The NSDL Scout Report for Math, Engineering, & Technology -- Volume 2, Number 16

August 15, 2003

A Publication of the Internet Scout Project
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In This Issue:




Topic In Depth


Learning to Control a Smart Home Environment [pdf]
Smart homes have appeared in magazines and technology articles for several years now, but often too little attention is given to the systems that actually perform the intelligent operations. This research paper describes a novel control system for these futuristic homes. The MavHome is a product of the University of Texas at Arlington that "maximizes comfort and productivity of its inhabitants and minimizes operation cost." By monitoring people's locations and actions, MavHome learns and can even predict when someone will want their lights turned on, or when to activate television screens. Many different kinds of automation are integrated into the MavHome system, and the algorithms used in its processes are outlined. [CL]
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ISR: Open Source Software Development [pdf]
This research group from the University of California at Irvine conducts "empirically-based studies of the processes, practices, and communities that develop open source software." The group's homepage includes many recent publications, including one that outlines several potential advantages of implementing major academic, commercial, or governmental software systems with open source practices as opposed to traditional software engineering methods. Another interesting paper from May 2003 presents a unique study of the ways social and cultural backgrounds can influence the development of open source projects. [CL]
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AMD: The Technology Terminology and Complexity Study [pdf],,7832_9237,00.html
A survey conducted by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), which concluded in July 2003, attempted to link consumers' knowledge of technology and associated jargon with their buying habits, and the results of the survey are presented at this Web site. The study finds that "too many potential technology buyers don't understand the language of the technology industry, and are delaying their purchases of technologies because products and terminology are too complex." In addition to outlining the surprising results, the study reveals the methods and classes of participants that were used in the survey. Access to a detailed summary is immediately available to visitors, while a brief, free registration is required to access the complete study. [CL]
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Journal of Evolution and Technology [pdf]
The Journal of Evolution and Technology (JET) is "a peer-reviewed electronic journal publishing contemporary research into future science and philosophy." It deals with somewhat edgy topics that are often avoided by mainstream journals. For example, a common theme is the relationship between the human brain and computers, questioning their respective computational capacity and evolution. Despite the unusual focus of the journal, its articles are contributed by reputable sources such as university faculty or members of research institutions. New issues are published as articles are accepted, and hence there are no set release dates. [CL]
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Compile-Time Dynamic Voltage Scaling Settings: Opportunities and Limits [pdf]
The Parapet research group at Princeton University focuses on power-related issues in computer hardware and software design. Citing the importance of power efficiency both in mobile applications as well as in the general goal of shrinking technology sizes on chips, the authors of this paper discuss the role of dynamic voltage scaling (DVS) in managing power during runtime. This interesting technique enables control of "the power consumption by varying a processor's supply voltage...and clock frequency." The paper identifies specific factors that contribute to the effectiveness of DVS and considers the extent to which it can save power. [CL]
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Caltrans Journal [pdf]
The California Transportation Journal keeps readers up to date on important news and developments concerning one of the country's most massive systems of highways and roads. It is published roughly four times a year and contains information about automobile and railroad transportation within the state. Some articles provide details and photographs of major construction projects, while others describe new technologies being used to increase traffic safety and efficiency. The July-September 2003 issue features, among other things, an interesting article on engineering techniques that are used to prevent or repair water damage to roads. Many other interesting resources can be found on the Caltrans homepage. [CL]
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Telecrisis: How Regulation Stifles High-Speed Internet Access [pdf]
The Pacific Research Institute (PRI) is an organization that evaluates a wide array of public policies and investigates possible reforms to improve the quality of life in free-market society. This book, published by PRI in January 2003, attempts "to communicate to a wide audience the issues involved in rolling out high-speed Internet services." It contains four main chapters contributed by different authors, addressing topics such as telecommunications policy, radio frequency spectrum allocations for specific technologies, and deregulation. The 100+ page book is targeted at a wide audience and is suitable for anyone wishing to learn about the obstacles hindering broadband deployment. [CL]
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WUSCEEL [pdf, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, Macromedia Shockwave Player]
The Washington University Structural Control and Earthquake Engineering Laboratory (WUSCEEL) hosts an active research group, whose work is documented on this site. The Research section has brief descriptions of several different techniques for controlling building motion during earthquakes, experiments performed in the lab, and seismic issues related to bridges. Accompanying each research summary are several journal papers and technical reports that provide much more in-depth discussions of work done at the lab. A few short video clips are also presented, demonstrating principles of base isolation and damper control. [CL]
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DemoGNG (Version 1.5) [tar, zip, postscript]
A couple excellent educational resources for self-organizing networks and competitive learning are given on this site. With roots in artificial intelligence and neural networks, the algorithms described here have a variety of uses, including pattern classification. The main feature of the site is a Java applet that shows the learning process of eight different algorithms. As the applet runs, the nodes of the network model conform to the specified shape after many iterations. Since there are many functions incorporated into the applet, the authors provide extensive documentation and background material that explain the parameters of each algorithm. These resources effectively show the strengths and weaknesses of the different networks. [CL]
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Archimedes Laboratory
Proving that geometry can be more fun than a barrel of monkeys, Archimedes Laboratory is "an 'intuitive' puzzle site with fewer formulas and more visuals, which may encourage students learning this science or just constitute a platform for reflection." Probably the most strictly educational section of the site is Math to Discover, which contains discussions of the history of numbers and mathematical patterns, to name a few. Also of interest are the Puzzles to Make and Puzzles to Solve sections. Visitors can follow online instructions to create geometrical curiosities or browse a small selection of impossible object images. [CL]
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Homepage of e-Calculus [pdf]
A mathematics professor from the University of Akron has made available this online tutorial covering many of the topics of a typical first semester of calculus. Beginning with a general overview of continuous functions and fundamental operations, the tutorial progresses to limits, differentiation, and integration. Since the material is so extensive, it is divided into several documents that can be easily navigated using the hyperlinks scattered throughout the text. One shortcoming of the tutorial is its lack of illustrative figures and diagrams; however, equations are clearly shown with adequate explanation. Also provided via a link on the site is the Algebra Review in Ten Lessons. [CL]
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Anyone who wants to try their hand at creating a Web site should visit this outstanding online resource. The illustrative guide takes the reader step-by-step through the process of "registering a domain name," writing HTML code, incorporating multimedia features, and, of course, making the site usable and attractive. For the sections of the site that describe software-specific functions, screenshots are included to prevent confusion. The author of, who is an experienced Web designer, has also posted her list of Top Ten Tips for making a good site. Several links to other useful online resources are provided. [CL]
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Animations to Assist Learning Some Key Computer Science Topics [Macromedia Flash Reader]
This series of eight interactive modules was developed at Virginia Polytechnic Institute to give undergraduate computer science students a unique online resource for introductory course material. "Each module consists of a set of lessons and review questions with embedded interactive components." Topics include non-decimal number systems and arithmetic, operating systems, programming languages, and software engineering, to name a few. There is even a module that breaks down the fundamental hardware components of a computer's architecture. The animations are of high quality and demonstrate various concepts quite well. [CL]
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National Instruments: Online Tutorials [RealPlayer]
National Instruments hosts this collection of free technical tutorials covering a variety of subjects. While some of the tutorials are specific to the company's products, most can be applied to general theory and practices related to engineering. People who are learning about signal processing will find the section on frequency domain measurements to be very insightful. It explains topics such as the power spectrum and the fast Fourier transform. Another tutorial describes image processing methods. A free online registration is required to access the tutorials. [CL]
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Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms [pdf, postscript, djvu]
Spanning over 600 pages, this online textbook about information theory was released in its final version on June 26, 2003. The book's author, a physics professor at the University of Cambridge, wrote the book with the intention of unifying theoretical concepts with practical statistical communications. Furthermore, he addresses "Bayesian data modeling, Monte Carlo methods," and much more to provide a thorough overview of advanced data compression and error-correcting codes. The book's material spans many disciplines, having applications in engineering, computer science, mathematics, and the other sciences. [CL]
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TechTV: Help & How To
This handy site from TechTV boasts several articles that show readers how to make the most out of their computer use. Written at a very non-technical level, the articles are suitable for anyone who wants to learn about protecting their computer from intrusions, staying anonymous when surfing the Net, or many other important practices. Several of the tips are accompanied by links to download free software, which accomplishes the tasks described in the article. Whether it is an educational essay on improving computer performance or suggestions for maximizing online security, this site is very useful and is updated often. [CL]
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Columbia Accident Investigation Board [RealOne Player, Windows Media Player, pdf, Microsoft Excel]
This is the homepage of the investigation board assigned with determining the cause(s) of the tragic accident that resulted in the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the loss of all seven crew members. Visitors can stay informed about the board's progress by reading news releases and viewing video of press conferences. As the investigation has proceeded, the board has issued a number of recommendations to NASA, and these are included online. The final version of the Working Scenario report, released on July 8, 2003, documents "known facts, events, timelines, and historical information of particular interest to the final flight of Columbia." A large collection of photos is also provided, depicting the shuttle debris layout in the Kennedy Space Center and the process of materials testing, among other things. [CL]
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Hydrogen, Fuel Cells & Infrastructure Technologies Program [pdf, Macromedia Flash Reader]
This informative Web site of the US Department of Energy has a tremendous amount of content related to the development of fuel cells. The main sections of the site provide a general introduction to the future hydrogen economy, including explanations of the importance of fuel cells, their potential for raising energy efficiency and reducing emissions, and current application areas. Safety issues are also addressed online and in a downloadable document titled Guidance for Safety Aspects of Proposed Hydrogen Projects, which was revised in July 2003. The Web site posts new government reports and is regularly updated with relevant news and events. [CL]
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Serving as a connection between technology developers and their potential customers, is a hub for remarkable new innovations and breakthroughs waiting to be discovered. Although there is a fee for membership, the free weekly features are likely the main attraction for most curious visitors. Tech of the Week highlights recently invented technologies from sources around the world. Each article provides a general introduction to the item and its significance. Some examples of past articles are telephone-based Internet traffic reduction, natural language search engine, and image compression. The TechNeed Challenge is a series of articles that describes technologies that have not yet been developed but have many promising applications. is a good way to stay abreast of some less-publicized technologies. [CL]
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Google Labs
This Web site is the testing ground for new concepts unearthed by the creative minds that developed the Google Web search engine. "Google staffers with wild and crazy ideas post their prototypes on Google Labs and solicit feedback on how the technology could be used or improved." One of the current projects listed on the site is a distributed computing effort that allows users to contribute their computer's idle time to help solve a scientific research problem. Others add to the Web searching experience by providing a unique display of the results or enabling keyboard shortcuts. People who have experimented with the prototypes are encouraged to email their comments and suggestions to help with the development effort. Some of the prototypes require users to download and install software. [CL]
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Program Plan for the Development of an Antimissile Device for Commercial Aircraft [pdf]
The US Department of Homeland Security released this notable report on May 22, 2003. In response to the danger of commercial aircraft being the target of a missile attack, the report outlines the planned development of an advanced antimissile system. The favored technology is identified as "an on-board jammer (directed infrared countermeasure, or DIRCM)." Although specifics of the DIRCM are not included, the report provides an interesting insight into something the government considers to be a potentially lifesaving installment on public jets. Previous work on the technology is mentioned, and a plan for future development and deployment is outlined. [CL]
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X Prize [pdf, Microsoft PowerPoint, Windows Media Player, Macromedia Flash Reader]
The X Prize Foundation is a non-profit organization that is sponsoring a competition between private international teams to build a low cost, efficient craft for space tourism. The $10 million prize will be awarded to the first team who "privately builds and launches a spaceship able to carry 3 people to 100 kilometersreturns safely to earth and repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks." The X Prize Web site has news about test flights and vehicle designs for many of the registered participants. Also provided are educational materials for children to adults, reference papers, images, and video clips. [CL]
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Practical Technology...For Practical People
An established technology journalist offers this free Web site of technology news, editorials, and reviews. Mostly focused on computer-related issues, the articles provide information about "operating systems, networking, middleware, the desktop, security and backoffice infrastructure." New articles are posted roughly once a week. A particularly interesting tidbit concerned the recently developed self-destructing DVD and pointed out its effect, or lack thereof, on copy protection efforts. Highly stable network architectures are the topic of another article, which attempt to eliminate data loss. Links to other noteworthy news stories from external sources are also provided. [CL]
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Spam by Numbers [pdf]
Facts about the disturbing trend of spam exceeding valid email have appeared regularly in a variety of news sources, but this document goes one step further to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. Published by the ePrivacy Group in June 2003, it shows that spam is not simply a nuisance; it is a surprisingly expensive problem that can reduce Internet bandwidth and adversely affect people's productivity. After perusing the five pages of remarkable percentages, dollar amounts, and other figures, readers can find much more information about spam at the ePrivacy Group's homepage. [CL]
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Topic In Depth

Machine Vision
1. Machine Vision & Image Analysis Tutorial
2. Machine Vision Online [pdf]
3. MIT AI Lab: Vision Interfaces [pdf, Windows Media Player]
4. Advanced Collision Avoidance Field Test Launched in Michigan
5. 3D Computer Vision Group [pdf]
6. Stereo Vision and Rover Navigation Software for Planetary Exploration [pdf]
7. Giving Robots the Gift of Sight,1282,58846,00.html
8. Machine Vision News
Machine vision systems incorporate sensors and imaging technology that lets computers "see" with similar or superior vision than humans. While they are often associated with robotics applications, they have many other uses as well. Computer assisted surgery, vehicle warning systems, and automated surveillance are just three examples of the areas that incorporate machine vision technologies.
An overview of a generic image-based machine vision system is provided on this Web site (1). The tutorial describes the main components of such a system, how its accuracy is measured, and what scientific and industrial applications benefit from machine vision. A more technical perspective of machine vision technology is given in an online publication of the Automated Imaging Association (2). Monthly feature articles discuss breaking issues related to machine vision, and several technical papers can be downloaded, which are sorted into categories such as three dimensional imaging and nanotechnology. Researchers from the MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (3) are investigating how to enable a computer to interpret visual and audio signals from its human user. By using machine perception systems to track the user's gaze, for example, the computer could ascertain the focus of the user's attention, thereby facilitating interaction between the human and the computer. The project's homepage includes numerous research papers, as well as video demonstrations of some of its systems. Machine vision is also finding its way into vehicles. A March 2003 news article (4) highlights a field test in Michigan of a collision avoidance system that uses, among other things, machine vision to warn drivers that they are approaching a slower or stopped object too quickly. The 3D Computer Vision Group at Carnegie Mellon University (5) is involved in several projects, including three dimensional object recognition and humanoid robot vision. Many of the group's recent publications are available for download. NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, the second of which was launched in July 2003, have vision systems that will let them safely navigate rough terrain. These systems are described in this conference paper (6), including specifics of the stereo vision algorithm and insights into future missions. A new implementation of machine vision comes from a former researcher from Cambridge University. His shape recognition system, which is detailed in this news article (7), is reportedly much more related to human visual processes than existing techniques. For additional developments related to this evolving technology, Machine Vision News (8) has information about worldwide research and new applications of machine vision systems. [CL]
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