Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

About ACM TechNews

ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either AutoChoice Advisor or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 771:  Monday, March 28, 2005

  • "A Supreme Court Showdown for File Sharing"
    New York Times (03/28/05) P. C1; Hansell, Saul; Leeds, Jeff

    The U.S. Supreme Court may decide to reshape copyright law for the digital age with the upcoming MGM v. Grokster case, but either way file-sharing systems will remain functioning on the Internet, says Lime Group owner Mark Gorton, whose firm publishes LimeWire software. But if the Supreme Court rules against file-sharing firms, peer-to-peer software would likely be written and distributed underground by technical enthusiasts instead of commercial enterprises. Lower courts have supported file-sharing software companies' claims that they are not liable for illegal uses of their products, and if the Supreme Court upholds those rulings the music industry will likely boost its efforts to sue individual file-swappers and technically disrupt illegal file-sharing. A decisive ruling either way could also set the stage for renewed negotiations between file-sharing software firms and the entertainment industry. One alternative is Snocap, created by Napster founder Shawn Fanning, which allows copyright holders to register their songs and tracks traded songs with an acoustic fingerprint; users would be able to download a free, low-quality version of the song or buy a high-quality one. Kazaa has also been trying to promote Altnet, a system for trading for-sale or promotional songs approved by music publishers. Virgin Group's V2 label uses Altnet because file-sharing boosts concert ticket and merchandise sales, says marketing director Jeff Wooding. Commercial file sharing is not likely to convert the majority of users, and Mashboxx founder and former Grokster President Wayne Russo says his group aims to capture just a tiny percent of the 2.5 billion music files traded monthly. The music industry, meanwhile, is moving to copy-protected CD formats as well as enhanced DualDisc products that feature video as an added value.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    (Articles published within 7 days can be accessed free of charge on this site. After 7 days, a pay-per-article option is available. First-time visitors will need to register.)

    To learn more about USACM's activities regarding the Grokster debate, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Stemming the Tide of Women Leaving I.T."
    NewsFactor Network (03/25/05); Hill, Kimberly

    The percentage of women in IT fell by about half between 1985 and 1995 to just 20 percent, and this number continues to decline, says Meta Group analyst Maria Shafer. Shafer and University of Arkansas professor Deb Armstrong attribute this erosion of female IT professionals and IT-related college graduates to a number of factors, including a lack of mentors and mentor programs, inflexible scheduling, and the perception of an IT career as a solitary pursuit. Shafer thinks companies should start making a better effort to recruit women before they graduate from college through mentor programs and similar initiatives, not only to sustain women's interest in IT-related fields during their education, but to cultivate an IT workforce that can take the reins from retiring baby boomers. Armstrong says home responsibilities can be an obstacle for female IT staffers who need to continuously improve their skills, especially since workday schedules are often rigid; she recommends that companies take such responsibilities into consideration and offer women more flexible scheduling. Meanwhile, Shafer thinks businesses should provide social networking and job rotation opportunities in order to overcome female employees' perception of IT as a socially isolating, wholly technical profession. Yankee Group analyst Sheryl Kingstone says this is one reason why many women leave IT for careers in related fields that marry both technical competence and communication and interpersonal skills. To combat the stereotypical view of IT careers, Shafer recommends that companies heavily advertise successful women in IT, and employ well-established female IT professionals as recruiters whenever possible.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Breakthrough Paper Presented at HPCA"
    HPC Wire (03/25/05)

    A collaboration between Xyratex and Spain's Universities of Valencia and Castilla-La Mancha has yielded a solution to the problem of scalable congestion management across lossless multistage interconnection networks (MINs), as detailed in a paper presented at the recent International Symposium on High Performance Computer Architecture. The problem, which has beleaguered the IT industry for two decades, is caused when an overabundance of network traffic attempts to access one of the ports via the switch at any one time, which can lead to degraded network performance or a loss of data; high performance switches are therefore equipped with internal scheduling algorithms to manage these effects. In larger networks, multiple switches have to employ and build MINs that give rise to another degree of congestion management complexity, and performance degradation may result from blocking that stems from complex aggregation scenarios induced by ungainly interaction of the individual switches' scheduling algorithms. The Regional Explicit Congestion Notification (RECN) process covered in the paper can reduce overall network costs by allowing the lossless network to safely operate closer to the point of traffic saturation. "This means that it is now feasible to significantly lower costs by reducing the number of network components, while preventing performance degradation when under conditions of heavy load," reported professor Jose Duato of the Technical University of Valencia. Xyratex chief scientist Ian Johnson, who presented the paper with Duato, said RECN prevents a loss of performance past the network saturation point not by eliminating congestion, but by removing the adverse effects of head-of-line blocking caused by congestion trees.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "GPL 3 Not Expected to Split Free-Software World"
    CNet (03/25/05); Marson, Ingrid

    The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has assured developers that there is no reason to think that the third incarnation of the GNU General Public License (GPL) would fragment free software projects. Debian Linux distribution maintainer Matthew Palmer concurred with OpenOffice.org volunteer Daniel Carrera's posting that Linux is distributed exclusively under the second version of the GPL, which means that it will be impossible to migrate Linux to GPL 3 because of the massive community of Linux contributors. FSF general counsel Eben Moglen said on March 24 that he sees no difficulty in convincing Linux developers to migrate to GPL 3, as their input will be a vital part of the license's development. "When the FSF finishes its work to produce the first discussion draft of GPL 3, there will be an extended comment period, which will be a chance for everybody to have their say," he promised, adding that GPL 3 will most probably incorporate revisions that take patent threats and international copyright law into consideration. Moglen could not provide a definite date for GPL 3's release, although he implied its availability within the next few years. He expressed confidently that "When it's all over, people will say about the GPL 3, 'It's better, it's not that different--what's all the fuss about?'" Moglen said he was not surprised by the excitement generated by GPL 3, given that it serves as the foundation of a "multibillion-dollar industry."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "New Virtual Reality Chair to Explore Frontier of 'Telepresence'"
    ExpressNews (University of Alberta) (03/28/05); McMaster, Geoff

    University of Alberta computer scientist and TRLabs new media principal investigator Dr. Pierre Boulanger is the recent recipient of a $1.7 million iCORE/TRLabs Industrial Research Chair to develop collaborative virtual environments that employ "telepresence" to facilitate activities between geographically scattered participants. Such activities include remote surgical training in which students can see and tactilely sense what a doctor is doing during an actual operation taking place thousands of miles away. Another application is telepresence conversations between colleagues or family members through the use of special goggles. "In the future you will have virtual encounters like this, people you want to be part of a meeting sitting beside you virtually and having a conversation," Boulanger predicts. At a March 22 press conference, Boulanger noted that 3D visual models of complex systems can be used to explain their workings to average people. "Computers are smart enough today to adapt to people, and that's really a recent shift in computing," he remarked. U of A dean of science Gregory Taylor says the collaborative aspect of Boulanger's work with virtual environments is critical, explaining that it lies on the leading edge of new, interdisciplinary science. Boulanger's new chair, which includes a five-year iCORE Industrial Chair Establishment grant of $50,000 per year, was awarded concurrent with a $1 million chair awarded to the University of Calgary's Dr. Christoph Sensen for the development of new tools that function virtually within the human body.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Robot Guide Dog Picks Up Where Man's Best Friend Left Off"
    Newswise (03/25/05)

    Visually impaired people could find their way in places where guide dogs are of little use with the help of the Robotic Guide developed by Utah State University computer science professor Vladimir Kulyukin and his team of grad students. The device marries radio frequency technology with a mobile base to help users get around airports and other environments unfamiliar to guide dogs. The user selects a target location from a Braille directory, while the guide gives directions and additional information en route, zeroing in on radio frequency identification tags deployed throughout its surroundings to localize itself. Upon reaching the target destination--a grocery store, for example--the robot can relay detailed information about specified objects, such as where to find items the user needs to buy. Kulyukin and his team have spent the past two years refining the Robot Guide, and they envision robotic smart carts in airport terminals as well as robotic shopping carts in grocery stores. The professor plans to keep developing the robot in order to guarantee its availability to consumers, and his team is also devising a wearable navigation system to help visually impaired users get around in outdoor environments. "I have always been interested in assistive technology and wanted to build something that actually makes a difference," Kulyukin comments. "This is practical stuff and works well at enhancing human life."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Q&A: Internet Pioneer Vint Cerf on Grid Computing"
    Computerworld (03/25/05); Foster, Ian

    MCI technology strategy VP and IP networking trailblazer Vint Cerf explains in an interview with Globus Consortium board member Ian Foster that grid computing, as with the Internet, contains a standardization layer that allows the many different participating computer systems to interoperate. "In a peculiar way, this standardization creates a common clay out of which you can fashion almost anything," Cerf states. He notes that grid's potential is still primarily speculative, but he sees the practical virtualization of computer clusters, which is possible today, as a lead-in to the deployment of business continuity. Cerf says MCI possesses the computing facilities and backbone capabilities to support computers that can be configured to execute grid-specific behavior, thus providing customers the possibilities of business continuity and the expansion of available computational resources. Similarly, more multidimensional opportunities will exist for MCI as people increasingly reconfigure their IT environment to exploit grid computing. "The real excitement is that once you create the standard grid interface, then you can start implementing applications that you can make available to customers through the grid," Cerf exclaims. He says the consensus of standards bodies is a critical ingredient for successful grid computing, and calls for basic research into the optimal use of grid concepts. Specifically, Cerf requires the determination of what algorithms will best function in a distributed environment and how their effectiveness can be measured.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Japanese Robot Expo Will Wow the Crowds"
    New Scientist (03/24/05); Biever, Celeste

    Numerous state-of-the-art robots will be on display at Japan's six-month-long Expo 2005, but though these machines can perform impressive feats, robotics experts say their applicability in real-world situations is debatable. The Expo will spotlight instrument-playing robots from Toyota, while perhaps the most intriguing display will be Actroid, a robot receptionist developed by Kokoro Dreams and Advanced Media. Actroid speaks four languages, smiles, makes eye contact, and exhibits a sense of self-irony, but University of Reading roboticist Gerard McKee does not think Actroid fulfills the complex human-machine interaction criteria necessary for humanoids to penetrate mainstream society. "You require the system not just to have all the right responses but also to apply them in the appropriate situation," he notes. Another Expo highlight will be NEC's PaPeRo, a robot babysitter that reads stories, supervises games, notifies parents, and boasts facial- and audio-recognition systems so that it can identify children and call them by name, as well as react to its charges' nuanced facial and vocal expressions. Also of interest is Toyota's iFoot, a 200-kilogram robotic exoskeleton that allows passengers to embark or disembark by bending at the knees. However, the machine' peak travel speed is 1.35 kilometers per hour; it is most likely to be used to help military personnel and construction workers lift heavy objects. A potentially more practical product is Sohgo Security Services' Alsok, a robotic security guard that will patrol the Expo hall; Alsok's functions include checking for intruders, fires, and suspicious packages, and the machine is equipped with a paint gun to mark intruders, as well as a touch screen that people can use to access accumulated data.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Profs Study Robotic Soldiers of the Future"
    Daily Pennsylvanian (03/23/05); Im, Ko

    The Defense Department will allocate a five-year, $5 million grant to the University of Pennsylvania's General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception (GRASP) Laboratory to investigate biology-inspired swarming behavior in robots for possible military applications. Penn engineers, biologists, and computer scientists will collaborate with researchers at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Yale, and MIT in the Scalable Swarms of Autonomous Robots and Sensors project, which is being underwritten by the Defense Department's Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program. Yale electrical engineering and computer science professor Stephen Morse says the project illustrates the military's desire to remove human beings from combat as well as surveillance operations. A team supervised by GRASP Lab director Vijay Kumar will create experiments designed to predict emergent group behavior in autonomous robot swarms. "One of the things we'd like to do is come up with these biology-inspired algorithms for control and demonstrate it on practical vehicle platforms," notes Kumar. Electrical and systems engineering professor George Pappas says the study of biological behavior plays a critical role in assessing its effects on engineering, and he envisions surveillance swarms that can monitor areas in much the same way that flocks of birds survey the environment. MIT electrical engineering and computer science professor Daniela Rus is particularly enthused about the project, especially in light of frugal government research and development investment.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Transparent Interaction; Dynamic Generation: Content Histories for Shared Science"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (03/21/05); Schraefel, M.C.; Brostoff, Sacha; Cooke, Ray

    Integrating and sharing data on the progress of wholly digital or in silico experiments is even more difficult for scientists than it is for researchers who carry out paper-bound experiments, but the authors propose that context histories can be applied toward the creation of transparent and reusable tracking of associated data. By supporting transparency via on-demand availability, connection to appropriate files, and contextual and specific-artifact annotation, context histories can be perceived from multiple perspectives, and shared and modified by researchers with their communities, either to reflect on the progress of an experiment for feedback or to share proof of a particular conclusion. The authors explain that their strategy is influenced by research in desktop replacement or desktop assistant models, virtual notebook applications, and Semantic Web frameworks. Desktop replacement systems such as Timescape and Presto either supplant or enhance the traditional desktop, but they can also be substituted with supplemental applications that strive to extract contextual association or uphold their discovery (UMEA, Milestones, and OnCue being examples). The authors are particularly interested in virtual notebook applications such as NoteBook, NoteTaker, and Tinderbox for their multimedia free association and cataloging capabilities, while Semantic Web frameworks such as Haystack, UTOPIA, and mSpace could provide an architecture for inferring implicit knowledge from data through an ontology-informed metadata scheme. Of the frameworks mentioned, Haystack is the most mature, and the authors report that they are modifying mSpace to supply local visualizations of the relations in the data. In order to address privacy/security concerns, the authors write that they shall "examine current sharing practices, contexts and investigate our users' desired levels of data confidentiality, integrity and availability in order to design lightweight authorization models and authentication protocols."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Face to Face--in Realistic 3D"
    ScienceBlog.com (03/21/05); BJS

    A team of researchers at Cardiff University that developed software that can mimic facial movement based on speech has now turned its attention to the new video camera technology from 3dMD. After taking 2D technology as far as they could, the computer science department researchers are putting the "4D system," which mixes time with the fast production of medically accurate 3D surface models, to use. "The new camera enables us to capture high quality data at very high speed, and will provide the next level detail to reproduce expressions and the subtle nuances that happen during speech," says Cardiff's Dr. David Marshall. The computing experts have developed sophisticated software that can learn facial expressions from a speaker, and provide realistic simulations of the movements. Marshall sees applications for the software in film, computer graphics, and animation technology, but also in education, mobile telecommunications, advertising, information services, and the Internet.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Powerful Query Technology Will Optimize Knowledge Management for Project Managers"
    TechRepublic (03/23/05)

    Next-generation knowledge management (KM) capabilities will be embedded in work applications and automatically gather relevant information so that users spend less time searching. Project managers in large firms, for instance, often cannot find project documentation because they use the wrong search strings. This results in lost productivity, which costs companies between $2.5 million and $3.5 million for every 1,000 employees that cannot find needed information, according to IDC. Intellext, a company founded by Northwestern University Intelligent Information Laboratory director Kristian Hammond, released a new project management KM tool this January that automatically gathers related project documentation based on users' current work. Ford Motor Company's SixSigma Group tested a beta version of the tool, which helped one project manager easily find a process chart he knew was somewhere on the intranet but could not find himself; Intellext's software observed the user's project report, then gathered project documentation from Ford's approximately 8,000 disparate information repositories. Intellext software provides a toolbar embedded in PowerPoint, Word, Outlook, and Internet Explorer, and works in the background to retrieve relevant data from KM storehouses. "The more we see information systems embedded in the work product, the easier and easier it is to get to the wealth of information and expertise that's related to that work product," says Hammond. In the future, KM capabilities will be more related to what the user is doing, taking the burden off of the user.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Terror Plot to Cripple UK in Cyber Attack"
    Scotsman (UK) (03/22/05); Kirkup, James

    Due to a growing dependence on electronic networks in Britain and throughout the world and increasing technological sophistication of terrorists, Britain's counter-terrorism coordinator David Omand issued an alert that both government and private sectors need to ramp up electronic anti-terrorism defenses. Omand says terrorists are working on launching a crippling cyberattack, warning that top al Qaeda operatives that have been arrested or are being tracked have shown significant technological sophistication. Former Metropolitan Police Authority Chairman Toby Harris warns of "significant vulnerability in the systems we all rely on," and Omand believes the defense against cyberterrorism will fail unless businesses in the private sector begin taking the threat seriously and upgrading their defenses. Attacks could come in the form of denial of service attacks, hacking into sensitive electronic systems, attacking electricity grids or systems controlling hydroelectric dam flood gates, or carrying out a coordinated physical and electronic attack on emergency systems. The global aspect of the Internet has Britain working with countries they often regard with hostility to prevent cyberattacks. Harris says, "Britain could be quickly reduced to large-scale disorder, including looting and rioting, in the event of a serious disruption of critical national infrastructure."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Security Counterattack"
    Network World (03/21/05) Vol. 22, No. 11, P. S12; Gittlen, Sandra

    Experts warn that new data center technologies and Web services will increase security burdens because of the added complexity; instead of guarding a perimeter and managing internal application security, IT managers will have to be able to secure every node on their network and validate the security of Web services building blocks from outside sources. Complexity is not only an issue for IT managers, but for users as well: A Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) study showed laptop users spent an average of two hours configuring 802.1X security. PARC developed an enrollment station architecture for enterprises that would allow users to configure their system settings according to network policy in just two minutes using close-proximity communications such as infrared. Cornell University's Information Assurance Institute, meanwhile, is working on language-based security that builds security basics into programming in hopes of fostering more secure Web services in the future. Web services pose serious security risks because of their connectivity and the interdependence of various services' code, and Information Assurance Institute director Fred Schneider advocates safe systems languages for building Web services and other extensible applications. Internet2 researchers have created the Shibboleth Project for simplifying authentication in cross-organizational situations where users would otherwise have to register multiple times; by reducing the amount of personal information sent out by users, these systems would be less prone to identity theft and fraud. Grid computing organizations have accepted Shibboleth as an important security technology. ContentGuard, founded by former PARC researchers, offers technology to protect content after it has left the network; the group's Extensible Rights Markup Language (XrML) has been submitted to OASIS and offers a way to control content distribution and accessibility.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Glooper Computer"
    New Scientist (03/26/05) Vol. 185, No. 2492, P. 32; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

    Light-catalyzed Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reactions can be harnessed to solve problems, such as determining the shortest route through a maze, and this capability has inspired researchers such as Andrew Adamatzky of the University of the West of England to explore the possibilities of chemical computers. Since the BZ reaction is a kind of parallel processor, it can theoretically be used to solve NP-complete problems that boast large numbers of possible solutions, but the approach's key shortcoming is the need to physically represent the problem. Adamatzky and several other scientists teamed up to produce a chemical-based processor of their own, and demonstrated its feasibility by constructing chemically controlled robots: One device combined a BZ-based "brain" with artificial fingers to imitate hand-brain interactions, while another was a dual-BZ-brain robot that could navigate through a room using one brain for guidance and the other for circumventing obstacles. Adamatzky then attempted to build chemical logic gates, and the research of two American physicists encouraged him to use BZ wave collisions to create chemical processors; this resulted in "BZ bullets" that Adamatzky believes can be used to build circuits. He says, "All algorithms previously implanted in 'conventional' parallel processors can be adapted to liquid chemical processors," but a practical chemical computer needs to overcome limitations such as the bullets' inability to move faster than a few millimeters per minute, which is critical for real-time processing. Adamatzky's pet project is a liquid robot brain that uses an electroactive gel instead of metal and wires. The gel is thought to be an ideal medium for BZ waves because it does not impede the waves' speed and also expands and contracts in the presence of an electric field. Adamatzky thinks such a machine will be "completely flexible," and could even become capable of feeling and expressing emotions by inserting a series of synthetic hormones into a parallel processor.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    (Access to this article is available to paid subscribers only.)

  • "Buetow: A Force in the Battle Against Cancer"
    Federal Computer Week (03/21/05) Vol. 19, No. 7, P. 68; Olsen, Florence

    National Cancer Institute (NCI) bioinformatics director Kenneth Buetow is leading an unprecedented effort to link biomedical research disciplines and IT assets through the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG). First conceived in 2004, the grid has gained the backing of much of the fractious cancer research community with 50 NCI-funded cancer research centers on board with the project. CaBIG is more than a typical scientific grid computing effort because Buetow is focusing on standardized tools and data that will allow researchers in various areas of cancer research to tap into one another's research. Cancer researchers are sensitive about sharing information since they compete for funding, but current cancer research now requires a cross-disciplinary approach, says Buetow. "Next-generation problems require trialists to use genomics, they require experimental animal modelists to be able to understand what is happening in the clinics, and they require people who are developing novel compounds to understand and have access to gene targets," he says. The caBIG project will include semantic interoperability so that data is useful outside of niche efforts. There are eight committees currently developing caBIG architecture, vocabulary, and other standards. The National Cancer Institute has committed about $20 million a year to caBIG for three years and will re-evaluate the project after that time. Significantly, Buetow is designing caBIG so that scientists outside of cancer research can make use of the technologies; many of the tools are open-source. Over 20 large-scale grid tools are in development for caBIG, and programmers are encouraged to use the Globus Toolkit and Open Grid Services Architecture Data Access and Integration standards. Buetow says, "Our goal is to move forward at the same time as technologies emerge and mature."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Dearth of a Nation"
    Washington Monthly (03/05); Wallace-Wells, Benjamin

    The United States' economic leadership has become increasingly reliant on technological innovation, just as international competition is heating up. Competitors have adopted the U.S. innovation model and established research centers that rival American counterparts in terms of cutting-edge tech output. The generally poor status of U.S. job creation is attributable to this trend, as well as to the migration of manufacturing and service jobs to lower-wage countries such as India and China. Japan, Korea, Sweden, and Finland have overtaken America in terms of the percentage of gross domestic product channeled into scientific research, while the United States trails Europe in terms of the number of scientific papers published; furthermore, European and Asian countries have also caught up to America in terms of the proportion of citizens going to universities. Among the factors cited by economists as contributing to America's competitive decline are immigration restrictions in the name of security, recent science funding cutbacks, the diversion of remaining research funding to applied rather than basic research, and Washington's lack of emphasis on increasing patent access and alternative fuels research, as well as spurring the health care market to adopt IT. Yet the media gives short shrift to these concerns in favor of macroeconomic matters--tax rates, budget deficits, etc.--that media consumers and casual investors can relate to. The Bush administration is flaunting macroeconomic policy heavily while weakly promoting microeconomic policy such as new tech investment, infrastructure improvement, and new industry creation. Little innovation in such areas as broadband, wireless, and, perhaps most critically, energy-efficient technologies could play a decisive role in ending America's global economic reign--and America has no good excuse for this stagnation.
    Click Here to View Full Article