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ACM TechNews
October 1, 2008

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


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EU Wants to Take Lead in 'Web 3.0' Technology
IDG News Service (09/30/08) Meller, Paul

Europe is in an excellent position to become the leader in Web 3.0 technology because of its focus on open and pro-competitive telecom networks and commitment to online privacy and security, says Viviane Reding, the European Commission's (EC's) commissioner for information society and media. "Web 3.0 means seamless 'anytime, anywhere' business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks," Reding says. "It means the end of the divide between mobile and fixed lines." She says there could be a 10-fold increase in the scale of the digital universe by 2015. The EC's consultation on the next generation of the Internet launched on Sept. 29 was accompanied by a roadmap. The report described social networking, online business services, nomadic services based on GPS and mobile TV, and smart tags using RFID as trends that would lead to Web 3.0. In a blog post, Vint Cerf welcomed Reding's stance on free and open networks and on open standards. "For Europe to keep up in the global online race, it needs to sprint ahead powered by an openness recipe encompassing a neutral network, users' rights, and open standards," Cerf wrote. "I'm delighted to see that Europe's policymakers stress the successful ingredients to promoting a robust, healthy Internet."
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The 2008 Technology Innovation Awards
Wall Street Journal (09/29/08) Totty, Michael

The Wall Street Journal's 2008 Technology Innovation Award winners included Salesforce.com's Force.com software tool suite, which enables companies to build their own specially tailored business applications that are developed and delivered over the Internet. The cloud computing service enables companies to access computing power on an as-needed basis. Globalstar's Spot unit earned an award in the consumer electronics category for the Spot Satellite Messenger, a handheld device that transmits preprogrammed messages such as "I'm OK," along with users' whereabouts. Software that tests for security holes in new applications by searching for flaws in binary code netted an award for Veracode, and company co-founder Chris Wysopal says the method offers the accuracy of source code analysis without the need for disclosing proprietary source code. The winner in the network/Internet technologies category was Xsigo Systems for hardware and software that allows the replacement of physical cables in a data center with virtual connectors, each of which is capable of mimicking the performance of up to 14 separate cables. Dispersed Storage software from Cleversafe won for a technology that allows sensitive computer files to be stored more securely and reliably by slicing them up and sending the slices, which by themselves are unreadable to unauthorized parties, over the Internet to multiple storage locations on a network. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology professor Jane Royston says the software "could be an important part of Internet data storage systems." The winner in the wireless category was Tata Consultancy Services' mKrishi service, which can supply crop advice to farmers in rural India via cell phones using a combination of remote sensors, a voice-enabled text-messaging service, and a camera phone.
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ACM Visionaries to Address Women in Computing Conference
AScribe Newswire (09/30/08)

ACM President Wendy Hall and ACM A. M. Turing Award recipient Fran Allen will be two of the speakers at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which takes place Oct. 1 to Oct. 4 in Keystone, Colo. The conference will illuminate the significant role that women play in creating and utilizing technology to improve world conditions. Hall is a founding director of the Web Science Research Initiative and Allen is an IBM Fellow Emerita. Other speakers include ACM Committee of Women co-chair Elaine Weyuker of AT&T Labs-Research Technical Staff, and ACM-W Turkish Ambassador Reyyan Ayfer, department chair at Bilkent University. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which highlights the research and career interests of women in computing, is run by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and co-presented with ACM. Hall is the first ACM president from outside North America and one of the first computer scientists to undertake serious research in multimedia and hypermedia. The influence of Hall's research can be seen in digital libraries, the development of the Semantic Web, and the emerging research discipline of Web Science. Hall will participate in a panel on European Women in Science and Engineering, as well as a session on ACM's Membership Gender Study and how to meet the needs of women in computing. Allen, the first women to receive the A. M. Turing Award, works on computer languages and compilers, contributing to advances in the use of high-performance computers to solve problems through techniques that are already used in business and technology.
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See What I See--Machines With Mental Muscle
ICT Results (10/01/08)

The enhancement of machines' interpretive capabilities was the goal of the European Union-funded MUSCLE project, which established a pan-European network of excellence involving the participation of more than 30 academic and research institutions from 14 nations. The initiative has devised a broad spectrum of practical applications made possible by developments in, and convergence of, techniques for generating, acquiring, and interpreting metadata in complex multimedia environments. One application stemming from the MUSCLE project is a virtual talking head that models what is happening within the human mouth so that users can mimic the on-screen action as an aid in pronouncing words and learning vocabulary. Another application involves a Web-based, real-time object categorization system that can carry out searches based on image recognition, as well as automatically categorize and index images according to the objects within the images. A third application can be used to spot and prevent piracy through the use of an intelligent video method that employs software to detect any variation from original recordings, says MUSCLE project coordinator Nozha Boujemaa. "During the course of the project, we produced more than 600 papers for the scientific community, as well as having two books published, one on audiovisual learning techniques for multimedia and the other on the importance of using multimedia rather than just monomedia," Boujemaa says.
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Computer Failure Hobbles Hubble, Derails Shuttle Mission
Computerworld (09/30/08) Gaudin, Sharon

NASA scientists announced that a data formatter and control unit on the Hubble Space Telescope has "totally failed," preventing data from being sent to Earth and delaying a shuttle mission. The Science Data Formatter is designed to collect information from five onboard instruments, format the data into packets, put headers on the packets, and send the packets to Earth. Hubble Space Telescope program executive Michael Moore says the Hubble's problematic computer, which has been in orbit for more than 18 years, is a simple but vital part of the telescop's communications system. NASA scientists are now working to switch the Hubble to onboard redundant systems to resume services until a space shuttle arrives with a replacement system. NASA postponed the space shuttle's planned October repair mission so a replacement computer system can be obtained. Hubble manager Preston Burch does not know what caused the failure, but notes that the unit runs at a relatively high temperature compared to other components, and high temperatures tend to accelerate the degradation process. Moore says switching over to the redundant systems should take about 10 hours, and technicians and scientists expect to complete the process at the end of the first week of October. NASA's Ed Weiler says the switchover and subsequent installation of new redundant systems should add another five to 10 years to Hubble's life.
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Paper Transistors Make for Disposable Electronics
New Scientist (10/01/08) Das, Saswato

New University of Lisbon researcher Elvira Fortunato has built a paper-based transistor by coating both sides of a sheet of paper with metal oxides before applying aluminum contacts. The paper acts as both a flexible substrate and as an integral part of the semiconductor by helping to amplify the current that passes through the transistor. "Using the interstrate is a clear advantage," says Columbia University professor Ioannis Kymissis. The transistors were produced at room temperature and tested for two months without any deterioration in performance or stability, making it plausible that they could be used to make disposable microelectronics such as RFID tags and smart labels for everyday use. The paper-based chips are susceptible to tearing or becoming soggy, but these problems can be corrected by laminating the device. Researchers have been looking for ways of making semiconductors without the need for expensive manufacturing plants for some time. "This may go a long way toward achieving a dream that many groups have pursued for very low-cost, flexible organic electronics," says Georgia Tech Quantum Institute director Dick Slusher.
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R&D Chiefs Share Their Strategies
EE Times (09/30/08) Merritt, Rick

Computer science researchers are using new models and fresh subjects to handle new and old challenges, according to a panel discussion between four senior research and development (R&D) executives at ResearchFest. "One of the differences about research at Google is the extent to which researchers are embedded--everyone is mixed together," says Google director of research Peter Norvig. IBM Almaden Research center director Jim Spohrer says getting senior researchers to work on fresh topics is one of the ongoing challenges in R&D. "We don't get anywhere near the one third of projects based on out-of-the-box thinking we would like to see for long-term impact," Spohrer says. "The most mature senior researchers do conservative things to help the business along while the new researchers come up with the wacky ideas we like." Norvig says Google often has research teams work alongside engineering teams to encourage the underlying development of the product. For example, Google's speech recognition researchers work with the Google 411 product team and a machine translation research effort is working with a separate product group. The panelists cited Web services as a hot new area for computer research. "The ability to provide information as a service will be the next big opportunity for the next 20 years," says Xerox PARC's Mark Bernstein.
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BYOC: Company Gives Workers Unusual Laptop Leeway
Associated Press (09/25/08) Madkour, Rasha

Citrix Systems is launching a new pilot program for its workers in which employees are given a $2,100 stipend to buy a laptop of their choosing and a three-year service plan. In exchange for the freedom to work on a computer with the specifications they want, workers essentially become responsible for the company's technology purchasing and maintenance responsibilities. Citrix appears to be the first large company to launch such a program, although Gartner analyst Steve Kleynhans says other technology companies have launched similar pilot programs but are doing so under the radar. Allowing employees to choose their own computers presents several technical challenges, including ensuring employees can access the programs they need for their jobs, and raises corporate policy questions, such as how sensitive information is protected on employee computers. For Citrix, the program is being used to promote its virtualization technology, which enables companies to run software programs they need from a central data center. Employees can access applications by logging in remotely, but the programs and information in the data center are never downloaded to a worker's computer. Citrix CIO Paul Martine believes that such programs will be the trend of the future. Analyst Tim Bajarin says buy-your-own-computer programs are likely to be easier for companies such as Citrix, which specializes in virtualization and understands how to make the program work, while more traditional IT companies may find such programs problematic.
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SchoolBots Seeks and Destroys Maths Fatigue
Silicon Republic (10/01/08) Boran, Marie

Ireland's SchoolBots competition, run by the Tipperary Institute and sponsored by Lenovo and Google, is a robot design competition designed to encourage Transition year and Leaving Certificate students to pursue technology education. Information and communication technology (ICT) is not on the curriculum at the second level, and educators say that events such as SchoolBots are one of the only ways to show young adults what a third-level course in ICT may entail. "My experience from running SchoolBots for the past two years would suggest that the new mobile phone and game console generation of school kids appreciate and understand that computer software is needed and used in their everyday lives," says the Tipperary Institute's Liam Noonan. "The issue, however, is that ICT is not taught as a second-level subject, so how can we expect them to know what ICT or computer science is all about if they have no experience?" Noonan says he would like to see a senior-cycle ICT Leaving Cert subject that teaches the fundamentals of programming, multimedia, and technology and operating systems concepts through fun programs such as SchoolBots. He says the current ICT education courses do not address the ICT sector in an adequate manner and do not show students what ICT is really about, such as writing software, developing multimedia content, and other high-tech activities.
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Preventing Forest Fires With Tree Power
MIT News (09/23/08) Thomson, Elizabeth A.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are developing a new sensor system that uses trees to power a network of sensors that could detect forest fires and other events in forests. Each sensor is equipped with an off-the-shelf battery that can be slowly recharged using electricity generated by the tree. A single tree does not generate a lot of power, but over time the "trickle charge" adds up, similar to a faucet dripping into a bucket, says MIT researcher Shuguang Zhang. A tree produces enough electricity to enable temperature and humidity sensors to wireless transmit signals four times a day, or immediately if there is a fire. Each transmission jumps from one sensor to another until it reaches an existing weather station. Zhang and fellow MIT researcher Christopher J. Love say trees produce electricity due to an imbalance in pH between a tree and the soil. The researchers plan to place sensors on four trees per acre, and note that the system is designed for easy installation by unskilled workers. The group is now finalizing how the wireless sensor network should be configured to minimize power usage and expect to begin a trial of the system next spring.
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Analyzing Music the Digital Way
Philadelphia Inquirer (09/22/08) Avril, Tom

Engineers, musicians, and computer researchers recently gathered at Drexel University for the International Conference on Music Information Retrieval to discuss using computers to analyze and manage the world of sound. The event was first held in Plymouth, Mass., in 2000, with music theorists and librarians heavily represented among the few dozen attendees. Now, the event is far more technology oriented. Some of the technologies could be incorporated into iPods in the next 18 months, possibly helping listeners sort through an unruly music collection. A key part of the conference is the announcements of results from a competition in which various universities pit their music-analysis algorithms against one another. Entrants from more than a dozen countries competed in 18 tasks, using their computers to listen to selections of music and identify aspects such as genre, mood, composer, and title. The goal is to eventually help people search for music they might like by autonomously combing through millions of audio files. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor J. Stephen Downie was particularly impressed by the entrants' success at identifying cover songs by different artists. Another task challenged the algorithms to identify tunes someone hummed, which could eventually enable karaoke machines and music shops to identify the song that someone is humming and provide it to them.
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New Study Highlights Risk of Fake Popup Warnings for Internet Users
NC State University News Services (09/22/08)

North Carolina State University (NC State) researchers have created phony popup messages that were able to fool participants in its study 63 percent of the time. The undergraduates opened up popup messages in a way that could have exposed them to malevolent software, such as spyware or a computer virus, says NC State professor Michael S. Wogalter. Simply closing the message box would have been safer, considering phony popup messages are sometimes designed to trick users into downloading harmful software. Companies could add unique features to real messages to help Web users differentiate between genuine warning messages and fake popups, says Wogalter, who also expressed concern that these warnings might eventually be duplicated as well. Internet users must be reminded to remain cautious as they surf the Web, he says. "Be suspicious when things pop up," Wogalter advises. "Don't click OK--close the box instead."
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Is This The Future of Internet Search?
Israel21c (09/22/08) Shamah, David

Danny Fine of BrainDamage in Haifa, Israel, says computers, not people, should be carrying out Internet searches. He says searching is a form of artificial intelligence that analyzes documents and creates a map of keywords and their relationships to each other. "The search engine doesn't really understand what you're asking, of course--it's just a dumb computer, after all," Fine says. "The way it figures out what you're looking for is by comparing your request to a long list of keywords that are indexed in a database with other terms that could really be what you're looking for." BrainDamage is developing Noesis, a new approach to Internet searching based on natural thinking technology. Natural thinking technology puts the burden of understanding search queries on the search engine, enabling it to return more accurate results. Fine says Noesis gathers information and develops it, guided by the user, to reach a conclusion using the same patterns of logic and ideas that humans use. Noesis essentially teaches machines to understand what humans have in mind when they make a request. "Our system advances artificial intelligence far beyond where it is today, enabling computers to truly understand what is being asked of them--and to respond appropriately," Fine says.
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Scaling Mount Exaflops
Computerworld (09/22/08) Vol. 42, No. 38, P. 24; Anthes, Gary

The most recent Top500 list was topped by a computer that offers a top processing speed of 1.206 petaflops, the first computer to break the petaflop barrier. However, the Roadrunner computer, built by IBM for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, may seldom reach its peak operating capacity. "The Top500 list is only useful in telling you the absolute upper bound of the capabilities of the computers," says National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) director of supercomputing research Richard Loft. "It's not useful in terms of telling you their utility in real scientific calculations." Loft doubts that Roadrunner would operate at more than 2 percent of its peak rated power on NCAR's ocean and climate models. He says the problem is that placement on the Top500 list is determined by performance on the decades-old Linpack benchmark, which is Fortran code that measures the speed of processors on floating-point math operations, such as multiplying two long decimal numbers. Loft says the HPC Challenge Benchmark, a suite of tests sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, more closely resembles what supercomputers are used for. The test suite consists of the Linpack floating-point benchmark and six others that measure performance factors such as integer math, memory updates, sustainable memory bandwidth, and interprocessor communications. "As long as we continue to focus on peak floating-point performance, we are missing the actual hard problem that is holding up a lot of science," Loft says.
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Toward the Semantic Deep Web
Computer (09/08) Vol. 41, No. 9, P. 95; Geller, James; Chun, Soon Ae; An, Yoo Jung

The Semantic Deep Web integrates Semantic Web components with the employment of ontology-aware browsers to squeeze information out of the Deep Web, which is nonindexable, invisible, and concealed online content that is only accessible via Web services or Web-form interfaces, write New Jersey Institute of Technology professor James Geller and colleagues. "The primary goals of the Semantic Deep Web are to access Deep Web data through various Web technologies and to realize the Semantic Web's vision by enriching ontologies using this data," the authors note. To access the Deep Web with Semantic Web technologies, the Semantic Deep Web utilizes ontology plug-in search, a method for enriching a domain ontology with Deep Web data semantics so that it can be used to refine user search queries processed by a conventional search. Another key Semantic Deep Web process is Deep Web service annotation, in which Deep Web services are annotated with Deep Web data semantics so that they can be searched by a Semantic Web search engine. It is simpler from a semantic perspective to obtain ontologies from Deep Web data sources, especially well-structured relational back-end databases, than from unstructured natural-language text documents. Activities Geller lists as necessary for fusing Semantic Web and Deep Web technologies together include the development of ontology-aware, high-quality Web search engines; construction of large ontologies from Deep Web sites, beginning with all e-commerce subdomains; achieving acceptance of an "open source attitude" in the e-commerce space to simplify the building of Deep Web ontologies by accessing securely locked data sources; creation of libraries of semantic crawlers designed to extract back-end database information; and assembly of comprehensive index structures for Deep Web sites.
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