The NSDL Scout Report for Math, Engineering, & Technology -- Volume 2, Number 24

December 5, 2003

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

A Note to our Readers




Topic In Depth

A Note to our Readers

Problems With the HTML Version of the MET NSDL Scout Report

We would like to thank all of those subscribers of the HTML version of the reports who have sent us questions and concerns regarding recent "bugs." Please continue to send those reports to In those notes, please state the specifics of the problem and include the internet client you use. Thanks for your patience and help as we work to iron out the problem. [JPM]


EuroHaptics 2003 [pdf]

Haptics is the science of incorporating touch and physical stimuli into computer applications. A haptics interface can allow the user to feel responses from a program, thereby providing an additional level of perception in a virtual environment, for example. This site hosts the proceedings of the 2003 EuroHaptics conference, which was held in July. Over 30 papers and several more poster presentations are available, spanning the areas of interaction, hardware, algorithms, and psychophysics. Proceedings of the 2001 and 2002 EuroHaptics conferences are also provided. [CL]

Design of a Primitive Nanofactory [pdf]

This 86-page paper, published in October 2003, was written by the Director of Research at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. He proposes "an architecture for combining large numbers of programmable mechanochemical fabricators into a manufacturing system, or nanofactory, capable of producing a wide range of human-scale products." Rather than calling for the development of entirely new technologies, the author attempts to describe a system that can be built with current engineering practices and that requires few scientific hurdles. A survey of previous work comprises the first part of the paper, and specifics of the nanofactory architecture follow. [CL]

UVic Grid Testbed [pdf, postscript, Microsoft PowerPoint]

A Canadian grid computing project is the focus of this website from the University of Victoria (UVic). The group of research physicists working on the project has "constructed a small Grid-enabled cluster as part of an effort to create a Canadian Grid testbed." Although the work is being conducted on a small scale, it is intended to serve as a model for future grid computing endeavors. The project's homepage provides an insightful overview of grid computing and its applications in high energy physics. Seven papers and nine slide presentations are also available, giving a detailed look at the issues of implementing and controlling massively parallel computing systems. [CL]

Captology: Computers as Persuasive Technologies [pdf]

"The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab creates insight into how computing products -- from websites to mobile phone software -- can be designed to change what people believe and what they do." This unusual field of study is called captology, and the subject is explored in detail on the lab's homepage. The Key Concepts section provides a brief overview of captology and links to another page with nine topic papers published by researchers at the lab. In a series of examples demonstrating how computers can be used to influence a person, the site's creators separate instances into macrosuasion and microsuasion. Specific websites and computer programs are highlighted to reveal these interesting marketing or motivational tactics. [CL]

Human Pacman [pdf, Windows Media Player, QuickTime]

Anyone who has ever played the classic arcade game Pacman will be amazed at this project of the National University of Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab. Human Pacman is "a real-world-physical, social, and wide area mobile entertainment system that is built upon the concepts of ubiquitous computing, tangible human-computer interaction, and wide-area entertainment networks." Players are equipped with wearable computers and head-mounted displays, and they can maneuver around real environments while seeing virtual power pellets floating in the air. The Human Pacman system is discussed and illustrated with pictures and video clips on this website. A research paper is also available, offering a much more technical description of the system. [CL]

Two on Hilbert's Sixteenth Problem

1. Swede Helps Crack Historic Math Problem
2. Hilbert's Mathematical Problems [pdf, postscript, zip, dvi]

In 1900, mathematician David Hilbert outlined 23 problems "as challenges for the 20th century." Now in the 21st century, three of the problems remain unsolved. However, the problems are one step closer to being resolved. As described in a November 27, 2003 new article, a Swedish mathematics student has developed a partial solution to one of them. The article discusses the achievement and provides links to the student's homepage and the text of Hilbert's original problems. A website from Bielefeld University in Germany lists all 23 problems and provides links to research papers devoted to their analysis and solution. [CL]

OpenSees: Open System for Earthquake Engineering Simulation [pdf, zip, exe]

The Open System for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (OpenSees) is a project of the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center. OpenSees is an open source "software framework for developing applications to simulate the performance of structural and geotechnical systems subjected to earthquakes." The project's homepage maintains resources for users and developers, including downloadable source code, extensive documentation, and instructions on how to contribute code. Several links to other research projects that are using the OpenSees tool are provided. Additionally, an OpenSees user's workshop was held in August 2003, and the presentations from the event are available. [CL]

Development of Polymer-Based Artificial Haircell Using Surface Micromachining and 3D Assembly [pdf]

Despite the likely first impressions created by the title, this paper does not hold the cure to balding. It does, however, describe a remarkable kind of sensor that measures fluid flow. Since "insects and fish use clusters of hair cells to monitor air or water flow," researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed an artificial haircell that behaves in a similar way. The paper introduces the manufacturing processes used to create the sensor and shows experimental results for a few configurations. The authors indicate that the flexibility of fabrication materials allows the artificial haircell sensor to be made on a layer of polymer skin. [CL]


Intro Mechanics

Alfred University offers this handy resource for engineering students taking an introductory mechanics course. The extensive list of properties and equations can be printed out and used as great quick-reference sheets. Topics covered include analysis of bodies in equilibrium, stress and strain, Hooke's Law, and deformation. In addition to the reference material, visitors to the site can apply the supplied formulae by trying the series of exercises. An example problem accompanied by a complete, step-by-step solution is given for each topic, and several other related problems are available for practice. A section on differential equations for two- and three-dimensional mechanics is also provided. [CL]

Lectures on Numerical Analysis [pdf]

Although it is presented as a collection of lecture notes on numerical analysis, this is essentially a full-fledged online book on the topic. Written by a professor of mathematics at Pennsylvania State University, the 125-page document spans three chapters and covers various forms of differential and difference equations, methods for solving them, and linear algebra. Scattered throughout the text are example problems that illustrate important concepts. Each section is concluded with a set of exercises that build on the presented material. Unfortunately, solutions for these problems are not provided. [CL]

Computer Worms: How Schools Are Fighting a New Type of Virus [pdf]

Developed for high school students and teachers, this special online feature looks at the growing threat of computer worms and viruses. The first part, which can be useful for anyone interested in the topic, is an article addressing recent virus outbreaks and their effects on schools. Since students are often unaware of the inherent risks in email attachments and disk sharing, the article discusses the steps schools are taking to mitigate such risks. Accompanying the article is a lesson plan that compares computer viruses to their biological counterparts. This material comes from the Public Broadcasting System and was published on November 24, 2003. [CL]

An Introduction to Egyptian Mathematics

A former mathematics professor at the University of Surrey has created this webpage as an introduction to ancient Egyptian mathematics. Specifically, the site focuses on "how the Egyptians of 5000 years ago worked with fractions." While the methodology is somewhat peculiar, it is very clearly explained and anyone with an understanding of modern fractions should have no problem learning the Egyptian system. The author shows that Egyptian fractions actually have some advantages over their modern-day descendents. Several examples are shown and additional information can be found via links on the page. [CL]

Crash Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks

The Crash Introduction to Artificial Neural Networks is not a comprehensive resource, but it provides a good overview of many aspects of the topic. Beginning with a discussion of biological processes in the brain, the site describes the function of neurons and how they are interconnected. Some historical events are mentioned, leading to the development of an artificial neural network. The famous perceptron configuration is the basis of subsequent discussions of training algorithms, prediction and classification functions, and data processing. [CL]

IBM: Ponder This

Ponder This is a monthly problem that lets ambitious people "match wits with some of the best minds in IBM Research." The problem is usually fairly abstract and requires refined mathematical skills, critical thinking, and patience to solve. Each month a new problem and the solution for the previous month are posted online. Users are encouraged to submit their answers for possible recognition on the website. Visitors to the Ponder This website can browse previous problems and solutions dating back to May 1998. [CL]


This website contains a wide variety of computer related tutorials ranging from specific programming languages and operating systems to computer networking and Web development. Submitted by members of the Free2Code community, the tutorials vary in style and can be general introductions to a broad topic or they can focus on a particular aspect of an application. Some popular tutorials that fall into the former category include Number Systems, PHP and MySQL, and an Introduction to Flash MX Design. A code archive is also available to help programmers with common problems. [CL]

Karl's Calculus Tutor

Few calculus resources, either online or offline, can match the sheer depth and user-friendliness of Karl's Calculus Tutor. The site contains educational material that is covered in a standard introductory calculus course. Entire chapters about limits, integrals, and derivatives are presented. Nearly every topic is accompanied by a detailed example, and a recently added midterm practice exam allows students to test their knowledge. The author is continually adding new material, stating that users should "expect a new unit to come on line every month or so." Two online calculators are also provided. [CL]


Two on New Investments in Nanotechnology

1. National Nanotechnology Initiative [pdf]
2. Give Thanks for Small Victories

These two sites offer a glimpse at government investments in nanotechnology research and development. The first is a supplement to a U.S. government budgetary document and "provides a summary of the organization and management of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, highlights recent accomplishments, and outlines the challenges and vision" for 2004 and beyond. The extensive report examines applications for nanotechnology in areas such as robotics, healthcare, and manufacturing. Nanotechnology legislation is the focus of the second site. The short article discusses the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, which was passed by the U.S. Senate on November 19, 2003. A link to the full text of the bill is provided in the article. [CL]

Gallery of Mathematics [mpg, postscript]

The Gallery of Mathematics is a fascinating online exhibit hosted by Loughborough University. It provides descriptions, pictures, animations, and examples of many mathematical curiosities. One of the most intriguing sections introduces the concept of self-referential sentences. The Hyperspace section also offers some remarkable insights into the fourth dimension -- the movies of the hypercube and other objects are truly mind-bending. Other topics addressed in the gallery include quaternionic fractals, self-similar structures, and the famous Mandelbrot set. [CL]

Federal Communications Commission: For Consumers

The Federal Communications Commission offers this informative page "about the issues the FCC oversees." The site is divided into six sections including Wireless, Internet, Radio, Satellite, Telephone, and Television & Cable. At first glance little information is contained in each section -- only a few frequently asked questions and their answers are given. However, a link at the bottom of each page directs users to a much more impressive repository of facts, policy issues, and general discussions. Some of the more interesting and useful tidbits are wireless local number portability for mobile phones, telephone scams, and digital television service. [CL]

Cryptography: Descriptions of Historical Ciphers

Cryptography is an extremely important field in modern information security, but this website diverges from today's high-tech methods to look at the historical use and development of cryptographic ciphers. Two interesting stories about Edgar Allen Poe and Julius Caesar describe the work in cryptography done by these two notable figures. Several famous ciphers are described, including the simple substitution cipher, the Rail Fence cipher, and the Alberti cipher. An excellent overview of the German Enigma Machine from World War II is also given. Two Java applets are given to allow users to try their hand at creating and deciphering cryptograms. [CL]

Two on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor

1. Europe Puts France Up for Reactor
2. Welcome to the ITER WWW Site

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the name of a revolutionary new power plant that, when completed, will produce the first sustained nuclear fusion reactions. ITER is the culmination of a massive effort, slated as "the world's largest international cooperative research and development project after the International Space Station." In a news report from the British Broadcasting Corporation, France has been designated as the preferred site for ITER by the European Union. A meeting in December 2003 will make an official decision on the reactor's destination. The ITER homepage has a wealth of information on the reactor's proposed design, nuclear fusion, and research efforts. Additionally, the site is routinely updated with news about the remarkable project. [CL]

All About MEMS

All About MEMS is a "community-oriented website devoted to the full range of information available about MicroElectoMechanical Systems." Visitors will find a wide array of background information, definitions, MEMS applications, and much more. Details on how MEMS are fabricated are provided, and recent advances in MEMS development are highlighted. A special look at the use of MEMS in wireless technology and optical networks is also given. The site maintains an extensive collection of links to research and informational resources, as well as an image archive showing magnified photographs of MEMS components. [CL]

NASA's Implementation Plan for Space Shuttle Return to Flight and Beyond [pdf]

Since the tragic accident involving the space shuttle Columbia, the remainder of NASA's space shuttle fleet has been grounded indefinitely. This paper is "a periodically updated document demonstrating our progress toward safe return to flight and implementation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recommendations." Nearly 250 pages in length, the paper looks at specific systems of the space shuttle and identifies those that need to be upgraded, replaced, or redesigned to ensure a greater level of safety for future missions. It also addresses scenarios for dealing with shuttle damage during a mission and repairing it. This document is Revision 1.1 of Volume 1, and many more revisions can be expected over the long process of returning to flight. [CL]

Powering Our High-Speed Economy: A Profile of ATP Energy Investments [pdf]

The Advanced Technology Program of the National Institute of Standards and Technology offers this six-page brochure on energy investments. Specifically, the paper focuses on "power sources that are not connected to an electrical grid," including fuel cells, batteries, and solar cells. The widespread use of laptops, cellular phones, and personal digital assistants (PDAs) is motivating extensive research into finding reliable, long-lasting energy solutions. Some interesting new projects and emerging technologies are described in the brochure, mainly in regard to fuel cells. [CL]

Topic In Depth

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

1. Remote Sensing
2. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles [pdf]
3. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Background and Issues for Congress [pdf]
4. HALE UAV Certification & Regulatory Roadmap [pdf]
5. Research on Autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Robotic Aircraft [pdf]
6. Towards Flight Autonomy: Vision-Based Horizon Detection for Micro Air Vehicles [pdf]
7. NASA Successfully Flies First Laser-powered Aircraft
8. Human Pilots: Who Needs 'Em?,1282,61347,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_8

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are the subject of considerable attention in the governmental, scientific, and research communities. They are operated by onboard flight automation systems or remotely by a human pilot. Recently employed in Afghanistan and Iraq, UAVs can be used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and even combat. They also have many non-military applications. These sites illustrate the diversity of UAVs and discuss new technologies being used in their design.

An article from West Virginia University (1) gives an overview of UAV research being conducted at the institution. In addition to describing the software development for UAV control, the article effectively conveys what UAVs are and how they are used. Another resource that demonstrates the multitude of UAV applications comes from a company that specializes in their design (2). The UAVs described on the site range from high-flying solar powered aircraft to tiny MicroAir Vehicles. Many of the aircraft featured on the site were developed in conjunction with NASA, and a technical paper describing the development of one of the UAVs is provided. A Congressional Research Service report (3) focuses on military acquisition and utilization of UAVs. It briefly discusses early trials dating back to World War I and later efforts by the Israeli Air Force, but the majority of the report deals with current models and the gradual phasing out of certain manned flight missions. The High-Altitude, Long-Endurance UAV Certification & Regulatory Roadmap (4) is a massive online document intended to facilitate the creation of a National Airspace System that includes UAV flight. The downloadable version is nearly 500 pages in length and addresses the integration of UAVs in civil, commercial, and military applications. The University of Sydney has a group of students and faculty that are very active in UAV research and development. The group's homepage (5) showcases four UAVs created at the university, as well as providing several research papers that explore related design issues. A report from the University of Florida (6) proposes a computer vision-based system for creating a fully autonomous Micro Air Vehicle (MAV). The authors note that while considerable progress has been made in remotely piloted MAVs, efforts to develop a MAV that can pilot itself have met with limited success. To curb this trend, the researchers created a system that uses an onboard camera for horizon detection, and the details are presented in the paper. A news article from October 2003 (7) documents a groundbreaking achievement in aviation: the first laser-powered aircraft. Developed by researchers from NASA and the University of Alabama, the UAV is the target of a ground-based laser that charges the photovoltaic cells on board the aircraft. Another news story offers some surprising comments, including the suggestion that manned fighter jets will soon be a thing of the past. Published by Wired News in November 2003, the article cites several experts in unmanned aerial vehicle development. [CL]

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