GEMS source code caused the miscount. "We now have reason to believe that the logic error in the GEMS code can cause this event when no such antivirus program is installed on the server," wrote Premier president Dave Byrd in a letter to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. "We are indeed distressed that our previous analysis of this issue was in error." Premier's Chris Riggall says the antivirus software could trigger the error, but it is not the underlying problem, and Premier's earlier analysis was incomplete. Premier also released a product advisory notice, warning users of its electronic-voting machines running some versions of the GEMS software and informing them on how to avoid vote loss. Riggall says Premier has developed a fix for the logic error, which is now being tested. Premier also has submitted a version of the GEMS software for federal certification, but the new software will not be certified before the U.S. elections in November.
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Intel, Microsoft Describe Parallel Progress
EE Times (08/22/08) Merritt, Rick

Intel and Microsoft recently discussed their efforts to create a new parallel programming model for future multicore processors in separate presentations at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco. Microsoft discussed its vision for adding new layers to its system software stack and the point extensions it is adding to its .Net environment. Intel talked about new planned extensions to the x86 instruction set and revealed progress on Ct, extensions to the C++ language intended to support greater parallelism. Microsoft Parallel Computing Initiative leader David Callahan says the company hopes to use the parallel shift to enable advances in computer interfaces. Callahan says the software used in tomorrow's systems will be much more layered into separate elements, including new runtime environments that sit in a user space below application libraries and above hypervisors and the core operating system kernel. The runtime environments will act as schedules and work cooperatively with hypervisors that map virtual-to-physical resources and operating systems that manage access to the physical hardware. The goal is to be better at handling the growing number of competing requests in multicore environments. Microsoft will make its runtime layer available to third parties, because it believes there will be a need for many kinds of interoperable software abstractions from different vendors to serve different application types. "There are a deep set of changes before you can even get to rebuilding libraries and rewriting apps," Callahan says.
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Signing by Cell: Can You See Me Now?
University of Washington News and Information (08/21/08) Hickey, Hannah

University of Washington (UW) engineers have developed MobileASL, software that enables hearing-impaired users to use sign language over a mobile phone. The research has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant for a 20-person field project that will start next year in Seattle. The project is the first time two-way, real-time video communication has been demonstrated on cell phones in the United States. Currently, many hearing-impaired people use text messages on mobile phones, but video is faster and better at conveying emotion, says UW undergraduate student Jessica DeWitt. Low data transmission rates on U.S. cellular networks, combined with limited processing power on mobile devices, has prevented real-time video transmission with enough frames per second to allow it to be used to transmit sign language. However, even as faster networks become more common in the U.S., there is still a need for sign language-capable phones that can operate on slower networks as the faster systems are not available everywhere. The MobileASL team tried several ways to display comprehensible sign language on low-resolution video, finally discovering that the most important part of the image to transmit in high resolution is around the face. The software uses a video compression tool to stay within data transmission limits, and transmits the person's face and hands in high resolution while the background is kept in a lower resolution. The researchers are now working on a feature that will know when people are moving their hands, to identify when people are not signing to reduce battery consumption and processing power.
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Teaching Experience
ICT Results (08/21/08)

European researchers have developed ChangeMasters, business education software that enables users to acquire real-life skills and experiences through game playing. Colleges and companies believe that ChangeMasters represents an emerging shift in business education toward realistic computer games, because using the software gives students real-world skills. The program focuses on change management, an aspect of modern business that is critical to responding to dynamic markets, consumers, competitors, and innovation. However, changing business practices and procedures can be hard, which is why ChangeMasters aims to make the transition easier by giving executives the real-life skills and realistic project management experience. The program contains hundreds of parameters to define the corporation and its people, as well as a project to define the corporation's character, culture, formal and informal networks, and any other element that composes the general dynamics of an organization. The program also makes use of informal aspects of corporate life, such as water cooler and coffee room politics and gossip, the psychological attitude of individuals, and a general openness or resistance to change among different groups. "Nobody wins, nobody manages a painless project," says INSEAD professor Albert Angehrn, director of the Centre for Advanced Learning Technologies in France. "The idea is for people to learn lessons and acquire new skills before carrying out a task in a realistic scenario."
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Software Notebook: Microsoft Test-Driving Wi-Fi Use in Vehicles
Seattle Post-Intelligencer (08/24/08) Bishop, Todd

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Microsoft, and the University of Washington are developing Vi-Fi, a community Wi-Fi system that can be used in moving vehicles. The researchers discovered that hiccups can occur in the Wi-Fi signal as a vehicle moves through a wireless network, particularly when the vehicles move from the range of one wireless base station to another. Vi-Fi allows computers and devices to take advantage of multiple base stations at once to smooth the transition between base stations. The researchers say the technique makes it noticeably easier to perform tasks that require a steady Internet connection, such as running interactive software applications or making Internet voice calls. The researchers presented their findings at a meeting of ACM's Special Internet Group on Data Communications. Using Vi-Fi, a device or computer in a moving vehicle chooses one base station at a time to act as an anchor, or primary reception point, but also allows other base stations to act as auxiliaries. The key is an algorithm that uses probabilistic reasoning to determine the chance that a packet received by an auxiliary base station was not received by the anchor. The auxiliary base station can then relay the packet to the anchor if needed. The system also allows the auxiliary base station to relay a packet to a vehicle if the algorithm determines that the packet sent by the anchor station was not received.
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Intel Touts Progress Toward Intelligent Computers
CNet (08/22/08) Shankland, Stephen

Intel showcased a number of technologies in robotics, computing, and communication at the Intel Developer Forum to highlight its progress toward machine intelligence. Intel is exploring the concept of programmable matter, or devices built out of minuscule programmable elements called claytronics atoms (catoms) equipped with sensors, processors and electromagnetic components that can control the distance between the catoms. The result would be reconfigurable, shape-shifting products. Meanwhile, University of California, Berkeley professor Jan Rabaey presented a vision that radio devices will become smaller and increasingly cognitive, or capable of automatically sensing the availability of uncluttered radio spectrum and which communication protocols should be employed at a given moment. Rabaey also foresees more collaborative radio that can form into a mesh network that transmits data with greater speed, quantity, efficiency, and reliability. Mike Garner with Intel's emerging materials group said "tri-gate" technology that boosts processing speed and circuitry density while consuming less electrical power will work to the advantage of complimentary metal oxide semiconductors (CMOS), and stated that "we think CMOS will continue to be the workhorse for many years in the future."
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100x100 Project Partners With Internet2 to Create Testbed for 'Clean Slate' Network Research
Internet2 (08/20/08)

Internet2 announced that it has partnered with the 100x100 Clean Slate Project to create dedicated nationwide network facilities to enable researchers to reexamine the basic infrastructure of the Internet. Using a national testbed network designed by Rice University and Stanford University, project researchers will develop new networking technologies to address the Internet's current challenges, which include scalability, security, and access. The National Science Foundation-funded 100x100 Clean Slate Project is working with economists, security and networking experts, network operators, and policy specialists to develop a network that goes beyond the current Internet. Using technology trends and experiences from the past 30 years, the researchers are trying to re-prioritize the fundamental principles that underlie network design to create networks that will be ubiquitous in scale, provide revolutionary amounts of bandwidth, be economically self-sustaining, and resistant to attack. "The 100x100 Project strives to create technology that will make it viable for all 100 million homes in the U.S. to have at least 100 megabits per second of connectivity," says Stanford University professor Nick McKeown, a co-principal investigator for the 100x100 Project. McKeown says the project has partnered with Internet2 to deploy a breakable nationwide network testbed that will be used to test and validate many architectural ideas. As part of the program, researchers have developed new programmable hardware routers based on the Stanford University-developed NetFPGA platform, which allows researchers to build working prototypes to experiment with different types of routers, protocols, and methods for better processing of packets and network routing.
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Unmanned Aircraft Soon to Ride Thermals to Save Fuel
New Scientist (08/21/08) Vol. 199, No. 2670, P. 23

Rhys Watkin of Roke Manor Research in Hampshire, U.K., and colleagues have developed software that could one day be used by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to identify upwards-moving thermal air currents in a bid to mimic the strategies of glider pilots and thus prolong endurance capabilities and save fuel. The software analyses video of the sky using an on-board camera, searching for signs such as the gray dome-shaped clouds formed by hot air that is rising rapidly, and combines the analysis with real-time weather forecasts and computer simulations of local air flow to predict further thermal currents. The software also has been fed data provided by expert gliders on such things as the specific locations of thermal currents during various weather conditions. Combined with GPS technology, the system could enable a UAV to self-navigate through as many thermal currents as possible. In the future, the software could be enhanced to provide analysis of maps of an area and estimation of how well ground surfaces emit heat, further adding to its ability to predict thermal currents. The system has thus far only been tested to suggest a route for a glider to follow but is being adapted for use in UAVs.
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Exploring the Virtual Ant Colony
BBC News (08/18/08)

ACM's recent SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles gave visitors a chance to virtually explore an ant colony. Visitors wore stereo-vision glasses and used a handheld controller to view and navigate an Atta texana colony from the perspective of the ants. Leaf-cutting ants have very large colonies underground. "Leaf-cutting ant nests can hold a three-story house--the rural legend is that tractors can disappear into them," says Carol LaFayette, who was involved in the Texas A&M project. Using ground-penetrating radar to map an Atta colony, the team did not have to displace a single ant. The map presents the tunnels, the fungus the ants feed on, and soil surrounding the tunnels at different levels of density. The researchers used the GPR radar to create a three-dimensional map of the underground colony, incorporated the data into an immersive visualization system that used software to add some textural details, and projected it onto five screens arranged in a semicircle. Texas professor Frederic Parke developed the visualization system using off-the-shelf hardware, and says it cost only $30,000.
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KDD-2008 Conference Goes Beyond Data
AScribe Newswire (08/20/08)

ACM's Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD) is the host of the 14th annual KDD conference, which is scheduled for Aug. 24-27 at the Loews Lake Las Vegas Resort in Henderson, Nev. At the conference, data-mining researchers and practitioners will have an opportunity to learn more about the latest developments in social networks, text and graph mining, recommender systems, medical data mining, and visual analytics. The lineup of speakers includes renowned experts such as Stanford University's Trevor Hastie and Microsoft Research's Thore Graepel. The conference also offers keynote presentations, oral paper presentations, poster sessions, workshops, tutorials, panels, exhibits, and demonstrations. Tutorial topics include the challenges of mining moving-object data, predictive modeling for social networks, and state-of-the-art methods of mining uncertain and probabilistic data. The winners of the ACM SIGKDD Innovation Award and the KDD Dissertation Award, a new honor that recognizes the best young Ph.D. student in the field, also will be announced at the conference.
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The Future of IT: No Big Bangs, Information Everywhere
CNet (08/14/08) Ricciuti, Mike

Existing technologies such as service-oriented architecture (SOA), business-process management, and mobile systems are projected to merge with component business applications and social networking into "IT everywhere," according to a Forrester Research report written by analyst Bobby Cameron. He says IT is at the start of a "new 16-year cycle of innovation and growth that follows the previous cycle of networked computing for enterprise applications and the Internet." Among the new products and concepts Cameron foresees are information workplace, in which information is delivered through available technologies; master data management to enhance the quality of data that businesses employ; and SOA-based dynamic business applications and architectures that offer more flexibility and easier adaptability than older technologies.
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Building Microchips From the Bottom Up
MIT News (08/14/08) Chandler, David

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have used a novel system based on molecules that can assemble themselves into precise patterns to create a new way of surpassing size limitations in semiconductors. Self-assembling molecular systems called block copolymers have been known for many years, but the regular patterns they produced were only well-ordered for very small areas. The MIT researchers found a way to combine this self-assembly process with conventional lithographic chip-making technology so that the lithographic patterns provide a set of anchors to hold the structure in place. The self-assembling molecules fill in the fine detail between the anchors. MIT professor Edwin L. Thomas says that properly choosing the spatial distribution of the anchors to a desired final structure makes it possible to consistently generate defect-free polymer nanostructures. The molecules themselves are made from a pair of polymer chains that are bonded together. The chains are chemically different and do not mix, which means that when they are spread on a surface they naturally separate and form an orderly array. Changing the spacing of the anchors can control the size and spacing of the overall pattern. The most immediate application for the new technique will improve the storage capacity of magnetic storage systems such as hard disk drives in computers. In the future, entire computer chips could be made using this new technique.
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Magic Touch
The Engineer (08/17/08) Vol. 293, No. 7753, P. 16; Excell, Jon

How people relate to machines could be revolutionized with the emergence of haptic interfaces that give a tactile feel to digital objects, with applications ranging from innovative touch screens to medical training to driving simulators to product design to advanced robot exoskeletons. The feel of real buttons is mimicked by Nokia's Haptikos touch screen handheld Web browser demonstrator, which is equipped with vibration-generating piezoelectric actuators. Immersion research chief Christophe Ramstein believes Apple's iPhone handheld could play a crucial role in the mainstream penetration of haptic technology. He says the repertoire of haptic effects will be greatly widened over the next decade, noting that "mechanical switches are one thing, but we can begin to think about more sophisticated effects like adding vibrations to music as if you're at a concert." UK Haptics' Virtual Veins system is a haptic simulator used to train health workers in venepuncture techniques through the use of 3D goggles, a PC, and a SensAble Technologies end-effector that facilitates interaction with virtual objects. Another adaptation of SensAble technology by UK Haptics involves haptic cow, horse, and cat simulators to train surgeons at the Royal Veterinary Hospital. Meanwhile, Immersion is working on wearable force-feedback technology that allows people to pick up and handle virtual objects through muscular interfaces.
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Networks of the Future: Extending Our Senses Into the Physical World
Los Alamos National Laboratory News (08/13/08) Cannon, John C.

Los Alamos National Laboratory computer scientist Sami Ayyorgun is developing wireless sensor network technology that could lead to improvements in a variety of fields. Engineers could wirelessly monitor miles of gas and oil pipelines for ruptures, damage, and tampering; rescue workers could detect signs of life in a collapsed building; and armed forces could monitor a combat zone or international border with sensors that could alert soldiers to intrusions or illicit traffic. "It's not easy to envision the impacts that sensor networks will make, both socially and economically," Ayyorgun says. "Like many other researchers, I think they are likely to rival the impact that the Internet has made on our lives." Ayyorgun has developed a new communication scheme and has demonstrated that concurrent gains in many measures of performance are possible, including connectivity, energy, delay, throughput, system longevity, coverage, and security. Like cell phones, wireless sensor networks rely on small, independently powered devices, known as motes, to communicate. However, unlike cell phones, which relay their signal through a base station, multihop sensor motes relay their signal through each other, transmitting information through a series of hops from one mote to the next. By eliminating the need to build a mesh of base stations, wireless sensor networks can be tailored to unique circumstances and created for significantly lower costs.
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Origin of Technologies
Washington Technology (08/11/08) Vol. 23, No. 13, P. 32; Beizer, Doug

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has a long tradition of investing in programs with potential for improving technology for defense as well as commercial applications. IRobot's PackBot, a rugged, portable robot capable of performing hazardous missions, started life as a DARPA project, and iRobot has a contract with DARPA to design a soft robot that can adjust its shape to squeeze through small openings using advances in basic chemistry and materials science. The project will involve collaboration with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Key to ensuring DARPA funding is clearly explaining how the technology will help modern warfighters, and former DARPA program manager Mark McHenry says project proposals can be assessed using a series of questions designed to answer such things as what issues the new technology will address and how it will address them better than current solutions. "I would tell people, if you don't have a good answer for these questions, if you can't tell them exactly what you'd do with the money, if you can't tell them exactly why you'll be able to succeed where others failed, they just won't fund you," he says. McHenry's company, Shared Spectrum, has a contract with DARPA to devise technology for military radios to dynamically access spectrum to set up and maintain communications, with the overarching goal being a demonstration of the ability to access 10 times as much spectrum with almost no setup time. DARPA work is often much more focused than standard Defense Department initiatives, says George Stone of Alion Science and Technology, which worked with other companies on DARPA's Real Time Adversarial Intelligence and Decision Making project. "We use simulations of enemy insurgent activities in urban environments and then try to build models of how commanders might have a tool that would let them predict where the enemy is and what they're doing," he says.
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