The NSDL Scout Report for Math, Engineering, & Technology -- Volume 2, Number 23

November 21, 2003

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




Topic In Depth


SC2003 Igniting Innovation [pdf]

The fifteenth annual Supercomputing Conference (SC2003) is taking place between November 15th and 21st. This page of the conference's website contains about 200 research papers and technical reports that are being presented at the event. Written by experts from academia, corporate research laboratories, and government institutions, the papers offer a glimpse into current and future innovations. Supercomputer applications, networking optimizations, and parallel architectures are just a sampling of the many themes represented in the documents. Other areas of the conference homepage describe awards, industry efforts and challenges, and related events. [CL]

The Aware Home [pdf]

The Aware Home Research Initiative (AHRI) is a project at the Georgia Institute of Technology that seeks to "create a home environment that is aware of its occupants' whereabouts and activities." One of the main focuses of AHRI is the design of specialized technologies to assist older adults or help keep them in closer contact with relatives. This site describes the motivation for the initiative and outlines the goals of intelligent, context-aware systems. A large collection of research papers is presented, highlighting AHRI insights into privacy issues, design challenges, and software engineering for such technology. [CL]

NanoStructures Laboratory: Annual Report 2003 [pdf]

The NanoStructures Laboratory (NSL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology "develops techniques for fabricating surface structures with feature sizes in the range from nanometers to micrometers, and uses these structures in a variety of research projects." This annual report describes many of the research projects undertaken at the lab in 2003. It is composed of nearly 30 short summaries of work in areas such as self-organizing systems, magnetic random access memories, and many forms of lithography and nanofabrication. Unfortunately, links to the homepages of project staff are not given in the report or on the main page of the NSL website, but they can easily be found with a quick search of the main MIT directory. [CL]

Two on Internet2 Digital Video Recording

1. Welcome to IBPvo
2. Logistical Networking for Digital Video on Internet2 [pdf]

Researchers at the University of Tennessee have developed "an Internet2-enabled personal video recorder (PVR) service" that is freely available at the first site. The service is based upon Logistical Networking, which is a new kind of data management that transfers and stores data through a distributed network environment. Users can download the software and register for free; however, only users connected to the Internet2 backbone will be able to use the service. The second online resource provides a detailed explanation of how the technology works and how it can be used. It illustrates the network operations that allow a user to program her or his computer to record a television show and then view it at any time from any Internet-connected computer. [CL]

University of Cambridge: Economics, Networks and Security Seminar Series [pdf]

A biweekly seminar series on Economics, Networks, and Security is being held at the University of Cambridge during fall 2003. This website maintains abstracts of the speakers' presentations and research papers about their topics of discussion. Of the five seminars scheduled, papers for three have been posted online and the remaining two will likely be available in the near future. The first paper outlines the concept of trusted computing and discusses the implications for public policy. The second paper is based on economical aspects of intellectual property, but a less technical resource is also given and is titled Digital Goods in the New Economy. Lastly, the facets of e-commerce and its relation to security is the basis for the third paper. [CL]

University of Wisconsin-Madison Concrete Canoe Team [pdf]

This website is the online home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Concrete Canoe Team, which placed first in the 2003 National Concrete Canoe Championships. The site provides a step-by-step look at the planning, design, and construction of the winning canoe. Short descriptions and pictures of the cross section cutting, mold construction, and concrete pouring are given, as well as photo galleries of past championships. For a more technical insight into the process of creating a concrete canoe, visitors can view the design reports of the top five teams from 2000 to 2003. While illustrating the complex analyses that were performed, the papers also convey the creativity and occasional brashness held by each team. [CL]

Learning Orientation Information for Robotic Soccer using Neural Nets [pdf]

Many robotic soccer events are held internationally each year as an assessment of the growth and advancement of the robotics industry. This paper points out that current practices in robotic soccer involve using "a set of pre-determined markers (e.g., a group of small colored circles mounted on the top surface of the robot) to provide easy targets for visual analysis in order to determine the team membership, identity, and orientation of robots in the visual field." Since lighting variations can easily confuse robots' vision systems, the authors propose using a neural net-based vision system to analyze the position and movements of other robots for more effective real-time visual tracking. This would eliminate the need for special markers. Using a back propagation algorithm to implement the neural network, the authors report on the ability of the system to learn and generalize to untrained patterns. The accuracy of the vision system is evaluated and shown to be promising for future work. [CL]


CSERD: Computational Science Educational Reference Desk

The Computational Science Educational Reference Desk (CSERD) promotes the use of "computers to do science." Several diverse activities, tutorials, and other resources that support the CSERD mission are available on this website. Several Java applets demonstrate various concepts in mathematics, and two lesson plans cover basic vector operations. Several detailed programming tutorials are available, covering Java and parallel programming. The code libraries contain downloadable source code for C++ and Java. Other applications and activities related to math, biology, physics, and astronomy are also provided. [CL]

The Maths File Game Show [Macromedia Shockwave Player]

The British Broadcasting Corporation offers this great collection of fun, educational games that help children learn basic concepts of mathematics. Twelve interactive games are available in all, illustrating principles of data handling, numbers, algebra, and measurement. Children can practice interpreting Cartesian coordinates by guiding a space ship across a grid, or compete with an animated character in a test of fractions and percentages. In addition to the online games, several other activities are presented in one-page documents for easy printing. [CL]

Great Achievements in Mechanical Engineering [pdf]

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has singled out ten of the most notable achievements in the mechanical engineering field and highlighted them on this site. A few examples of what made the list are the Apollo moon landing, the integrated circuit, agricultural mechanization, and bioengineering. Grade school teachers will get the most use out of this site, since each achievement is the basis for an accompanying lesson plan. The lesson plans suggest activities for students to learn about various scientific and social aspects of the great developments, and include definitions of various terms and sources of additional information. [CL]

BlueJ - The Interactive Java Environment [exe, StuffIt Expander, jar, pdf]

BlueJ is a free "integrated Java environment...developed as part of a university research project about teaching object-orientation to beginners." It was developed through a collaboration between three universities in Australia, Denmark, and England, and is available for nearly all common operating systems. The software provides users with an interactive environment that supports experimentation and visualization, and although it would not be used for extensive application development, it serves as an excellent teaching tool. Tutorials on using BlueJ and several academic papers describing the creation of the software can also be downloaded. [CL]

Statistics Online Compute Resources (SOCR)

The SOCR website contains "a hierarchy of portable online interactive aids for motivating, modernizing and improving the teaching format in college-level probability and statistics courses." Each section of the site consists of an instructional applet with many customizable settings, and three sections are worth noting. First, Interactive Distributions provides graphical illustrations of over 30 different statistical data distributions. An especially useful feature of this applet is the Info button -- when pressed, it takes the user to a detailed description of the selected distribution. The second section allows the user to perform a variety of statistical analyses on pre-defined or manually input data. These include analysis of variance (ANOVA), regression and correlation, and more. The third section is a modeler for a user-defined function. The user can draw a curve and the applet will fit a trend line to the curve. A serious shortcoming of this site is the lack of documentation provided with certain applets; while this is not an issue with the aforementioned sections, it makes the two remaining sections nearly unusable. [CL]

Learn to [Windows Media Player]

Although this website was "developed to teach computer professionals Internet and TCP/IP technologies," many of the resources can be useful and informative for many people with an interest in fundamental network operations. For example, visitors can view a 36-minute audio presentation with accompanying lecture slides about Internet protocols (IPs), Network Access Points, and the connectivity of the Internet as a whole. Another slide presentation describes the Domain Naming System. For more advanced topics, a series of lectures delves deeper into specific protocols, Ethernet, and network communication. Subnetting and IP addressing are discussed in the final lecture series. [CL]

Office of Transportation Technologies: Kids Page

This page of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Transportation Technologies website contains a wealth of resources for young children. The materials include "fun games, puzzles, and educational information to help children and young adults learn about alternative and advanced fuels and vehicles." Although most of the content is scattered throughout a number of off-site links, one of the most unique resources is Daniel and His Electric Car. This online storybook describes a father and son shopping for a new vehicle and identifying the necessary features. Some other links describe hydrogen fuel cells, renewable energy, and transportation in general. [CL]


Two on the Digital Media Project

1. EE Times: Chiariglione launches Digital Media Project
2. Riding the Media Bits

The founder of the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) is beginning a new initiative called the Digital Media Project (DMP), which is focused on "helping the digital media revolution take hold." Since the project's homepage does not give a good overview of its purpose, a July 2003 news article from the EE Times effectively conveys the reasons for creating the DMP. The article points to the current controversy over digital music as a major factor in the project's development. Riding the Media Bits is a section of the project's website that is intended to contribute to the education and development direction necessary for the execution of the DMP. With over 60 short chapters, Riding the Media Bits explores aspects of digital television, open source software, and The World After MP3. [CL]

Bruce Schneier: Crypto-Gram Newsletter

Crypto-Gram is a "free monthly newsletter providing summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries on security: computer and otherwise." It is published on the fifteenth of every month by the founder of a network security company. Several recent issues have focused on cyber-terrorism, the risks it poses, and possible defenses from it. The articles also provide perspective -- for example, the author points to the fact that cyber-terrorism is often described as a serious threat to lives, when in fact only one known case in history caused environmental damage and human discomfort. Back issues of the newsletter dating back to 1998 are available in an online archive. [CL]

Wind Energy for Electric Power [pdf]

This 29-page paper "focuses on utility-scale electricity generation from wind and provides an overview of the history, technologies, economics, environmental impacts, regulations and policies related to this use of wind power." Published by the Renewable Energy Policy Project and updated in November 2003, the document outlines recent trends in turbine technology that have made wind energy more reliable and cost effective. Design issues for towers and turbines are briefly touched upon. The paper also addresses environmental concerns. Finally, the benefits of existing wind farms and future wind energy developments are considered. [CL]

Popular Science: 2003 Best of What's New

Each year Popular Science selects new and emerging technologies that have profound implications in several different categories. The Best of What's New for 2003 explores innovations in aviation and space, computing, home technology, and engineering. A particularly interesting item is the SpaceShipOne rocket plane, which is one of the leading contenders to successfully demonstrate a cheap, reliable method of escaping Earth's atmosphere. Another featured technology is the newest standard for wireless communications. Each category includes descriptions of several products or technologies, but only one is selected as the winner. [CL]

Web Searching Tips

This webpage is much more than its name implies. It provides a series of articles about using search engines efficiently, as well as about the dynamics and operation of search engines. One particularly intriguing article describes how search engines actually perform searches, which is a remarkable task considering the vast amount of data that is indexed. Another article, current as of September 2003, compares some of the most popular search engines in terms of the number of textual documents covered by each service. The process of ranking webpages is also discussed. [CL]

Bill's Essay of the Week [pdf, lit, prc]

Written by a senior lecturer at Napier University's School of Computing, these essays vary widely in topic but all are related to some kind of technology. A recent essay considers the continuing shrinking trend in computers and looks at how mobile devices are becoming more prevalent every day. This future-facing theme recurs in other articles, such as the evolution of the Internet and the advancement of computers in relation to human abilities. Networking and communications are also frequently addressed. The author's homepage includes Web site design tips, educational modules, and information about his research. [CL]

Speex: A Free Codec for Free Speech

Speex is an audio codec used to compress speech-based audio, and is an open source product that can be freely downloaded at this site. "The Speex Project aims to lower the barrier of entry for voice applications by providing a free alternative to expensive proprietary speech codecs." Extensive documentation and the codec's source code are also available. In addition to the download, this site includes information for developers to contribute to the project. Several audio samples that are compressed at various bit-rates are provided to show how the quality of the audio recording diminishes or, conversely, how the Speex codec reduces losses with greater compression. [CL]

Topic In Depth

Computer Graphics & Digital Animation

1. What is Computer Graphics?
3. The Center for Human Modeling and Simulation [pdf, Windows Media Player]
4. Light Scattering from Human Hair Fibers [pdf]
5. 3D Photography from Photographs and Video Clips [pdf]
6. SIGGRAPH 2003 Web Graphics Expo [Macromedia Flash Reader, Macromedia Shockwave Player]
7. Flipcode: Daily Game Development News & Resources [pdf]
8. Lights, camera, and...Machinima!
Nearly every Webpage, television broadcast, and advertisement incorporates some form of computer generated imagery. However, computer graphics has applications well beyond these kinds of background enhancements. It is used in scientific visualization, modeling, and simulation, as well as enabling virtual reality and high-tech entertainment such as video games. As electronic displays become more pervasive, the field of computer graphics will continue to grow.

Computer graphics is a term that encompasses a wide range of sciences and techniques. To understand some of the processes involved in generating computer graphics, Cornell University offers this detailed introduction to the subject (1). The site contains explanations and a series of pictures that illustrate object rendering, shading, ray tracing, and more. Computer graphics has seen rapid advancements in the past few years, partly because of the development of dedicated graphics processing units (GPUs). The performance of GPUs has outpaced that of general purpose processors, and this has sparked interest in using GPUs for applications other than graphics. General Purpose Computation Using Graphics Hardware (2) is a site that examines this trend. It is regularly updated with news, links to conferences and research papers, and related projects. The Center for Human Modeling and Simulation (3) is a research effort at the University of Pennsylvania. Many of the center's projects can be browsed on its website, including animation of physical gestures and the development of virtual humans. As a testament to the intricacy involved in modern computer graphics, this paper (4) describes a new technique for modeling the shine of light off human hair. The authors compare the results of their work to current shading practices and show notable improvements in the realism of the model. Three dimensional photography, a recent extension of computer graphics, has received significant attention from its use in movies. This paper (5) proposes a number of strategies for improving the accuracy and flexibility of current approaches to 3D photography. The 30th annual SIGGRAPH conference, held in July 2003 and sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery, is one of the most well known conferences related to computer graphics. The SIGGRAPH Web Expo (6) showcases some of the most outstanding web-graphics work of the year. Visitors can choose between seven different categories and view many interactive and visually stunning creations. Some of the works have strict hardware and software requirements that are required in order to view them, however. This online review of the SIGGRAPH conference (7) provides an interesting view into the events and presentations. Scattered throughout the text are examples of computer generated images, as well as links to some of the papers and projects that were featured. Lastly, this news article (8) introduces machinima, a term used to describe special effects in movies that are created with technologies originally developed for computer games. The Machinima Film Festival 2003 is the basis of the article. [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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