The NSDL Scout Report for Math, Engineering, & Technology -- Volume 2, Number 19

September 26, 2003

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




Topic In Depth


Breaking the Chains: Unlicensed Spectrum as a Last-Mile Broadband Solution [pdf]

The recent explosion of wireless Internet technologies was brought about by tapping unlicensed portions of the frequency spectrum. This paper from The New America Foundation, published in June 2003, focuses on the success of Wi-Fi and argues for better utilization of the spectrum to enable more widespread access to broadband Internet. The potential exists for wireless hot spots that span square kilometers, according to the authors. A number of short case studies are included as examples of areas that are effectively using technologies to establish wireless connectivity. The New America Foundation homepage has many other publications and resources available. [CL]

NIME 2003 Online Proceedings [pdf]

The second international conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) was held in May 2003. Full proceedings from the event are provided online at this site and are free for general viewing. The collection of technical reports and research papers comprises a diverse array of topics, such as computer music, high-tech instrument prototypes, and even robotic musicians. One paper outlines a novel digital disk jockey interface, while another proposes a system for controlling audio effects with gesture recognition and head tracking technologies. Of the nearly 50 papers submitted to the conference, most come from various international universities and institutions. [CL]

The Pittsburg Pebbles PDA Project [pdf, postscript, asx, mpg]

The Pebbles Project at Carnegie Mellon University is working to create new technologies and applications for personal digital assistants (PDAs). Many avenues of investigation are being explored, including networking and synchronizing multiple PDAs, using handheld devices in classrooms and in conjunction with a fixed computer, and integrating assistant technologies into handheld devices for people with disabilities. The project's homepage has many conference papers and technical reports available for download, as well as streaming video of an hour and a half talk on Mobile Devices for Control presented by the project leader. Software developed by members of the Pebbles project is also provided. [CL]

WISE: Journal of Engineering and Public Policy [pdf]

"The Journal of Engineering and Public Policy is an electronic compendium of research papers prepared by engineering students participating in the annual Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE)." Papers are currently available for the first six years of the program, and those for 2003 will be available later in the fall. A continuing theme studied by many of the WISE students is homeland security, ranging from critical infrastructure protection to computer and Internet security. Other topics include communications, transportation, engineering policy, and more. [CL]

Internet Domain Survey

The Internet Domain Survey is published on a biannual basis and has been conducted since 1987. Sponsored by the Internet Software Consortium, the survey "attempts to discover every host on the Internet by doing a complete search of the Domain Name System." In doing so, it serves as a key indicator of the growth of the Internet. This Web site provides results from each iteration of the survey. Additionally, the general methodology used to conduct the domain name search is explained. The number of hosts representing each domain (e.g. .com, .net, etc.) is also included. [CL]

IBM Research: Research Spotlight [pdf]

The Research Spotlight is a service of IBM's Computer Science Division, offering an insider's perspective into some of the most cutting-edge work being conducted in the company's laboratories. Each month, a particular field of study is recognized in the Spotlight. Past focuses have included e-Commerce, artificial intelligence, multimedia, and many more. Upon exploring the Research Spotlight, users will find in-depth discussions of several relevant projects, links to additional information, and occasionally a few technical reports. Most months have multiple areas of research featured. [CL]

Investigation of Progressive Collapse Phenomena in a Multi Story Building [pdf]

The Protective Technology Center (PTC) at Pennsylvania State University conducts research and development "aimed at protection against blast, shock, and impact effects." This paper, presented in May 2003 at the International Symposium of Interaction of Munitions Effects with Structures, was written by two PTC researchers to document their work on an algorithm for simulating the progressive collapse of a building. The algorithm incorporates certain parameters that are often left out of similar simulations. The authors describe how these parameters are modeled in their algorithm and show how it could be used to achieve better simulation results. Many other PTC publications, including others presented at the symposium, can be downloaded from the center's homepage. [CL]

State Complexities for Metamorphic Robots [pdf]

An active area of research within robotics is the development of reconfigurable, or metamorphic, robots. These robots are composed of many small robotic cells that can disconnect and reconnect to form specialized physical organizations for different tasks. This paper proposes "a mathematical framework for defining and analyzing general metamorphic robots." The basis for the work is to create a model that defines an efficient way for the robot to reconfigure itself, based upon the state in which it starts and its desired final state. An algorithm to accomplish this task is presented, and its benefits and limitations are discussed. [CL]


Web Style Guide, 2nd Edition

The Web Style Guide, 2nd Edition, which is the online version of a book with the same name, demonstrates the step-by-step process involved in designing a Web site. Visitors are assumed to be familiar with whatever Web publishing tool they are using. The guide gives few technical details but instead focuses on the usability, layout, and attractiveness of a Web site, with the goal being to make it as popular with the intended audience as possible. Considerations such as graphics, typography, and multimedia enhancements are discussed. Web site structure, fine-tuned features on individual pages, and almost everything in between is addressed by the guide, making it a handy resource for people who place great importance on the effectiveness of their online creations. [CL]


MatheMUSEments is a column written by Ivars Peterson for each issue of Muse Magazine. Each article describes a mathematical activity or curiosity that is particularly appropriate for middle school students, but can be fun for just about anyone. An especially interesting article states that the common practice of flipping a coin could give biased results, even if a fair coin is used. Peterson then goes on to explain how this surprising insight can be verified. MatheMUSEments are usually published once a month. [CL]

NASA Future Computing and Communications Technologies [Windows Media Player, RealOne Player, Microsoft PowerPoint]

A series of NASA Webcasts on Future Computing and Communications Technologies, broadcast live in April and May 2003, are now archived and viewable at this site. Each Webcast was approximately an hour in length and featured notable scientists and technology experts from NASA projects and laboratories. Originally intended for high school juniors and seniors, the presentations addressed issues such as spaceborne communications, nanotechnology, artificially evolving systems, and more. These Webcasts are an excellent resource to learn about NASA research from a high level perspective. [CL]

Chaos Theory and Fractals

This short introduction to chaos theory is appropriate for high school students or anyone with an interest in the subject. The foundation and many of the basic principles of chaos are covered, including determinism, instability, complexity, and fractals. A fair amount of historical background is also provided. The authors do a good job of backing up their descriptions with real-world examples, and several illustrations and animations that demonstrate various concepts are scattered throughout the text. Some famous fractals shown on the site are the Mandelbrot and Julia sets, Sierpinski's Triangle, and the Koch Snowflake. [CL]

Ericsson Education Online: Free Courses and eLearning [Windows Media Player]

Ericsson Education Online provides these free materials on a variety of topics within the field of telecommunications. The Web Based Learning courses are mostly specific to Ericsson systems, but the technical articles and streaming videos cover universal technologies. These features provide an introductory overview of hot topics such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Bluetooth, and 3rd generation (3G) wireless services. The twelve-minute video discusses Internet protocol and underlying network operation. While the material is probably too general for those in the telecommunications industry, it serves as a valuable reference for the general public. [CL]

Statistics at Square One

Statistics at Square One "was one of the best selling statistical text books in the UK," and it has been revised for this online edition. It was written from a medical statistics perspective, and hence many of the examples involve health related topics. Despite this recurring focus, no prior medical knowledge is required and the book can be used by anyone to learn the fundamentals of statistics. Basic concepts such as confidence intervals, correlation, and standard deviation are clearly defined and illustrated in the text. Each chapter concludes with a number of sample exercises; solutions to these problems are provided, but unfortunately there is little explanation accompanying the solutions. In most cases, however, the chapter's contents provide all the information necessary to complete the problems. [CL]

University Consortium of Instructional Shake Tables: Enhancing Education in Earthquake Engineering [pdf]

With over 50 member institutions worldwide, the University Consortium of Instructional Shake Tables (UCIST) is a major effort to "foster collaborative teaching and learning" within the earthquake engineering discipline. This paper, which was presented at the International Meeting on Civil Engineering Education in September 2003, discusses how UCIST has contributed to undergraduate curricula and integrated structural dynamics into previously lacking civil engineering programs. Additionally, it outlines some of the educational tools and experiments that have been developed through UCIST, for use in both college and K-12 classrooms. [CL]

The Most Common Errors in Undergraduate Mathematics

Both students and teachers of undergraduate mathematics courses are likely to find some useful insights on this Web site. As the old saying goes, it is best to hear things straight from the horse's mouth; indeed, The Most Common Errors in Undergraduate Mathematics was compiled by a math professor at Vanderbilt University. It contains many observations about unwarranted generalizations, algebra mistakes, ambiguous notation, and communication errors that are frequently committed by students and teachers. Despite being funny at times, all of the errors cited have probably been experienced by anyone who has enrolled in or taught such courses. The author welcomes contributions. [CL]


Technology Review: TR100/2003

This special report from the October 2003 issue of Technology Review highlights "100 innovators [age] 35 or younger whose technologies are poised to make a dramatic impact on our world." Each of the 100 honorees falls into one of four categories: computing, biotechnology and medicine, Internet, and nanotechnology. A brief bio of each innovator is provided along with the basis for his or her selection. A separate section of the report mentions a few people who were recognized in past years and tells about their current activities and accomplishments. Note that a brief registration is required to view the report. [CL]

New Challenges, New Tools for Defense Decisionmaking [pdf]

This Web site provides full text of the 2003 book New Challenges, New Tools for Defense Decisionmaking. The book examines the transformation in U.S. foreign and defense policy spurred by the end of the Cold War and, more recently, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Although many legislative matters are discussed, significant attention is given to current and future technologies and information management. For example, one chapter of the book considers the Soldier of the 21st Century and what advances in special operations could be seen in the future. The virtual battlefield and information warfare are discussed in another chapter. Unfortunately the book cannot be downloaded in a single file. [CL]

Great Structures of the World

Great Structures of the World is unlike similarly themed Web sites in that it does not focus on a single type of structure. Skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, and even more exotic human creations are included in this information and picture archive. Users can browse through structures in Asia, Canada, Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere. Features include the world's largest indoor ski area, the world's largest offshore gas platform, and the world's largest radio telescope array. Several facts and links to additional information accompany each structure. The only major downside to this site is that it does not have more extensive information about the selected structures included internally. [CL]

Engineering Resources: The Engineers Forum on Sustainability [pdf]

Cosponsored by three prominent engineering societies, the Engineers Forum on Sustainability was founded to "help promote the principles and practice of sustainability." The forum's newsletter can be viewed at this site. It contains information on worldwide activities and developments in the field of sustainability, including educational initiatives, environmental protection programs, international conferences, and more. The July 2003 issue features a special guest article written by the President of the World Federation of Engineering Societies, who touches on issues of sustainable development, technology transfer, and the role of engineers in developing countries. The newsletter is released roughly three times a year. [CL]

ExpressCard [pdf]

Anyone who has ever owned a laptop has probably used a removable PC card at some point. The organization that created the original standard, the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, has developed a new standard in these input/output cards. Called the ExpressCard, it will be smaller and faster than its predecessors. This Web site has a great deal of information on the ExpressCard, including physical dimensions, performance characteristics, and other specifications. Since this technology was only recently announced and is not expected to be integrated into commercial products until the second half of 2004, many updates and news releases are likely to be added to this site on a regular basis.

ACM Queue: Tomorrow's Computing Today

ACM Queue is a magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, and its online version is available at this site. The publication strives to intelligently assess "the challenges expected to arise in the near term as emerging capabilities or technologies gain widespread acceptance." While it is targeted at computing professionals, many of its features are of interest to a general audience since they provide key insights into future trends and developments within the industry. The first issue of ACM Queue was published in March 2003, and since then each issue has focused on a central theme. These themes have ranged from data storage to embedded systems to open source software. Interviews with notable industry professionals are also occasionally featured. [CL]

Space and Tech: Welcome to Andrews Technical Services

Space and Tech is a Web site that provides news and market analyses related to the aerospace industry, but perhaps its most useful resource is its database of launch vehicles, rocket engines, satellite constellations, and more. The database highlights specific systems, both existing and planned, and offers information about their operational status, milestones, and technical function. About thirty expendable and ten reusable launch vehicles are profiled. Other ventures, such as the unsuccessful Iridium satellite telecommunications system, are also featured. The database gives a fairly comprehensive view of current space operations. [CL]

Communication Multimedia Unit Inside Car [pdf, rtf, Microsoft Word, QuickTime]

Communicar is a project of the Information Society Technology program whose goal is to "design, develop and test an easy-to-use on-vehicle multimedia Human-Machine Interface." Visitors to the Communicar Web site can download documentation about progress made, journal papers, and magazine articles. A virtual prototype can also be explored online, but this feature unfortunately lacks the depth of other sections of the site. Substantial information related to technologies used in the Communicar project and similar industry developments can be found at the Multimedia Innovation Telematics Observatory (MITO) homepage, which is hyperlinked several times from the Communicar Web site. A brief, free registration is required to access the main features of the site. [CL]

Topic In Depth

Mathematical Optimization

1. NEOS Guide [postscript, zip, pdf, mpg, wrl, Microsoft PowerPoint]
2. A New IFORS Initiative
3. Retrospective on Optimization [pdf]
4. Using GIS, Genetic Algorithms, and Visualization in Highway Development [pdf]
5. Genetic Algorithms and Optimum Robot Design
6. Architectural Layout Design Optimization [pdf]
7. Mathematical Programming Glossary [pdf]
8. Optimization Online [pdf, postscript]

Some of the most fundamental problems in engineering, science, and mathematics would take the most powerful computer in the world several lifetimes to find an optimal solution. However, near-optimal solutions to many of these problems have been discovered thanks to various methods of mathematical optimization. This Topic in Depth looks at some optimization techniques and the areas to which they have been applied.

Argonne National Laboratory hosts an online guide (1) to some of the most well known optimization problems and algorithms. People who are new to the subject can find a wealth of introductory material in the Optimization Tree section, and several applications are illustrated with interactive demonstrations in the Case Studies section. Optimization has roots in operations research, and this tutorial (2) covers many topics within OR. A fun applet requires the user to place as many queens on a chess board as possible without any two being in direct line-of-sight, and an accompanying discussion shows how linear programming can be used to solve this problem; this is one of many resources contained within the tutorial. Two chemical engineering professors at Carnegie Mellon University are the authors of Retrospective on Optimization (3), a fairly comprehensive paper chronicling the history of optimization problems and the development of solution methods. The 51-page document is divided into two main parts; the first outlines some of the most significant advances in the field, and the second looks ahead toward key areas of research needed to evolve optimization further. Highway planning and development is the focus of this paper (4), which proposes using, among other things, genetic algorithms to optimize highway alignment. The authors state that this technique could be used to avoid delays and added costs due to changing plans later in the construction process. Another use of genetic algorithms in optimization is highlighted in this document from the German Aerospace Center (5). The document describes how a novel method for robot design, which involves formulating mathematical representations of robotic constraints and kinematics. These figures can then be used as parameters in a genetic algorithm that would optimize component placement while maintaining the desired functionality. A joint effort between architecture and mechanical engineering researchers at the University of Michigan (6) applied geometrical and topological optimization techniques to building floorplan layout. In the course of their research, they developed an optimization tool that is briefly described and can be downloaded from a Web site given in the paper. The Mathematical Programming Glossary (7) contains short discussions of hundreds of terms related to optimization theory. Each entry includes a clear definition and hyperlinks to other terms, and some of the entries are accompanied by a more in-depth supplement. One of the best sources for current research papers and reports is Optimization Online (8). This repository receives numerous submissions each month, and papers can be browsed by data added or category. [CL]

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