Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the January 7, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Nearly 1 Million Jobs Could Be Created by IT Stimulus Package, Think Tank Says
Network World (01/06/09) Brodkin, Jon

A $30 billion investment in the U.S. IT industry would create or help retain nearly 1 million jobs, concludes "The Digital Road to Recovery: A Stimulus Plan to Create Jobs, Boost Productivity and Revitalize America," a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). The foundation is urging Congress to devote a portion of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's proposed two-year, $775 billion economic stimulus package to IT. ITIF president and report co-author Robert Atkinson says investing in the U.S.'s information technology infrastructure will have a significant impact on jobs, productivity, and innovation. The ITIF report proposes dividing the $30 billion investment evenly across broadband networks, health IT, and a smart power grid. "Investments in IT infrastructure should not be minimized out of concern that the projects will take too long to begin to have an immediate impact on the U.S. economy," Atkinson writes. He believes that if the stimulus measures are properly designed they could quickly create a large number of investments, including deploying more and faster broadband networks, switching to electronic health records, and deploying smart energy meters.


Australia Slipping Behind in ICT Innovation
ZDNet Australia (01/05/09) Boyd, Tony

The 2008 OECD Information Technology Outlook suggests that Australia is underperforming in a variety of areas within the information and communications technology (ICT) sector. Between 1996 and 2006, most OECD countries experienced increased value in the ICT sector, but Australia showed a decline in its share of ICT goods in total merchandise exports. Specialization allows developed countries to increasingly trade products from the same industries. The most widely used measure of intra-industry trade is the Grubel-Lloyd Index, in which the closer imports and exports are in value the higher the index. Australia has the second worst Grubel-Lloyd Index rating in the OECD, after Iceland. While most OECD countries were increasing research and development (R&D) spending, Australia was one of the few countries to decrease R&D spending in 2005. The decrease in R&D spending can be explained by less activity at Telstra's Research Laboratories, the closing of ICT-related Cooperative Research Centers, and the decrease in R&D activities of several major multinational firms. The OECD report emphasizes the strong connection between research and innovation and the emerging new growth industries that revolve around digital content technologies. The report says the development, distribution, and use of digital information has become an essential aspect of science, communications, business, education, health, and almost every part of production and consumption. Australia's planned upgrade to its broadband infrastructure is two to three years away, and could be delayed further because of disagreements between the government and Telstra.


Next Decade Smartphones: EU Sponsors Research Project With 2.9m EUR for Two Years
Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) (01/07/09)

The Embedded Multi-Core Processing for Mobile Communications (eMuCo) project at Germany's Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB) will use virtualization technologies to create a flexible and scalable software architecture for embedded mobile devices. "Virtualization techniques provide a spatial and temporal separation of the resources, allowing a seamless and secure integration of different software environments, such as applications running on different operating systems and different protocol stacks on the modem subsystem side," says RUB professor and eMuCo project coordinator Attila Bilgic. The eMuCo project aims to exploit the capabilities of multi-core solutions and demonstrate the basic functionality of mechanisms necessary to meet the challenges of multi-core use in mobile devices. EMuCo lead researcher Maria Elizabeth Gonzalez de Izarra says the recent advancements in wireless networks and the growth of multimedia applications makes multi-core platforms the future of mobile devices, and a new paradigm, Load Balancer for Mobile Devices, has emerged and is being used by eMuCo. "The rich amount of information provided by the protocol stack and the predictable interdependency of the protocol stack processes mark the difference between a general purposes load balancer and a load balancer for mobile devices, and naturally, it is the key to get the solution for a load balancing over multi-cores with real time constraint considerations on these devices," de Izarra says.


Researchers Aim to Fortify CAPTCHA Against Spammers
eWeek (01/06/09) Prince, Brian

Security researchers say that spammers have found ways of circumventing the CAPTCHA test protocols used to protect free email services, and that new approaches are needed to prevent spammers from abusing these systems. Spammers have developed several techniques to defeat CAPTCHAs, including using mechanical turks, people who either directly or indirectly create accounts traded online. Other spammers use software to crack CAPTCHAs, which is what CAPTCHA security researchers have focused on preventing. Microsoft is working to enhance its CAPTCHA system to make it both more readable for people and less vulnerable to automated attacks. Some improvements include new image distortion logic, overlapping characters, and dynamic monitoring to observe attacks in real time to make quick adjustments. One Microsoft CAPTCHA project, dubbed Asirra, asks users to identify 12 photographs as either cats or dogs. Another project, called Inkblot Authentication, asks users to form semantic associations with a set of randomly generated inkblot-like images, which are used to authenticate the user. Asirra is already in use as a prototype at several organizations. Microsoft researcher John Douceur says the challenge in designing a CAPTCHA is creating a way of generating several unique instances of the test and making it possible for the system to easily determine whether the user answered the CAPTCHA correctly.


Solicitation of Nominations for the Council of the Computing Community Consortium
Computing Research Association (01/07/09)

The Computing Research Association (CRA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are seeking nominations for council members to serve on the Computing Community Consortium (CCC). The CCC is tasked with mobilizing the computing research community to answer questions regarding the U.S.'s intellectual future, what attracts the best and brightest minds to certain fields, what the next major computing ideas will be, and what will define the future of computing, motivate the best students, and catalyze research investment and public support. To answer these questions, the CCC will identify major research opportunities in computing and create venues for community participation. The CCC will support these efforts through advocacy with federal agencies, workshops, arranging talks on key topics at major venues, and other community-building activities. CCC council members are appointed by the CRA in consultation with the NSF in staggered three-year terms. Candidates interested in a council position should send nominations, including self-nominations, to Eric Grimson at welg@mit.edu, Sarita Adve at sadve@illinois.edu, or Andrew Chien at andrew.chien@intel.com by January 14th. Applications should include the name, affiliation, and email address of the nominee, research interests, no more than five previous significant services to the research community and other relevant experiences with dates, and a brief biography or curriculum vitae of the nominee. The nomination also should include a one-page statement from the nominator or nominee supporting the nomination by describing the nominee's ideas for, commitment to, accomplishments in, and potential future contributions to the goals of the CCC.


Teaching Intangibles With Technology
ICT Results (01/05/09)

European and Israeli researchers have developed an education system that focuses on teaching students critical thinking, social interaction, discourse, rhetoric, and self-expression. The system helps instructors track who is participating in classroom discussions, how often they contribute, and how valuable those contributions are. The European Union-funded Argunaut program has developed discussion software that maps conversations, which enables classes to break into small groups to discuss topics via computers. The Argunaut system provides two levels of feedback to teachers. The first provides quantitative data in a graph that displays who is talking a lot or not at all and who has not contributed to discussions in at least 15 minutes. The second level uses artificial intelligence to provide qualitative data on the types of statements students are making and their potential value for the discussion and underlying learning process. The second level is a learning program that builds on records of previous discussions, with the aid of annotations by teachers that highlight the types of comments that are relevant or irrelevant, and the different types of arguments. Conversations are presented to teachers in a visual graph and describe the ongoing discussion. Teachers can use the observations made by the software to suggest that a group broaden its discussion.


New Grant-Funded Project Meant to Improve Educational Technology
University of Arizona (01/05/09) Everett-Haynes, La Monica

University of Arizona (UA) scientists have received a $300,000 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant to develop artificial intelligence and education technology that mirrors the consumer tracking algorithms used by sites such as Amazon and iTunes. The researchers, led by UA professor Paul R. Cohen, want to maximize a tutoring system model by using data on learners to improve the feedback provided by intelligent tutoring systems. "Teaching people means making a sequence of dependent decisions," Cohen says. "We're trying to optimize the value of each decision by reasoning algorithmically about how it sets up the student for future learning opportunities." The researchers are developing a program that would be capable of already knowing what a student knows and matching that knowledge with comparable students before suggesting specific texts, exams, videos, educational games, demonstrations, and other Web-based educational tools. The technology would be able to direct students to the best possible learning experience for each student, refining each student's curriculum as it learns more about learners in general. Preliminary findings from a pilot project suggest that students who used the model learned more quickly and were able to retain information better, and that the program improved as more students participated.


Researchers Create All Seeing 'Eye'
ScienceAlert (Australia) (01/05/09)

The Perspex globe, designed primarily to serve as a scientific tool to investigate how insects see and navigate, could potentially be used to guide robotic vehicles and aircraft. The globe's eye, developed by researchers at Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science, provides a low-cost, 360-degree panoramic view and lighting system. Most panoramic devices have a blind spot where the scene is blocked by a mirror, but the researchers solved this problem by inserting a small wide-angle lens at the apex of the mirror, creating a 260-degree vertical field of view. "Panoramic vision means you have far more information with which to monitor and control your own movement in the world," says ARC's Jochen Zeil. "Insects, in some ways, do this better than we do because they can see all round them at once." Zeil says the globe's eye is a bit better than normal insect vision, but it is unable to see color or polarized light the same way insects can. However, the researchers will be able to map the spatial arrangement of the views insects have, allowing them to obtain a better understanding of how insects navigate and learn. To perform their research, the researchers will attach the vision system to a radio-controlled helicopter, which could help them adapt the technology for robotic aircraft navigation.


A New Web of Trust
Technology Review (01/06/09) Naone, Erica

A year after security researchers exposed a flaw in the Domain Name System (DNS), a permanent solution is finally being implemented. The DNSSEC protocol, which verifies DNS messages with digital signatures, is being implemented by the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which handles the .org domain. The U.S. government also plans to use DNSSEC for .gov domains, and the newly formed DNSSEC Industry Coalition is working to get the protocol deployed across more domains. DNSSEC was developed 14 years ago, but its adoption was delayed due to concerns that it was unnecessarily complex. PIR CEO Alexa Raad says many organizations responsible for domain names were not implementing DNSSEC because they would either be sending out credentials to servers that were not listening for authentication, or they would be listening for credentials that did not exist. PIR started implementing DNSSEC before the flaw was announced, Raad says, in an effort to set an example that would inspire other organizations to implement it. She says the debate has shifted from a discussion of whether DNSSEC is really necessary to how to deploy it. An increasing number of Web sites have implemented DNSSEC, and experts believe more sites and top domains will adopt the protocol. "With .gov and .org signed, there's finally a market for DNSSEC technology and services," says Internet Systems Consortium president Paul Vixie. "Now that some others are implementing DNSSEC, many others will want to be in the business of providing DNSSEC solutions, and that will in turn make it possible for a lot of fence-sitters to finally climb down and join us."


More and More, Schools Got Game
Washington Post (01/04/09) P. C1; Chandler, Michael Alison

Teachers are increasingly incorporating video games, virtual reality, and simulations to improve education. Business and science classes are starting to use sophisticated software that allows students to test out potential careers, practice skills, or explore history through simulated adventures in national parks, ancient cities, or outer space. The military and medical schools, which use games and simulations to train new personnel, are helping to boost the use of video games in classrooms. Advocates argue that games can teach vital skills such as teamwork, decision-making, and digital literacy. Games also can challenge students just enough to keep them interested in reaching the next level. "There is a revolution in the understanding of the educational community that video games have a lot of what we need," says Jan Plass, co-director of the Games for Learning Institute at New York University. Game designers are replacing the violence in video games with equations and educational challenges. For example, Dimension M is a suite of math games that require players to learn about functions and solve equations to stop a biodigital virus from taking over the world. The Federation of American Scientists is promoting games as a way of inspiring new scientists, and has developed two games in which players fight bacterial invaders in a blood vessel. A recent revision to the Higher Education Act authorized the creation of a research center for assessing and developing educational technologies such as simulations and video games.


A Vision in Search of Funding
Science (01/02/09) Vol. 323, No. 5910, P. 58; Mervis, Jeffrey

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is raising money that will be used to create an operating plan and management structure for the U.S. National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies. U.S. higher-education legislation that became law last summer established the center to fund research on using the Internet as an educational tool. However, Congress has not appropriated the $50 million in startup funding that advocates of the center are seeking. The center has a broad agenda, which could initially help it attract more support. FAS's Michelle Lucey-Roper says the center could fund "pre-competitive research on innovative learning tools serving all levels of society." For example, the center's research could show how video games and other electronic educational tools contribute to students' interest in science. The center would be under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Education, have an independent policymaking board, and be able to solicit money from other agencies and the private sector. Advocates are optimistic that President-elect Barack Obama will support the center.
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Virtual World Research, Part 2: Reality in a Can
Linux Insider (12/31/08) Baker, Pam

Virtual worlds are increasingly being used by researchers as a place to conduct experiments and research that may otherwise not be possible in the physical world. Most experiments conducted in the virtual world take place in Second Life. "Second Life provides an open platform for creativity and experimentation. That makes it very popular with academics, who use it to research everything from urban planning to computer science to psychology," says John Lester, the operations director at Linden Lab, which created Second Life. Behavioral Associates' Jayme Renee Albin conducts research on the treatment of phobias, specifically the fear of flying, in the virtual world, which allows patients to be exposed to environments that would normally be overwhelming for them to face. "It allows for the ability of control and accessibility for repeated exposures," Albin says. "As long as the subjects are viscerally aroused in the virtual world the treatment can be effective." Meanwhile, Wesleyan University professor Matt Kurtz led a National institute of Mental Health study that simulated a four-room apartment in a virtual reality environment to help researchers learn more about the neurocognitive skills of people with schizophrenia and their ability to take medications on schedule. Virtual worlds could be used by clinicians to see how easy it will be for a client, based on his or her cognitive skills, to remember to take different medications at different times, Kurtz says.


New Visualization Techniques Yield Star Formation Insights
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (12/31/08)

The Harvard Initiative in Innovative Computing (IIC) has developed computer visualization technology that has helped astrophysicists discover that gravity is far more influential in the star-forming molecular clouds in deep space than previously believed. New tools developed by the IIC's ongoing Astronomical Medicine project, designed for medical imaging, were used by astronomical researchers to visualize molecular clouds in three dimensions. However, the major advancement is a new computer algorithm developed by Erik Rosolowsky from the University of British Columbia that outputs results in a dendrogram, a treelike representation of data. Researchers were able to use the dendrogram to create three-dimensional (3D) displays that could be rotated and examined from numerous angles. Computer simulations are the only way astronomers can view the events that occur during the formation of a star, which takes place over millions of years. "There's no way of noticing this without being able to see this in 3D," says IIC director and Harvard professor Alyssa Goodman, a member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.


Japanese Researchers Propose Recorder Tag for Extending RFID Apps
RFID Journal (12/22/08) O'Connor, Mary Catherine

Researchers from the Auto-ID Lab in Japan have developed a prototype hybrid passive and active radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that can record and transmit information. The hybrid RFID tag, which the researchers call a recorder tag, could be used to store information on a product's warranty and transfer that information to a customer's laptop or another electronic device so the customer can more easily keep track of product warranties. Keio University professor and research leader Jin Mitsugi says the prototype contains a passive electronic product code (EPC) Gen 2 chip that is connected to a large patch tag and a second chip that is a low-power microcontroller designed for general consumer electronic applications. Mitsugi says the chip provides a way of exchanging data with an attached electronic device. The hybrid chip features a communication scheme that uses anti-collision algorithms and procedures to transmit and receive data. The recorder tag is connected to a laptop through a USB port, or could be hardwired directly into an electronic device in commercial versions. The EPC chip and the secondary chip also could both be integrated into a single integrated circuit, which would support the EPC and Gen 2 tag air-interface protocol. During the manufacturing of an electronic product, an EPC serial number would be encoded to the recorder tag's chip to track the device through the supply chain. Once the product is purchased, the tag could be used to record warranty and user information, which would be stored on the tag and read on the product itself through a display screen so consumers could access data without needing a RFID reader.


Information Architecture for Digital Libraries
First Monday (12/08) Vol. 13, No. 12, Simon, Scott J.

The libraries of the 21st century will be Web-based, but the technologies, standards, and architecture that future digital libraries will use are still being defined, writes University of South Florida information scientist Scott Simon. As defined by the Association of Research Libraries, digital libraries require multiple resources; transparent connections between the numerous digital libraries and information services; universal access to digital libraries and information services; and the inclusion of digital artifacts that cannot be represented or distributed in printed formats. There is a difference between a digital library that offers digital content exclusively and one that offers both digital and physical content. Information architecture is a deep-seated element in the design and development of digital libraries, and the framework of a digital library is constructed through the integration of functional, technical, and landscape architectures. Defining and documenting those structures is the chief responsibility of the information architect, and among the common characteristics of digital libraries is the provision of user needs. User needs determine the spectrum of services that the architecture is designed to deliver, and these services are subsequently enabled by standards. Standards facilitate communication between components and effect interoperability, and a great deal of architecture boasts several interdependent layers of standards that come together to support specialized functionality. Scalability of architectural elements is enabled by standards to satisfy increasing demand, and the standards also enable extensibility. Therefore, a core architecture can support many design changes and enhancements that would be impossible otherwise.


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