Welcome to the October 24, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Europe Moves to Strengthen its Science and Engineering Labour Base
Eurpean Science Foundation (10/23/08) Lau, Thomas
In response to declining numbers of science and engineering (S&E) graduates throughout Europe, the European Science Foundation is establishing a research community dedicated to studying the S&E labor market, starting with the recent Labour Market for Scientists and Engineers workshop. The workshop focused on identifying how the S&E labor market has been changing and what impact this change has had on recruitment, motivation, and work satisfaction. "We focused on both theoretical and empirical research covering various aspects of the labor markets for scientists and engineers," says workshop co-convenor Andries de Grip. "In order to include several perspectives on the S&E labor market, we brought together scholars of different disciplines." The workshop was divided into five sessions to cover each stage of the labor market, including entry into the labor market, human capital and careers, labor mobility, research performance, and R&D workers in industry. During the opening keynote address, Harvard University professor Richard Freeman said that policy makers do not seem to be fully aware of the fact that scientists and engineers are the key actors in innovation, and will be crucial for the future competitiveness of developed countries, which is at risk in both Europe and the United States.
Greenspan, Cox Tell Congress that Bad Data Hurt Wall Street's Computer Models
Computerworld (10/23/08) Thibodeau, Patrick
Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan testified before Congress that insufficient data was one of the causes of the recent financial crisis. Although Greenspan has previously praised computer technology as a tool that can be used to limit risks in financial markets, yesterday he said the data submitted to the financial system was often a case of garbage in, garbage out. Greenspan said that business decisions by financial services firms were supported by major advances in computer and communications technology. "The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year because the data inputted into the risk management models generally covered only the past two decades--a period of euphoria," Greenspan said. If the risk models were built to include historic periods of stress, capital requirements would have been higher and the financial world would be in better shape today, he said. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman Christopher Cox told the committee that credit rating agencies gave AAA ratings to mortgage-backed securities that were unworthy, which altered the computer risk models and regulatory computations. Cox also noted a 2004 decision by the SEC to rely on computer models for assessing risks, which essentially outsourced regulatory duties to the Wall Street firms themselves.
Denser Computer Chips Possible With Plasmonic Lenses That 'Fly'
UC Berkeley News (10/22/08) Yang, Sarah
University of California, Berkeley engineers have developed plasmonic nanolithography technology that they say could revitalize optical lithography and lead to new types of computer chips. The researchers combined metal lenses that focus light through the excitation of electrons, or plasmons, on the lens' surface with a flying head to create line patterns only 80 nanometers wide at speeds of up to 12 meters per second. "Utilizing this plasmonic nanolithography, we will be able to make current microprocessors more than 10 times smaller, but far more powerful," says Berkeley professor Xiang Zhang. "This technology could also lead to ultra-high density disks that can hold 10 to 100 times more data than disks today." Berkeley graduate student Liang Pan, who worked on the project, says current optical lithography is limited by the nature of light, specifically that smaller features require shorter and shorter wavelengths, which increases the cost of manufacturing. Light also has a diffraction limit, which restricts conventional photolithography to about 35 nanometers. However, the new technique is capable of a much higher resolution at a relatively low cost. The engineers used a flying plasmonic head that hovers above the photoresist surface during the lithography process. "Flying heads support the phenomenal advances in data storage in hard disk drives," says Berkeley professor David Bogey. "They enable the fast speeds and nanometer accuracy required in this potentially new approach to semiconductor manufacturing."
Linking Knowledge Creating, Intellectual Endeavors, Economy
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) (10/23/08) Yarbrough, Cathy
Futurist Michio Kaku, the Henry Semat Chair in Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York, speaking at the Futuropolis 2058 conference in Singapore, said that robots will not take jobs away from humans in the future. Kaku said robots are unable to understand what they are seeing because they are incapable of pattern recognition, and they lack common sense, which will be essential for employment in the fully wired world of the future. Kaku was one of 20 world experts from the fields of science, engineering, and technology to speak at the two-day conference. Organized by Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, & Research and the Fulbright Academy of Science & Technology, the conference was part of a week-long celebration of the opening of Fusionopolis, Singapore's second major R&D hub in five years. Futuropolis 2058 convened 255 delegates and more than 20 experts from around the world to discuss a variety of topics related to creating sustainable urban environments for the next 50 years. Unlike most future-urban planning conferences, Futuropolis included discussions on social networking. The speakers called for long-term city planning with greater emphasis on social and intellectual capital and emphasized the importance of integrating work, life, and recreation elements when building livable cities with ample social spaces that would enhance interaction and connections among people.
SC08 to Feature Wide-Ranging Technical Program
HPC Wire (10/23/08)
The SC08 Conference, taking place from November 15-21 at the Austin Convention Center, will feature six days of technical sessions, three exhibition days, and several events celebrating the conference's 20th anniversary. SC08, co-sponsored by ACM, marks the 20th anniversary of Supercomputing '88, and a number of activities are planned to celebrate the evolution of the conference and supercomputing and related technologies, including an anniversary DVD and a history display in the convention center lobby. Invited speakers will share their expertise in fields ranging from parallel programming to energy to medicine. The SC08 Tutorial Program offers 10 half-day and 15 full-day tutorials on a variety of supercomputing educational opportunities. The SC08 program also features three days of Technical Papers sessions, in which 59 papers selected from 277 submissions and 1080 reviews will be presented. Almost 350 industry and research exhibitors will showcase their technologies, and sixteen Masterwork presentations will address real-world applications of high-performance computing technologies in the arts, finance, transportation, medicine, energy, and green computing. The conference also will feature 13 workshops that complement the SC08 Technical Program.
EU Plans Backup Copy of European Civilization
Der Spiegel (10/22/08) Moore, Michael Scott
European Union (EU) commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding has pledged to preserve Europe's cultural heritage through the digitization of the continent's national libraries, and to make it freely accessible through the Europeana online encyclopedia scheduled for rollout in November. Reding says 2 million digitized objects will be available for full public browsing in English, French, and German by Nov. 20. The EU's Martin Selmayr says the initiative entails organizing digital projects already moving forward at Europe's state libraries and national archives so the various materials can be clicked through on one Web site. He says it is the job of Reding's office to address compatibility challenges and ensure that all the scanned files work with all the other scanned files. Libraries and archivists, rather than political entities, have been authorized to decide what material should have priority for digitization. For example, the Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland is a network for scanning medieval manuscripts that appears to have no connection to Europeana. Virtual Manuscript Library manager Rafael Schwemmer, a computer scientist at Switzerland's University of Fribourg, says the network has yet to be invited to join Europeana. "We started five years ago, when Europeana didn't exist," he notes. Europeana representative Jonathan Purday says the addition of the Swiss collections to Europeana depends less on EU membership than it does on data compatibility. Sustaining the data will become increasingly critical as digitizing projects expand, and Selmayr says Europeana is attempting to keep its archives accessible by trying to ensure that "all the objects are digitized in a migratable way."
US Military Targets Social Nets
The Guardian (UK) (10/23/08) Bruno, Lee
SRI International worked with U.S. military officers to create iLink, a machine learning-based social analytics tool that helps streamline the process of finding a specific expert in an online community. The team developed the basic social networking technology, which combines workflows and analytics, as part of a five-year project known Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. SRI scientist and iLink co-developer Jeffrey Davitz says the military wanted a real system to be built and deployed into military settings. The iLink system has several objectives, including real-time learning by matching queries and communities to users, adapting to user demands and directions, providing accuracy in message targeting and routing, and dynamic user profile correction based on community behaviors and the identification of community experts. ILink learns by monitoring a social network and selecting effective strategies that emerge from the system as the members try to solve problems. ILink uses artificial intelligence software and message routing technology to learn about the online participants and move specific questions to users who are best equipped to answer those questions. The U.S. military is currently evaluating how iLink technology can be used to solve battlefield problems, promote professional development, and support military families.
Skills in Ancient Languages Valued Less
Financial Times Digital Business (10/22/08) P. 5; Nairn, Geoff
Some IT skills, while clearly not dead yet, are certainly being put out to pasture. For example, the once-hot fourth-generation programming language PowerBuilder is now largely forgotten by many employers. Foote Partners CEO David Foote says PowerBuilder is one of several programming languages in long-term decline, including Hewlett-Packard's variant on the Unix language, HP-UX, Perl, and C. IT workers skilled in these declining languages have seen their pay levels drop by 11 percent or more in the past 12 months, according to Foote Partners' latest survey. Foote says C is not going to go away because it is widely used in embedded devices, but there is no need for businesses to have someone write applications in C. Even some newer IT skills are already finding themselves less and less in demand. For example, Wireless Markup Language (WML), which became popular about eight years ago as a way of creating mobile Internet sites that could be viewed by early mobile browsers, is already in decline. Over the last 12 months, as mobile devices continue to become more powerful, the market value of WML skills has dropped 12.5 percent. Another popular skill that is fading away is Novell Netware, which has since been overwhelmed by the rapid rise of Microsoft Windows, which comes with built-in networking. Foote says that demand for Microsoft and open source skills are on long-term upward trends, and notes that year-on-year comparisons can be influenced by short-term supply trends.
Madrid Researchers Create the First R&D&I Spanish Insurance Sector's Project
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (10/22/08)
Researchers at the Computer Networks and Web Technologies Laboratory (CoNWeT Lab), based at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing, have joined an effort to develop the Intermediation and Mobility Resources for the Insurance Sector (PRIMA) project. PRIMA is an initiative to develop a service-oriented architecture technology platform to improve management processes. Consortium members include European leaders from the insurance sector, the insurance mediation sector, and the business platform and telecommunications development sector, as well as the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and the Asturias-based Fundacion CTIC. The two-year project will focus on defining and developing technology to drive electronic services and speed up communication between insurance sector agents. The goal is to define and deploy new services for end users and sector professionals, including the ability to access information on insurance products from mobile devices, compare offers, and monitor claims processing. The key technological objective is to enrich mediation software platforms with a conceptual model of the insurance business domain and allow for the declarative semantic representation of service provider operations and data. Such a solution would allow gateway development and maintenance to be more abstract, and would improve the potential for automating the mediation process.
Microsoft Unveils Prototype Search Engine That Personalizes Results
Computerworld (10/21/08) Haverstein, Heather
Microsoft has developed U Rank, a prototype search engine that incorporates social network features and enables users to edit and reorder search results, transfer results between searches, and share them online. Microsoft says U Rank will help the company learn more about how people use search engines. "U Rank is a research project to help us learn more about how people organize search results as they go about larger information tasks, how people collaboratively search, and generally, how people edit and share searches," Microsoft said in a blog post. Microsoft expects people to use U Rank in a variety of ways, including organizing and annotating results by summarizing key information, keeping lists while researching, collaborating by sharing URLs with friends, making recommendations to friends by sharing preferred sites, mixing video and images with Web results, and moving favorite sites to higher search result slots. Read Write Web blogger Frederic Lardinois says U Rank is clearly still a prototype because search results are slow to load, and Microsoft still needs to solve basic user interface problems. Nevertheless, he says U Rank takes search in a different direction by adding social interaction.
US Academics Design Software to 'Predict' Hizbullah Behavior
Daily Star (Lebanon) (10/22/08) Wander, Andrew
University of Maryland (UM) computer scientists have developed Stochastic Opponent Modeling Agents (SOMA), software that can predict the behavior of terrorist groups. As a demonstration of the program, the researchers published a case study focused on Hizbullah (or Hezbollah), claiming to have discovered more than 14,000 rules of behavior that can be used to predict the group's future actions. SOMA searchers for publicly available information on the target terrorist group by autonomously searching online news sources to create a profile of activity. The data is then analyzed and used to create rules about a group's behavior. After adjusting a series of variables in the software that represent future events, the rules can be used to accurately predict how a group will react. The researchers claim a 90 percent accuracy rate, and the software has attracted the interest of defense departments and counter-terrorism experts. The program is available through an online portal, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The researchers say that four national defense agencies are now using the program to predict the behavior of groups they are monitoring. "This is intended as a platform and an environment that DoD analysts and others involved in counter-terrorism can use as a way to learn how these groups are operating based on real data," says UM professor VS Subrahmanian.
Could Dr. House Be Replaced By a Computer?
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (10/16/08)
Researchers at the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv University have developed a computational approach to understanding the metabolic process in different tissues. The model could potentially be used to refine the diagnosis of various metabolic-related disorders or aid in treatment and the development of new drugs. The model integrates tissue-specific information from healthy or diseased organs and matches that information to an existing model of the global human metabolic network to predict metabolic tissue behavior. The researchers' results, shared with researchers at the University of San Diego, have created a computational basis for the genome-wide study of normal and abnormal human metabolism in a tissue-specific manner, says Tel Aviv University professor Eytan Ruppin. The computational model describes metabolism in 10 human tissues, exposing functions in the body responsible for metabolism. The researchers say the tool can be expanded and applied to other tissues, and potentially to entire organs. The model provides large-scale descriptions of how tissues metabolize different compounds, and how metabolism actually works in individual organs. Working off of these results, the Tel Aviv researchers are now developing tools for the discovery of biomarkers that are associated with different diseases, and developing computational models for identifying novel metabolic biomarkers that could be used for diagnosis a variety of genetic metabolic disorders.
Research Libraries Collaborate on Shared Digital Repository
Campus Technology (10/15/08) Schaffhauser, Dian
The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and the 11 university libraries of the University of California system are jointly developing HathiTrust, a shared repository of digital collections that includes 2 million scanned books. Sixteen percent of the approximately 750 million pages archived within HathiTrust so far are in the public domain, which will be available for reading online. Both the CIC and the University of California have signed collective contracts with Google to digitize portions of their library collections as part of the Google Book Search project, while content digitized by other means also will be accessible via HathiTrust. "Researchers will benefit from the expert curation and consistent access they have long associated with the CIC research libraries," says Indiana University president Michael McRobbie. "Great libraries have long been essential to outstanding scholarship, and the HathiTrust collaboration among the CIC institutions, the University of California, and others provides an essential tool for 21st-century scholars."
Vint Cerf: Big Changes Ahead for the Internet
IDG News Service (10/21/08) Ricknas, Mikael
Google vice president Vint Cerf predicts that 2008 and 2009 will be the most important years for the evolution of the Internet. "This year and the next year are probably the most significant years for Internet's evolution that I can remember," Cerf says. The most significant change will be the transition to IPv6, which will offer more address space for the Internet as the number of IPv4 addresses are expected to run out in 2010. Cerf notes that IPv6 also is required to comply with user's requests to go into encrypted mode. Another large change is the implementation of a more secure domain name system that uses Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSECs). DNSSEC ensures that users who use a domain name hookup receive the correct IP address instead of something from a hacker. The Internet also will soon support internationalized domain names with non-Latin character sets. "This is a big change, because for the last 30 years the only thing you could use was Latin characters, and just the letters a though z, digits 0 to 9, and a hyphen," Cerf says. He says other changes that would make the Internet more useful include broadcast and support for multihoming, which would make it easier for users to have more than one Internet service provider.
A Really Secret Ballot
The security of elections should be bolstered by the encryption of ballot papers, which is the goal of the Pret a Voter process developed by Peter Ryan at Britain's University of Newcastle upon Tyne. In the process, paper ballots are scanned by an optical printer, and the ballots are halved, with candidates' names on one side and tick boxes on the other. A voter selects the desired tick box and divides the paper, placing only the half with the tick on it in the ballot box. The candidates are arranged in random order on each ballot paper, making it impossible for anyone looking at the deposited half of the paper to know which candidate was selected, but not impossible for the machine to know thanks to a cryptographic cipher containing the candidate order. The Scratch & Vote approach devised by Ben Adida and Ron Rivest of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology utilizes a ballot paper that is similar to the one used in Pret a Voter, but extra security is added with a scratch-off area containing the data used to randomize the candidate order on that particular paper. The data can decrypt the individual cipher on the ballot when combined with a public key, which is distinct from the private key used by election officials to unlock the vote in the absence of the original randomization data. Computer scientist David Chaum's Scantegrity II approach involves the voter marking his candidate choice by filling in a bubble with special ink that reacts with a pattern of two chemicals printed within the bubble. One chemical darkens the entire bubble so that a standard optical reader can record its position and the chosen candidate, while the other chemical becomes visible in a contrasting hue to uncover a previously invisible three-character code derived from a pseudorandom number generator. This code is unreadable by the vote-counting machine, but the voter can note it on a detachable receipt at the bottom of the ballot paper and then check the correctness of the vote by entering the serial number of his ballot paper into an election Web site to see if the letter code matches.
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