Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the February 18, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


The Cellphone, Navigating Our Lives
New York Times (02/17/09) P. D1; Markoff, John

As cell phones are increasingly being used to interact with the digital world, the map is emerging as a new metaphor for how people organize and access information. Cell phones can provide maps and locations for nearby attractions, reviews of nearby restaurants, and the location of friends. Google recently introduced a location-aware friend-finding system called Latitude in 27 countries. Latitude provides a way for friends to find one another, or for families to stay in touch and monitor the location of their children, but it also will generate a plethora of data on where millions of people travel every day, leading to a wide variety of location-oriented applications and services. Many software designers believe that cell phones are currently undergoing a transformation similar to when the graphical user interface was introduced to the personal computer in the 1980s, making computers more accessible to the public. "We're way early on, and we don't know what the Macintosh of maps will be yet," says former Apple software designer Paul Mercer. "But because of their relationship to the real world, maps will be a metaphor for a huge swath of mobile computing." A variety of new smart phones "augment" reality by pasting a map over a phone-screen image of the user's surroundings, allowing them to see a three-dimensional view of the environment, including descriptions and distances to objects. Currently, map-based cell phone applications generally translate paper maps into a digital format, but systems in the future will most likely meld the real world and digital displays and will allow users to better understand their surroundings.

ACM Policy Group Applauds Congressional Passage of Increased Investment in Research
AScribe Newswire (02/13/09)

ACM's Public Policy Committee (USACM) applauds the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's focus on science and technology innovation as a crucial element of economic growth. "The computing field has a long history of creating revolutionary technologies that have helped drive U.S. leadership in the world economy," says USACM chair Eugene H. Spafford, the director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance at Purdue University. "The computing community can cite concrete examples of how advances in information technology lead to breakthroughs that enable productivity growth and even create whole new industries." Spafford says that innovation is the key to long-term economic security and that smart investments in science and engineering research and math and science education will create a stronger, more resilient economy. He says that investing in scientific research facilities will create new jobs in a variety of trades and manufacturing areas and will expand the possibilities for a new generation of scientists and engineers. USACM says the legislation's increased investment in the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will directly support innovation.

Download, Install and Drive - The Future of Automotive Software
ICT Results (02/18/09)

European researchers working on the DySCAS project have developed an automotive software architecture that will enable cars to receive software updates just like computers and mobile phones. "Cars take many years to develop and most are designed to be on the road for perhaps a decade," says DySCAS coordinator Martin Sanfridson, a researcher at Volvo Technology. "In that time, technology can change a lot, but currently there is no efficient way to update the software in these vehicles." The DySCAS architecture enables cars to reconfigure and update themselves autonomously, and to communicate with other devices such as a driver's mobile phone or personal digital assistant (PDA). Using middleware, the DySCAS architecture could allow the car's onboard navigation system to automatically access addresses on the driver's PDA, or play music directly from a mobile phone. The DySCAS architecture also allows software in cars to access wireless hotspots, such as at the owner's house or public parking garage, and download new maps for the navigation system, update the entertainment system to play new formats, or adjust engine timing based on more fuel efficient settings from the manufacturer. Sanfridson says DySCAS initially will be used to update noncritical systems such as navigation aids and entertainment platforms, but once the architecture has proven to be reliable it could be used to update critical components and settings.

Gadget Reads Users' Minds From Their Grip
New Scientist (02/17/09) Barras, Colin

Computer-human interface researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a prototype control device that predicts what function the user is trying to access based on how the device is handled. "The ideal device would be a generic block, like a bar of soap, that knew the user's intent and could change its interface accordingly," says MIT's Brandon Taylor. Taylor and colleague Michael Bove have developed a device that contains a liquid-crystal display screen on the front and rear, a three-axis accelerometer to measure motion, and 72 sensors on its surface to track the position of the user's fingers. The device was given to users, who were asked to hold it as if it was a remote control, personal digital assistant, camera, game controller, or mobile phone, which gave Taylor and Bove an idea of how users expect the device to be used. Those results were programmed into the device so it will know what users expect it to do when it is held a certain way. When trained on one person, which produces the best results, the device correctly guesses which mode to enter 95 percent of the time. "From our work, we are convinced that grasp-recognition could be implemented as a useful user interface," Taylor says. He will present his research at ACM's CHI 2009 conference, which takes place April 4-9 in Boston.

Carnegie Mellon Professor Earns Lifetime Achievement Award for Her Work in Human-Computer Interaction
Carnegie Mellon News (02/11/09) Watzman, Anne; Spice, Byron

ACM's Special Interest Group in Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI) has named Carnegie Mellon University professor Sara Kiesler the winner of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award. A leading social psychologist, Kiesler has extensively researched the social impact of computing, including "flaming," social equalization, open communication, electronic groups, information sharing, and distributed collaboration. She also has applied social psychology and human-computer interaction to robotics, which has helped lay the foundation for human-robot interaction as a new interdisciplinary field. Kiesler has written several books, including "Connections," "Culture of the Internet," and "Distributed Work," with colleagues that address the social implications of the Internet. She is the Hillman Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon. SIGCHI will honor Kiesler and present a $5,000 honorarium to her at its April 4-9, 2009, meeting in Boston.

Registration Now Open for WebSci '09 Web Science Conference
ACM (02/18/09)

Registration is now open for WebSci '09, the first Web Science conference dedicated to the presentation of research into society on the Web, which takes place March 18-20 in Athens, Greece. It is organized by the Web Science Research Initiative and the Foundation of the Hellenic World, and supported in part by ACM, among other organizations. Speakers include Josef Sifakis, a 2007 ACM Turing Award co-recipient, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium. The conference aims to explore the development of the Web across different areas of everyday life and technological development. A number of bursaries (scholarship grants) are available for postgraduate students, with a limited number specifically for postgraduate students or junior academics from less developed countries. The application deadline is February 20th, 2009. Registration information is available at

The Computer as a Road Map to Unknowable Territory
Washington Post (02/16/09) P. A7; Vedantam, Shankar

Scientist Yaneer Bar-Yam has developed a computational model of the economy that uses virtual actors to populate the world, instead of digital representations of specific individuals, companies, and brokers, enabling researchers to change how the actors behave and study how those changes affect the economic ecosystem. Bar-Yam says the principle behind the model is that humans regularly solve problems by imaging how certain behaviors will affect specific outcomes, but in a complex system such as the economy, which can be affected by fear, rumors, and misinformation, the ability to forecast accurately is severely reduced. He wanted to understand why the economy was so turbulent, and his model provides a unique explanation for the instability. In July 2007, the Bush administration eliminated a 69-year-old regulation known as the uptick rule. The rule was designed to prevent bear raids, which is when a powerful investor suddenly sells a large number of shares in a company, creating a temporary situation in which supply is greater than demand, causing prices to fall and allowing the investor to buy back shares at a lower price. Bar-Yam's model suggests that the elimination of the uptick rule created instability in the same way removing a support from a house would, which allowed the housing crisis to cripple the economy. The model, which was created at Bar-Yam's New England Complex Systems Institute, is just one of many computational models that have recently been developed to obtain a more thorough understanding of complex systems. Other models include two University of Maryland models, one used to predict how different situations could amplify the likelihood of violence in the Middle East, and one that shows that infant mortality levels predict the likelihood of political instability in a country better than any other single measurement.

A Serious Approach to Games
Times of India (02/09/09)

Coventry University in the United Kingdom has opened the Serious Games Institute (SGI), a new program designed to develop hardware and software applications that are intended for games that focus on purposes other than entertainment. "With electronic games becoming a universal tool for learning and skills development, SGI's purpose is to contribute to the social and economic wealth of the West Midlands (UK) and the global community by serving as an international center of excellence for the serious application of electronic games and virtual world technologies," says SGI director David Wortley. Wortley says the field is a growing area that will evolve to include interface and display technologies, artificial intelligence, and social sciences. The SGI program is intended to help international students obtain a thorough understanding of the technologies and design processes that propel developments in multimedia computing, games technology, digital entertainment, and creative computing. Wortley says the two biggest challenges in the field are rapidly changing technologies and the acceptance of electronic games as a serious discipline.

A New Internet?
New York Times (02/15/09) P. WK1; Markoff, John

There is a growing belief among engineers and security experts that the only way to fix Internet security is to recreate the Internet from scratch. What a new Internet might look like is being discussed, but one possible solution would create a "gated community" in which users would relinquish their anonymity and certain freedoms in return for safety, which is already the case for many corporate and government Internet users. As more secure networks are created, the current Internet will continue to become an increasingly dangerous area that legitimate users will want to avoid. "Unless we're willing to rethink today's Internet," says Nick McKeown, a Stanford University engineer working on building a new Internet, "we're just waiting for a series of public catastrophes." Last year, a malicious software program believed to have been released by a criminal organization in Eastern Europe infected more than 12 million computers after bypassing the world's best cyberdefenses. Internet security continues to deteriorate globally and even the most heavily protected military networks have proved vulnerable. "In many respects, we are probably worse off than we were 20 years ago, because all of the money has been devoted to patching the current problem rather than investing in the redesign of our infrastructure," says Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford, the executive director of Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security. The Stanford Clean Slate project is developing a system that will allow a more advanced network to be established underneath the current Internet. The new network will be running on eight campus networks around the United States by the end of the summer.

Intelligent Home Environment
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (02/05/09)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering (IESE) in Kaiserslautern, Germany, are developing an intelligent home automation system that collects detailed environment information through a network of sensors that analyze and respond to specific situations. "Using many hidden sensors, the system monitors the daily routine of the occupants," says Martin Becker, head of IESE's Ambient Assisted Living research department. "Risks can be detected and it is possible to assess whether the situation appears to be deteriorating, or most importantly, whether an emergency exists." Sensors automatically report data to a control center somewhere in the house, and, if needed, the sensor's functions can be manually controlled. The system can tell if someone has fallen and send that information to a designated contact person. The Assistive Bathroom Environment has a toilet that recognizes the user and adjusts to the proper height, a light that turns on and off automatically, and a tap that turns itself off to save water. The bathroom contains a mirror with illuminated pictograms to help those who are easily confused remember what to do next, such as brush teeth, wash up, or shave, and also can also remind people when to take medication.

Cornell Develops Analysis Tools for Large-Scale Web Data
Cornell University (02/12/09) Redfern, Paul

The Web Lab project has developed a family of data analysis tools for searching the Internet Archive. The project, a joint effort by researchers at Cornell University and the Internet Archive, is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). "The aim of the Web Lab is to organize large portions of these collections, so that they can be used by researchers who are not experts in data-intensive computing," says Cornell professor William Arms. One of the tools, the Web Lab Collaboration Server, is a service for large-scale collaborative Web data analysis that demonstrates how to support nontechnical users during the search, extraction, and analysis of Web data. Cornell periodically transfers Web crawls from the Internet Archive in San Francisco to the Cornell Center for Advanced Computing using a high-speed NSF TeraGrid connection, and has completed more than four Web crawls consisting of billions of pages, says Cornell professor Johannes Gehrke. Gehrke says there are three major obstacles in creating data analysis applications: Customized data sets that must be prepared by writing extraction scripts tailored for the specific task; data sets that must be cleaned or formatted, which is often needlessly repeated by end users; and analysis code that must be written to take advantage of parallelism, shared memory, or distributed computing power and storage. To solve these problems, the researchers developed a graphical user interface for complex extraction and analysis tasks, enabled reuse and sharing of data among a community of researchers, and packaged the tools in a Web-based, software-as-a-service architecture to enable users to use a distributed computing and archiving platform for extraction and analysis tasks.

UCLA Team Creates Virtual Library of Medieval Manuscripts
UCLA News (02/10/09) Sullivan, Meg

Over the past decade, as many as 10,000 of the rarest and most important medieval manuscripts have been scanned into digital formats that could be studied on the Internet, but finding these documents online can be extremely difficult. "Searching for medieval manuscripts gets you millions of hits, most of which have nothing to do with manuscripts, and when they do, they usually feature only images of a single page rather than the entire book," says University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professor Matthew Fisher. "Since finding these great projects is so tough, they're functionally invisible." Two years ago, in an effort to make these documents more accessible, Fisher started working with UCLA's Center for Digital Humanities computer developer Christopher Baswell to collect links to every manuscript from the 8th to the 15th century that had been fully digitized by a library, archive, institute, or private owner anywhere in the world. In December, the Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts project announced that it now contains links to nearly 1,000 manuscripts by 193 authors in 20 languages from 59 libraries around the world. To enable users to search for manuscripts by author, title, language, and archiving institution, the catalogue uses a Web application designed by the Center for Digital Humanities. Fisher hopes that outside funding will allow the project to expand, and that libraries will take notice of the effort and redesign their cataloging procedures to make it easier to find and link to newly digitized manuscripts.

Project Uses Cell Phones as Computers in the Classroom
University of Michigan News Service (02/09/09) Moore, Nicole Casal

University of Michigan professor Elliot Soloway and University of North Texas professor Cathleen Norris have developed the Mobile Learning Environment, a suite of educational software that turns smart phones into personal computers for use in classrooms. The suite features programs that allow students to map concepts, animate drawings, surf related information on the Internet. The software also enables students to integrate their lessons and assignments. "The future is mobile devices that are connected," Soloway says. "They're going to be the new paper and pencil." He says cell phones are capable of doing everything a laptop does at a fraction of the cost, and many students already bring them to school. A pilot project in Keller, Texas, has equipped 53 students in two fifth-grade classes with a smart phone for around-the-clock use. Students cannot text or make calls with the smart phones, but they can use the camera, MP3 player, calendars, calculators, and educational software. "The phones will be seamlessly integrated into my lessons," says fifth-grade teacher Matt Cook. "I think that right off the bat, this will add a level of student engagement." The Keller school district is examining several elements of the students' learning through the devices, including whether listening to recordings of texts enhances at-risk students' reading comprehension and the students' technological abilities before and after the project.

Robots May Lead in Japan's Moon Trek
Nikkei Weekly (02/02/09) P. 17; Kato, Koji

Landing equipment on the surface of the Moon to begin extensive exploration is one of the goals of a plan developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Essential to site selection and eventual establishment of an inhabited lunar base are exploratory robots such as a rover being developed at Tohoku University. The device needs to adapt to the unevenness of the Moon's terrain and contend with the presence of loose dust. Researchers led by Tohoku University professor Kazuya Yoshida are testing prototype lunar rovers in a sandbox. Yoshida's team is running tests to find the best ways to control the unmanned vehicle to reach destinations by the shortest possible routes without sliding down the sides of craters. One of the challenges that the Shimizu Institute of Technology is trying to tackle through its Space and Robot System Project is the extraction of oxygen from lunar sand, which is critical to sustaining life on the Moon. A lunar base envisioned by NASA and JAXA would include exploration robots that would assist people after they step out of protective shelters.
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