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ACM TechNews
September 19, 2008

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Welcome to the September 19, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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School of Computing Researchers Develop a New Method for Building Multilingual Ontologies
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (09/18/08)

Researchers from the Validation and Business Applications Group at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing have developed a new way of building multilingual ontologies that can be applied to the Semantic Web. The researchers say their method revolutionizes current ontology building systems. The method is based on building ontologies that can represent information irrespective of language, making the ontologies applicable to multilingual systems. After analyzing the natural language, the method looks for linguistic patterns, or grammatical structures, that match the exact ontological structures. The linguistic patterns are capable of building language-independent structures. The method's most innovative aspect is the construction of multilingual ontologies using universal words as the concept name. Universal words come from the United National University's Universal Networking Language (UNL) project, which was established to break down linguistic barriers on the Internet. The researchers say the characteristics of UNL closely match the features of an ontology. A major advantage of using the UNL system is that the universal words are independent of the language and are not ambiguous, which makes the translation of the ontology to any language extremely precise.
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High Turnout, New Procedures May Mean an Election Day Mess
Washington Post (09/18/08) P. A1; Flaherty, Mary Pat

Election officials across the United States are concerned that a surge of new voters will place extra stress on an election system that is in the midst of a tumultuous transformation, with many jurisdictions introducing new machines and rules to avoid the catastrophe that crippled the 2000 election and the lingering controversy of the 2004 election. Even over the past few months, cities and counties have overhauled their voting equipment. Nine million voters, including those in battleground states such as Ohio, Florida, and Colorado, will use equipment that has changed since March. These widespread changes, intended to reassure the public, have increased the potential for trouble during the elections. "You change systems and throw in lots of new voters, and you can plan to be up the proverbial creek," says Election Data Services' Kimball Brace. Since Congress passed the Help America Vote Act six years ago, $3 billion has been spent to improve voting systems, largely on new equipment. However, with touch-screen machines becoming extremely unpopular, more than half of U.S. voters will use paper ballots tallied by optical scanners, producing a paper trail that can be reexamined should questions arise. Meanwhile, more than of the states will be using new statewide databases required by the 2002 law to improve the accuracy of voter rolls. Both campaigns have already hired lawyers to challenge any irregularities, from registrations to polling place problems to vote tallies. "The voting process is going to be tested in a way it has not been in recent history," says Common Cause's Tova Wang.
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NSF Picks Purdue to Lead Effort to Attract Women to STEM Disciplines, Agriculture
Purdue University News (09/17/08) Hughes, Clyde

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Purdue University a $3.92 million grant to launch a national model program to increase the number and diversity of women faculty members in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The grant will support research and programming for institutional transformation and create the Purdue Center for Faculty Success. The center will provide targeted research, programs, and university-level coordination to attract more women and to help women succeed. Lessons learned at the center will be shared with other institutions across the United States. Purdue president France A Cordova says the effort will provide role models and encourage more young women to enter STEM fields. "We expect the Purdue ADVANCE Institutional Transformation project to become a national model for increasing the participation and advancement of women in academic STEM careers," says NSF ADVANCE program director Jessie DeAro. "The ADVANCE program was particularly impressed with the proposed efforts to focus on increasing the participation of underrepresented minority women." Purdue University College of Science associate dean Christie L. Sahley says the center's goal is to increase women faculty members by improving the diversity of faculty candidates, enhancing the role of Purdue's ethnic cultural centers in faculty support, and adopting best practices.
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Other Countries' IT Industries Catching Up to U.S.
IDG News Service (09/16/08) Gross, Grant

A shortage of skilled tech workers has made the U.S. IT industry less competitive, but the United States still has the best environment for information and communications technologies in the world, according to a Business Software Alliance study. The United States' score fell slightly from 77.4 in 2007 to 74.6 in 2008 in the study, which is based on a 100-point scale and reflects an assessment of the overall business environment, IT infrastructure, human capital, legal environment, research and development environment, and support for IT industry development. "A deterioration in U.S. performance is possible should tougher immigration controls have a negative impact on the pool of IT talent and the skills base," the study says. "And as the U.S. and west European economies endure a downturn, the impacts of a heavier regulatory touch and slower growth of technology spending cannot be discounted." Taiwan was second in the study of 66 countries, and was followed by the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada.
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A Spiritual Computing Hub?
Bangkok Post (09/17/08)

University of Washington Human Interface Technology Laboratory senior advisor Craig Warren Smith believes that Thailand could become a global center for the development of spiritual computing technology, which focuses on improving the end user experience by making it more meaningful. Spiritual computing is only just emerging, and is being reflected in quests by software designers to maximize the user experience, Smith says. Next year Smith will be lecturing at Chulalongkorn University's Philosophy Department's Centre of Ethics of Science and Technology. Smith also plans to organize an international conference on spiritual computing. He wants to establish Thailand as "a fundamental place for innovation in technology design." He says that global innovation around the human computer interface, based on Asian spiritual traditions, can start in Thailand, and that the relationship between open source, open technology and Thailand's open society should help enable this global innovation. Thailand's rich Buddhist culture and strong IT design skills mean Thailand could unite spiritual traditions from a variety of countries to build an ecosystem for meaningful technologies, Smith says.
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Cyber Attack Data Sharing Is Lacking, Congress Told
Washington Post (09/19/08) P. D2; Nakashima, Ellen

U.S. intelligence agencies are unable to share information on foreign cyberattacks against companies due to a fear of jeopardizing intelligence-gathering sources and methods, testified Paul B. Kurtz at the first open hearing on cybersecurity held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Kurtz and other cybersecurity experts discussed the Bush administration's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which focuses on cybersecurity espionage against government systems but, according to the experts, does not adequately address the private sector. The panelists, members of the Center for Strategic and International Studies commission on cybersecurity, say there is no coordinated strategy or mechanism for sharing intelligence about intrusions with companies, nor is there a systematic way for companies to share information with the government. Although certain information must be kept classified, the government needs to be better at sharing unclassified information on cyberattacks, says Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), who chairs the intelligence committee. Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Ross Feinstein says the intelligence community works very closely with law enforcement on cyberattacks to share knowledge that might assist with investigations, and with the Department of Homeland Security to assist with infrastructure protection efforts. Kurtz also says the United States is heavily investing in technologies that are being stolen at little to no cost by the country's adversaries.
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ACM Accepting Nominations for Awards Honoring Excellence in Computing and Information Technology
AScribe Newswire (09/17/08)

Computing and information technology professionals have until September 30 to nominate colleagues and peers for the ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award and the SIAM/ACM Award in Computational Science and Engineering, as part of the 2008 ACM Awards Program. The deadline for making nominations for the 10 other awards in the program is November 30. The awards include the prestigious A. M. Turing Award, which comes with a $250,000 cash reward, and the recently announced ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, which has a cash reward of $150,000. Nominations are to be submitted to the chairs of the individual awards committees, which will have teams of leading technology professionals and educators conduct the rigorous review process. ACM will announce the winners in early 2009, and will schedule a gala benefit in the spring to honor their contributions to computing and information technology.
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Google Can Sort Digital Photos on Face Value
USA Today (09/16/08) Graham, Jefferson

Making software more capable of image recognition has been a longtime goal of German-born computer scientist Harmut Neven, whose facial-recognition software firm was purchased by Google in 2006 with the goal of bringing his technology to digital photography. Neven has spent two years working with Google's Picasa photo editing and management software team. The new version of Picasa is now available online, and although Google engineers say it is not perfect, the software is being heralded for its accuracy and is considered a major step forward. After uploading photos to a Picasa Web album, users can click on the "add name tag" feature. Photos from the album are divided into groups based on the faces in the picture. The user then adds names to the faces. The idea is that after each face has been identified and tagged, that information could be used to search for photos of certain people and groups of people. IDC analyst Chris Chute says photo-recognition technology will become popular with consumers because it will help them manage their growing libraries of digital photos. Some privacy experts are concerned that Google's new feature provides too much information, but Google's Mike Horowitz says the tagging feature is optional, and turning it off erases all the data on the pictures. Neven says his goal is to automate even more of the tasks involved with managing digital images, such as enabling the software to recognize familiar faces and automatically tag them with the appropriate names. "We want to make it increasingly automatic and seamless," Neven says.
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Aesop Goes High-Tech
AlphaGalileo (09/15/08)

Researchers in Cyprus say information and communications technology (ICT) has the potential to revolutionize the classroom experience of the youngest students. Writing in the inaugural issue of the International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, Nikleia Eteokleous of the Frederick University of Cyprus and Despo Ktoridou and Dolapsakis Demetris of the University of Nicosia discuss how educators could use animated versions of short stories such as Aesop's Fables to enhance the learning experience. ICT tools would allow teachers to hide and scatter scenes, and have children find missing characters, change scenes altogether, and create other interactive activities, such as puzzles. "Research has shown so far that used appropriately, technology can improve children's thinking ability and help them learn to work in groups," the researchers say. Young students display more enthusiasm, understanding, and skills when ICT is used in such a way, they report. "Our findings reveal the importance of integrating computer technology in early childhood classrooms, given teachers' and pupils' positive reactions and experiences as well as the educational benefits and gains for the students," the researchers say.
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A Face-Finding Search Engine
Technology Review (09/17/08) Greene, Kate

New facial-recognition software from Carnegie Mellon University researchers could make it easier to identify a person's face in a low-resolution video. The researchers say the software also could be integrated into next-generation video search engines. Carnegie Mellon researcher Pablo Hennings-Yeomans says that to get a face-recognition system to identify a person, it must first be trained on a database of faces. For each face, the system uses a feature-extraction algorithm to discern patterns in the arrangement of pixels. As the software is trained, it learns to associate some of those patterns with physical traits, such as eye orientation or chin prominence. However, Hennings-Yeomans says the problem is that existing face-recognition systems can only identify faces in pictures with the same resolution as the pictures the system was trained on. Hennings-Yeomans and colleagues developed an approach that improves face-recognition systems that use super-resolution algorithms, or adding pixels to make the picture match the pictures used in training. The researchers designed software that combines aspects of a super-resolution algorithm and the feature-extraction algorithm of a face-recognition system. To find a match for the image, the system first uses the intermediary algorithm, which extracts features that are readable by the face-recognition system to avoid distortions that are characteristic of super-resolution algorithms.
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In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion
New York Times (09/13/08) P. A1; Pear, Robert

Federal employees struggling to cope with the explosion of electronic records are neglecting to regularly save the documents they produce in digital form, and many federal records are slipping through the cracks as a result. Exacerbating the situation is uncertainty over what documents are deemed worthy of preservation, and historians, archivists, librarians, congressional investigators, and watchdog organizations are especially concerned about how these problems will impact attempts to trace the decision-making process and assign accountability to federal officials. "My biggest worry is that even with the best and brightest minds working on this problem, the risks are so great that we may lose significant portions of our history," says Richard Pearce-Moses, former president of the Society of American Archivists. The federal government's digital bookkeeping challenge becomes more complicated every month as employees generate billions of email messages, and the decentralization of record keeping and the reduction of federal clerical employees is adding to the difficulty. Experts fear that digitally preserved items may not be readily accessible in the future because the equipment and software needed to read them will become relics. "At the most basic level, many agency employees do not even understand what a federal record is, much less how it must be preserved," laments Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. Companies that failed to provide electronic records sought in litigation have been slapped with severe penalties, and similar penalties can be imposed on the federal government for such failures.
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Robot Knows When It Hits a Person
Assembly Magazine (09/11/08)

Roboticist Sami Haddadin is part of a German Aerospace Center Space Agency (DLR) research team aimed at transforming industrial robots into smart machines capable of working alongside humans. DLR is testing the first industrial robot capable of sensing when it hits someone. Haddadin says that accidents happen and we have to accept the fact that when people start working more closely with robots, collisions will occur. To design a safer industrial robot, DLR researchers tested smashing robotic arms, weighing up to 2.5 tons, into a crash test dummy at different speeds. To give robots the ability to detect an impact, Haddadin mimics human's ability to feel blows, which sense the shock of an impact through specialized stretch receptors in muscles and joints. In each of the robot's six joints are embedded torque sensors that change their electrical resistance when under tension in a particular direction. The sensors give constant feedback on the direction and magnitude of the forces felt by the arm, which are used to determine if the robot encounters abnormal forces. Once the robot detects an impact, it stops and supports its own weight to ensure that inertia or gravity does not cause further harm to the person. The robot also can be pushed out of the way using minimal force.
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EU's P2P Project Makes Everyone a Broadcaster
EE Times (09/12/08) Yoshida, Junko

The P2P-Next group, a consortium of European broadcasters, academia, and technology companies, plan to redefine peer-to-peer (P2P) technology by creating a next generation P2P content delivery platform that connects millions of TV sets. By bringing P2P technology to TVs, the proposed P2P platform will enable consumers to broadcast live streams, either their own content or a TV channel, to millions of users on the Internet. Consortium members include the BBC, the European Broadcasting Union, the Broadcast Technology Institute in Munich, Technical University of Delft, and several technology companies. The P2P-Next group recently demonstrated what it calls the world's first live P2P streaming of professional content to low-cost set-top boxes using an open source P2P video delivery platform. The Internet infrastructure currently is ill-suited for transmitting live events to millions of people simultaneously, as too many requests for simultaneous streams of data can easily cripple a network. Some technology firms have been emphasizing multicasting as a solution. Multicasting allows the data stream to be distributed to numerous local servers, which subsequently re-broadcast the content to local users. However, ISPs are reluctant to make the significant investment in IP routers and adding more servers to the edges of their networks. Pioneer's Mark Stuart says redistributing the data stream between peers, without using a central service, by connecting millions of TV sets, offers a scalable and robust solution at almost zero cost.
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Melbourne Team Aims to Find Green Tinge in Cyberspace
Australian (09/10/08) Zukerman, Wendy

University of Melbourne professor Rodney Tucker is researching ways to make information technology more energy efficient. "Our growing love affair with the Internet is increasing greenhouse emissions more than people realize," Tucker says. He says IT could consume 10 percent of world energy use in the next 10 to 20 years. "Everything from the computer itself to the data centers use energy," he notes. For example, Google data centers use more energy than it takes to power 10,000 Australian homes. Tucker says the engineering challenges associated with managing the power consumption of the Internet is of increasing concern. "The part of the Internet that consumes most of the energy is the modem in the home," he says. "The home modem is usually switched on all the time." The University of Melbourne is conducting research to make modems more intelligent, so when the Internet is not being used the modem automatically goes to a power-save mode. Still, Tucker acknowledges that the Internet also has the power to save energy. He says that in the not too distant future people will have Internet-connected TVs that can download movies, saving a trip to the theater or the rental store, and high-definition videoconferences, making travel less necessary.
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Wearing Tech: Where Fashion Meets Technology
CIO (09/09/08) Wilson, Ashley Laurel

Researchers and clothing designers are investigating various modes of wearable technology or "wearables," which are becoming increasingly chic. "Expression is arguably the most important function of clothing today--and arguably one of the key reasons we wear clothes at all, historically speaking--and it seems natural that technology will eventually influence the ways in which we express ourselves and communicate through clothing," says professor Lucy Dunne with the University of Minnesota's School of Design. Textile designer Kerri Wallace says the tipping point that caused interest in wearables to explode occurred because of an excitement over the possibility of intelligence migrating away from "hard" products and toward something "soft," "flexible," and "invisible." Some people argue that the convergence of textiles and technology is the defining characteristic of wearables, but wearables are not restricted to fabrics with electronics woven into them. Among the barriers hindering mainstream acceptance of wearables is their cost, while Moondial founder Sabine Seymour says the success of wearables beyond niche markets requires designs in which the technological elements are seamlessly and unobtrusively incorporated into the garments. "Long-term acceptance of wearable technology depends a lot more on what it has to offer users than on the prevailing fashion trends," Dunne says. "Trends come and go--wearables ideally would gain acceptance more like other gadgets than like a fashion trend."
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Talk of Future: Speech Translators Near Reality
Nikkei Weekly (09/08/08) Vol. 46, No. 2353, P. 17

The technology for automated speech translation, which blends speech recognition software with a database of linguistic resources made accessible by an Internet-enabled cell phone, may soon be available. The Japanese government's Council for Science and Technology Policy projects that Japanese travelers who are unfamiliar with English or Mandarin will be able to visit countries such as the United States and China without hitting a language barrier within five years, while within 10 years they will be able to converse in even more languages, thanks to advances in automated speech translation. The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) has teamed with a number of private companies to build a practical automated speech translator by 2015, while NEC is testing a proprietary speech-recognition technology designed to compare audio input with a database of word cluster patterns to keep up with conversations. "If we combined that kind of speech recognition with a translation system, we would have an automated speech translator, providing something akin to simultaneous interpretation at meetings and lectures," says NEC's Akitoshi Okumura. In August, NICT tested automated speech translator technologies that enable two-way Japanese-Chinese translation. The translation is performed on an online server so that the handheld's word database can be updated anytime. Through the use of the Internet, sentences taken from actual conversations can be uploaded to the database, and this month NICT will launch a forum to convene academic and private-sector researchers to develop an automated speech translator capable of supporting the concurrent translation of multiple languages. This group will permit researchers from various organizations and companies to share sample sentences and the technologies they have created.
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