Welcome to the April 1, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM Recognizes Women Leaders in Technology and Innovations to Digital Library of Computing Resources
AScribe Newswire (03/31/09)
ACM has announced the winners of three awards honoring significant contributions to computing and information technology. The awards are given to computing professionals who have changed how the world works and lives. The 2009-2010 Athena Lecturer Award was given to Susan Eggers, the Microsoft Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, for her work on computer architecture and experimental performance analysis. Eggers' research has led to the development of simultaneous multithreading, the first commercially viable multithread architecture. The Athena Lecturer Award recognizes women researchers who have made fundamental contributions to computer science. This year's Distinguished Service Award goes to Telle Whitney for her major impact on the participation of women in computing. Whitney, the president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI), co-founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Under Whitney, the ABI has launched TechLeaders workshops to develop technical women's leadership skills and Women of Vision events to recognize distinguished technical women who have had a major impact on the world. The Outstanding Contribution Award was given to ACM staff members Wayne Graves and Bernard Rous. The award recognizes their pivotal roles in making the ACM Digital Library and its associated Guide to Computing Literature among the most complete and reliable sources of computing research in the world.
Experts See Early Activity From the Conficker Worm
New York Times (04/01/09) P. A14; Markoff, John
An informal group of computer security experts said they have observed early attempts by the Conficker virus to communicate with a control server, but they are unsure if the attempts were successful. The Conficker malware, which has aggressively spread since October, is designed to unite infected machines into a botnet. Security researchers who have examined the most recent version of the malware, Conficker C, said it was ready to try to download commands from an unknown Internet location on April 1. Although the choice of April Fool's Day has led some experts to speculate that the program may be a hoax, others warn that Conficker, which has infected at least 12 million computers, could cause serious harm. Nevertheless, security specialists agree that it will most likely take several days before the purpose of the program can be determined. The program was intended to start contacting 50,000 Internet domains on April 1st. In a global effort, researchers created a system that will trap all of the attempted botnet communications, which involves monitoring the domains of 110 countries. A spokesperson for the Conficker Cabal, a security working group organized by computer security companies, says as of March 31st the group has no new information on the activity of Conficker. IBM says company researcher Mark Yason has decoded Conficker's internal communication protocol, which will make it easier for security teams to detect and interrupt the program's activities.
New Architects of Service-Oriented Computing, or SOC for Short!
ICT Results (03/31/09)
European researchers working on the Sensoria project have developed service-oriented computing (SOC) tools for creating a robust software over service-oriented architecture. Sensoria project researchers have developed the Software Development Environment, which they say makes composing services easier through the use of graphical design tools. The services can be located dynamically and triggered by other services, and the relationship between the services is loose and flexible as a result of the nature of the SOC architecture. Service-oriented applications are designed using a standard Unified Modeling Language or domain-specific modeling languages as needed. At the back end, mathematical analysis helps to reveal bottlenecks, errors, or violations of service contracts. The project also developed mathematic foundations, techniques, and approaches to more pragmatic and reliable software engineering. Sensoria project developers say the key to scalable, cost-effective SOC is the ability to "compose" existing services so they perform higher-level functions that form new services in their own right and can be re-orchestrated into even higher-level compositions.
Innovation Waning, U.S. Leaders Worry
Investor's Business Daily (04/01/09) P. A1; Deagon, Brian
Many technology industry leaders are worried that the United States is losing its innovative edge and that companies are focusing on short-term gains while sacrificing long-term technological dominance. "The trend lines show that we are not maintaining the kind of coordinated support behind innovation that we need to," says venture capitalist Pascal Levensohn. "Innovation and entrepreneurship, the crucial growth engines of the U.S. economy, are at risk of stalling out." Levensohn says the U.S. is in danger of losing its technological edge unless leaders enact new approaches to pursuing innovation. He says that three major trends--a growing focus on incremental innovation instead of basic research, declining research spending, and the global recession--have created a "technology investment plight." Open-ended scientific research leads to breakthrough innovations, such as the development of the laser and the Internet, but such research is expensive and does not guarantee a direct payoff. Meanwhile, later-stage spending on research and development, geared toward new products, has declined in the United States while other countries have increased their research and development investments. The global financial crisis and failure of large financial institutions is only deepening the problem. A study from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) that used 16 indicators to assess the global competitiveness of 40 nations and regions found the U.S. has made the least progress on improving international competitiveness and innovation during the last decade. "The U.S. still has enormous strengths in capacity and performance," says ITIF report author Robert Atkinson. "But we're in worse shape than people think. We've been losing ground relative to every other nation."
WattBot, a Residential Monitor Developed by IU Informatics Students, Generates Energy Savings
Indiana University (03/27/09)
Graduate students at the Indiana University School of Informatics have developed WattBot, a residential electricity monitoring and feedback system that will be presented at ACM's Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference on April 9 in Boston. "We have designed an elegant system that displays electricity consumption information and encourages conservation, so homeowners can better manage their energy usage over time," says Dane Petersen, who designed WattBot along with Jay Steele and Joe Wilkerson. "Our design leverages the interactive innovations of the iPhone and iPod Touch and uses a home wireless network to allow us to deliver a compelling and portable experience." Similar projects include Google's PowerMeter, but Steele says WattBot provides more detail than other projects. "With WattBot, we developed a concept that would be able to monitor specific devices and circuits within the home, allowing a finer grained perspective," Steele says. "This addresses the issue of residual power and standby power devices, which would really never show up on the Google PowerMeter display." More than 2,000 professionals from more than 40 countries are expected to attend CHI 2009, which runs from April 4-9.
Intruder Alert: TAU's 'Smart Dew' Will Find You!
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (03/26/09)
Tel Aviv University researchers have developed Smart Dew, tiny sensors as small as dewdrops that can be arranged in a network. The inexpensive sensors are equipped with a controller and a radio-frequency transmitter/receiver. Tel Aviv University professor Yoram Shapira says a Smart Dew network has no scale limitations, which would make it useful on farms or boarders where it would be too difficult and impractical to install fences or constantly send patrols. "Most people could never afford the manpower to guard such large properties," Shapira says. "Instead, we've created this Smart Dew to do the work. It's invisible to an intruder, and can provide an alarm that someone has entered the premises." Each sensor can detect an intrusion within a parameter of 50 meters at a cost of about 25 cents per sensor. A major benefit of Smart Dew is that it is nearly impossible to see. "Smart Dew is a covert monitoring system," Shapira says. "Because the sensors in the Smart Dew wireless network are so small, you would need bionic vision to notice them." Each Smart Dew sensor can be programmed to monitor a different condition. The sensors can detect the presence of metal, sounds, temperature changes, carbon monoxide emissions, vibrations, or light. Each sensor sends a radio signal to a base station, which collects and analyzes the data.
Class of 2009: Computer Science Majors Still in Demand
Network World (03/30/09) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
Computer science graduates are still being pursued by technology companies despite the economic crisis, say some of the U.S.'s leading universities. Carnegie Mellon University Department of Computer Science head Peter Lee says demand for the school's 130 computer science graduates has not wavered during the past few months. "Our graduates continue even in this downturn to have near 100 percent employment," Lee says. "It is still the case that companies are coming to recruit new computer science graduates." University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Computer Science director Lenny Pitt says the department is not hearing of any employment problems among seniors. "Our students are so robust that they can be employed in computing, telecom, medical fields, or education," Pitt says. "We will probably see a shift in terms of the sector they are employed in, with fewer in the financial sector." Jerry Luftman, executive director of the School of Technology Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology says companies are still hiring entry-level candidates. "They're downsizing more experienced, more expensive employees, and they're looking to backfill with younger employees with fresher skills," Luftman says. Google's Yvonne Agyei says her company is still hiring from colleges at all levels, including bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. graduates for technical roles such as software engineering and computer science majors for broad programming skills.
Computer Science - A Growing Field That Needs a Few (More) Good Women
National Science Foundation (03/30/09)
ACM's recent announcement that its A.M. Turing Award would go to Barbara Liskov was well timed, since March was National Women's History Month. Liskov's many accomplishments include being the first woman to receive a doctorate from a computer science department in the United States. However, despite her success, relatively few women are studying and entering computer science. National Science Foundation Broadening Participation in Computing program officer Jan Cuny says less than one in five degrees in computer science are awarded to women. Cuny says research shows that girls are interested in the field when they are younger but that interest drops dramatically around middle school. She cites several reasons for this trend, including how computer science is portrayed as a vocational field in middle and high school classes. Perhaps the biggest barrier is the perception that computer science is not fun. "Girls have an image of computer scientists as being nerds who spend all day in isolation," Cuny says. "This is a misconception, but it's very difficult to convince a fourth- or fifth-grade girl otherwise." Prominent women in the field say that computer science gives them a chance to solve complex problems and contribute to breakthroughs and discoveries happening in other science fields. Dartmouth College researcher Tanzeem Choudhury says computer science is a highly collaborative field in which computer scientists work in teams to create new ideas and technologies. Choudhury urges young women to ignore the stereotypes and talk with women in computer science to obtain a better understanding of what the field is really like.
H-1B Visa Applications Expected to Slow
InformationWeek (03/31/09) McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk
Unlike in the past, there may not be a rush to file H-1B applications this year. Nevertheless, the annual allotment of 85,000 H-1B visa applicants is likely to be met by the time fiscal 2010 starts on October 1, 2009. Although fewer employers are expected to request H-1B visa hires, there will be H-1B candidates displaced by the economy who will look for work at other companies. The American Council on International Personnel's Rebecca Peters says there is a backlog of lottery losers from last year and others who are looking to convert from other visa categories to H-1B status, such as foreign students who received advanced degrees from U.S. universities. The weak economy is a major reason why fewer petitions will be filed this year. Last year, within one week of accepting H-1B visa petitions, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service received requests for about double the allotted 85,000. Two years ago the cap on H-1B petitions was reached two days before the agency stopped accepting applications. Compete America co-chair Robert Hoffman says H-1B visa workers often have advanced degrees that are difficult to find among U.S. workers. A National Foundation for American Policy study found that for every H-1B visa worker requested, U.S. technology companies create an additional five jobs.
A Team of Scientists Led by the UPC Is Designing a System to Support the Diagnosis of Brain Tumors
Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (03/25/09)
Spain's Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) is spearheading the Artificial Intelligence Decision Tools for Tumor Diagnosis (AIDTumor) project, an international effort to develop technology that would help medical specialists diagnose brain tumors. The team, headed by Alfredo Vellido, a member of the UPC Soft Computing research group, is in the final stages of developing a prototype system. The AIDTumor project will integrate soft computing tools into a decision-making system, and also give it advanced visualization techniques. The technology would provide specialists with a second opinion in the diagnosis of a brain tumor. Performing a biopsy is the best way to diagnose a tumor, but non-invasive techniques are required when working with the brain. However, the non-invasive techniques create restrictions for doctors and radiologists. The intuitive AIDTumor system will use magnetic resonance to gather spectroscopy data.
Advances in Data Safety Drawing Wider Attention
University of Texas at Dallas (03/25/09) Moore, David
University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) computer scientist Bhavani Thuraisingham recently traveled to Australia and Taiwan to discuss the school's research in the field of assured information sharing. Thuraisingham is leading an effort, with UTD professors Latifur Khan, Murat Kantarcioglu, and Kevin Hamlen, to develop an assured information-sharing lifecycle, with each researcher working on a different challenge. Thuraisingham has developed a prototype system for policy-based information sharing to handle untrustworthy partners, Kantarcioglu has developed techniques based on game theory to manage semi-trustworthy partners, Khan has developed data-mining techniques to obtain defensive information operations with untrustworthy partners, and Hamlen is examining program rewriting techniques that address offensive information operations executed by untrustworthy partners. "We are exploring the application of policy-based information sharing for health informatics and beginning collaborations with healthcare experts," Thuraisingham says. "We are also applying semantic Web technologies for information sharing and have projects with the National Science Foundation, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency."
NASA and Microsoft to Make Universe of Data Available to the Public
NASA News (03/24/09) Brown, Dwayne; Prucey, Rachel; Woodbury, Julie
NASA and Microsoft recently announced plans to make planetary images and data accessible over the Internet as part of the Space Act Agreement. NASA and Microsoft will jointly develop the technology and infrastructure needed to make the most interesting NASA content, including high-resolution scientific images and data from Mars and the moon, viewable on the WorldWide Telescope, an online virtual telescope from Microsoft. "Making NASA's scientific and astronomical data more accessible to the public is a high priority for NASA, especially given the new administration's recent emphasis on open government and transparency," says NASA's Ed Weiler. NASA's Ames Research Center will process and host more than 100 terabytes of data, and the WorldWide Telescope will incorporate that data and feature imagery from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The MRO has been examining Mars with a high-resolution camera and five other instruments since 2006 and has generated more data than all of NASA's other Mars missions combined. The collaborative effort also will make images available from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter when they are publicly released this fall. "This collaboration between Microsoft and NASA will enable people around the world to explore new images of the moon and Mars in a rich, interactive environment through the WorldWide Telescope," says Microsoft External Research's Tony Hey. "WorldWide Telescope serves as a powerful tool for computer science researchers, educators, and students to explore space and experience the excitement of computer science."
Developing the Next Generation of Mobile Phones
University of York (03/09)
York University professor Neil Audsley is part of the pan-European Embedded Multi-Core Processing for Mobile Communications project, an effort to make the multi-core processors currently used in modern desktop and laptop computers the foundation for the next generation of mobile phones. Manufacturers have already developed multi-core products capable of being used in mobile phones, but several significant technological challenges still remain. The first major problem is virtualization. The second problem is power consumption and the limited power resources of mobile devices. Although multi-core chips are very power-efficient, the capabilities they bring to mobile devices, such as video capturing, have significant power requirements. Audsley's research focuses on investigating how both hardware and software can best be designed for running next-generation consumer applications as efficiently as possible. The project also is exploring how the hardware in new mobile phones can be designed to minimize the possibility of phone and Internet connections from being unexpectedly dropped.
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