The NSDL Scout Report for Math, Engineering, & Technology -- Volume 2, Number 20

October 10, 2003

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




Topic In Depth


The CAPTCHA Project: Telling Humans and Computers Apart (Automatically) [pdf, tar, zip]

Many online services are being inundated by new users that are not people at all, but rather computer programs designed to sign up for thousands of free email accounts, cast votes in online polls, or perform other automated tasks. Since there needs to be some way to tell whether a user is a human or one of these programs, computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University initiated the CAPTCHA Project. "A CAPTCHA is a program that can generate and grade tests that most humans can pass [and] current computer programs can't pass." The project's homepage lists several areas in which CAPTCHAs are currently being used or have the potential to be used. A couple research papers are available, and visitors to the site can test drive three versions of CAPTCHAs to see how they work. [CL]

Integrated Energy and Communications System Architecture [pdf]

A consortium of the Electricity Innovation Institute is developing an "an open, standards-based systems architecture for the data communications and distributed computing infrastructure that will enable the integration of a wide variety of intelligent electric power system components." Citing the overloaded U.S. power grid and changing trends in electricity demand, the consortium is advocating new technologies such as a self-healing grid and advanced monitoring capabilities. This Web site outlines the scope of the project and the motivation for conducting the work. Additionally, a white paper is provided that discusses the finer technical and implementation details of the proposed changes. [CL]

BBC: Research and Development [pdf, zip, Microsoft PowerPoint]

The research and development centre of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) conducts original work in "media production and broadcasting technology." This Web site features an extensive array of publications that highlight some of the projects at the centre. The 2002-2003 Annual Review gives a general overview of various research topics including delivery, production, and spectrum planning. Several white papers that were presented at the 2003 International Broadcasting Convention are also available. One of these papers considers how augmented reality technologies could be integrated into broadcast programs, instead of being limited to scientific and educational purposes. Additionally, presentation slides and other research-related brochures are scattered throughout the site. [CL]

Read Texas Transportation Researcher [pdf]

The Texas Transportation Researcher is a quarterly publication of "the largest university-affiliated transportation research agency in the United States." Located at Texas A&M University, the institution focuses on automobile, rail, air, and all other modes of transportation in an effort to improve system safety and efficiency. The second issue of 2003 includes articles about intelligent software to control stoplight timing and engineering solutions to reduce the occurrence of red light running. Much of the publication's content is specific to Texas transportation issues, but most of these issues are common to many areas in the U.S and hence have wide-reaching implications. [CL]

CMPBS Publications Download Page [pdf, Microsoft PowerPoint, Macromedia Flash Reader]

The Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (CMPBS) "is a non-profit sustainable design and appropriate technology firm engaged in education, research, and demonstration activities." This page of the CMPBS Web site has a large collection of publications and presentations available for download. The documents have publication dates ranging from 1972 to present and topics ranging from building materials to city development methodologies. All of the publications are free, however the CMPBS does encourage donations. Several current projects in which the center is currently involved are summarized in other sections of the CMPBS Web site. [CL]

CIO: Cyber Behavior Research Center

This virtual research center has numerous resources that address the role human behavior plays in the development of the Internet and, conversely, how the Internet affects human behavior. Most of the site's content is in the form of online articles that deal with some aspect of this broad topic. The articles are generally from two magazines published by the company that operates the site, but occasionally an external source is cited as well. Several topic pages separate the site into distinct themes, such as Privacy and Ethics, Human-Web Interaction, and more. Many excellent insights into the "relationship between humanity and the Web" can be gleaned from the articles that are archived at this site. [CL]

SenSay: A Context-Aware Mobile Phone [pdf]

Mobile phone users must be conscious of their phone's settings wherever they go, and are required to adjust settings such as ring volume and vibration depending on the surrounding environment. This research paper introduces SenSay, an intelligent mobile phone system developed at Carnegie Mellon University that is designed to eliminate the constant attention required by current mobile phones. "It adapts to dynamically changing environmental and physiological states and also provides the remote caller information on the current context of the phone user." The paper outlines the capabilities of SenSay and provides details of the system architecture and implementation. [CL]

Welcome to Centre for Quantum Computer Technology Online [pdf, zip, postscript]

This is the homepage of "an Australian multi-university collaboration undertaking research on the fundamental physics and technology of building, at the atomic level, a solid state quantum computer in silicon together with other high potential implementations." Although attempts to develop a quantum computer have met with limited success, the centre has substantial resources invested in advancing toward practical uses of quantum computing technology. The site provides a very good introduction to the principles and implications of quantum computing, as well as details about various research projects underway at the Australian universities. Links to conference and journal papers produced by members of the centre, many from 2003, are also provided. [CL]


Education Centre

An electric utilities company located in Bermuda offers this interesting site about electricity and the infrastructure that delivers it to homes and businesses. Targeted primarily at children but suitable for anyone, the site delves into some common methods of generating electricity and gives a general overview of basic power plant operations. The transmission and distribution system and the purpose of transformers are described. Users can also learn about generating electricity from certain kinds of waste, a process that is commonly referred to as biomass. [CL]

Integrated Publishing: Electrical Engineering Training Series

This incredibly comprehensive site offers 24 free online modules that explain a wide variety of concepts within electrical engineering. Each module is presented in a style similar to that of a textbook, with detailed explanations of concepts, discussions of underlying theory, and practice problems with solutions. Topics include electromagnetics, digital computers and logic, fiber optics, and many more. Despite the depth of this site, there are some minor downsides that should be noted. First, printable versions of the modules can only be downloaded after paying a fee. The only other issue is a floating advertisement that, while tucked away in the bottom corner of the page, can be somewhat distracting. [CL]

Welcome to Probability by Surprise

Several applets that demonstrate concepts of probability using graphics and animations are presented on this Web site. Rather than getting into the details of specific theories, the applets avoid heavy number crunching and instead expose the user to example situations that generalize probabilistic concepts. This can be beneficial by letting the user see the effects of certain principles and infer how they will hold in other situations. One of the most basic applets is the Say Red Applet, which demonstrates how repeatedly choosing one of two equally likely outcomes will result in breaking even on the number of right and wrong guesses. Other applets, such as the one dealing with conditional probabilities, are more elaborate. The only criticism of this site is its lack of instructions for using the applets; however, most are quite self explanatory. [CL]

Welcome to the Tutorials Homepage

This site is composed of hundreds of information technology tutorials that span everything from hardware operation to common office software to software development tools. The tutorials that deal with programming languages and networking tend to be geared more toward specific functions and concepts rather than all-encompassing overviews of the entire subject, while those that address less technical software applications generally have an orientation to the fundamentals. A particularly helpful inclusion in many of the tutorials is a number of screenshots, which illustrate how to access properties and settings within certain applications. Several resources for different kinds of certification are available. [CL]

Trigonometry Table of Contents

High school or college students taking an introductory trigonometry course may find this site useful. Three modules comprise the site, and each provides an overview of basic concepts. Some of the most common trigonometric identities are explained and illustrated in example problems. Each module is accompanied by an interactive set of problems that test the user's understanding of the concepts. Many other online math activities are available on the Syvum Web site. Some popup advertisements are included in the site, but they do not significantly detract from its quality. [CL]

Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education: Investigation Station [pdf]

Located at the University of Michigan, the Center for Highly Interactive Computing in Education "develops learner-centered technology and curriculum that addresses major needs of schools today." The center's homepage features dedicated sections for students and teachers at the middle and high school levels. The main resource is the collection of software that visitors can download and use as instructional aids in the classroom or at home. One software title allows students to create and simulate qualitative models; many other titles are offered as beta releases that will eventually be developed into applications for handheld devices. Teachers can browse suggestions for science and technology curricula, but should note that much of these are not yet finished. [CL]

Linear Algebra Toolkit

This online toolkit consists of a series of modules "designed to help a linear algebra student learn and practice a basic linear algebra procedure, such as Gauss-Jordan reduction, calculating the determinant, or checking for linear independence." Each module is completely interactive and allows the user to input custom values and parameters. The modules are divided into four separate categories, namely determinants, vector spaces, linear transformations, and matrix representations of linear systems of equations. The site was developed by a mathematics and statistics professor at Old Dominion University. [CL]

The Site for People Learning Perl [pdf]

Anyone who is learning to program in Perl or who needs a refresher can find a number of valuable resources at this site. Possibly the most useful section is the Online Library, which has full text of four books on Perl as well as sample chapters of four additional books. The main page of the site has a link to an external introduction to the Perl language. Shorter technical articles that deal with specific applications of Perl are updated regularly, and users can sign up to be on a free mailing list for Perl tips. [CL]


Orbital Space Plane News [pdf, QuickTime]

On September 23, 2003, the design requirements review for NASA's next generation Orbital Space Plane (OSP) were completed. While the replacement for the space shuttle is still a long way off, this Web site provides news and information about the status of the program. The aforementioned system requirements can be viewed in outline form, and several fact sheets about the OSP and other related projects are available for download. Conceptual illustrations and animations show a number of possible configurations of the OSP. Several proposals and major decisions about the program are expected in November 2003 and into 2004, so this site will likely be updated on a regular basis. [CL]

American Academy of Environmental Engineers: New Technology

Each year, the American Academy of Environmental Engineers selects a small number of projects and programs in the U.S. to be recognized for their innovation, effectiveness, and benefit to society. Despite the large pool of potential recipients, "an independent judging panel of nationally-recognized experts" determines a single project to be awarded the grand prize in one of six different categories. This site presents the results of the 2003 competition and gives extended summaries of the purpose, significance, and outcomes of each project. The top prize was awarded to the Capital Hill Anthrax Response effort, which coordinated many technologies and resources to ensure effective decontamination and prevent spreading of the pathogen. Other projects include research in advanced mathematical and modeling techniques in epidemiologic studies, the Tri-City Water Pollution Control Plant, and the Tampa Bay Regional Surface Water Treatment Facility. [CL]

Southface Energy Institute: Southface Fact Sheets & Technical Bulletins [pdf]

The Southface Energy Institute provides this free collection of online fact sheets that illustrates many construction practices, building technologies, and current energy codes that were developed to maximize energy efficiency in homes and offices. Ranging from one to six pages in length, the fact sheets address topics such as Passive Solar Design, Advanced Wall Framing, Efficient Lighting Strategies, and many more. There is also a strong focus on ventilation, air conditioning, and mechanical systems, and eleven documents fall within this category. The fact sheets were developed jointly by the Southface Energy Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy. [CL]


The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which essentially governs much of the Internet's operation, is often the subject of controversy due primarily to conflicting opinions of countries and individuals about how the Internet should be run. Since the organization is such a hot topic for speculation and discussion, the ICANN Watch Web site provides a "news and comment forum for people interested in" ICANN's plans and initiatives. While access to ICANN-related stories is immediately available, users must complete a free registration to participate in the forums or submit other news stories. An excellent section of the site, called ICANN for Beginners, attempts to explain the true function and purpose of the organization. [CL]

Report Card for America's Infrastructure: 2003 Progress Report [Macromedia Flash Reader, pdf]

In September 2003, the American Society of Civil Engineers published an update to its 2001 evaluation of U.S. infrastructure. The progress report found no improvement in any of the twelve categories, and the overall grade remained at a D+. Of these categories, which included roads, bridges, transit, dams, and others, ASCE reported no progress in five and a decline in the remaining seven. The report estimates the total five-year investment needs to be $1.6 trillion. Visitors to this site can browse the results of the report online or download the seven-page document for offline viewing. State-specific information is also available. [CL]

Cornell University Library: Historical Math Monographs [pdf]

Cornell University hosts this impressive collection of Historical Math Monographs, made available for free public viewing online. The default option for reading the books is to view pages as images within a Web browser, but users can also choose to view text only; another option is to view pages as pdf files (but this may not be working properly). Many authors have works showcased in the collection, including Descartes, Neumann, and others. The documents are only presented in their original language, and hence there are German, French, and English works. [CL]

Welcome to [exe, StuffIt Expander, tar, zip]

"The Persistence of Vision Raytracer is a high-quality, totally free tool for creating stunning three-dimensional graphics." At this site, users can download the POV-Ray software for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux platforms. Source code is also available. Extensive documentation is provided online, but unfortunately there is not yet a downloadable version for offline viewing. Even people who are not interested in using the software will likely be interested in the online gallery of images selected to be in the hall of fame. [CL]

Chessbase News

This is the first in a series of articles that considers the ongoing struggle between humans and computers for chess dominance. The author is a statistician who has been analyzing this relationship for several years, and he argues that computers may never surpass humans. In addition to supporting his argument with empirical evidence, he provides a link to his Web site that includes much more data and historical trends. Another article on the Chessbase Web site describes the November 2003 championship between chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov and the X3D PC, and alludes to the completely virtual reality floating chessboard that will be used. Many related articles about chess computers are also featured on the site. [CL]

Topic In Depth

Precision Machining

1. eFunda: Machining Introduction
2. Waterjet
3. Waterjet Video Vault [Windows Media Player]
4. Cross Process Innovations
5. Caltech Micromachining Lab [pdf]
6. MMS Online: New Ideas in High Speed Machining
7. Enhanced Waterjets Slice Costs [pdf]
8. Electrochemical Machining Carves out Nanostructures
As technology advances and devices become smaller and/or more complex, the need for highly precise manufacturing processes is becoming increasingly important. A prime example of this is in the aerospace industry, which relies on components with exact dimensions to assemble and ensure proper operation of spacecraft, satellites, and even the International Space Station. A number of innovative techniques for precision machining have been developed to enable the construction of these and other high-tech contrivances.

Basic machining processes are introduced on a Web site that is devoted to engineering fundamentals (1). Descriptions and illustrations of drilling, turning, grinding, and other common processes are provided for people with little to no prior machining knowledge. A waterjet is a non-traditional machining technology that uses high pressure streams of water with abrasive additives rather than solid cutting instruments to slice through metal and other materials. An in-depth discussion of waterjet operation and applications is available from Southern Methodist University (2). Waterjets are often cited as being much more precise than traditional machining techniques. The Waterjet Video Vault (3) contains clips of waterjet machines in action. The video of the foam cutting procedure is especially interesting, as it shows how quick and accurate the machining process can be. An online guide to cross process machining, which incorporates elements from various conventional and unconventional techniques, is provided by the Mechanical Engineering Department at Columbia University (4). Some remarkable and innovative techniques that have surfaced over the past few years are outlined, including underwater laser machining and plasma-assisted machining. Entirely different and exotic machining techniques are required for creating microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and other extremely small devices. The Caltech Micromachining Laboratory (5) maintains an archive of research highlights and papers on its homepage, including a paper on a MEMS-driven flapping wing for a palm-sized aerial vehicle. An online article from Modern Machine Shop (6) outlines some new technologies and research in the area of high speed machining. A particularly interesting section of the article describes a system developed at the University of Florida that aims to enable micromachining to achieve rotational speeds of standard machining processes, specifically up to a half million rotations per minute. Cutting edge waterjet innovations are the subject of a February 2003 feature from a publication of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (7). Extremely high pressure nozzles are being developed to improve cutting speed, and enhanced software for controlling machine movements is also a focus of study. This news article (8) from June 20, 2003 describes an electrochemical machining process that is being used to fabricate complex nanostructures. The work, produced by German and U.S. researchers, has the potential to compete with current lithographic processes. [CL]

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From The NSDL Scout Report for Math, Engineering, & Technology, Copyright Internet Scout Project 1994-2003.

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Copyright Susan Calcari and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, 1994-2003. The Internet Scout Project (, located in the Computer Sciences Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides information about the Internet to the U.S. research and education community under a grant from the National Science Foundation, number NCR-9712163. The Government has certain rights in this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the entire Scout Report provided this paragraph, including the copyright notice, are preserved on all copies.

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