Welcome to the March 27, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
White House Cyber Adviser--More Questions Than Answers
CNet (03/26/09) Condon, Stephanie
Comprehensive cybersecurity legislation being drafted in the U.S. Senate would bring high-level government attention to serious cybersecurity problems. The legislation also would give a new White House official oversight over the U.S.'s critical network infrastructure, along with the ability to disconnect federal and critical networks should they be threatened by a cyberattack. However, cybersecurity experts are concerned that the proposed bill would create more uncertainties than it would solve. The bill acknowledges the large number of critical infrastructure networks in the private sector. Each has its own risk tolerances and ways of mitigating risk, and giving a single person the authority to disconnect any of those networks from the Internet means that person must have a thorough understanding of all of those systems. Instead of having one person decide to shut down a network, TechAmerica's Liesyl Franz suggests establishing a series of steps that the public and private sectors could take together when faced with a threat. Another key issue is determining which threats pose the most risk. "Everybody is under attack, at some level, all the time," says Georgetown University's Marjory Blumenthal, the founding executive director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. Blumenthal says that previous government experiences dealing with jurisdictional issues related to computer security should guide any new legislation.
Virtual Music School Becomes a Reality
ICT Results (03/27/09)
The European Union-funded Vemus project has developed a series of interactive programs that will help students learn to play musical instruments. The key to developing the musical teaching system was creating software capable of hearing and responding to the music being played by the student, and to judge whether the music is played correctly and respond accordingly. The Vemus project developed a teaching architecture and a software platform for novice and intermediate music students learning to play the recorder, flute, trumpet, saxophone, and clarinet. Project coordinator George Tambouratzis says the researchers focused on those instruments because it is significantly easier to develop a system for monophonic wind instruments. The project then focused on addressing three specific learning scenarios. In each scenario a musical score is submitted to the platform so the system can recognize and check if the right notes are being played. Any deviation from the score is recorded by the system and sent to the student. The first scenario is self practice, in which the student practices a piece of assigned music and improves by receiving feedback from the program. The second scenario is distance learning, which could be used for students who live a long way from a music teacher. The third scenario is a conventional classroom, where a teacher can have one student play a piece and have the others follow to recreate that score. The results of each student's performance can be displayed on a PC to provide feedback.
Tech Standards Loom as Last Big Hurdle to Internet of Things
Investor's Business Daily (03/26/09) P. A4; Krause, Reinhardt
Technology companies say that a consensus on technical standards is the key to the successful commercialization of the Internet of Things (IoT), a next-generation Web in which billions of digital-enabled objects are networked. "If you think about connecting billions or trillions of objects together on the Internet, you really need to have the right standards," says Cisco Systems chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior. Twenty-five tech companies formed the Internet Protocol for Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance in September to accelerate the development of IoT standards. The success of the Internet hinged on its founders' decision to base its communications protocols on free and open standards, and Google's Vint Cerf says "there's a strong incentive to do something that works with other people's stuff rather than build a closed, proprietary system." Developing standards to enable communication between radio-frequency identification (RFID), non-RFID, and Internet networks is a major challenge. Observers say the IoT needs lead users to spearhead innovation, the catch being that such pioneers might create customized solutions to fulfill their own requirements. IBM's Bernie Meyerson says no one company has the sway to reign over the IoT, and adds that the IoT can expand with multiple standards being established worldwide. The IPSO Alliance is promoting an Internet protocol-based strategy to link sensor networks and objects to the Web, but Meyerson says IBM intends to primarily focus on "the international engineering organizations that perform the actual technical work on industry standards."
Tech Can Help World's Problems, Ex-President Clinton Says
IDG News Service (03/25/09) Gross, Grant
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton says that technology companies can play a significant role in solving the world's most difficult challenges if they apply their innovative thinking to problems such as climate change and healthcare. Clinton says the technology community is well-suited to addressing questions about climate change, hunger, AIDS, and other problems. Technology groups could help bring electricity and technology to remote locations and clinics, or help the United States find new ways to provide healthcare without continuing to increase costs, he says. Technology also could help raise the standard of living in countries such as Puerto Rico by creating new energy sources, and technology and government leaders could collaborate to find innovative ways of dealing with massive, overflowing landfills in India and poverty in Haiti. World Bank Group director of global information and communications Mohsen Khalil says technology does not necessarily create innovation itself, but it can be a platform for new ideas. "Innovation for developing countries is not a question of technology or invention," Khalil says. "Innovation is a matter of change in process, in developing new solutions and transformation of ideas."
Forum Gets $405,000 to Lure Women to IT
Computerworld Canada (03/18/09) Smith, Briony
The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance Women in Technology (CATA WIT) Forum has received a two-year, $405,000 grant from the Canadian government for its Supporting Women's Leadership in the Advanced Technology Sector project. The project includes a national study led by Ryerson University to document technology companies' best practices for attracting and retaining women. CATA WIT managing director Joanne Stanley says the study will help determine what strategies are in place and which are working. Experts say that a change in industry culture is one way to attract more women to technology careers. Flexibility is often absent from corporate culture, notes Anita Borg Institute of Women and Technology director of research Caroline Simard, and even when there is flexibility taking advantage of it is often discouraged. Simard says many women in the IT industry have had to sacrifice family life to advance their careers. Meanwhile, the University of Ottawa will be conducting case studies on women who have started or lead technology companies. "Technology is all around us--we use it everyday, which means that IT jobs are potentially everywhere too," says Wired Woman president Carol Parnell. "With baby boomers retiring there is already a skilled shortage of qualified workers, providing opportunities for women in technology programs." The grant also will be used to conduct a series of professional development workshops that will focus on mentorship and networking.
New Metasearch Engines Leaves Google, Yahoo Crawling
Binghamton University (03/26/09)
Binghamton University professor Weiyi Meng, along with researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, have developed metasearch-engine technology that uses many small search engines to generate results that are more accurate and complete than traditional search engines. Meng says Web users will soon be able to submit a question to an Internet search engine and receive an actual answer, rather than a link to a Web page. He says that most of the pages of the deep Web are not directly crawlable, so his metasearch technology connects to small search engines to reach into the deep Web. "In principle, small guys are much better able to maintain the freshness of their data," Meng says. "Google has a program to 'crawl' all over the world. Depending on when the crawler has last visited your server, there's a delay of days or weeks before a new page will show up in that search. We can get fresher results." He has developed prototype technology that, for example, would allow for a search of all 64 campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system, as well as the SUNY central administration. Meng says people could use this to find collaborators working on similar projects or help prospective students find programs they are interested in. The technology also could be adapted for large companies or the government.
Virtual Stock Market at NUI Galway to Understand 'Boom and Bust' Cycles
National University of Ireland, Galway (03/24/2009)
Researchers at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) have developed a virtual version of a stock market in an effort to better understand the underlying factors of boom and bust cycles, as well as the interactions of human and software agents. Ten companies are listed on the Virtual Stock Market and four types of computer agents trade in the market. Students who want to test their investment strategies are given virtual currency to purchase shares. "The main objective of our research is to understand the generating processes that underlie the empirical facts of the real world financial markets," says NUI Galway professor Srinivas Raghavendra. "We approach this problem from an experimental economics point of view as we believe that experiments with human agents could provide us with insights or testable hypotheses to further our understanding of the dynamics of financial markets." A multidisciplinary research team from the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics, the Digital Enterprise Research Institute, and the Computer Integrated Manufacturing Research Unit collaborated on the project. The researchers will present their findings to the Society for Computational Economics in July at the 15th International Conference on Computing in Economics and Finance in Sydney, Australia.
Hospitals' Electronic Wasteland
Technology Review (03/25/09) Singer, Emily
U.S. President Barack Obama's goal of creating electronic health records (EHRs) for every citizen by 2014 has a long way to go. Less than two percent of U.S. hospitals currently use comprehensive electronic health records, according to a study by David Blumenthal, Obama's national coordinator for health information technology. Blumenthal says the $19 billion in funding for healthcare information technology and other provisions in the new stimulus bill will be used to address the two major obstacles to comprehensive EHRs: the cost of implementing and maintaining those records and the difficulty of exchanging information between healthcare providers' computer systems. The study found that about 8 percent of U.S. hospitals use basic EHR systems in at least one department, but that only a quarter of those hospitals use comprehensive EHR systems, such as decision support systems that help physicians and healthcare providers make treatment decisions. Individual electronic functions are more common. For example, about 16 percent of hospitals use electronic ordering systems for medication and more than 75 percent of hospitals use electronic systems for the results of laboratory and radiology tests. The survey covered about 63 percent of all acute-care general hospitals in the United States. The survey results reflect a similar report released last year, which found that 17 percent of doctors use comprehensive EHR systems. Hospital administrators cited cost as the major barrier to adopting EHR systems. Another problem is that many hospitals have different systems in different departments that do not work with each other.
Metropolis: A Virtual Dublin at TCD
Trinity College Dublin (03/23/2009)
Simulating crowds of millions of people has given a virtual rendering of Dublin an added level of scale and realism. Trinity College Dublin opened Metropolis: Crowd Control to the public. Computer graphics, engineering, and cognitive neuroscience experts collaborated to develop Metropolis, which will give visitors of Trinity's Science Gallery an opportunity to view demonstrations and participate in experiments. The researchers want to learn more about the way humans perceive the appearance, motion, behavior, and sounds of virtual crowds. "We want to encourage visitors to the Science Gallery to help us develop the Metropolis crowd simulations further by taking part in research into our perception of virtual crowds," says professor Carol O'Sullivan of the Graphics, Vision and Visualization group at the School of Computer Science and Statistics. The research has the potential to impact computer gaming, filmmaking, urban planning, pedestrian and traffic modeling, evacuation simulation, and assistive technologies for people with disabilities.
How Is Your Robot Relationship?
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (03/22/09) McCoy, Adrian
Tank, the receptionist at Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU's) School of Computer Science, is a robot with a flat panel monitor that displays an expressive, human-like face. Visitors can type questions or messages and Tank responds in a smooth monotone voice. Another CMU project, conducted by human-computer interaction researcher Jodi Forlizzi, focuses on how families behave when a robot vacuum cleaner is introduced to a household. Forlizzi's study found that when people were given the Roomba robot vacuum, their habits and routines changed. For example, men and children were far more interested in cleaning with the Roomba, and the robot inspired people to do more on-the-spot cleaning. Many people started treating their Roomba as a member of the family, naming their robot, and even talking to it. How people interact with robots helps roboticists understand how to make the technology more user-friendly and more human. Tank is part of a family of social robots developed by CMU's Social Robots Project. The project investigates human-robot social interaction and the long-term relationships that can form between humans and machines. In addition to giving directions, Tank has been given an ongoing story that helps reinforce its evolving character and compels people to check in with Tank to see what is new. Humanizing technology is particularly important as researchers develop medical-service robots to help care for the elderly and frail, or interactive computer technology designed to help teach the young, such as CMU's Literacy Innovation that Speech Technology Enables (LISTEN) project, which has developed an automated tutor.
Researchers at Australia's Deakin University have developed a robot that enables its operator to "feel" the environment that it is working in. The researchers plan to refine the unit for harsh or dangerous conditions. The intelligent robot has a gripper, and the team at the Center for Intelligent Systems Research uses haptic technology to give the operator a better sense of handled objects. Operators can get a feel for the center of mass, density, and consistency of objects that are up to 500 meters away. Professor Saeid Nahavandi, chief investigator for the project, says the robot could potentially be used in harsh or dangerous environments without risk to the operator. "This ability can help the operator to defuse an explosive device without damage to people or property," he says.
Home Computers to Search for Tangoing Pulsars
New Scientist (03/26/09) Courtland, Rachel
The Einstein@Home distributed computing program will harness the idle time of hundreds of thousands of volunteers' computers to seek out pulsars in tight orbits around black holes or other neutron stars. The project is part of an experiment to more precisely test a number of predictions of general relativity and potentially uncover deviations from the long-held theory. Einstein@Home will hunt for extreme binaries through the employment of a program to analyze pulsar signals, whose light beams periodically sweep across the Earth. By increasing the computing power with Einstein@Home, more comparisons could be made between data from the Arecibo Observatory and simulated neutron star scenarios to find the optimum fit and determine if the pulsar is part of a binary. Pulsars in orbit around black holes--which have yet to be recorded--also might be discovered by Einstein@Home. "We can use the pulsar to study space-time around the black hole, and if the geometry is right, we might even be able to say something about the event horizon," says Cornell University's Jim Cordes.
The Grill: Google's Alfred Spector on the Hot Seat
Computerworld (03/23/09) Anthes, Gary
Google vice president of research Alfred Spector says the search giant is working on a wide variety of research projects. One project is Search by Voice, an intuitive and fast search interface designed to carry out Web searches based on users' vocal instructions. The technology builds on Google's research in speech recognition. Spector says Google's long range-projects include the generation of a database of concepts and the relationships between them based on the vast corpus of data on the Web. "The database would enable much better search and better language translation because there'd be a better understanding of the meaning of the words," he says. Spector also points to Google's interest in advancing search technology to the point where it can retrieve multiple forms of information, such as images, blog entries, books, faxes, tables, and videos. He says Google is focusing on making searches more capable of retrieving "Deep Web" content, noting that "we have developed technologies to enable the Google crawler to get content behind forms and therefore expose it to our users."
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