Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the March 25, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Software Research Pioneers New Concept
Bournemouth University (United Kingdom) (03/23/09)

Software researchers Cornelius Ncube from Bournemouth University and Patricia Oberndorf from the Software Engineering Institute are touting a new method for developing software systems. The approach is similar to the way participants in the TV shows "Junkyard Wars" and "Scrapheap Challenge" work with only scrap material, the appropriate tools for integrating the pieces, and their own imagination. In a research paper, Ncube and Oberndorf call for the use of currently available software and effective engineering in pursuing innovative solutions. "It proposes a radical approach to software systems development in which the major emphasis is on smart engineering, creativity, innovation, and the most imaginative ways of gluing together seemingly unrelated software pieces to provide interoperable and maintainable systems that meet users' needs," Ncube says.

Mozilla, Graphics Group Seek to Build 3D Web
CNet (03/24/09) Shankland, Stephen

Khronos wants to develop a public version of a royalty-free specification for accelerated three-dimensional (3D) graphics on the Web within 12 months. The consortium that oversees the OpenGL graphics interface technology has established the Accelerated 3D on Web working group for the task in response to a proposal from Mozilla, the developer of the Firefox browser. The initiative comes as the speed of JavaScript, the programming language used to write many Web-based applications, continues to improve. Mozilla wants to use a mechanism to let JavaScript tap into the OpenGL standard to produce the accelerated graphics. "Accelerated 3D graphics with the super-fast, next-generation JavaScript engines from nearly every Web browser vendor means that we're going to be able to start to see more and more advanced applications written using open Web technologies," said Mozilla evangelist Chris Blizzard in a blog post. Mozilla would release the technology first as an extension to its browser sometime after introducing Firefox 3.5. Improving the quality of 3D graphics on the Web would enhance online games and other Web applications.

Google Rolls Out Semantic Search Capabilities
IDG News Service (03/24/09) Perez, Juan Carlos

Google has added semantic technology to its Web search engine, which will enable it to identify associations and concepts related to a query, improving the list of related search terms Google displays next to the results. "For example, if you search for 'principles of physics,' our algorithms understand that 'angular momentum,' 'special relativity,' 'big bang,' and 'quantum mechanic' are related terms that could help you find what you need," write Google's Ori Allon and Ken Wilder in a company blog. Google has been criticized for using what is considered an aging approach to solving search queries by analyzing keywords and not truly understanding their meaning. However, Google executives have acknowledged that semantic search technology will be an important component of search engines in the future. "Right now, Google is really good with keywords and that's a limitation we think the search engine should be able to overcome with time," says Google's Marissa Mayer. "People should be able to ask questions and we should understand their meaning, or they should be able to talk about things at a conceptual level." Mayer says semantic search technology will not replace traditional keyword searches, but instead will be part of an algorithmic mix. "I think the best algorithm for search is a mix of both brute-force computation and sheer comprehensiveness and also the qualitative human component," she says.

Scholarship Program Targets Need for Cybersecurity Skills
Government Computer News (03/23/09) Walker, Richard W.

The Scholarship for Service (SFS) program, jointly run by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is becoming a widely recognized, indispensable program, particularly at a time when government demand for highly skilled information technology security professionals is rapidly climbing. The SANS Institute's Alan Paller says the U.S. government is desperate for cybersecurity professionals. "We probably have only 1,000 of those people in the whole country, and we need between 10,000 and 30,000 in the next couple of years," Paller says. The SFS program was designed to increase and strengthen the federal government's core of cybersecurity professionals by underwriting two-year stipends for full-time students who specialize in information assurance at approved four-year colleges and universities in exchange for agreeing to serve at a federal agency in a cybersecurity position for at least two years. The program provides scholarships for tuition, room and board, and books. Since its creation in 2001, SFS has sent almost 900 students into federal cybersecurity positions. "We're looking for technologists who can build better mousetraps," says Mischel Kwon, director of DHS's U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team. "We're looking for analysts who can get to the real crux of the threat, and we're looking for writers who can articulate our geeking and beeping so that management, Congress, and the public can understand what we're talking about."

Anita Borg Institute Encourages Students to Apply for Scholarships to Attend the 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
Business Wire (03/23/09)

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) expects to draw more scholarship applications for the 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference than the more than 700 received last year. Undergraduate and graduate students, junior faculty, and members of non-governmental organizations and nonprofits have until May 27 to apply. Full scholarships cover conference registration, lodging for three nights, and travel expense reimbursement, but partial scholarships also are available. "We consider academic achievement, potential in the field, and need," says ABI's Deanna Kosaraju. "But we also look for thoughtful, creative, well-written essays that stand out." ABI awarded 254 scholarships for last year's event, which attracted a record 1,447 participants from 23 countries. The theme of the 9th annual conference is "Creating Technology for Social Good," and it will feature plenary sessions, more than 87 panels, poster sessions, and workshops. ACM will co-present the conference, which takes place Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 in Tucson, Ariz.

Robot Body Language Gives Humans a Clue
New Scientist (03/22/09) Barras, Colin

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers are developing robots that display nonverbal information through eye movements when interacting with humans. Humans constantly broadcast nonverbal communications, and interpret signals from others, without realizing it on a conscious level, says CMU's Bilge Mutlu. However, robots do not broadcast such signals, which make it more difficult for humans to communicate with them. Mutlu's team explored strategies to improve robot body language using a guessing game played by a human and a robot. The robot is programmed to choose an object out of about a dozen on a table, without actually moving to pick the object. The human needs to determine which object the robot selected using a series of yes and no questions. The 26 participants took an average of 5.5 questions to correctly determine which object the robot picked when the robot sat motionless and answered verbally. In a second trial, the robot answered in the same way, but also swiveled its eyes to glance at its chosen object in the brief pause before answering two of the first three questions, which enabled the participants to identify the object in an average of five questions. When the robot was the lifelike Geminoid, which has realistic rubbery skin, about three-quarters of participants said they did not notice the short glances, but the lower scores indicate that they subconsciously detected the signals, Mutlu says.

New Material Could Lead to Faster Chips
MIT News (03/19/09) Chandler, David

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have built an experimental graphene-based microchip that could lead to cell phones and other communications systems that transmit data significantly faster. The MIT researchers' graphene chip is known as a frequency multiplier. It is capable of receiving electrical signals on a certain frequency and producing an output signal that is a multiple of that frequency. Frequency multipliers are commonly used in radio communications and other applications, but existing systems need multiple components, produce "noisy" signals that need filtering, and consume large amounts of power. MIT's graphene-based chip has only a single transistor and produces a highly energy-efficient, clean output that does not need filtering. By running several graphene frequency multipliers in a series, it should be possible to reach frequencies significantly higher than is currently possible. A key element of making graphene widely usable will be perfecting the methods used to produce sufficient quantities of the material. "Graphene will play a key role in future electronics," says MIT professor Tomas Palacios. "We just need to identify the right devices to take full advantage of its outstanding properties. Frequency multipliers could be one of these devices."

Latest 3D TV Technology Offers Interactive Control (03/19/09) Zyga, Lisa

Researchers at the University of Tokyo and Hitachi recently demonstrated TransCAIP, a three-dimensional (3D) TV system that captures a live scene in real time and reproduces it on an autostereoscopic display. In addition to providing 3D images, TransCAIP offers interactive control, enabling users to adjust viewing parameters such as cropping a scene and reproducing an appropriate amount of depth. The system captures a live scene using 64 video cameras connected via Ethernet cables to a single PC, which converts input from all the video cameras into images for the display. Each camera has a built-in HTTP server, which sends motion JPEG sequences to the PC. "The greatest advantage of our system is to provide interactive control of the viewing parameters," says University of Tokyo Ph.D. student Yuichi Taguchi. "The interactive control is essential for reproducing a dynamic 3D scene with desirable conditions, which depend on the contents of the scene, the viewer's preference, and the display specifications." The PC converts the 64 images into an integral photography image made from 60 views, which correspond to the viewing directions of the display. The process, called field conversion, is implemented in real time and requires only a few hundred milliseconds per frame. Like other autostereoscopic displays, TransCAIP does not require viewers to wear special glasses. Instead, the display reproduces various viewpoint images, which allows viewers to see a different image in each eye.

Electronic Portfolios: a Path to the Future of Learning
Chronicle of Higher Education (03/18/09) Bass, Randy; Eynon, Bret

A strategy that involves something akin to electronic student portfolios (ePortfolios) is vital to a shift in educational focus from teaching to learning, write Georgetown University's Randy Bass and LaGuardia Community College's Bret Eynon. If ePortfolios are to maintain an academy's relevance into the future, they must possess at least four basic features. EPortfolios can combine student learning in a wider scope of media, literacies, and viable intellectual work. Bass and Eynon cite ePortfolio projects at various schools that enable students to compile work and reflections on their learning via text, imagery, and multimedia artifacts. Another essential ingredient of ePortfolios is their ability to engage students with their learning. The authors note that LaGuardia Community College's integrative ePortfolio project has made students more likely "to demonstrate high degrees of engagement in critical thinking, writing, and collaborative learning" as well as pass their classes with higher grades than students in non-ePortfolio sections of the same classes. A third feature is ePortfolios' ability to enable students to connect diverse learning components of their learning, including the formal and informal curriculum. The final key element of ePortfolios is their ability to provide colleges with a meaningful mechanism for accessing and structuring the proof of student learning. The Campus Computing Project estimates that the percentage of U.S. colleges and universities using ePortfolios has climbed more than 300 percent in the past five years. Bass and Eynon say that "it is possible that 10 years from now we will no longer even be discussing these collections as if they were a special practice; they might be a pervasive and transparent part of the learning environment."

IEEE Highlights Technologies That Will Change the World
EE Times (03/16/09) Mokhoff, Nicolas

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) recently assembled a panel of technology experts to discuss various emerging research technologies, including multimode biometrics, intelligent computing, and wireless power. WiTricity Corp. chief technology officer Katie Hall says her company is developing resonant magnetic coupling technology that can wirelessly charge laptops, cell phones, electric vehicles, and lighting devices. Researchers from the IBM Almaden Research Center discussed their work on the SyNAPSE project, which is engineering computers that simulate the brain's abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction, and cognition. Backed by a $4.9 million Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant, the researchers are reverse engineering the computational function of the brain using advancements in supercomputing and nanotechnology. A University of South Florida research team led by professor Rangachar Kasturi is working on a framework for evaluating algorithms that detect and track text, faces, and vehicles in images and video, which could be used to build video analytic software. Intel's Ray Want described his research on dynamic composable computing, which could advance technology beyond the current limitations of mobile devices and allow for the wireless sharing of computing resources.

Shifting Sound to light May Lead to Better Computer Chips
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (03/16/09) Stark, Anne M.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers have reversed the process that converts electrical signals into sounds, which could lead to a new tool that enhances how computer chips, light-emitting diodes, and transistors are built. Piezo-electric speakers, often used in cell phones, operate at low frequencies that humans can hear. The LLNL researchers reversed the process and used a very-high frequency sound wave, about 100 million times higher than what humans can hear, to generate light. "This process allows us to very accurately 'see' the highest frequency sound waves by translating them into light," says lead researcher Michael Armstrong. Very-high frequency sound waves have wavelengths close to the atomic-length scale, and detecting these waves is difficult, but they are useful for probing materials on very small length scales. The new process also does not require any external source to detect the acoustic waves. "Usually scientists use an external laser beam that bounces off the acoustic wave--much like radar speed detectors--to observe high frequency sound," Armstrong says. "An advantage of our technique is that it doesn't require an external laser beam--the acoustic wave itself emits light that we detect."

Improving the Security of Internet Exchanges
National Center for Scientific Research (France) (03/13/09) Le Poulennec, Claire

Mohamad Badra, a researcher at France's National Center for Scientific Research, has developed two new extensions to the TLS protocol, the main protocol used to secure exchanges over the Internet. The first extension involves the key exchange method. Keys are either symmetric or asymmetric. With a symmetric key, the same key is used for both encryption and decryption, and the key must be kept secret and sent over a secure channel before the data exchange. With asymmetric keys, a public key is used to encrypt the data, and the recipient uses a private key to decrypt the data. Badra has developed an extension that uses a new method for exchanging keys based on the association between an asymmetric algorithm and a symmetric key. A new key is generated at the start of each session and authenticated by the symmetric key, which is more reliable and more secure than current methods and simplifies the deployment of TLS in network equipment. The second extension involves the data-hashing function, which transforms the message into a message digest. Changing the message requires a change in the digest, and it is difficult to reconstruct the original message based on the digest. Badra's extension uses new hash functions to provide better protection against collision attacks, which occur when two different messages could have identical message digests. Both standards were recently published by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Wireless Charging: Adaptor Die
Economist Technology Quarterly (03/09) Vol. 390, No. 8621, P. 20

A movement is underway to eliminate power cables from consumer mobile devices by using wireless recharging. However, while the technology may be sound, a profitable business model remains elusive. Developments that may help convince manufacturers to incorporate wireless charging modules into their devices include the organization of the Wireless Power Consortium, a group committed to establishing a common inductive wireless charging standard. Consortium chairman Menno Treffers admits that greater collaboration is needed to guarantee that different devices can share the same charging gear. Notable products include Palm's Pre smart phone, which features an optional charging pad that charges the handset wirelessly via electromagnetic induction. Also under development are other domestic applications such as the wireless operation of household appliances by incorporating charging pads into kitchen counters. Last November, Texas Instruments announced a partnership with Fulton Innovations "to accelerate development of efficient wireless power solutions" by investigating the manufacture of integrated circuits that support Fulton's technology in order to shrink the cost and size of the components needed for wireless charging as well as ease their rapid incorporation into products. Among alternative technologies being developed and marketed is a pad designed to charge mobile devices that interface with it using four conductive metal studs. Power beamed to devices via lasers is another method being explored, although it faces regulatory challenges.

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