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 780:  Monday, April 18, 2005

  • "Presidential Panel Recommends Steps to Promote Computational Science"
    Chronicle of Higher Education (04/15/05); Kiernan, Vincent

    The President's Information Technology Advisory Panel on April 14 unanimously championed the draft version of a report recommending the restructuring of universities and federal agencies to promote multidisciplinary research using computers to stimulate the growth of computational science. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill vice chancellor for information technology Daniel Reed, who chairs the subcommittee of the panel that authored the draft, told the panel that computational science frequently requires cross-discipline teamwork, but universities generally discourage multidisciplinary collaboration by handing out accolades to a scholar for research in one specific field. The report summary said the federal government should commission the National Academies to study the reorganization of federal agencies' research priorities "to support revolutionary advances in computational science," while the panel said the academies should also outline a long-term computational science plan. The report cited a need for extended federal sponsorship for repositories of data compiled by digital tools, and the stipulation that researchers with federal grants must deposit their software and information in those repositories. The study also recommended the government fund the development of new computational science hardware and software, and give supercomputing centers "long-term funding" for researchers.

  • "How Vulnerable Is the 'Net?"
    Network World (04/18/05); Duffy, Jim

    The Internet is vulnerable to hacker-induced disruption, but some points are more prone to attack than others, according to experts. The DNS core infrastructure has been significantly strengthened since a major denial-of-service attack hit the system in October 2002; at that time, DNS servers were located at 13 sites in four countries, but now the DNS infrastructure comprises between 50 and 100 machines in 80 locations spread across 34 countries. But the highly distributed nature of the DNS infrastructure also makes it more difficult to defend, argues independent security consultant Stephen Cobb, who says the Internet could be disabled for as many as 10 days if attackers had inside knowledge. But Internet Systems Consortium President Paul Vixie, whose group operates the DNS F root server, says counter-actions would be able to deflect enough of an attack that an attacker would risk being traced if they continued for a prolonged period. Internet experts are more worried about vulnerabilities in routing infrastructure, especially since secure configurations are complex and organizations are forced into co-dependent security situations; service providers are hesitant about implementing secure alternatives to BGP because of overhead concerns, leaving operators faced with a bevy of discrete BGP vulnerability fixes. Router software is also a major concern, especially since operators often run the latest--and most bug-prone--versions at the same time, allowing for situations analogous to the Northeast power grid failure two years ago, says General Motors global technology information officer Clif Triplett. SANS Institute research director Alan Paller says Internet endpoints and hosts are a more popular vector for Internet attack than infrastructure, especially since relatively few operating systems for Internet hosts make easy targets.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Can the U.S. Still Compete?"
    CNet (04/15/05); Cooper, Charles

    Charles Cooper writes that the U.S.'s poor performance ACM's recent International Collegiate Programming Contest (it tied for 17th place) reflects the declining quality of the country's technical talent. He hopes this incident will help spur U.S. tech leaders to assume a chief role in reversing this trend by bringing the issue to the attention of the powers that be. "We've become accustomed to mediocrity as the norm," argues Cooper. His opinion is shared by an anonymous tech company CEO, who cited the nation's under-education of students as the primary factor in its lagging behind other countries' tech workforces. Cooper points to a recent survey from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that placed American 15-year-olds 24th out of 29 industrialized nations in terms of math skills, while their science skills ranking was even lower. The CEO wonders whether the United States has the fortitude to remedy the situation, and what would be the most successful educational reform strategy. Some people claim that a successful software developer does not necessarily have to be more proficient in math and science, arguing that on-the-job training is more valuable than education. Cooper attributes this attitude to what he calls "the dumbing down of America."
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Kernel Changes Draw Concern From Open-Source Community"
    eWeek (04/17/05); Galli, Peter

    Concern is brewing among members of the open-source community that the features of the Linux 2.6 kernel are being changed so quickly that the kernel could become excessively large, while the changes themselves are too desktop-oriented. Computer Associates International VP Sam Greenblatt says the community is chiefly interested in increasing the kernel's stability, not slick features such as game and music drivers. Linux 2.6 kernel maintainer Andrew Morton with Open Source Development Labs counters that the majority of new features are optional and are employed at the discretion of organizations assembling their builds of the kernel, and he argues for the continued incorporation of new features into the 2.6 tree rather than creating a new 2.7 tree. Still, Morton admits to the lack of a formal road map for an enterprise Linux feature set because the development of such technologies is mainly the responsibility of vendors. Morton projects the incorporation of Xen code from Cambridge University's Computer Laboratories within the kernel in the next several months, but Greenblatt claims other virtualization technologies are adequate virtualization enablers. Morton notes that Topspin Communications' InfiniBand architecture has already been integrated with the kernel. Cambridge University Xen project leader Ian Pratt says his team is collaborating with InfiniBand vendors to guarantee the efficient and secure extension of InfiniBand channels into guest operating systems running over Xen.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Congress Moving to Tackle Spyware Problem"
    TechNews.com (04/15/05); McGuire, David; Woodward, Emily

    Several anti-spyware bills have been introduced in Congress so far this year, all of which focus on the most objectionable spyware practices; but they differ dramatically in their definition of spyware, which is a source of contention in the high-tech industry. It is the industry's concern that broad spyware definitions could endanger legitimate software, and Robert Cresanti of the Business Software Alliance is worried that "A likely scenario could put legitimate companies at high risk for what might be a technical violation of the bill without any ill intent." The proposal with the most traction, sponsored by Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.) and endorsed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), requires companies to secure permission from consumers before installing any program that gathers information on someone's PC. Network Advertising Initiative executive director Trevor Hughes says that particular stipulation could affect dozens of advertising-supported Web site features, including online experience personalization programs used by numerous Web operators. A second spyware bill sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) also focuses on computer programs that collect data without users' awareness, but Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) is concerned the bill would give rise to unexpected consequences and unnecessary problems for legitimate software firms, as well as unintentionally provide malicious spyware distributors with a "safe harbor" in the form of consent language that users may accept without fully reading. Allen says he will soon present a proposal that would give law enforcers about $10 million to pursue spyware distributors, and impose tougher penalties on anyone found guilty of committing fraud using spyware. Cresanti and Hughes say their organizations would favor anti-spyware legislation that takes aim at spyware distributors' behavior instead of technology.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "U.S. Military's Elite Hacker Crew"
    Wired News (04/18/05); Lasker, John

    U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) leaders disclosed the existence of the Joint Functional Component Command for Network Warfare (JFCCNW) at a March meeting of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. The JFCCNW is a team of hackers responsible for the safeguarding of all Defense Department (DOD) networks as well as evolving Computer Network Attack (CNA) operations. Although the JFCCNW's skills are highly classified, former U.S. Marine intelligence officer and cyber-warfare expert Dan Verton thinks they are capable of eradicating enemy networks, breaching enemy computers to manipulate or steal data, and infecting enemy command-and-control systems with malware to disrupt communications and other vital operations. The DOD has charged Stratcom to assume supervision of the JFCCNW, and Stratcom Capt. Damien Pickart says it is within the DOD's capabilities to launch an offensive CNA, adding that "given the increasing dependence on computer networks, any offensive or defensive computer capability is highly desirable." Retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Dietz says the Internet-broadcast murder of Nicholas Berg last summer was the catalyst for a debate between the DOD, the State Department, and the Justice Department over whether the United States should be authorized to immediately shut down brutality-spewing Web sites. Search for International Terrorist Entities director Rita Katz believes such measures are justified, regardless of what they mean for free speech or other countries' laws. At the same time, Katz acknowledges that some terror sites should be permitted to operate for the purpose of gathering intelligence.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Computer Science Students Receive Top Honor for Research"
    Sentinel & Enterprise (MA) (04/11/05); McMenemy, Jeff

    A team of computer science students at Fitchburg State College has an opportunity to compete in the grand final of the ACM's International Student Research Competition after placing third at the recent St. Louis event. Matthew Glover, Joshua McKinnon, Duane Mohney, Michael Taft, and Brian Vysocky were recognized for their work involving The Virtual Firefly, a computer system that enables the students to study firefly flash signaling more closely with hopes of communicating with them. The team gave a presentation entitled "Virtual Fireflies for the Study of Firefly Mating Preferences," and was one of 18 student groups from across the globe to present their research at the ACM competition. "Many people were impressed by our curriculum's emphasis on understanding computer hardware; a focus that makes our computer science program unique," says the students' advisor, assistant computer science professor Dr. Kevin Austin. The students are now working to start an active ACM student chapter on campus.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    For more information about ACM's International Student Research Competition, visit http://www.acm.org/src/.

  • "Tech Grads Face Strongest Job Market in Five Years"
    InternetWeek (04/14/05); Gardner, W.

    The information technology industry, along with many other industries, will be looking to hire people with computer, engineering, and IT experience by the time students graduate in June, according to a survey from Michigan State University. For tech graduates, the job market will be the best it has looked since the dot-com collapse in 2000, says Dr. Philip Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) at the university. Moreover, "employers across other economic sectors are seeking computer-savvy people to help upgrade hardware and software and to assist in maintaining the information databases essential to the global economy," says Gardner. However, he acknowledges that "the information services sector is still facing hard times with overcapacity in the telecommunications sector and limited growth in online businesses." The survey appears on the student career site CollegeJournal.com.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "As New Technology Draws in the Animators"
    IST Results (04/18/05)

    New software from IST's Custodiev project could help make 3D animation of stylized strip cartoons found in comics and graphic novels a reality. "The strip-cartoon effect cannot be mimicked in 3D animation because the 3D model forces its unique geometry while in drawn animation the artist can, and routinely does, cheat geometry and just about everything else to achieve a minimally constrained sense of the realized world," explains Custodiev project coordinator John Patterson of Glasgow University's Department of Computer Science. A Custodiev tool automates the in-betweening process, which creates the illusion of a seamless transition between frames as an animated character moves from one position to the next. Custodiev is also investigating the possibilities of electronic paper, which Patterson says animators are very enthusiastic about because it imbues computer animation with a "paper-like" feel. Costs on standard production processes will fall as animators become increasingly adept with the Custodiev software. "We are learning how to structure the interfaces to eliminate the most immediate constraints to the flow of production so at some later stage there will be a further reduction in production costs when we feed this back in," Patterson says. The next phase of the project is to promote a film that can be produced with the Custodiev software. Animation studios are among the project's partners.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Tech-Savvy Women Seek Support in Classroom and Newsroom"
    Online Journalism Review (04/14/05); Royal, Cindy

    Both online and print media are suffering from a shortage of female IT professionals, which is partly attributed to a perception of IT as a boring or geeky field, a lack of encouragement from educators and parents, and the attitude that the reigning authorities are dedicated to marginalizing or muting women's IT participation. Cindy Royal of the University of Texas at Austin's School of Journalism writes that one way to reverse this trend is to expand the stable of technical skills offered in communications, liberal arts, and other disciplines that already boast a high percentage of women. Skills such as database application development and Java programming are becoming increasingly important in these fields, concurrent with the growing sophistication of communication applications. Royal cites research demonstrating that women are more likely to embrace computing when it is part of meaningful and purposeful pursuits. This conclusion is consistent with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Eric Meyer's reasoning that technology should be contextualized to the communication applications in order to sustain women's interest. Royal writes that attaining experience with higher-end technology would benefit communications students of both genders by increasing their skill sets and marketability and offering an outlet for creative expression; the field of communications would benefit by having the future of media shaped by technologically adept people. Challenges inherent to realizing this vision include finding qualified educators and role models, and integrating such skills into the curriculum without going over budget. Royal says her approach does not exclusively focus on women, but acknowledges that it would produce a greater number of tech-experienced women grounded in communication concepts and values.
    Click Here to View Full Article

    For information on ACM's Committee on Women and Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "Stanford Joins Multi-Institution Center on Research in Cybersecurity and Computer Trustworthiness"
    Stanford Report (04/14/05); Yang, Sarah; Levy, Dawn

    Leading security experts from eight universities will join forces under the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST), funded for five years with about $19 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The University of California-Berkeley will lead the effort, joined by other institutions such as Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University, and a number of industry and research groups. TRUST researchers note the growing importance of cybersecurity in the modern age, since so much critical infrastructure is dependent on computer systems. Researchers at Stanford's Computer Security Lab will bring expertise in a number fields, including applied cryptography, access control, data privacy, and network security; VMWare founder Mendel Rosenblum and automated methods expert David Dill are among the Stanford faculty joining the effort. The Stanford Computer Security Lab also leads the Privacy, Obligations, and Rights in Technologies of Information Assessment (PORTIA) program for the NSF, and lab co-directors John Mitchell and Dan Boneh are working on a Web phishing and identity theft project with the U.S. Secret Service. TRUST will focus on creating new technologies that enable organizations to build trustworthy control systems for critical infrastructure; besides protecting these systems from attack, TRUST technologies will also imbue them with resiliency so that they can keep operating even under attack. System design needs usability enhancements in order to strengthen the human element of computer security, which is often the weakest link, notes TRUST center director and UC-Berkeley professor S. Shankar Sastry.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Gordon Moore Looks Back, and Forward, 40 Years"
    IDG News Service (04/13/05); Niccolai, James

    Intel founder Gordon Moore, who four decades ago wrote a groundbreaking paper that has become a roadmap for the electronics industry, reflects on how well that document, now known as Moore's Law, has held up. Moore's Law dictates that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years or so, and the paper in which Moore presented this axiom also predicted the emergence of home computing, though Moore himself dismissed such a possibility when he was Intel's CEO. Despite his opinion that the computing industry has done well in general, Moore cites some areas that could use significant improvement. He complains that software interfaces are too complicated and feature-heavy, remarking that "[software makers] want to offer so many new functions in applications, it's difficult to simplify everything at the same time." Moore also thinks artificial intelligence researchers are approaching the problem of computerizing the human mind the wrong way. Rather than attempting to reduce human intelligence to computing functions, Moore believes scientists should try to understand the mind's operational mechanisms and create an entirely new computer that mimics those operations. Moore also doubts that nanotechnology represents a threat to the silicon integrated circuit as far as mainstream use is concerned, noting that people frequently overlook the fact that "There's a big difference between making one tiny transistor and connecting a billion of them together to do a useful function." He says the integrated circuit's continued longevity seems assured with its penetration into new fields such as microfluidics, gene chips, and airbag sensors.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Automated Mining Still a Dream"
    Canadian Press (04/15/05); St. Pierre, Denis

    Autonomous mining machinery that has the common-sense reasoning of a human is some decades away, said artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky in an address at the International Symposium on Mine Mechanization and Automation. Before such intelligent machines are possible, researchers need to adopt different approaches and have more support from government funding. Corporations are not willing to do the basic research necessary to produce a breakthrough in artificial intelligence, said Minsky. Meanwhile, Inco's Peter Jones Inco said remote-controlled mining, or telemining, was improving productivity by up to 50 percent in some cases, leading to lower labor costs and the possibility of developing deeper and lower-grade ore bodies. Even though remote-controlled equipment costs between 25 percent and 30 percent more than regular equipment, the productivity benefits make it worth the investment. As equipment becomes more technology-oriented, the workforce is adapting, Jones said. Canadian Institute for Advanced Research member Fraser Mustard said increased automation is a competitive advantage among resource companies such as Inco.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Liquid Information Project Is Hyper2"
    EContent (04/05); Manafy, Michelle

    University of College London researcher Frode Hegland says the Liquid Information project's Hyperwords technology provides a simple way to dramatically increase the interactivity of Web information. Web pages with Hyperwords provide users with a menu when they mouse over a word, allowing them to highlight that word throughout the paragraph, page, or Web site, and this allows people to speed-read based on color codes, or even to cut out text unrelated to the highlighted word; other menu options include a Google search or definition. Hegland says Hyperwords takes advantage of the digital nature of Web content and provides users with more control over format to make pages more readable. The open source technology is implemented on the Liquid Information Web site, where a demo also runs live using CNN's Web site. The technology is ready for use now, and Hegland expects publishers to make use of the open source license to customize Hyperwords for their specific site content. Although many technologies are available to manage online information, they have done little to actually improve the ability of people to manage and access information. The Liquid Information project is aimed at developing simple methods of increasing interactivity of Web content, turning Web browsers into readers. Project co-leader Doug Engelbart is an interactive computing pioneer, and helped invent mouse, hypertext, computer networking, and other interface technologies.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Eye, Robot"
    The Engineer Online (04/08/05)

    BAE Systems and a number of British universities are involved in a project to develop multitasking robots that can respond to events that register in their peripheral vision. The reverse-engineering the vertebrate brain (Reverb) project seeks to understand the multitasking mechanisms in the brains of vertebrates in order to construct computational models that direct robotic behavior. The robotic control system will employ a central selection mechanism modeled after the brain's process for prioritizing actions, which is believed to be a function of the basal ganglia. Reverb project leader and University of Sheffield computational neuroscience lecturer Dr. Kevin Gurney says such robots would be used in situations where adapting to and learning from unpredictable circumstances is crucial. The researchers are planning to integrate a robotic arm with a pan and tilt camera that will examine a table for interesting objects to pick up; the system must be capable of learning to distinguish between useful and useless objects, and also deal with disruptive stimuli in its peripheral vision. Another project goal is the creation of mobile robots that travel through crowded environments where objects appear and disappear randomly, responding appropriately to moving objects sighted by their cameras. Manchester University lecturer Dr. Piotr Dudek says the retina will serve as the template for the robotic vision system, which will consist of a high-resolution "foveal" camera and a low-resolution peripheral camera; Dudek also developed vision chips that the researchers will use as the basis for custom-built parallel hardware to support real-time system operations.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Sector-wide ISACs Have Both Critics and Advocates"
    Government Security News (04/04/05) Vol. 3, No. 7, P. 1; Anderson, Martin Edwin

    Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), formed to share information between government and industry sectors, lack support from government agencies and private-sector members, according to some business executives. The groups were created in the late 1990s to coordinate critical infrastructure information-sharing, and took on a protection role after the Sept. 1, 2001, terrorist attacks. Former deputy attorney general and 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick brought debate over the ISACs to the forefront when she said the centers had to beg members for funding and lacked cooperation from government agencies. She said ISACs should either be reformed or abandoned entirely. Meanwhile, former White House security advisor Richard Clarke said the ISACs are "still getting started," referring to them as version 1.0 Others say Gorelick is unaware of the recent progress some ISACs have made. Information Technology ISAC President Guy Copeland says, "I don't believe she's been active in this community for some time, and therefore is really not up to speed on the accomplishments we have achieved." Some ISACs are performing well and provide vital information-sharing exchanges between industry members and their government partners. The Financial Services ISAC grew 1,300 percent last year, for example, while the Public Transportation ISAC may have to shut down because of lack of funds. The Homeland Security Department has also undercut the role of ISACs by creating "sector coordinating councils." Still, Rod Yam, associate director of private sector programs at the George Mason University's Critical Infrastructure Protection Project, says, "In general, the ISACs play a very important information-sharing and related operational role, one that cannot be played by government in every sector."

  • "The Next Wave in J2EE Deployment"
    JavaWorld (04/05); Goetz, Brian

    There is no panacea to fully eliminate the headaches associated with J2EE deployment, but network attached processing technology shows promise as a tool for lowering the cost and complexity of distributed J2EE application development, implementation, management, and provisioning. Network attached processing begins with a large and expandable pool of computing resources that can be statically or dynamically apportioned to applications in keeping with customizable resource management rules. Just one company currently offers a network attached processing solution, which takes the form of a 384-processor compute appliance with 256 GB of uniform-access memory; the product employs a custom processor designed for operating virtual machine technology, and hardware features to speed up concurrency and garbage collection. The compute appliance is similar to storage area network technology in that it can be logically carved into multiple virtual hosts into which CPU and memory resources can be dynamically distributed. Applications can be apportioned to virtual servers inside the pool of computing resources, and the resources allocated to those virtual servers can be dynamically expanded to correlate with increases in resource demand. Network attached processing facilitates better hardware utilization by eliminating the need to purchase and provision sufficient additional capacity to service each application at its peak load. Compute-pool tactics can deliver scalability upgrades, but moving an application to network attached processing carries trade-offs, as does any application's migration to another platform. The existing hardware and software configuration is not changed, and remains on the existing server host; instead, the application's computation component is shifted to the compute appliance.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "La Vida Robot"
    Wired (04/05) Vol. 13, No. 4, P. 122; Davis, Joshua

    The third annual Marine Advanced Technology Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition was remarkable in that the winning entry--which beat well-funded competition from MIT and other vaunted institutions--was designed, built, and operated by four Phoenix high schoolers with minimal funding. Furthermore, the students were all undocumented Mexican immigrants who grew up in poor communities. Carl Hayden Community High School computer science teacher Allan Cameron, sponsor of the school's robotics program, organized the team representing the school in the underwater bot contest. Lorenzo Santillan developed the vehicle's mechanics, while Cristian Arcega addressed power supply and thrust vector issues; Oscar Vazquez applied his ROTC training to his duties as crew leader and helped secure funding for the project from local businesses; and Luis Aranda handled the pickup and release of the robot. The machine was a frame of PVC pipe equipped with lights, propellers, cameras, a laser range finder, pumps, a microphone, depth detectors, and an articulated pincer, and weighed 100 pounds. The bot, which the team christened Stinky, was required to execute seven underwater exploration tasks revolving around the surveillance of a sunken submarine mock-up. The vehicle was capable of hovering, spinning in place, and angling up or down, and earned the team awards for design and technical writing, as well as the title of overall contest champion.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "3-Deep"
    IEEE Spectrum (04/05); Sullivan, Alan

    LightSpace Technologies President Alan Sullivan writes that new volumetric displays from his company and others will generate 3D imagery that frees users from the eyestrain, headaches, and other irritants that have limited the use of stereoscopic, autostereoscopic, and holographic display technology. Two primary volumetric display technologies are under investigation: Swept-volume displays that use a high-definition projector or a laser array to bounce images off a rapidly spinning screen, and all solid-state displays employing a projector positioned behind a stack of 20 liquid-crystal screens to produce one solid image from a rapidly projected series of images. LightSpace is concentrating on the second approach, which is not affected by vibration and is relatively compatible with existing 3D graphics software. In addition to the advantage of physical comfort, no special eyewear is needed to view the 3D images in volumetric displays, which also can be seen by multiple people from several meters away. Volumetric displays possess physical cues that trigger the human brain's processing of 3D images, such as binocular disparity, motion parallax, and persistence of vision. Displays that utilize Digital Light Processing (DLP)-based technology from Texas Instruments, unlike laser-based swept-volume displays, can render complex, full-color, illuminated, and shaded 3D images because they boast substantially more bandwidth. Sullivan concludes that volumetric display systems will initially be adopted by the scientific, engineering, security, and medical sectors, and eventually penetrate consumer households and classrooms once costs are driven down by economies of scale.
    Click Here to View Full Article