Welcome to the June 3, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Girls Still Not Choosing Computer Science as a Career, Study Says
eWeek (06/02/09) Mark, Roy
A gender gap still exists among U.S. college-bound students considering computing as a career, according to a new report by ACM and the WGBH Educational Foundation. The report, which covers the first phase of the New Image for Computing initiative, seeks to answer why interest in studying computer science in U.S. colleges and pursuing computer-related careers is declining. The report is based on a nationwide, online survey of 1,406 college-bound teens in late 2008. The survey found that 74 percent of males, regardless of race or ethnicity, thought that majoring in computer science was a "very good" or "good" choice for them, while just 10 percent of females thought it was "very good" and 22 percent thought it was "good." "We know that the number of computer science majors is not meeting projected work force needs," says ACM CEO and co-principal investigator of the project John White. "Many factors contribute to the low interest in computer science, but the image of the field is a key element in current perceptions among this population." Perhaps the most troubling trend is that 80 percent of today's college freshmen said they had no idea what computer science majors do, according to White. "The results of this initiative will provide us with the tools to turn around the misplaced notions and lack of information that surround the world of computing and reinforce the critical and exciting role computing plays driving innovation in a global economy," White says.
The Obama Administration's Silence on Privacy
New York Times (06/02/09) Hansell, Saul
The Obama administration has started to address technology issues such as cybersecurity, network neutrality, and broadband availability, but is still trying to find its voice when it comes to privacy. During ACM's recent Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference in Washington, D.C., National Economic Council member Susan Crawford mentioned the rules for behavioral advertising, but those were written under the Bush administration. However, Ohio State law professor Peter Swire suggested that the administration might be struggling with the way people who have embraced social networking tools view privacy. Although privacy advocates push to protect personal data from the government and corporations, people now want to use Web 2.0 to control their own information and to help build political and social movements. President Obama even benefited from such access to data in his campaign. "We are the consumers who have become producers of our own data," Swire said. "We are powerful enough that we can do politically effective things with data."
Google Explores 'Eyes-Free' Phones
Technology Review (06/02/09) Greene, Kate
Google engineers are experimenting with interfaces for Android mobile phones that can be operated without any visual attention. At the Google I/O annual developer's conference, research scientist T.V. Raman demonstrated an adaptive, circular interface for phones that provides audio and tactile feedback. Raman says Google is building a user interface that goes beyond the screen. Eyes-free interfaces are often used for blind users, but Raman says these interfaces could have far greater applications. Some mobile phones already support vibrational feedback, but most devices require significant visual attention. The Android platform already supports vibrational and audio feedback, and at the conference Raman and a colleague demonstrated that an eyes-free alternative could be added to almost any Android application using only a few lines of code. Raman says a problem with most graphical user interfaces is that the buttons are in a fixed location, which is inconvenient if the user cannot feel them. To solve this problem, Raman's interface appears wherever the user's finger touches the screen, centering the keypad on that location. The phone vibrates as the finger moves from number to number, and when the finger is lifted a computerized voice repeats the number. Raman says consumer feedback is needed to make eyes-free interfaces more useful, and says software that anticipates the user's intent would be one improvement.
Atom Pinhole Camera Acts as a Shrinking Copy Machine
PhysOrg.com (06/01/09) Zyga, Lisa
Scientists from the Institute of Spectroscopy at the Russian Academy of Sciences have developed a method of nanofabrication that uses an atom pinhole camera to create nanometer-sized copies of micrometer-sized objects. The researchers, working with colleagues from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, demonstrated how to use the camera to manufacture atomic nanostructures of controlled shapes and sizes. The technique could be used to create individual nanostructures as small as 30 nanometers, a size reduction of 10,000 times compared to the original object. The academy's Victor Balykin says current experimental results show the resolution to be about 30 nm, but the researchers calculations and theoretical predictions show that the resolution could be as small as 6 nm. Optical pinhole cameras create high-quality images with high resolution that depends on the diameter of the pinhole. Manufacturing nanostructures with an atom pinhole camera offers several advantages over other nanofabrication techniques, including optical photolithography, nanolithography, and atom optics methods that use lenses, which are limited by diffraction. Balykin says there are numerous methods to build nanostructures on a surface, but they are usually very complicated, costly, and limited in choice of materials, while the atom pinhole camera can be built in any lab.
Dr. Telle Whitney Receives Marie R. Pistilli Award for Contributions to the Advancement of Women in EDA
Business Wire (06/01/09)
Anita Borg Institute CEO Telle Whitney has been named the winner of the 10th annual Marie R. Pistilli Women in Electronic Design Automation (EDA) Achievement Award. The award was created to honor people who have contributed to the advancement of women in the EDA industry. Whitney has served as a role model during her more than 20 years in the semiconductor and telecommunications industries, led the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology for the last six years, and has served in other volunteer and professional roles. She is a co-founder of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference and is currently the co-chair of the ACM Distinguished Member Committee. Whitney will receive the award at the Workshop for Women in Design Automation (WWINDA), held during the annual Design Automation Conference (DAC). "Throughout her career, Telle has made significant contributions to help advance other women, and it is an honor to present her with this award," says Karla Reynolds, 2009 WWINDA committee chair. "Men and women working in EDA have benefited tremendously from her energy and commitment to all she does." The 46th DAC is scheduled for July 26-31, 2009, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, and WWINDA will take place on July 27.
Department Tackles Visa Delay for Researchers
New York Times (06/03/09) P. A17; Dean, Cornelia
The U.S. State Department has added workers and developed new procedures in an attempt to speed up the visa process for foreign graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. The backlog of applications for obtaining or renewing visas is so severe that students and researchers often wait for months before they learn whether they have been approved. The department will work to clear up the backlog so that it can handle routine requests in two weeks. Some universities have had problems filling slots in graduate and post-doctoral science and engineering programs because of the delay. The long wait also has led some researchers to look for work in other countries. The United States should support researchers from other countries who want to work here, says John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "It is more important than ever that we remove unnecessary impediments to collaborative innovation and technical advancement," he says.
Supercomputers--Infinity Within Reach?
Japan Times (Japan) (06/02/09) Hongo, Jun
Japan's Next-Generation Supercomputer Project, expected to be completed within fiscal year 2010, will create a machine with a 10-petaflop capability, 10 times faster than the world's current fastest supercomputer--IBM's Roadrunner at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. With the Roadrunner's petaflop capabilities, the next major milestone in supercomputing is the exaflop barrier. An exaflop computer would be capable of 1 quintillion calculations per second, which could be achieved within a decade if the current speed of development continues. Experts say it is only a matter of time before computers are capable of emulating the human brain in terms of speed. Toyo University professor Genki Yagawa once predicted that it would take decades to simulate human intelligence, and there could be ethical issues if the technology ever reaches that level. He says supercomputer development will likely face issues and restrictions similar to DNA cloning. Chiba University professor Tomoyoshi Ito says speed is not the only factor in simulating the human brain, as humans have a different algorithm level when making decisions. "Computers are accurate in doing what they are programmed to do," Ito says. "But a human brain has the element of inspiration and flashes."
Computer Graphics Researchers Simulate the Sounds of Water and Other Liquids
Cornell Chronicle (06/01/09) Steele, Bill
Cornell University computer science researchers have developed new algorithms to simulate the sounds of water to correspond with images. Cornell professor Doug James and graduate student Changxi Zheng will present their research at ACM's SIGGRAPH 2009 conference, which takes place August 3-7 in New Orleans. The water simulation is the first step in a wider research effort on sound synthesis, supported by a $1.2 million grant from the Human Centered Computing Program at the National Science Foundation. In computer animation, sound can be added after the animation is completed, but as virtual worlds become increasingly interactive and immersive, the researchers say sound will need to be generated automatically to fit the unpredictable events that users will encounter and create. In addition to fluid sounds, the researchers will simulate sounds made by objects coming into contact with each other. The simulations will be based on the physics of the objects being simulated in computer graphics, calculating how those objects would vibrate in real life, and how those vibrations would produce acoustic waves in the air.
Justices to Weigh Issue of Patenting Business Methods
New York Times (06/02/09) P. B2; Liptak, Adam
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide what types of business methods can be patented, a case that legal experts say could have broad implications. "This is the most important patent case in 50 years, in particular because there is so much damage and so much good the court could do," says George Washington University law professor John F. Duffy. In October, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington significantly reduced the number of processes eligible for patent protection, ruling that only processes "tied to a particular machine or apparatus" or transforming "a particular article into a different state or thing" qualified for protection. In its ruling, the appeals court disavowed statements in earlier cases suggesting that business processes could be patented so long as they yielded useful, concrete, and tangible results. The federal government urged the Supreme Court to not hear the case, adding that the business method at issue was clearly not patentable and that the case did not affect software or more exotic business methods. The courts have relied on the decision of the appeals court since October to deny patent protection to methods of marketing software products, detecting fraud in credit card transactions, and creating real estate investment instruments.
NIST Delivers Updated Draft Standards for Electronic Voting Machines
NIST Tech Beat (06/02/09) Boutin, Chad
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently provided the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) with a draft revision to the 2005 U.S. federal Voluntary Voting System Guidelines Version 1.0, specifying how electronic-voting machines are built and tested. The EAC has made the draft revision available for public comment, and a final version is expected by the end of the year. The draft revision provides improved requirements for e-voting machine accuracy, reliability, usability, accessibility, and security. The revisions require no changes to voting system hardware, and no significant changes in software, in an effort to make the revisions achievable in the near term. The revisions include expanding accuracy and reliability testing throughout all testing processes to ensure comprehensive coverage of the entire voting system, and adding paper audit trials. The revisions also propose new reporting requirements for system manufacturers, who will be required to provide details of their voting systems' security architecture and usability testing results, as well as requiring that election software and any upgrades be digitally "signed" and that voting systems verify these signatures to prevent the insertion of malicious software. Lastly, the revisions require clear operating instructions for pool workers, including details on how to set up, start, and shut down the voting system and configure accessibility features for disabled voters.
Hi-Tech Clothes to Help Elderly
BBC News (06/01/09)
Researchers in the University of Ulster's New Dynamics of Ageing Programme are exploring the use of technology-enhanced clothing to improve the lives of older citizens. "This project is particularly exciting as we will be working with partners with complementary expertise that will enable our research in sensor technologies, data fusion, and intelligent data analysis to have a real impact on people's everyday lives," says Ulster professor Bryan Scotney. Sport and Exercise Sciences Research Institute (SESRI) director Eric Wallace says the project is at the forefront of examining active lifestyles. "Essentially, once the data on the movements of older people is recorded, it is then passed to SESRI and we will make sense of it in a lifestyle capacity," Wallace says. "This information can then in turn be used by those developing the garments, to understand better the most effective usage of the technology in the clothing." The researchers say the technology could be used in a variety of applications, including monitoring room temperature and automatically adjusting the thermostat, or alerting caregivers or family members if the subject's heart rate drops. The University of Wales also is participating in the project through its Smart Clothes and Wearable Technology group. "Little has been done to address the design requirements of older wearers in terms of human factors such as sizing, fit, predominant posture, thermal regulation, moisture management, protection, and the psychological 'feel good factor,' " says group director Jane McCann. "This project will develop a shared 'language' to enhance communication between older wearers and bring together the traditional clothing and textile designers with electronics and healthcare experts."
LSU-Led Black Hole Simulation Wins First Prize at International Competition
LSU Center for Computation & Technology (05/26/09) Sunde, Kristen
A team from the Louisiana State University (LSU) Center for Computation and Technology (CCT) won the top prize at the recent SCALE 2009 challenge. The grid-computing competition, held in Shanghai, China, involved the demonstration of real-world problem solving using scalable computing. The CCT demonstration featured a scalable, interactive system to simulate and visualize black holes to study the physics of gravitational waves. The CCT entry met the scalable computing requirements of the competition, including automatically generating simulation code, developing programs and software components to provide fast data transfer across the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI), parallelizing the rendering process to transform scientific data into images, and building interactive, tangible devices that allow researchers to engage the scientific data directly as it is visualized live. The demonstration also tested the LSU team's ability to effectively use high-performance computing machines concurrently, running applications on thousands of computing cores simultaneously while using several distributed resources. The CCT team was able to demonstrate live interaction with the simulation using a Web interface for application-level monitoring, debugging, and profiling. The demonstration also showed live, interactive images of the black hole data using a scientific visualization system distributed across LONI. The team built tangible interactive devices, enabling observers to interact with the visualization process in real time.
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