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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 AutoChoice Advisor or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 806:  Monday, June 20, 2005

  • "Computer Jobs Losing Attraction"
    Philadelphia Inquirer (06/20/05) P. E3; Konrad, Rachel

    Gartner estimates that up to 15 percent of tech workers in the United States will drop out of the field by the close of the decade, not including those who retire or pass away. Most will leave because of higher salaries and better job satisfaction that can be found elsewhere, precipitated in large part by growing outsourcing to developing countries. Global demand for technology developers during the same span will drop by 30 percent as corporate technology departments focus more on the business side of things. "If you're only interested in deep coding and you want to remain in your cubicle all day, there are a shrinking number of jobs for you," says Gartner vice president of research Diane Morello. "Employers are starting to want versatilists--people who have deep experience with enterprise-wide applications and can parlay it into some larger cross-company projects out there." The U.S. software sector lost 16 percent of its jobs in the three years ended march 2004, according to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the U.S. IT sector laid off more than 7,000 workers in the first quarter of this year. As the euphoria of the dot-com era wears off, Matthew Moran, who wrote "Information Technology Career Builder's Toolkit: A Complete Guide to Building Your Information Technology Career in Any Economy," says "the current situation is getting back to the 70s and 80s, where IT workers were the basement cubicle geeks, and they weren't very well off."
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  • "The Invention House in the East"
    Financial Times (06/17/05) P. 9; Cookson, Clive

    While Asia continues to dominate the manufacturing of high-tech electronics, industry experts highlight that region's increasing involvement in the field of research and development. European and U.S. companies and universities still lead the world in terms of basic research and innovation, but many of the west's leading IT researchers hail from Asia, and although many of them will stay in the U.S., many are also increasingly going back to their home countries and bringing with them key management expertise as well as technical know-how. South Korea, especially, has been emerging as a preeminent source of innovation, thanks largely to substantial investment from Japan. Meanwhile, although it still ranks behind the United States and Japan in the design of high-end microprocessors, China has made significant strides in the development of supercomputers, and is recognized for its forward thinking as it has adopted the more consumer-driven approach many think will be the future of the industry. China's National Research Centre for Intelligent Computing Systems, for example, run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has developed the "Dawning" series of supercomputers; the newest model, Dawning 4000A, is ranked the world's 17th most powerful supercomputer. Still, Dawning senior hardware engineer Zhang Peihang, says that although in terms of peak performance China is close to the U.S. and Japan in supercomputer design, "if you are talking about core technology, we are a very long way behind." India has carved out its own market niche as companies around the world face a shortage of capable engineers. Wipro, the largest company in the world to offer research and development service for hire, contracts with companies around the globe, such as British-based ARM, as they seek to outsource for their research needs.

  • "Dear Mr. President: Computational Science 'Critical'"
    HPC Wire (06/17/05) Vol. 14, No. 24

    A new report, "Computational Science: Ensuring America's Competitiveness," from the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), says computational science is one of the key technology fields of this century and calls for changes in the way universities and the federal government's research and development agencies approach the study and management of computational science. The report says the federal government should remove barriers to information, establish interconnected federal information centers, and reassess budgetary allocations to keep current with the nation's most pressing IT needs. Computational science, cited as indispensable to national security, will also illuminate the path for critical fields of research such as nuclear fission, mapping atomic structures at the nanoscale level, and stemming the spread of disease around the globe. John H. Marburger III, science advisor to President Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, says, "Computational science - the use of advanced computing capabilities to understand and solve complex problems - is now critical to scientific leadership, economic competitiveness, and national security." Although some analysts maintain the report fails to recommend how education, at the undergraduate level, will produce the next generation of scientists, PITAC also advocates the creation of an expedited survey to ensure the ongoing improvement of the government's role in computational science.
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  • "Software Advance Helps Computers Act Logically"
    NIST Tech Beat (06/16/05)

    The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is expected to approve a new software language that would enable a computer to "think" about the meaning of a command instead of just responding to it. The process specification language ISO 18629, developed by National Institute of Standards and Technology researchers and colleagues around the world, makes use of artificial intelligence and language analysis to achieve its intuitive qualities. About 300 concepts, such as "duration" and "sequence," have been incorporated into the software structure. The software language has a basic understanding of context-specific language, and would know that "turn on the coolant, before milling" means the first action continues after milling begins. ISO 18629 represents commands in the context of a manufacturing plan, and can handle the exchange of process, validation, production scheduling, and control information for guiding manufacturing processes.
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  • "Tiny Linux Computer Has High Hopes for Robotics Apps"
    EE Times (06/17/05); Wolfe, Alexander

    University of Essex (U.K.) computer science professor Owen Holland has developed a fixed-wing aircraft and a helicopter by integrating a very small Linux single-board computer called Gumstix with a motor, propeller, and wireless LAN. The next step will be the creation of a collection of flying helicopters that can move autonomously in much the same way a flock of birds move and achieve Beowulf-like cluster computing using wireless technology. The project could herald a new wave of low-cost robotics that utilize the miniature Gumstix board developed by Palo Alto, Calif.-based Gumstix, which is working with 80 universities to facilitate implementation. George Mason University is one of those schools, having set up a Wiki where tips on building an "open" robot for about $800 are shared. The robot incorporates the board with a servo-controlled camera, a gripper capable of grasping small cans, an intrusion detector, a flat surface for pushing boxes, infrared rangefinders to assist with positioning, and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. To boost robotics research, Gumstix plans to unveil a $49 companion expansion board to make control of robotics peripherals simpler later this month.
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  • "Justices to Rule on Fate of File-Swapping"
    CNet (06/17/05); Borland, John

    The Supreme Court is expected to rule as early as today in what could be a landmark case in the battle over peer-to-peer file-sharing services that has pitted the entertainment industry against many in the technology industry, including file-swapping networks Grokster and StreamCast Networks. If the court decides against them, P2P companies could be held accountable for the file-swapping practices of their users on the grounds of copyright infringement. Companies in the technology industry are watching the case closely, concerned about the financial implications should the court overturn the 21-year-old decision that legitimized the sale of VCRs on the grounds that they offered "substantial noninfringing uses." Both sides make free market arguments in support of their case, as the entertainment industry maintains that file-sharing companies seek to sanction codify theft, while technology companies claim that government restrictions would stifle honest technological innovation. A decision is expected this month, on any of the remaining Mondays and Thursdays in June. Lower court decisions have already ruled in favor of the P2P networks, forcing studios and record companies to take their case to the Supreme Court, hoping the court will set a new direction for content protection. Copyright attorney Raymond van Dyke says, "It's been 21 years since the last case of this nature reached the Supreme Court. It shows the change in technology since then, and is an indication that some new direction may be needed."
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    For information on ACM's stand regarding MGM v. Grokster, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.

  • "Enter Avalanche: P2P Filesharing From Microsoft"
    Register (UK) (06/16/05); Lucy Sheriff

    By coding at the network level, researchers at Microsoft's computer science lab in Cambridge, England, have developed a peer-to-peer file-sharing system dubbed Avalanche that operates 20 percent to 30 percent faster than existing technology that codes at the server level. While operating under a similar construct as BitTorrent, the Avalanche approach avoids the slowness that comes when a large file is sent to many people by breaking the file down into manageable pieces. Throughout the download, the pieces are re-encoded and distributed so the entire file can be constructed and disseminated using these digestible, non-sequential pieces. Because the program does not insist on replicating the precise original file, traffic over the network is lower because the piecemeal approach generates multiple combinations that all create the same end product. Each piece is sent with an identifying tag, and peers can make use of the pieces as they arrive, generating new combinations or retransmitting them to other peers.
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  • "'Mactel' Desktops May Offer Triple-Threat OS"
    eWeek (06/15/05); Spooner, John

    It remains unclear if Apple Computer, poised to launch its line of Intel-powered Macintoshes next year, will allow users to run Windows directly on the machines. Apple's Brian Croll says, "Apple doesn't plan to sell or support Windows," though the proposed "Mactel" hardware will offer a dual-compatibility that will not prohibit users from working in Windows. Apple is expected to use Intel's Pentium M chip, which would permit Windows to run natively on the new machines. Microsoft is undecided if it will support the new Macs, citing apprehension over costs that could arise should Apple opt to customize its software drivers. Regardless of how Apple chooses to address the Windows issue, the Pentium M chip will have a virtualization tool that enables multiple types of software to run simultaneously, opening the door for a compromise where the Mac OS X could run in tandem with Windows or Linux. Apple developers have so far greeted the Intel announcement with mixed feelings, but the ability to run Windows natively or virtually could provide new uses and customers for the machines. In particular, government agencies, educational institutions, and small businesses may want Apple hardware running Windows. Croll says for now developers should focus on developing "universal binaries" that work with both PowerPC and Intel chips. Mercury Research analyst Dean McCarron says running Windows natively on the Mactel platform would require Apple to give outside developers deeper knowledge of the Macintosh's hardware, or Apple could make it legally impossible to do so, says Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly. O'Kelly says, "I think that would ultimately be...counterproductive, but weirder things have happened."
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  • "Taking Telepresence to a New Level"
    IST Results (06/16/05)

    Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) linked to simulators are being developed by nine partners from four European Union nations under the IST TELEDRIVE project for the education and entertainment industries. Two model ROVs, a submarine and wheeled vehicle, were developed alongside a showroom and control room, both of which sit atop a moving platform to simulate the motion of the vehicles. "Sensors and cameras on the vehicle relay not only sight and sound but also motion to a simulator showroom, allowing people to experience what the remote vehicle is experiencing with all their senses," explains project coordinator Mario Maza of thee University of Zaragoza in Spain. "What users see, hear, and feel is from a real vehicle in a real place transmitting its surroundings to a showroom in real time." Commercialization of the technology is not far off, with potential uses extending to industries that require work in hazardous environments such as mining.
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  • "Robot Runs Like Humans"
    Technology Research News (06/22/05); Smalley, Eric

    Scientists from the University of Michigan and the Communications and the Cybernetic Research Institute of Nantes in France have used a series of algorithms to map the mechanics of balance in a bipedal robot they have developed that can walk and run like a human. The robot, named "Rabbit," has no feet, ankles, or upper body, and moves as though on stilts. Running posed a special challenge, as researchers used a three-phase trajectory to maintain control of robot while it was out of contact with the ground. Michigan engineering and computer science professor Jessy Grizzle says the mathematical insight their research provides into dynamic balancing will have significant implications for rehabilitation and prosthetics. Rabbit represents a departure from earlier passive dynamic robots because of active joints, powered by motors that offer increased agility, albeit at the expense of speed. Grizzle says adoption of their dynamic balancing technology is still two to five years in the offing, while he expect to see medical applications in use in five to 10 years. Rabbit is part of a larger research project with goal of developing robots that can run, walk and run at different speeds, and walk while carrying a load. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and France's National Center for Scientific Research, was presented at the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control in December. Others working on the project include Ohio State University's Eric Westervelt, and the Cybernetics Research Institute's Christine Chevallereau.
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  • "Researcher Develops Computer Game for the Blind"
    IDG News Service (06/14/05); Martyn Williams

    As part of his PhD project, Japanese student Makoto Ohuchi of Tohoku Fukushi University has developed a computer game conducted entirely through sound. In order for the computer to track a player's movements, players don headphones and attach sensors to their arms, wrist, and to the mallet they use to swing at the imaginary bees buzzing around their head. The game, dubbed "BBBeat," uses a control box that players wear on their waist to transmit information between the sensors and a PC. The game can also be displayed on a monitor as it's being played so others can see the action. In a 10-day trial, players showed significant improvement, indicating that the game helps people grow more attuned to their sense of sound. The game is aimed principally for sale to rehabilitation centers and schools, and Ohuchi says it could be on the market by the end of the year. Ohuchi will publish his research in the proceedings of next month's International Conference on Auditory Display.
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  • "Futuristic Systems Showcased at Canadian Conference"
    IT World Canada (06/13/05); Lombardi, Rosie

    An "intelligent" e-health portal was among the latest advances in robotics and intelligent systems technologies on display at IS 2005, Canada's annual conference on Intelligent Systems. The DataGlider portal is able to provide physicians with the right information needed to treat a patient, without the physician having to initiate a search. The system makes use of metadata to search intelligently, portlets as windows of information, datalets as little entities of data, and a context server that processes specific information based on the specialty area of the physician. "Physicians say [it takes] 200 mouse clicks to get the same information they get from our system with no click at all, since they get it automatically," says DataGlider's Ehud Cohen. Cohen says the system solves the problem involving the lack of a unified health record. Another notable intelligent system at the recent two-day event in Quebec City uses a wireless pendant or wristband worn by an elderly person to alert an emergency call center when there is a fall or loss of consciousness. The system tracks and monitors an individual's locations and movements remotely.
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  • "Disney Animation Arm Adds Depth With 5 New Films"
    Reuters (06/16/05); Crabtree, Sharon

    Walt Disney Feature Animation has made its first public recruiting pitch to the animation industry since 2001 with studio executives introducing five films on which they are working. In addition, they showcased the animation tools they are employing as Disney makes the switch from traditional 2D pen-and-ink animation to 3D computer animated features. On Tuesday, a group of Disney executives made an earnest plea for the Los Angeles Professional Chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH--the region's leading computer graphic artists--to join Disney in a session at Hollywood's ArcLight cinema complex. The Disney group lauded the conglomerate's new computer animation building in Glendale, which is set aside for production of "Toy Story 3." Scheduled for a Nov. 4 release, "Chicken Little," Disney's initial 3D animated film, was previewed at the Tuesday gathering, with almost 10 minutes of scenes and set pieces shown.
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    For more information on SIGGRAPH, visit http://www.siggraph.org/.

  • "Anticipation Game"
    Computerworld (06/13/05) P. 21; Mitchell, Robert L.

    Advances in technology and an opportunity to boost the bottom-line considerably has prompted more businesses to adopt predictive analytics systems. There are more preconfigured models for specific industries and application these days, and the process of creating models is now more automated. LoanPerformance in San Francisco uses predictive analytics tools to helps its financial institution clients predict which customers will make late payments, which are lying when they say the check is in the mail, and which are likely to default. The company, which operates a cooperative database on loan payment information, has a model that predicts which accounts (90 days in arrears) will default, and the model has saved one of its clients $2 million over six months. The market for predictive analytics systems will jump about 40 percent from 2004 to $3 billion by 2008, according to IDC, and predictive analytics tools account for 25 percent of the business intelligence market. The potential for presenting results in real time is seen as one of the biggest benefits of the technology, and some observers expect to see the emergence of real-time modeling in the next decade. Although it is now easier to use predictive analytics tools, learning how to get the most out of the technology remains a big challenge.
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  • "Midcareer Crisis"
    InformationWeek (06/13/05) No. 1043, P. 71; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

    More and more veteran IT professionals are finding their careers in flux as they try to keep pace with an industry increasingly prone to outsourcing, downsizing, and fundamental shifts in focus. The threat of unemployment looms large for the 11 percent of the U.S.'s 3.4 million IT professionals who in the next 10 years will be of age for retirement, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Older workers are faced with the reality that they do not have as much time to find a new position with a comparable salary if they are laid off as their younger counterparts, and many are also scrambling to rebuild their diminished 401k accounts. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study covering the period 2001-2003 found that 57 percent of workers who had been in the same job for three years or more and had been laid off were now earning less in their new jobs; more than 33 percent took jobs paying 20 percent less or more than their previous work. Much of the anxiety in the IT industry involves shifting priorities, leading job-seekers to new and sometimes lengthy programs for "retraining" to increase the relevance of their skill sets. Beyond ongoing education, it is recommended that mid and late-career workers volunteer for cutting edge projects to remain at the forefront of their company's endeavors. While their age can serve as a hindrance when older IT professionals are forced to search for new jobs or fight to remain in the ones they have, companies are well-advised not to discount the wisdom and perspective these veterans bring to the table. Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger says, "More so than other industries, the tech field is a young field. There's no question that older IT professionals face additional obstacles, but they aren't insurmountable."
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  • "Gamers Turn Cities Into a Battleground"
    New Scientist (06/11/05) Vol. 186, No. 2503, P. 26; Graham-Rowe, Duncan

    Popular culture's reality craze has penetrated the virtual gaming world, as around the globe major urban centers are witnessing a surge in the popularity of virtual games where players compete for real territory with the aid of portable electronic devices. Using any handheld device with a GPS receiver, such as a cell phone or PDA, gamers competing against one another can follow their opponents' movements or search for treasure hidden in remote locations. Intel technology ethnographer Michele Chang says, "The limitations of physical space makes playing the game exciting." Advances in the technology and the pervasiveness of the cell phone have especially contributed to this trend of virtual, interactive gaming, as "geocaching" technology makes it possible for GPS coordinates to appear on one's phone set against a map of the city. Where turf in a city is divided among players, wandering into foreign territory may mean a fight executed over text messages. Some games are driven by gaps in the technology, or places where GPS devices are inaccurate, such as in the shadows of tall buildings, where the object of the game becomes using these areas to avoid detection. Given the interactive nature of these games that are being played in a real and public setting, safety concerns arise for both players and pedestrians, as the rules of the game can bring strangers together face to face. Game designers will need to find ways to protect the safety of users and the public and prevent "cyber-stalking."
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  • "Improving Software Quality"
    SD Times (06/01/05) No. 127, P. 34; Vereen, Lindsey

    The software industry is reevaluating its approach to fixing software errors in products, and is questioning whether developers make the best testers, whether quality can be tested into a system, and at what point in the development life cycle testers should be involved. Agile processes such as Extreme Programming (XP) move testing forward and give developers more responsibility, but there are some concerns whether the strategy can work in environments where there are more than 10 developers. Agile methods have influenced the move toward automation and the move away from simple scripting, and although such testing is done the same way every time, the quality of the developer is not an issue, as is the case with manual testing. The ability to perform a large number of tests through automation frees up companies to pursue more exploratory, or context-based testing, such as a schedule to complete the task in two days. Security testing is a challenge because security is not an application functionality issue and expertise comes from the operations side of the company, but experts favor a static strategy and looking at source code for possible vulnerabilities. Performance testing, which tends to start at a beta release and is outside the overall development process, still has not reached the level of functional testing. Companies are also starting to use open-source tools, which are competitive and cheaper, for testing.
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  • "The Power of Us"
    BusinessWeek (06/20/05) No. 3938, P. 74; Hof, Robert D.

    The collective knowledge, computing power, social contacts, and other resources of the online community are being tapped to facilitate collaboration and provide services that outperform those of commercial giants such as AT&T and Microsoft at substantially less cost. "We are seeing the emergence of an economy of the people, by the people, for the people," argues University of Michigan professor C.K. Prahalad. Traditional companies are starting to see the value of "peer power" as a tool that could enable them to create new products and services faster, cheaper, and with considerably less risk. For instance, the use of outside scientific networks has helped elevate Procter & Gamble's sales per R&D person by 40 percent, and now 35 percent of new products come from outside the company. Other examples in which companies are exploiting the collective intelligence of the online community include LEGO's recruitment of influential consumers to build word-of-mouth for new products, and the construction of Linden Lab's Second Life online virtual environment by players. The driving force behind online cooperation is an emerging class of technologies--Weblogs, wikis, file-sharing, social networking services, etc.--that can translate self-interest into socially beneficial services and economic value. But online cooperation has a dark side: Communities that encourage group thought could overlook or muzzle the contributions of individual members, while information-based industries must contend with the increased sharing of copyrighted content as well as the increased production and distribution of content that rivals their own. Corporations will need to redefine themselves to survive the online cooperation explosion, while members of the online community will have to assume more responsibility.
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