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 Thunderstone or ACM. To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.
Volume 7, Issue 834: Friday, August 26, 2005

  • "Copyright Program to Require Explorer"
    Washington Post (08/25/05) P. D5; Krim, Jonathan

    Starting Oct. 24, artists can go online to pre-register certain works for copyright protection with the U.S. Copyright Office, but are required to use Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. Technologists and other experts object to this requirement, claiming it gives preference to one browser and thus restricts the open use of the World Wide Web. "It's a replay of the bad old days when you built a Web site according to the behavior of an individual browser," says World Wide Web Consortium policy official Daniel Weitzner. World Wide Web creator and W3C director Timothy Berners-Lee points to the growing importance of standards as people employ a widening variety of handheld devices to go online, while Ari Schwartz with the Center for Democracy and Technology recommends the government guarantee that the most number of tools and devices can be used by implementing more rigorous scrutiny of technology contracts. Berners-Lee says the firm hired to manage the copyright registration system and database, Siebel Systems, could easily create a tool to ensure that other browsers are compatible, but Siebel's Stacy Schneider claims her company cannot guarantee such interoperability. She says Siebel follows W3C guidelines, but does not certify that its products are compliant with all W3C standards; rather, Siebel tests its products with the individual browsers its customers most frequently use. Copyright Office COO Julia Huff says the Oct. 24 deadline does not give Siebel enough time to modify its system to support other browsers. Copyright Office officials say Internet Explorer was selected because it is the dominant browser and presents the least potential problems for registrants.

  • "Who'll Mind the Mainframes?"
    Boston Globe (08/26/05); Bray, Hiawatha

    Mainframe computing is a critical component of global infrastructure, yet the field is underrepresented in academia. Mainframe computer users and developers are especially worried about a shortage of mainframe talent as veteran mainframers retire or pass away. ''If mainframes are going to be in the future, then younger people are going to have to learn it," said mainframe programmer Frederick Dombrowski at this week's SHARE conference. Media promotion of the mainframe's expected demise and replacement by PC cluster technology during the Internet explosion of the late 1990s is partly responsible for the removal of mainframe courses from university curriculums, even though such predictions did not come to pass. Large companies are still attracted to mainframes because the machines are designed to be highly reliable, and can process massive volumes of data. Mainframes can also run multiple workloads and multiple applications via resource-sharing, an ability known as virtualization. Forrester Research analyst Colin Rankine acknowledged a decline in the number of companies and organizations using mainframes, but noted that mainframe user groups are expanding. The lack of mainframe courses in the educational sector has spurred companies to offer or require mainframe training themselves.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    (Access to this site is free; however, first-time visitors must register.)

  • "Computer Character Lia Schools Girls in Tech"
    Investor's Business Daily (08/26/05) P. A4; Riley, Sheila

    Efforts are underway to counter young girls' disinterest in science and technology, which tends to take root around middle school. One such effort is Lia, a virtual Hispanic teenager designed to be a role model for girls as well as minorities. Leigh Hallisey with Boston University's Photonics Center, which developed Lia with the FableVision children's media company, says Lia is Hispanic to address a lack of positive media portrayals of Hispanic females and to appeal to the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, which is also the most underrepresented segment of the high-tech workforce. Lia will make her debut appearance on the National Academy of Science's iwaswondering.org Web site next month, where she will assume the persona of an agent for a secret organization that is trying to save the planet. Another initiative to get more girls interested in high tech is a student-directed UCLA outreach program that stresses the "coolness" of engineering to middle and high school students. Middle school age is when peer pressure and other factors cause girls to start viewing computing as a geeky boys' club, according to Marla Ozarowski of Girls in Technology. Although the number of women earning college degrees in science and engineering has risen every year for the past three decades, women currently account for only 20 percent of engineering students, 30 percent of computer science students, and 36 percent of math students in graduate programs, says Elena Silva with the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

  • "Guiding the Way Towards ICT Standardisation"
    IST Results (08/26/05)

    COPRAS is a three-year, IST-funded project developed by three European standards bodies in collaboration with the Open Group and the World Wide Web Consortium, whose goal is to develop guidelines that can help research project partners determine whether or not they should pursue ICT standardization--and if so, how. COPRAS is based on the results of C-ECOM, a pilot IST project coordinated by the European Committee for Standardization's Information Society Standardization System in which partners analyzed over 200 e-commerce projects for standards relevance and learned that some were engaged in the development of standardized concepts, yet lacked advice on standards issues. This led to the creation of a 20-item work program featuring advice to research consortia as well a proposals for standards bodies. A COPRAS report issued in July sketches out the advantages of working with standards bodies and delineates the collaborative processes, and urges project partners to assess whether or not they should engage in standardization at an early stage of the project's life cycle. Projects can gain higher global recognition and opportunities for collaboration, as well as the ability to cooperate with diverse experts, through the dissemination of results via standards organizations. Standardization's immediate benefits include developing new economic models and economies of scale while simultaneously boosting opportunities for product differentiation, competition, and services. Consumers, meanwhile, will have a large array of compatible products to choose from, with guarantees that they will interoperate with existing or future products and services.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Rumble in the Mojave"
    San Diego Union-Tribune (08/26/05); Bigelow, Bruce V.

    The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA) 2005 Grand Challenge is a race for a $2 million prize in which customized robot vehicles will traverse a 150-mile off-road course in the Mojave Desert without human intervention. The unmanned vehicles will follow a programmed route using sensors, computerized guidance systems, and global positioning system satellites, but the specific route will not be disclosed to the contest participants until two hours before the race begins. The Grand Challenge is part of a DARPA effort to automate military vehicles and reduce human casualties in hostile areas by encouraging technical innovation by the broader scientific community with a cash prize rather than direct funding. DARPA chief of staff Ron Kurjanowicz says the competition's primary focus is on the development of the vehicles' sensors and software. "The whole idea is to develop sensors that can actually see the road and stay on the road," notes Michael Vest, whose 25-member team is working on a robotic Humvee slated to compete in the Grand Challenge semifinal in late September. Vest's Humvee uses a dual-processor work station affixed to the shock absorbers for vision processing, while a separate, eight-processor computer keeps watch on various systems and controls the devices that drive the vehicle. Many teams participating in the Grand Challenge have academic affiliations, but most have looked to corporate sponsors as a source of financial backing and technical assistance. Kurjanowicz says the contest has prompted people to take risks they normally would avoid were they funded by the government, and these risks in turn ramp up the pace of technological improvement.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "IT Sourcing: 'Workforce Trends and Skills Development'"
    Stevens Institute of Technology (08/24/05); Berzinski, Patrick A.

    As the issue of IT sourcing promises to pose a central challenge to tomorrow's business leaders, the Stevens Institute of Technology has developed a four-course program for MS and MBA students that approaches the sourcing issue in the categories of governance, legal issues, relationship management, and organizational impact. Governance focuses on the preliminary sourcing decision, developing a strategy, and overseeing it day to day, while relationship management addresses strategies for bringing multiple groups together in support of the initiative and overcoming challenges posed by culture, distance, and other factors. Organizational impact focuses on the positive management of the changes that a sourcing effort can bring to a company, while the legal issues course explores the make-or-break compliance concerns associated with a sourcing effort. "All four courses are important elements that must work in concert to bring value to the organization from any sourcing effort," said Christine Bullen, the program's coordinator. She noted that the Society for Information Management (SIM) is funding an international research effort analyzing current and future needs of IT skills and capabilities in client and service provider organizations, and she will present her preliminary findings at the September SIMposium in Boston. Bullen's research attempts to discern whether the oft-lamented trend of a U.S. IT industry in decline due to outsourcing and falling student enrollment in math and science is real. Her study, conducted with two other researchers, seeks to identify IT's current and future needs and skill sets, how organizations recruit and retain IT talent, and how those organizations implement third-party sourcing efforts.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Hackers Attack Via Chinese Web Sites"
    Washington Post (08/25/05) P. A1; Graham, Bradley; Eggen, Dan

    Hackers have been focusing attacks on hundreds of unclassified U.S. government systems through Chinese Web sites for several years, reported anonymous government officials. Analysts are split on whether these intrusions are the work of a coordinated Chinese government initiative to breach U.S. networks and monitor government databanks, or other hackers using Chinese networks to mask the attacks' point of origin. "This is an ongoing, organized attempt to siphon off information from our unclassified systems," said one official, who noted that State, Energy, Defense, and Homeland Security Department networks are among those targeted. With roughly 5 million computers spread across the globe, the Pentagon has more computers than any other agency, making its network the most vulnerable target to both foreign and domestic hackers, the officials said. The Pentagon estimates that China is the No. 1 source of Defense Department hacks, though Lt. Col. Mike VanPutte of the U.S. Strategic Command's Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations said this only proves that China is the probes' "last hop" before they strike their targets. One anonymous government official downplayed the severity of the attacks, while another said an FBI investigation has yet to yield any definitive proof of who is orchestrating the intrusions. U.S. concerns about Chinese military initiatives in general are fueling worries about China-based cyberattacks, and the spate of attacks on unclassified systems has added urgency to the Pentagon's effort to acquire new detection software programs and better train computer security specialists, according to several officials.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "NASA Research Team Envisions Flock of Robot Aircraft Monitoring Wildfires"
    San Diego Union-Tribune (08/22/05); Bigelow, Bruce V.

    NASA researchers have tested a concept for monitoring wildfires through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) programmed to simulate the flocking of birds through innovative flight control software. Their vision involves dispatching two or three robotic aircraft to circle about 1,500 feet above a wildfire while sending video images to ground-based firefighters; the researchers say UAVs could also be sent to look for lightning strikes following the passage of a summer storm over a national forest. A flight test at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center involved two UAVs that flew without assistance from ground control, using software that enabled the aircraft to fly in close proximity to each other and to automatically evade computer-generated obstacles. The software was based on the work of computer scientist Craig Reynolds, who crafted programs to mimic the coordinated movements of schools of fish and flocks of birds. There are concerns that small UAVs monitoring wildfires at low altitudes could interfere with other aircraft, but Clark University professor Stanley Herwitz says he plans to devise a portable, ground-based radar system that could be used to help keep the robot planes away from manned aircraft. Meanwhile, a prototype satellite-based air-to-ground communications system is being used to ensure that the images captured by the UAVs are relayed to the appropriate firefighting officials. The NASA researchers believe the flocking UAV technology could also be used to probe toxic chemical spills, radiological mishaps, and other civil disasters.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "New Directions for Computational Science Education"
    HPC Wire (08/26/05) Vol. 14, No. 34; Murphy, Thomas; Gray, Paul; Peck, Charlie

    A group of professors describe undergraduate high-performance computing (HPC) education as "broken," because HPC skills and technologies are undervalued and underappreciated despite the fact that they essentially support the software, computing systems, and networks comprising the U.S. critical infrastructure. The professors call for an extensive retooling of HPC education that emphasizes visual examples, immediate feedback, relevance and authenticity, relevant parallel speed-up, universal resonance, reproducibility, accessibility, structure, progressive open-endedness, and an interdisciplinary mix of math, computer science, biology, physics, chemistry, and other sciences. The authors cite efforts to help educators apply the latest technologies and algorithmic advances to enhance their HPC education framework. Such initiatives include the National Computational Science Institute's Computational Science Education Reference Desk; and Carnegie Mellon University's Alice, a free 3D interactive modeling environment geared toward the introduction of object-oriented programming to middle school, high school, and community college students. The professors outline several approaches to make HPC resources available to students: One strategy is the utilization of University of Northern Iowa professor Paul Gray's Bootable Cluster CD, which was developed to rapidly turn a conventional Windows or Macintosh lab into a high-speed computational cluster. Contra Costa College's Thomas Murphy has developed a pair of clusters to support his HPC technician training program, while the mobile, eight-node Little-Fe PC cluster is designed to draw people to computational science through eye-catching presentation and visuals.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "New Center Looks to Advance Search Technology"
    Daily Californian (08/25/05); Bui, Tonia

    A new UC Berkeley center is exploring how people use search engines to improve search results. The facility involves the participation of 22 faculty members of various departments that include electrical engineering, business, computer science, and information management systems. Computer science professor John Canny says the effort will concentrate on the kind of information online users usually look for. "We want to find out what people really want, and whether the searches satisfy people's needs," he reports. Canny also says center officials are waiting for Google, Yahoo!, and other leading search engines to collaborate with center researchers. Fellow UC Berkeley professor Richard Fateman says the center is a project to deal with the growth of Internet searching, and that it will emphasize search technology-related issues such as fraud, privacy, personalized content, and multimedia search. He says the faculty is currently readying a research proposal to submit to prospective underwriters, noting that UC Berkeley faculty and graduate students would participate in all research at the center, which has yet to be officially announced.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Grants Aids Computer Scientist in Drive to Help Colour-Blind"
    EE Times UK (08/24/05); Holland, Colin

    A computer science researcher at the University of East Anglia is making progress on a prototype of software that would help color-blind individuals distinguish the various colors that they encounter while surfing the Internet. The PhD student is still in the process of developing the application, which would serve as a plug-in to the color-blind individual's computer and render colors based on the type of color blindness of the user. The researcher also have plans to provide designers with accessibility tools that would allow them to use color combinations that are user friendly for people who are color blind. Many Web sites use colors that are difficult for people who are color blind to distinguish, even though one in 12 males has the condition.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "IBM Works Toward Replaceable Biometrics"
    IDG News Service (08/17/05); Cowley, Stacy

    Although biometrics holds considerable promise for securing the systems of the future, the technology has been dogged by the vulnerability that could arise if a hacker were able to replicate an authentic user's physical feature used as an identifier. IBM is developing a software system that places a barrier between the user's biological information and the data to which it holds access by creating an altered model of the feature that could be replicated in the event of a security breach. Under IBM's system, the original and unique biological features would not be accessible to a hacker, though IBM's Charles Palmer cautions that the system must be irreversible, so that a hacker could not reconstruct the original features through the distortion. This breakthrough in what is known as cancelable biometrics came when IBM's research team began collaborating with cryptographers, and solved the principal algorithmic challenges two months ago. Once the central technical obstacles are out of the way, the remaining decisions hinge on the appropriate application and implementation of the technology. Although the potential damage a hacker could do if an original fingerprint was obtained is still severe, IBM's technology makes it considerably more difficult for a hacker to obtain that information. Since the software would protect the original feature, a hacker could only access the replica, which the legitimate user could then cancel and replace with a new profile.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "GPS-Based Applications Are Getting Around"
    Knight-Ridder Wire Services (08/22/05); Portillo, Ely

    The global positioning system (GPS), which was originally designed as a navigation aid with military use in mind, is breaking out into the civilian sector. Siemens' corporate technology unit is developing a GPS-based system for transmitting text messages to specific locations, where they are picked up by any GPS-enabled phone in the vicinity; such messages could take the form of advertisements for local businesses, or information about important landmarks that tourists may find helpful. Meanwhile, Columbia University computer science professor Steven Feiner is working on "augmented reality" goggles outfitted with a GPS receiver that tracks the user's position and displays data about the objects the user is viewing on the lenses. He believes the technology could show construction workers where underground utilities are located, display the utility systems or perhaps the residents of buildings from the outside, or help pedestrians navigate. On the horizon is a GPS-equipped ankle bracelet that can be used in conjunction with software to track the whereabouts of people under house arrest or other offenders, and sound an alarm when they travel outside of prescribed boundaries. Tech futurists expect the stable of GPS-based applications to expand as the technology becomes smaller, cheaper, and more accurate.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Project Aims to Create 3D Television by 2020"
    Reuters (08/19/05)

    Japan envisions the future television as not only providing high-definition images in 3D from all angles, but also offering the opportunity to touch and smell objects that are being viewed. Japanese officials want to bring "virtual reality" television to the commercial market by 2020, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications plans to ask for more than 1 billion yen to fund the project next year. "Can you imagine hovering over your TV to watch Japan versus Brazil in the finals of the World Cup as if you are really there?" asks Yoshiaki Takeuchi, director or research and development at the ministry. The viewer would be able to smell the stadium and may even celebrate with a goal scorer. Takeuchi expects that developing technology that would project the sensations of touch and smell upward from a screen parallel to the floor would be more of a challenge. Technology options for touch include ultrasound, electronic stimulation, and wind pressure.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Electoral Commission Eyes Open Source Voting"
    Computerworld Australia (08/16/05); Gedda, Rodney

    Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) CIO Ken Hunter said it is possible that its next-generation election application, known as the general enrollment election support information system (Genesis), will use open source software thanks to a migration away from incumbent legacy systems. "There is a push around to make the software open source and fundamentally we have no problem with that, but we need to consider the options," he cautioned, noting that most agencies have been employing open source software, primarily on fringe systems, for some time. Hunter says the AEC's core systems vary across most enterprises: The Roll Management System (RMANS) contains 80 million records, while the election management system (ELMS) is a compilation of election place management systems. The modernization of AEC's applications is projected to take as long as six years and save $1 million annually, and will allow remote voting and other advances to be implemented. Despite e-voting's potential to scale back manual labor, Hunter said the technology is perceived as insecure. As the AEC moves its core systems from Adabas Natural to J2EE over the next three years, the open source Ingres database will be maintained, according to Campbell Chittenden, the AEC's director of IT applications.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "AWOCADO: Using Metadata for Information Retrieval in Intranet-Based Document Management Systems"
    University of Southampton (ECS) (08/20/05); Andric, Mirjana; Hall, Wendy

    Mirjana Andric and Wendy Hall with the University of Southampton's Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia Group describe their prototype Adaptive WOrkflow Controller And Document Organizer (AWOCADO) system as "an enriched internal mailing system combined with a searchable 'source control'-like repository." AWOCADO is designed as a framework for metadata definition and management that facilitates document sharing and messaging between members of the user community. The prototype was developed to function as an intranet-based archive for documents and metadata that runs in a multi-user environment and enables flexible attribute definitions based on a defined document class; permits flexible searching through search attributes that can be adapted to document class context; serves as a simple workflow system; and provides a test bed for studying users' management and search of documents. The AWOCADO system's chief functions are document archive management, system administration, and provision of an interface allowing users to access and handle documents. Such manipulation includes document creation, viewing, check-in, check-out, downloading, and uploading. The architecture consists of manage files, a metadata store, a system setup module, and a user interaction module. Physical files reside on a file server (or servers), while metadata and document location references are stored in the database. Andric and Hall have found through an empirical user study that document seekers do not fully benefit from AWOCADO's flexible metadata management architecture, raising the need for broadening the focus of research into recommendation services and knowledge management systems.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "Pies in the Sky"
    New Scientist (08/20/05) Vol. 187, No. 2513, P. 30; Muir, Hazel

    NASA is funding a $75,000, six-month feasibility study into the concept of a food processor that can create tasty dishes to sustain astronauts on long space flights as well as enhance the terrestrial food industry by generating entirely new foods. The processor was envisioned by Icosystem chief scientist Eric Bonabeau, who was inspired by College of France food expert Herve This' work on a symbolic language to describe food. This and Bonabeau believe the language could be extended to fully describe a recipe and be fed into the processor, which would then invent new foods with little manual effort. The NASA project's initial objective will be the development of a mathematical "grammar" to describe a food in its entirety by incorporating elements such as step-by-step cooking instructions into This' textural descriptions. A virtual food processor will then be created by Bonabeau and his Icosystem colleague Daphna Buchsbaum using design software. The mathematical descriptions could be used by computers to symbolize familiar foodstuffs as well as create hundreds of new ones. Buchsbaum plans to design intelligent software capable of recognizing various food qualities, which would enable the processor to evolve several generations of new foods mathematically, and decide for itself which food is most suitable. The ingredients the processor would use must be long-lived yet able to produce recognizable foods, and Bonabeau expects to tackle this problem by identifying the minimum basic ingredients from which acceptable copies of many familiar foods can be made.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    (Access to the full article is available to paid subscribers only.)

  • "Smart Talk: Speech-Enabled Apps Deliver Bottom-Line Benefits"
    Computerworld (08/22/05) P. 25; Mitchell, Robert L.

    Speech-enabled applications have started to positively affect the bottom line, says Datamonitor analyst Daniel Hong. He estimates that cost savings facilitated through a speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) system can allow the product to pay for itself in one to two years. Speech-enabled apps have made the robotic voice recordings used in IVR systems obsolete and improved the friendliness of voice user interfaces (VUIs) by making them capable of understanding natural, conversational language and eliminating the need for callers to enter information with a touch-tone keypad. Meanwhile, Datamonitor says the advent of open platforms oriented around standards such as VoiceXML has fueled competition in speech-enabled apps and led to a 30 percent price drop over the past five years. Building speech-enabled apps has become simpler thanks to the adoption of pre-built modules and reusable components, and Hong says one-third of new IVR systems are speech-enabled, while half should be speech-enabled in four years' time. Analyst Steve Coplan says new applications rather than the replacement of touch-tone functionality is where the real value of speech technology resides, although he notes that speech-enabled apps still require a lot of fine-tuning by specialists before they are ready. Coplan adds that technology improvements have not removed the innate complexity of speech app development, and the continued development of middleware may prove to be the solution to this challenge. However, vendors have made little progress in this area thus far.
    Click Here to View Full Article

  • "The Dream of a Lifetime"
    Technology Review (08/05) Vol. 108, No. 8, P. 76; Joy, Bill

    John Markoff's new book, "What the Dormouse Said...," details the beginnings of personal computing by chronicling the work of such pioneers as Doug Engelbart, whose stories are largely unheard of, writes Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy. Engelbart envisioned the augmentation of the human intellect through powerful computers when he realized in 1960 that the ongoing shrinkage of the transistor would result in increasing computing capacity, five years before Gordon Moore publicized the same conclusion, which is today known as Moore's Law. With government funding, Engelbart developed a prototype "onNLine System" that demonstrated text editing, hypertext linking, and text/graphics and video/graphics blending at a presentation in 1968. Engelbart also outlined the concept of an experimental computer network that would become the precursor to the Internet. Modern computing, in essence, sprang from Engelbart's vision. Joy also cites the contributions of researchers outside of California: One example is the Michigan Terminal System operating system of 1968, whose features included time sharing, virtual memory support, secure file sharing, and other functions that were eventually incorporated into the PC. Joy expects computing capacity to soon reach a point where vastly enhanced mobile devices and interactive, immersive, and aware software can become a reality, but such dreams cannot be realized without funding for hard research. He laments that the current administration has ignored the President's Commission on Information Technology's recommendation that the government fund large, interdisciplinary computing projects in the hopes of developing prototypes that demonstrate how the next major computing and communication advances can be applied by next-generation Engelbart-type pioneers.
    Click Here to View Full Article