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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 Thunderstone or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 805: Friday, June 17, 2005

  • "Bluetooth Gear May Be Open to Snooping"
    Wall Street Journal (06/16/05) P. B1; Winstein, Keith J.

    The Bluetooth wireless communication standard is vulnerable to being cracked by eavesdropping devices, according to a presentation unveiled by two researchers at Mobisys2005, ACM's International Conference on Mobile Systems, Applications and Services. Counterpane Internet Security CTO Bruce Schneier, calling the researchers' presentation "really impressive," said that Bluetooth was designed sloppily with little regard for security. Bluetooth-enabled devices link together through identification of a special security code and set of randomly generated digits, but most of the top headset makers use the same unchangeable security code--0000--meaning that eavesdroppers need only find out the random digits to crack a device. The researchers said that eavesdroppers could use a special, disruptive signal that would require a Bluetooth user to retype the security code. This would create another random number that potentially could be captured by the listener and used in conjunction with the 0000 code to tap the connection. Handheld computers and other Bluetooth devices permit users to enter their own strings of security code, and the organization responsible for developing Bluetooth standards recommends that these strings consist of at least 16 numbers and letters. However, many device makers allow the strings to be composed of as few as four numbers, and the researchers noted that a PC can uncover such a string within one-tenth of a second.

    For more Mobisys2005 coverage, visit http://www.sigmobile.org/mobisys/2005/media.html.

  • "Lawmaker Revs Up Fair-Use Crusade"
    Wired News (06/16/05); Katie Dean; Evan Hansen

    In an interview with Wired News, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), an outspoken advocate of consumers' rights in the debate over media piracy, outlined his vision for a resolution to the contentious issue of online file sharing. One of very few legislators to land on the consumer side of the issue, Boucher maintains that he will "fight, tooth and nail, any effort to hobble file sharing," adding that there are too many legitimate uses for the sharing of files to allow entertainment companies to impose technological blocks that disable the portability of their product. Boucher contends that the entertainment industry is adhering to an "old, outdated business model" by packaging music in the form of a complete album when many people just want certain songs, adding that by not making their collections available to search for a small fee, record companies are shutting themselves out of a lucrative opportunity. Aside from the legitimate use argument against a government ban on file sharing, Boucher claims that such a ban would simply be impractical and lend itself to the creation of a foreign-based service offering the same product. When asked about the broadcast flag that would limit the redistribution of material, Boucher cautiously allows that movies may be one exception, but that if a broadcast flag would ever be sanctioned, it would have to march in lockstep with his fair-use position that allows for sharing in legitimate cases. Regarding broadband, Boucher compares it to telephone service, and advocates a universal service approach that would bring the cost down. Boucher, who represents a rural district, believes that government support at the local level is essential to providing affordable and reliable broadband service, likening it to the launch of the electric companies at the beginning of last century.
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  • "Momentum Builds for Election Reform"
    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (06/17/05); McFeatters, Ann

    Voting problems associated with the elections of 2000 and 2004 have sparked a movement among dozens of states to enact changes to their election processes. A task force composed of local and state election officials has issued a 72-page report recommending several changes to the election process, including the creation of "vote centers" that would be open for weeks on end. There are more than a dozen pieces of election-reform legislation pending in Congress. Some people argue that the paperless ballot system is capable of recording transactions with accuracy, but the idea that there should be paper records of voting is popular with lawmakers and appears likely to receive the green light. Stanford University computer science professor David Dill said earlier this year that if paperless ballots are used, voters will "have no means to confirm that the machines have recorded their votes correctly, nor will they have any assurance of that their votes won't be changed later." U.S. states have until January 2006 to comply with the Help America Vote Act, which requires states to record registered voters in computerized databases. The act also calls for states that use voting machines to have implemented technological and accessibility standards by January 2006.
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    For information about ACM's stand on, and activities related to, e-voting, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Competition with Asia Prompts United Effort in Robotics"
    Nature (06/14/05); Huang, Gregory

    Robotics researchers in the U.S., hampered by dwindling funding for their causes, have agreed to pool their efforts and focus on developing robots capable of moving and accomplishing useful tasks in a bid to compete against heavily funded groups in Asia. The decisions were made at last week's "Robotics: science and systems" conference at MIT and at a March meeting of robotics experts in Houston. Houston's meeting spawned agreement on focusing on autonomous mobile manipulation (AMM) rather than trying to compete individually with foreign groups and their strengths, such as the biped walking robots being created in Japan and Korea. This spring NASA launched a $14 million effort to support AMM development. At the MIT conference, a robot called Domo was unveiled, integrating computer vision, force-controlled movements, and tactile sensing. The robot can track the movement of a ball and reach out to grasp it. U.S. researchers are worried that their Asian counterparts will beat them to the punch and patent many technologies. Sony, Honda, and Toyota have all invested significantly in humanoid development, while Japan recently unveiled plans to invest billions of dollars in the field over the next five years.
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  • "Minorities Make Small Gains in Science Jobs"
    CNet (06/16/05); Gilbert, Alorie

    Hispanics now account for 5.3 percent of the total number of science professionals in the U.S., compared with 3.7 percent 10 years ago, while blacks now account for 6.2 percent, compared with more than 7 percent in 2000, according to a new study from the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology. The study, "Sisyphus Revisited: Participation by Minorities in STEM Occupations, 1994-2004," defined science and technology jobs broadly by including jobs such as computer programmers, engineers, technicians, college faculty, biologists, and chemists. Commission spokesman Richard Ellis noted that the study uncovered a lack of significant progress by underrepresented minorities in the scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) occupations. The study "does show that there remains much room for improvement, and it underscores the need for full-scale evaluations on efforts to date to increase minority participation in STEM occupations," Ellis said. Women of all races hold one-quarter of all STEM positions. Black women account for 35.4 percent of all black workers in the STEM fields. Meanwhile, 10.6 percent of the black men who work in STEM fields hold lower-ranking jobs such as lab technician, and just 4 percent are in management positions.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "From BitKeeper to Latest Linux Kernel"
    InternetNews.com (06/13/05); Kerner, Sean Michael

    The 2.6.12 Linux kernel has been released, featuring 36 MB of data, including native support for virtualization and SELinux. Kernel developer Chris Wright made the announcement about the release instead of Linux creator Linus Torvalds, who had made the previous announcements about the main 2.6x kernel releases. Due to some public dissatisfaction, Torvalds changed the development tool from BitKeeper to "Git." The change from BitKeeper to Git is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the Linux kernel developers or Linux market, said Burton Group analyst Gary Hein, noting that "these conversations happen all the time with internal and closed development teams." The Linux kernel also includes the Xen hypervisor application, which allows users to simultaneously run multiple operating systems on the same physical box. "Xen being included into the Linux kernel is very significant because essentially this means that every Linux kernel, from any distribution, will support Xen as its virtualization technology," said Simon Crosby, vice president of strategic marketing at XenSource. Crosby said that the inclusion of Xen will allow "Linux distros" to create, disseminate, and support Xen-based kernels, which will go a long way toward satisfying customers.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "New Virtual World Order"
    IST Results (06/13/05)

    Alterne is an Information Society Technologies (IST) project that is working to make virtual reality technology more powerful, more flexible, and less expensive. Alterne coordinator Marc Cavazza says the project team wanted to revisit the original concept of virtual reality, which was to simulate alternative worlds, not produce realistic simulations. The project team has created software that allows a CAVE Immersive projection screen to run on PC clusters, enabling the system to use standard PC software such as the graphics-creation game engine used in first-person shooter video game Unreal Tournament. The Alterne research team has developed alternative reality software that has been placed atop the game engine, permitting the creation of new physical laws. "Our alternative reality software consists of a series of modules: those dealing with causality, those dealing with physical laws, and we also have modules which can be used to describe artificial life," says Cavazza. The virtual reality system has been designed so that additional modules that describe new effects can be added on an as-needed basis, meaning that the system's only limitations are "the processing power of the cluster and the imagination of the artist or computer scientist," Cavazza says. Cognitive scientists have expressed interest in using the system to help determine how the perception of cause and effect in humans works.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "FP6 Project Aims to Increase EU Competitiveness in Software Systems Development"
    Cordis News Service (06/15/05)

    The European initiative to boost the continent's competitiveness in software system development has embarked on its first common project, Eclipse Model Driven Development integration (MDDi), an effort to reach a standard for software development. "Within two to three years, we should be able to provide a modeling tool in open source to provide an integrated tool chain to help system engineers build new softwares," says Serge Salicki of Thales Research and Technology in France, which is coordinating the broader MODELWARE (Modeling solution for software systems) initiative. Launched last August, MDDi is an ambitious two-year project that is in line with MODELWARE, the 11 million euro Sixth Framework Program funded by the European Commission to improve the productivity and the engineering methods and tools of software system development. The goal is to develop a solution that lowers the cost of software systems and boosts productivity by 25 percent, bring the solution to the commercial market, and have industry adopt the solution. "We, the partners, decided it was time to find a new solution to reduce the costs of products, especially in view of competition from the U.S. and Japan," Salicki says.
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  • "Sony Researchers Create 'Curious' Aibos"
    IDG News Service (06/14/05); Kallender, Paul

    Researchers at the Sony Computer Science Laboratory in Paris have announced the possible creation of synthetic curiosity in the form of the Aibo ERS-7 robot dog. Advances in computing power have led to systems that appear to have the ability to react based on pre-programmed, task-defined algorithms, but these devices can only act within a given set of parameters. The Sony researchers, however, have equipped Aibo with a "metabrain" algorithm that continually forces a learning algorithm to look for new and more challenging tasks and to abandon tasks that do not appear to lead anywhere, in essence creating virtual boredom, curiosity, and a desire to learn. In repeated experiments, various Aibos, after being placed in play pens with balls, learned progressively to swivel their legs and heads, wiggle, crawl, and crawl and hit and follow a ball placed in front of them despite not being programmed to do so. "What we have done is give Aibo an ability to have its learning defined by the quality of learning," explains researcher Pierre-Yves Oudeyer. "So it's learning to classify its sensory space and progressively structure that space." The researchers admit that giving Aibo the cognitive intelligence comparable of even a two-month-old human infant will be difficult.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Testing, Testing, One to Three, Testing"
    ITWorld.com (06/10/05); McGrath, Sean

    Software development in the past was typically driven by consumer demand and business requirements, but, fueled by best practices and codification, it is now heading toward a stage where testing for bugs or a lack there of has become the top priority. The testing process has been helped by dynamic programming languages such as Python, Jython, Smalltalk, and Scheme, that allow programmers to input instructions as software is running and change software after it has been deployed. XML allows programmers to capture the structure of data to be processed using a machine readable contract language called schema. Software can than be instructed at run time to check if the data meets expectations. This process of continuous testing allows for quicker software development and improved products. Though static programming languages such as Java and C++, in which instructions are compiled into an unchangeable machine readable form, still dominates the software development landscape, a shift is underway, precipitated by improved testing capabilities.
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  • "Computer Graphics Card Simulates Supernova Collapse"
    New Scientist (06/10/05); Knight, Will

    Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in California have developed a programming language called Scout that enables complex mathematical calculations to be run on a computer's graphics processing unit rather than its central processing unit (CPU). In a simulation of a core-collapse supernova, a graphics processor was able to perform calculations 12 times the speed of a single CPU. Graphics processors generate 3-D imagery by performing rapid calculations on visual data. California Institute of Technology computer simulation expert Peter Schroder explains that they are best suited for "anything that has high floating-point needs with low communication needs," or in other words, intensive calculations that can easily be split into individual portions. The reason for this is that graphics chips contain numerous individual processing acres that can perform calculations on their own, and today's graphics processors rival CPUs in terms of processing power thanks to the demands of video game consumers. LANL researcher Patrick McCormick is working on a Scout version that will work when linking several computers together. Scout programming could be used to simulate such phenomena as ocean currents and the formation of galaxies.
    Click Here to View Full Article
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  • "Touch Screens Jog Social Memories"
    BBC News (06/15/05)

    The Computer Interactive Reminiscence and Conversation Aid (Circa) system groups pieces of old movies, music, and photos that can be played on a touch screen. While reminiscence therapy is vital for individuals with dementia, they are frequently led and controlled by the caregiver. Instead, Circa enables individuals to take control by selecting clips that may initiate certain memory and conversation. The team that created and tested the system is currently looking at devising a similar one that individuals could use by themselves. They team says the research, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, could be built on to assist people with learning disabilities and head injuries in the future. The Circa system is based on hypermedia technology, connected content that works like Internet hyperlinks. It utilizes the carefully selected media as memory aids and prompts instead. Tested by 40 dementia patients and their caregivers, the system proved popular when music clips were accessed, and in certain cases, caregivers noted that the patients appeared like their former selves.
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  • "Demystifying Cyberinfrastructure: When the Computer Becomes Just Another Problem-Solving Tool"
    SDSUniverse (06/06/05); Padilla, Amanda

    San Diego State (SDSU) has partnered with the National Science Foundation (NSF) on a new initiative that aims to raise awareness of cyberinfrastructure among students and business professionals. Engaging People in Cyberinfrastructure (EPIC), a national alliance of K-12 teachers, tool builders, university researchers and leaders of diversity-focused organizations, looks to increase the number and diversity of people that use cyberinfrastructure for educational purposes or for research. The Education Center on Computational Science and Engineering (ECCSE) will lead SDSU in the EPIC collaboration. "With this project, it's likely we can have a positive impact on the high school curriculum," says ECCSE director Kris Stewart.
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  • "Data With a Human Touch"
    Economist Technology Quarterly (06/05) Vol. 375, No. 8430, P. 12

    In the ongoing effort to increase the portability and privacy of data, several companies are developing technologies that use the electric field in human skin to transmit information. Matsushita's "Touch Communication System" transmits data from an external device to one worn on a wristband through the touch of a fingertip. Despite its slow speed, the system may be a boon to the food packaging industry, where handlers are more effective when unencumbered by equipment. Developers of skin transmission technology claim that it is undetectable to eavesdroppers and is immune to radio interference, earning it points for both security and reliability. The technology is still quite new, and faces the same health concerns about radiation in close and sustained proximity to the skin as cell phone use has. As developers work to improve the speed of transmission, new areas of application arise with a technology NTT is developing called "RedTacton." RedTacton uses a small transmitter that can be carried in a pocket or purse and sends signals using the body's existing electric field. NTT says data rates of 10 Mbps are possible with the technology, which can be used to interface with inanimate objects such as furniture or a wall, leading to the possibility of receiving music from your desk or unlocking a door with your hand. BT futurologist Ian Pearson says body-based communication systems could help data transfer systems bridge the "last meter." Although Microsoft's Gordon Bell is skeptical such technology will prove popular, he says it will take at least five years for a standard to emerge.
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  • "Beyond Paper"
    Computerworld (06/13/05) P. 30; Mitchell, Robert L.

    Xerox Innovation Group President Herve Gallaire discusses what his division has been up to lately. Gallaire says Innovation Group plays an important role at Xerox Corp., since the technology that goes into the products are being done at his division. Gallaire explains that documents have less to do with paper and more to do with locating information and setting it up inside the document and linking the document to a workflow. Over the coming year, Gallaire says his division is preparing to launch a digital camera as a scanner so that images of documents can be taken when the user is mobile. Innovation Group has also devised CopyFinder, which employs a computer's multifunction device as a means to search its repository of documents. In addition, Innovation Group is working on an image classifier, a mathematical algorithm that attempts to locate points that can be utilized to categorize the image and tell it apart from something else. Gallaire believes that Xerox's color printers over the coming year will be less expensive, quicker, and possibly better quality, although not necessarily all at the same time. He notes that around 20 percent of Xerox's revenues now come from services. The company currently spends around $850 million on research and development.
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  • "Body Double"
    New Scientist (06/11/05) Vol. 186, No. 2503, P. 30; Siegfried, Tom

    Computer scientists Seth Goldstein and Todd Mowry are pursuing the next best thing to teleportation in using smart nanodust and an Internet connection to project your image around the world. Goldstein, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Mowry, director of Intel's research labs in Pittsburgh, believe self-organizing nano-computers that can stick to each other and have built-in wireless technology for communication will be able to shift their shape in an instant, from a three-dimensional facsimile of a human to a banana, using a stream of video images. The two computer experts call their new material "claytronics," and refer to the individual particles or claytronic atoms as "catoms." In the future, a lump of catoms in your house could take on the form of your doctor to take your pulse, while the real doctor sits in front of a camera in her office holding your claytronic wrist, or a claytronic cell phone could shift its shape to become another object. "You could have a little lump of this stuff that you carry around and it could be a million different things," explains Mowry. The first generation catoms are cylinders 4.4 centimeters in diameter and about 3.6 centimeters high, ringed with 24 electromagnets that push and pull them around each other, and have rudimentary computer processors and touch connectors to pull electricity from the catom's stand. Goldstein and Mowry believe catoms can be manufactured within the next five to 20 years. Still, they need to solve some software issues, such as figuring out how to write distributed programs to handle the movement of millions of individual units without any central control over their behavior.
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  • "Technology Trends Now Shaping the Future"
    Futurist (06/05) Vol. 39, No. 3, P. 3; Cetron, Marvin J.; Davies, Owen

    Forecasting International President Marvin Cetron and science writer Owen Davies list expected future technological trends and their implications. Breakthroughs expected in the next 10 years or so include computers' deeper penetration of the environment, greater automation, the commercial use of superconductors that work at economically viable temperatures, and widespread corporate use of wireless connections, data mining, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. The efficiencies these new technologies deliver should help keep costs down, although their effective use entails a higher level of education and training; increasing profitability while reducing costs via automation will be essential to business survival, while a more environmentally conscious business community will benefit from new technology as well. The steady shrinkage of the product design and marketing cycle requires rapid market capture, which implies that early adopters of state-of-the-art techniques will thrive. Expected trends stemming from corporate and government R&D funding in the United States and elsewhere, offshoring of Western corporate R&D operations to lower-wage countries, and Washington's dwindling sponsorship for basic research include a transfer of political and economic power to other nations, and rising demand for scientists, technicians, and engineers. The trucking industry will become more efficient with the advent of technologies such as GPS-based truck tracking, while reliance on oil will start to fall by 2008 with the emergence of more efficient vehicles; in addition, many deadly car accidents will be avoided by 2010 via smart-car technologies. Medical advances are expected to extend lifespans and reduce health care costs while concurrently raising the cost of Social Security, Medicare, and fixed-benefit pension plans.