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ACM TechNews
October 3, 2008

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Welcome to the October 3, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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States Ready E-Voting Systems as Election Day Approaches
Computerworld (10/02/08) Weiss, Todd R.

U.S. states are preparing for a heavy voter turnout that could cause problems for local elections officials and electronic-voting systems. Election officials say they are increasing efforts to review election-day preparations and ensure that there are enough paper ballots on hand and that poll workers are adequately trained. The U.S. uses a variety of different types of voting systems, which varies between states, counties, and even precincts. Some districts use only one type of voting system, while others use a combination of systems. Some of the states that have encountered trouble in the past are hoping a new, more closely monitored approach will improve accuracy. Denver, which faced significant problems after several key changes were made to how voters cast their ballots, has switched from direct recording electronic (DRE) machines to optical scanners, and successfully performed a test run of the new system during this year's primary election. New York state will use mechanical-level voting machines for this election due to disputes over certification and who will pay for e-voting equipment. Florida also has switched to optical scanning, following several controversial elections. After a thorough review of its voting systems, most Californians will vote using optically scanned paper ballots. Ohio is following the EVEREST report, which cites security shortcomings and blames inefficient electronic systems for long lines at polling places. In Ohio, 53 counties use DRE machines while 35 counties use optical-scan voting systems, though voters will be given the option of using a paper ballot instead of using a DRE machine.
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Microsoft Unveils Plan for 3 Labs in Europe
New York Times (10/03/08) P. C9; Pfanner, Eric

Microsoft has announced that it will establish research centers of excellence in Britain, France, and Germany as it focuses on improving its Internet search technology. Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer says the three centers, which will be near Paris, in London, and in Munich, will employ several hundred people. "Investing in anything at this time can be a tough sell," Ballmer says. "But when economic times are tough, we have to keep our faith in the promise that technology holds to transform the future." Microsoft wants to improve its Internet search technology and attract the advertising revenue that comes from searches. ComScore says Google accounts for nearly 80 percent of Internet searches in Europe and slightly more than 60 percent in the United States. Microsoft has barely 1 percent of the European search market, and in some countries the software giant trails even small, local search engines, comScore says. Ballmer says the European centers also will focus on new types of searches, including mobile device searches and searches involving pictures and video. French finance minister Christine Lagarde says Microsoft's investment in France, Germany, and England will receive tax breaks, as France and other European governments aim to strengthen their technology sector.
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Software Conference Probes Traditional, Unorthodox Programming Trends
AScribe Newswire (10/01/08)

This year's OOPSLA Conference on Programming, sponsored by ACM's Special Interest Group on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN), will give researchers and practitioners the opportunity to learn more about the latest developments in software patterns, programming languages, and computing concepts. Scheduled for Oct. 19-23 at the Nashville Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn., OOPSLA will offer a variety of panels, including "Escaped from the Lab: Innovation Practices in Large Organizations," "DSL's: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and "From Sorceress to Scientist: Women in Computing." Research papers include "Runtime: Tolerating Memory Leaks" and "Java Type Inference is Broken: Can We Fix It?" The 21st year of the program also includes "Out-of-the-box Thinking at the Frontiers of Computing," as part of the Onward! Track, and the SIGPLAN Student Research Competition. Egyptologist Mark Lehner will give the keynote address "Social Programming a Pyramid" on Oct. 21. The list of guest speakers also includes Vanderbilt University's Janos Sztipanovits on "Model-based Software, Systems and Control Engineering," on Oct. 22; Lucy Suchman of the United Kingdom's Lancaster University on "Practice-based Design Possibilities," and Mark Dominus, author of "Higher-Order Perl," on "Atypical Types," on Oct. 23.
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STEM Report Calls for Refocus in Education
The Journal (09/25/08) Nagel, Dave

Sweeping changes are needed to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in the United States, concludes a State Educational Technology Directors Association report. The report focuses on the need to expose children to STEM early on and to integrate STEM subjects throughout the school curriculum, starting as early as kindergarten. The report, "STEM Education: Achievement and Innovation," notes that while the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. job market require science and math skills, only 8 percent of the total number of degrees awarded in 2001 were in engineering, mathematics, or the physical sciences, and there has been a 50 percent drop in undergraduate enrollments in computer sciences over the last five years. If current trends continue, 90 percent of the world's scientists will be in Asia by 2010. The report says that in higher education there is inadequate preparation for teachers and too little focus on STEM content understanding. Meanwhile, in K-12, high-quality STEM education is hindered by several factors, including a lack of qualified teachers, a lack of funding to promote STEM education, inadequate recruitment and retention policies, and certification issues from STEM-trained professionals who want to enter teaching. The report notes that only about 60 percent of current educators that teach math in middle and high school actually majored in math in college. The report recommends establishing societal support for STEM education, exposing students to STEM careers, providing ongoing STEM professional development, providing STEM pre-service teacher training, improving policies to recruit and retain STEM teachers, and providing early exposure to STEM and integration of STEM subjects throughout the curriculum in every school.
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Zeroing in on Wi-Fi 'Dead Zones'
Rice University (09/25/08) Boyd, Jade

Research into finding Wi-Fi gaps in large wireless networks recently won best-paper honors at MobiCom 2008, ACM's Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking. Rice University professor Edward Knightly and graduate student Joshua Robinson worked with Ram Swaminathan, a research scientist at HP Labs, to develop the new technique. The method uses basic topography, street locations, and general information about land use to predict how well a wireless transmitter will cover segments of a neighborhood. They have demonstrated the approach on Google's system in Mountain View, Calif., and TFA-Wireless, an experimental network owned by Houston-based nonprofit Technology For All. "Our goal was to efficiently characterize the performance of urban-scale deployments, and our techniques can be used to either guide network deployment or to assess whether a deployed network meets its performance requirements," Knightly says. He says the technique should help make obtaining proper wireless coverage easier and cheaper.
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Surveillance of Skype Messages Found in China
New York Times (10/02/08) P. C1; Markoff, John

Researchers have uncovered a large surveillance system in China dedicated to monitoring and archiving certain Internet text conversations that include politically charged words. The system tracks text messages sent by customers of Tom-Skype, a joint venture between a Chinese wireless operator and eBay, which owns Skype. Researchers in China estimate that more than 30,000 people monitor online traffic, Web sites, and blogs for political and otherwise offensive content as part of the Golden Shield Project. Activists at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto discovered the surveillance operation last month, which includes a cluster of eight message-monitoring computers in China that contain more than a million censored messages. The researchers examined the text messages and reconstructed a list of restricted words, including words related to the religious group Falun Gong, Taiwan independence, and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as words such as "democracy" and others related to the recent earthquake and tainted powdered milk. The list also works as a filter on text messages, blocking transmissions of those words and sending a copy of the message to the server. The Chinese servers retain personal information about the users who send such messages, and record chat conversations between Tom-Skype users and Skype users outside China. The system also recorded text messages and Skype caller identification, but not the content of Skype voice calls.
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Saudi Arabia Buys Some Big Iron
HPC Wire (10/01/08) Feldman, Michael

IBM and King Adbullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have announced a collaborative effort to build Shaheen, a 222-teraflop Blue Gene/P supercomputer. When deployed in 2009, Shaheen will be the most powerful computer in the Middle East and one of the most powerful systems in the world. KAUST also plans to install a petascale machine within two years, and eventually an exascale system. However, teraflop computing is a significant step for Saudi Arabia toward becoming a center for scientific research and its larger goal of transforming the country into an information society. A multi-hundred teraflop machine such as Shaheen will put the Saudis at the same level as top systems in the United States and Europe, with the exception of a handful of petascale machines that will be deployed over the next year. Meanwhile, working with IBM and a variety of other institutions will enable KAUST to access a larger reservoir of talent. In addition to IBM, KAUST will be working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, American University in Cairo, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and a variety of European and Asian research partners. KAUST interim CIO Majid Al-Ghaslan says the KAUST supercomputer will be available exclusively to academic research and scientists focused specifically on resources, energy and environment, biosciences and bioengineering, materials science and engineering, and applied mathematics and computational science.
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Hollywood Sues RealNetworks
Wall Street Journal (10/01/08) P. B7; Wingfield, Nick

The major movie studios are suing RealNetworks for its release of RealDVD, software that enables consumers to copy DVDs onto their computers. The studios' suit claims that RealDVD, which went on sale at the end of September, illegally bypasses copy-protection measures intended to prevent the duplication of DVDs. The studios have asked the court for a temporary restraining order preventing RealNetworks from selling the software, along with financial damages. RealNetworks, which filed its own suit, says the software is protected by fair-use laws. RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser says the company wants to protect consumers' fair-use rights to make copies of their own purchased DVDs. The company says the software does not violate laws because it does not break copy-protection systems designed to prevent the copying of DVDs. Instead, the software makes a copy of everything on a DVD, including the copy-protection system, and puts it on a PC, layering on additional software protections to prevent users from trading movies online. The lawsuits will likely hinge on whether RealDVD circumvents the copy-protection software in DVDs, a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
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Women Playing Catch-Up in Fast Paced IT Industry
Computerworld Australia (09/29/08) Edwards, Kathryn

Being undervalued is the biggest concern among Australian women working in IT, reports the Australian Computer Society's (ACS's) Women Members Survey. Of the 628 respondents, 30 percent said that they do not receive payment equal to their male counterparts. ACS CEO Kim Denham says the rapid development of the IT industry has left many women playing catch-up. Denham says maternity leave often results in the longest break from a woman's career, and that one member in the survey said after 15 years she is still trying to recover from her time off. Many survey respondents expressed concern that IT has become a "boys club" where decisions are made over beer and women are not necessarily invited to these meetings. "It is particularly disappointing that women who are highly qualified, and have significant experience, feel they are overlooked and undervalued compared to men," says ACS chairman Kumar Parakala. Despite being highly qualified, the majority of the women surveyed said they must work harder and achieve better results to earn the same salary as their male counterparts. Other key issues for women in IT include unpaid overtime and a lack of flexibility in hours and positions. Denham says the results of the survey is surprising because companies have done a significant amount of work to combat workplace inequality.
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Tracking Laptop Thieves Safely
Technology Review (09/30/08) Naone, Erica

Researchers at the University of Washington (UW) and the University of California, San Diego have developed Adeona, free laptop-tracking software that records location information in a way that only a legitimate user can gain access to it. While most computer location data is transmitted and stored in an unencrypted form, making it particularly vulnerable to interception, Adeona uses cryptographic techniques to keep location information secure. A laptop running the software sends location information to a central server; the data is encrypted so it cannot be read without a private cryptographic key. Even if a laptop is stolen other cryptographic tricks prevent the tracking information from being used by the wrong people. "Most people are focusing on convenience and data-mining capabilities and forgetting about privacy," says Johns Hopkins University professor Aviel Rubin. "Seeing an effort to build something that will not compromise privacy even though it has every potential to--for me, it's refreshing." When Adeona is installed, a cryptographic key, known as a seed, is generated and stored separately on a USB flash drive or DVD for example. The seed is used to generate a unique cipher each time an update is sent to the server. To prevent a thief from discovering the original seed by analyzing past messages, the software also generates a new seed every time an update is sent. An add-on for Adeona also can periodically take photographs using a laptop's built-in camera to provide additional evidence to show police. "We're hoping other people will take this idea and extend it in other ways to make it more useful--for other types of electronic devices, or for other types of forensic confirmation," says UW professor Tadayoshi Kohno.
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Combining GIS and Semantic Technology to Create a Cultural Visualizer
Directions (09/29/08) Shapshak, Mans

The CINeSpace project in Spain combines semantic technology with a GIS augmented reality device to immerse tourists in an area's cultural heritage by transporting the user to the past through the use of multimedia archives. A rentable mobile device combines a PDA-type device with a GIS interface displayed on a touch screen to help users navigate and select multimedia content, as well as video binoculars to create the augmented reality effects. GPS is used to establish a user's position within approximately 10 meters. Markerless optical tracking, which uses algorithms to compare reference images of real objects to images captured in real time to produce the current location and orientation, is then used to establish a more defined location. Next, inertial tracking is used by mathematically integrating the equations of motion to find the current position from acceleration data provided by integrated circuit accelerometers. Lastly, additional orientation information from solid state accelerometers measures the direction of the force created by the earth's gravitational field on microscopic cantilevers. An electronic three-dimensional compass provides the orientation of the device relative to the earth's magnetic field. These methods allow the device to provide position and orientation information so historical film clips can be layered over the real world to create an altered reality. A challenge in creating the device is the need to allow the user to access a wide variety of geo-referenced information while making the device small and portable, and allowing the user to annotate information in an efficient manner.
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Sandia Lab Tool Puts Internet Traffic on the Map
East Bay Business Times (09/23/08) Fitzhugh, Michael

Sandia National Laboratories Livermore (SNLL) interns Scott Crawford and Andrew Schran have developed the Sandia Heuristic Intelligent Network Imaging tool (SHINI), a way of transforming text-based computer security logs into a map using Google Earth. SHINI enables computer scientists to view connections between computers as lines drawn between points or color-coded heat maps using Google's digital globe software. SNLL's Steve Hurd says there are many tools to help find these connections, but there is always a gap between what analytical tools can show and what reality is, sometimes requiring viewing results from a different perspective. SHINI has already helped detect unusual network connections for further investigation, Hurd says. Visual patterns generated by the computer log data as it is drawn on the map can create both the usual patterns and pattern anomalies, highlighting something worth further investigation. SHINI also can display various data types, helping analysts examine different types of Internet traffic. Sandia is considering releasing an open source version of SHINI for use by computer scientists and people in other fields that could benefit from visualizing data with geographical components in real time. Endsight CEO Mike Chaput says SHINI could help organizations better understand data flows and recognize when patterns are broken, helping them spot potential viruses or hackers.
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Can Hollywood Bring 3DTV Home?
EE Times (09/22/08) Merritt, Rick

Interest from Hollywood in stereoscopic 3D television, encouraged by the profitability of 3D theatrical features, is fueling the drive for a mainstream standard, and at least four major industry groups have been organized this year to move toward such a goal. In July, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) called on anyone interested to join a task force to probe the possibility of defining a mastering standard for 3DTV content that could be transmitted over broadcast, cable, satellite, packaged disks, or the Internet, while the 3D@Home Consortium is focused on the drafting of 3DTV needs and requirements statements. A 3D working group also has been formed by the University of Southern California's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) to categorize the central issues involved in feeding 3D content into the home, and ETC executive director David Wertheimer says the lab's efforts complement the SMPTE task force. There are several government-funded 3DTV groups hosted by Europe, including the 3-D4YOU program emphasizing the definition of capture, coding, and format specifications for 3DTV, and the Original System for Image Rendition via Innovative Screens Project to investigate 2D and 3D projection technologies. Fox Group's Andy Setos says the 3DTV content standard must be backward compatible with today's 2D capture, production, and display systems, while systems makers have to establish standards for reading the formats and displaying the content on various kinds of TVs and devices. The Consumer Electronics Association has called a meeting in late October to see whether the time is right for members to set a 3DTV standard that could encompass TVs, set-tops, and Blu-ray players.
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IU Sends Innovating Technology to Antarctica to Speed Polar Research
Indiana University (09/22/08)

Polar Grid partners Indiana University (IU), Elizabeth City State University, and the National Science Foundation's Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas are set to deploy a collection of customized computational resources to scientists in Antarctica, which will allow the researchers to more securely and efficiently process data during polar field expeditions. "It is critical to provide polar scientists with access to advanced computing technology during field expeditions," says Polar Grid Project principal investigator Geoffrey Fox, director of the Community Grids Lab at IU's Pervasive Technology Labs. "It will help them work more efficiently as they strive to gain a better understanding of the problems facing our planet--and will allow them to move more quickly toward finding solutions." The equipment includes computing clusters, servers, a storage array, laptops, satellite transceivers, and networking and testing equipment. The equipment will be used to support an extensive research expedition that will start in November and end in February 2009. Previously, data collected during this type of expedition could not be processed or evaluated until the scientists returned to their home labs when the expedition ended. The Polar Grid Project will help the researchers improve the time between data collection and scientific discovery by allowing them to start processing ice sheet data collected from sensors and area and surface radar while still in the field. Doing so will enable the researchers to identify data collection problems and adjust equipment as necessary, ensuring that each expedition yields the highest possible data quality.
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Lessons From Life Feed Ambient Info Future
Nikkei Weekly (09/22/08) Vol. 46, No. 2355, P. 17; Hasegawa, Akira

Shojiro Nishio, director of the Multimedia Data Engineering Laboratory in Osaka University's Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, predicts that the information society of the future will be one where computers respond automatically to information collected from multiple sensors to deliver services to people without their conscious involvement. Osaka University is focused on research and development with the goal of making this ambient information environment a reality through a program called the Center for Excellence for Founding Ambient Information Society Infrastructure. The program's core members include biological sciences experts, as the initiative involves the development of technologies modeled after living organisms' ability to flexibly adapt to environmental changes so that the complex information networks of an ambient information society can be effectively managed. Researchers are exploring the development of symbiotic relations between living systems so that information networks can be sustainable and capable of coexisting, as well as efficient. The advent of the Internet has brought with it a susceptibility to system crashes, and Osaka University researchers such as Masayuki Murata are considering ants' ability to select the most efficient routes as a template for next-generation networks that stay robust even when the best routes are blocked. Researchers are looking into how to best present information to people based on their location and what device is displaying the information so that interfaces in the ambient information environment can accommodate individuals even in group settings. One device yielded by this research is a display that sits in the center of a table and presents 3D images to people sitting around the table that they can view from preferred perspectives using special eyewear.
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Metadata to Bring Order to Digital Chaos
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (09/08) Edling, Julia

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology have developed three technologies to help classify media content, launch effective searches, and organize databases. The researchers say that in-depth analysis of audio and video data can provide more information on the properties of the appropriate starting material, metadata, than is possible when the material is manually cataloged by experts. The Digital Music Finder manages music collections and searches through music using content-based metadata. Complex properties, such as the genre or the segmentations of a song into verse, refrain, and solos, can be included in the search. Various technologies are used to supplement files with semantic descriptions, which can include information on the tempo, melody, or structure of a song, in addition to information on the title and artist. Digital Music Finder also can identify similar-sounding songs and compile recommendations. Another technology can distinguish between voice and music, indicating the periods of time during a radio program or a podcast in which someone is speaking or when music is being played. Finally, VideoID Manager organizes video collections, identifies video material, and checks for copyrights. The technology takes a digital fingerprint of an unknown video, examining color distribution, optical flow, and color histogram. The sequence is compared to video material held in a database for identification.
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