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News Clips - August 10, 2007

From August 3 to August 9, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 474 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


The Bernanke agenda: Just say no
BusinessWeek | August 8
Cool, calm, and collected, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is driving Wall Street batty. When traders scream about a recessionary "credit crunch," the former professor acknowledges their concerns but predicts continued economic growth. When they plead for easier money, Bernanke and his fellow rate-setters firmly hold the line. "Scandalous," sputtered one North Carolina market strategist. ... Bernanke's approach recognizes that the Fed can't be all things to all people. If the Fed lowered rates to rescue subprime borrowers and their lenders, it would raise the risk of excessive borrowing and speculation in other sectors, possibly causing higher inflation and a stock bubble. Bernanke's approach is being supported by many of his fellow academic economists. Among the most prominent is Allan Meltzer, a Carnegie Mellon University monetary economist who is writing a history of the Fed. "The people on Wall Street are making a lot of noise because they don't like to lose money, and we can all understand that," he says. "But…it would be a huge mistake to change policy to rescue a bunch of people who made stupid mistakes." In fact, argues Meltzer, losses by speculators could clean out the financial markets and make them healthier. "Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin," Meltzer says. "It doesn't work."


Experts: Nothing is 100 percent secure
ABC News | August 7
You can install all the computer virus protection software you want, but if someone is determined to find out who you're e-mailing, technically they can, security experts say. And that may be particularly true if that someone -- or something -- is the federal government. "There's a lot you can do to make it hard," said Charles Miller, the principal security analyst at Independent Security Evaluators, a Maryland-based firm that successfully took over the iPhone a few weeks ago, prompting Apple to release a security patch last week. "If they have the resources of the federal government, they're going to be able to see [what you do] no matter what you do." ... "You cannot keep things absolutely safe," Pradeep Khosla, dean of Carnegie Mellon's college of engineering, told "The lesson to be learned here is everything can be hacked into -- it's just a matter of time."


40 percent of shuttles launch on time
Forbes (AP) | August 7
Next time you grumble about your late airline flight, consider the space shuttle: It launches on time 40 percent of the time. Not so great when stacked against the airline industry, which had a 73 percent on-time arrival record for the first six months of this year. But let's be fair. The shuttle is the world's most complicated aeronautical machine, so 40 percent may not be so bad. The latest delayed shuttle flight is this week's mission. Endeavour, originally set for a Tuesday launch, is now scheduled to lift off on Wednesday. ... Since NASA's post-Columbia return to flight in 2005, NASA has had 10 launch delays and only five liftoffs, a 33 percent success rate. In its most successful years, 1997 and 1998, NASA launched 13 times with only three delays, an 81 percent on-time rate. The good news for NASA is that over time, technical delays are becoming far less frequent as engineers better understand the complicated vehicle, said Paul Fischbeck of Carnegie Mellon University. The engineering professor analyzed the database of delays. From 1981-85, 73 percent of all delays were technical glitches, but that was down to just 38 percent from 2000-06, he found.


Hot and cold emotions make us poor judges
Washington Post | August 6
Why would David Vitter, a U.S. senator with four young children, have gotten involved with a seedy escort service? Why would Michael Vick, a gifted NFL quarterback, get mixed up with the sordid world of dog fighting? Why would Bill Clinton, a Rhodes scholar, six-time governor and president of the United States at 46, have an affair with an intern in the Oval Office? It isn't just men behaving badly. Remember Lisa Nowak, the married NASA astronaut who drove from Houston to Orlando (wearing diapers so she wouldn't have to make bathroom stops, police said) allegedly in order to kidnap her rival in a love triangle? Whenever these scandals break, the rest of us shake our heads and ask, "What were they thinking?" That feeling of incredulity is now the subject of a growing body of research. ... "We tend to exaggerate the importance of willpower," said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied the phenomenon of hot and cold emotional states and the surprisingly diverse implications of the gulf that separates them.


Minneapolis bridge had passed inspections
The New York Times | August 3
The eight-lane bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed on Wednesday had been diligently inspected for years and had always passed, state officials said yesterday. It did not, however, get stellar grades for its condition. Additionally, officials said the bridge’s design had been considered outmoded for decades because a single failure of a structural part could bring down the whole bridge. About 11 percent of the nation’s steel bridges, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, lack the redundant protection to reduce these failures, federal officials said. ... The most visible threat to a bridge is usually corrosion. But metal fatigue — the weakening of steel by the repeated weight of heavy trucks bouncing across the bridge surface — is harder to see. Bridges in northern climates are particularly vulnerable to metal fatigue because steel becomes more brittle and prone to cracking when it is cold. “A crack is very difficult to observe visually,” said Steven J. Fenves, a guest researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the Commerce Department, and a professor emeritus of civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. “There may be paint over it, or maybe many layers of corrosion over it. It may be in an invisible place, in the second plate, not the outermost plate."

Education for Leadership

Carnegie Mellon team finalist in Disney competition
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | August 7
A team of Carnegie Mellon University graduate students was among the finalists in this year's Disney ImagiNations Competition. The international ImagiNations program is designed and sponsored by Walt Disney Imagineering to encourage students to go for careers in digital arts, engineering and architecture. Brendan MacDonald, Richard Marmura, Andrew Moore and Evan Tahler are in the master's program in entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon, and Marmura is currently working in the Imagineering creative department as an intern. Competitors were asked to design a theme park attraction. The Carnegie Mellon team's concept was "Milliways" and was based on "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series. Milliways is a theatrical dining experience that incorporates projections, sensory technology and interactive tables and menus.


Out of the woods | August 2
Zak Resnick, currently appearing in "Into the Woods" at Barksdale Theatre, had two goals in mind when he began talking about staging a musical cabaret. "I'm grateful to be part of the Richmond theatre scene so I wanted to do something that would benefit a charity and I wanted to celebrate theatre in Richmond," he explained. Resnick's idea resonated with other members of the show who signed up for the event. The end result: A Musical Cabaret featuring the stars of "Into the Woods" to benefit the Richmond Theatre Artists' Fund, an endowment of emergency funds for Richmond area artists in need. The cabaret will be held on Aug. 4 and Aug. 7 on the lobby stage at Barksdale Theatre. ... Resnick and Seigla are both from Henrico County. Both are attending colleges with prestigious programs in the arts. Resnick, a Deep Run High graduate, is now attending Pennsylvania's Carnegie Mellon University, majoring in musical theatre and acting.

Arts and Humanities

U.S. names Simic poet laureate
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | August 3
Charles Simic, a native of Yugoslavia, is the latest American poet laureate. The 69-year-old Simic replaces Donald Hall, 79, who spent a year in the position, formally known as the poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress. Hall is in poor health. ... Simic immigrated to America in 1954 when he learned English. He has gone on to become one of America's most prolific poets with 18 collections of verse. He's also been a primary translator of Balkan poets into English, collaborating with Mark Strand on the important anthology of international poets, "Another Republic." "I've translated more Yugoslav poets -- Serb, Croatian, Macedonian -- than anyone," he told the Post-Gazette in 1997 before a reading at Carnegie Mellon University. At the time, Gerald Costanzo, director of the Carnegie Mellon Press, called Simic "the quintessential American surrealist poet." "I just write poetry," was Simic's response.


Surveyor of Iraqi casualties on hot seat at convention
Daily Herald (AP) | August 3
The courtroom-style questioning came in a packed ballroom at the world's largest gathering of statisticians. On the hot seat: a globe-trotting researcher who says his team's surveys of Iraqi households projected nearly 655,000 had died in the war as of July 2006, a number still ten times higher than conventional estimates. Leslie F. Roberts and others from John Hopkins University took accounts of births and deaths in some Iraqi households to estimate that the country's death rate had more than doubled after the 2003 invasion. Number crunchers this week quibbled with Roberts's survey methods and blasted his refusal to release all his raw data for scrutiny -- or any data to his worst critics. Some discounted him as an advocate for world peace, although none could find a major flaw in his surveys or analysis. "Most of the criticism I heard was carping," said Stephen Fienberg, a professor of statistics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "I thought the surveys were pretty good for non-statisticians."

Information Technology

Carnegie Mellon whiz kid on front lines against hackers and spammers
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | August 8
You can't surf the Web anymore without eventually getting CAPTCHA'd. The wavy, distorted word users must type to gain entry to a protected Web site is called a CAPTCHA. It lets a Web site know whether a user is human or not; there are some visual patterns that computer programs can't read. CAPTCHAs were designed by Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn and his team of computer scientists. Formally known as the Completely Automated Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart, CAPTCHAs first were used in 2000 by Internet giant Yahoo! to prevent spammers from stealing e-mail addresses. ... Peter Lee, head of the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, said von Ahn and his work have been great assets to the university.


Guarding our privacy
Pop City Media | August 8
A few years ago, Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, quipped, “Privacy is dead. Get over it.” Latanya Sweeney doesn’t like that. You can see it in her body language as she leans forward on her chair. “Privacy is definitely not dead.” And those who believe it is “haven’t actually thought the problem through, or they aren’t willing to accept the solution.” ... Sweeney has been inclined to mathematics since her childhood growing up in Nashville, Tennessee where her grandparents raised her. In those days she used to imagine creating an artificially intelligent machine that she could talk with and learn from. “I guess I would get bored in class, “ she says matter-of factly. “ I spent hours fantasizing about that box.” She came to Carnegie Mellon on the back of her fascination with numbers and her concern for privacy, but it was a zigzag route.


Airport baggage might undergo public scrutiny
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | August 7
John Q. Public might some day come home from work, log onto the home computer and help airport baggage screeners check luggage -- in real time -- for guns, knives, bombs and other weapons. Luis von Ahn, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University's computer science department, said Monday that the federal Transportation Security Administration will sign a contract within two months asking him to study the possibility of adding remote baggage screeners to airport security. The concept -- which is in an early stage, von Ahn cautioned -- would use "a fun computer game" to improve baggage screeners' performances. It could train computers to recognize weapons hidden in luggage, and might include average Americans in the airport luggage screening process.


Helping teachers find the next wave of computer programmers
The Providence Journal | August 6
The red dragon flew toward the castle, determined to rescue the imprisoned princess. Only sometimes it flew too high, or too low. Once it flew right through the princess. ... The dragon, the princess and the castle were created by a program called Alice, developed in the late 1990s at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Since then, Alice has evolved into a teaching tool designed to introduce students to computer programming by developing animated movies and games. ... Stephen Cooper, who led the Alice section of the seminar, said he’s been working with the program since 1998. Originally written by a team supervised by Randy Pausch at the University of Virginia and then Carnegie Mellon, Alice was intended for use with computer-generated virtual reality. Cooper and Wanda Dann, of Ithaca College, thought Alice has potential as a teaching tool, and went to Pausch with the idea.


Goodwill tackles 'e-waste'
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | August 8
Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh has recycled more than a million pounds of old computers and other electronics in the past year at a Lawrenceville warehouse. The nonprofit organization marked that milestone in a ceremony Tuesday, noting more than 260 welfare recipients completed their federally mandated work hours at its Computer Recycling Center by sorting and dissembling "e-waste" that might have ended up in landfills. ... The industry in the United States has grown since about 2000, in response to corporate initiatives and environmental regulations that began in Europe and Asia, said H. Scott Matthews, a Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor and research director of the university's Green Design Institute. "This isn't a massively lucrative operation" although recyclers often make money at both ends, being paid to take away old computers and for the materials they sell, he said. "The Goodwill-like programs are the model programs" because they do job training and keep much of the recycled, yet still useful equipment in their communities, Matthews said.


State commits $7.25M for new biotechnology facility
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | August 8
The state will invest $7.25 million to help developer John Ferchill build a $46 million, 165,000-square-foot facility designed to house biotechnology research facilities at the Pittsburgh Technology Center in South Oakland. The funding comes from Building PA funds approved by the Commonwealth Financing Authority, Gov. Ed Rendell said Tuesday. The facility will make wet lab space available for lease by nearby universities and hospitals. Several companies have expressed the need for such space close to the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Carnegie Mellon.

Regional Impact

Startups get place in Hill to call home
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | August 7
With nearby Oakland getting crowded, Hill District leaders said Monday they're making space in their neighborhood for technology startups to find room to grow. Duquesne University and the Hill House Economic Development Corp. have formed the Pittsburgh Central Keystone Innovation Zone, a state-sponsored effort to attract and help develop companies. "When you look at the Hill District and Uptown, these are areas that have pretty plentiful office space and wonderful locations for getting to Downtown or Oakland," said Bill Generett Jr., executive director of the innovation zone. ... The state provides up to $250,000 a year in startup grants for the zone, and companies compete for a statewide pool of $25 million a year in tax credits on new revenue. The idea is that companies tend to grow up around universities.  Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh created the Greater Oakland Keystone Innovation Zone in 2004, and backers of the new effort hope to build off its success. Those schools spin off about 20 new companies a year.


Professor takes SEC lessons to Carnegie Mellon
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | August 7
Economist Chester Spatt tackled two of the top controversies to hit Wall Street during his three years as chief economist at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Spatt, who returned to a professorship at Carnegie Mellon University last week, analyzed the economics of expensing stock options and mutual-fund market timing and late trading practices. His job was to create economic models to assess the extent of financial damage to investors from rules violations, to devise penalties and to draft rules that would protect investors. "Late trading and market timing was a huge issue at the SEC," said Spatt. ... "After the scandal broke, companies figured out pretty quickly they needed to have policies in place," said Spatt last week, when he resumed his position as Mellon Professor of Finance at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business and director of its Center for Financial Markets.


Pa. has 30 similar bridges, none here 'deficient'
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | August 3
Pennsylvania has 30 bridges that use the same basic design as the one that collapsed in Minneapolis, but that doesn't mean they are unsafe, bridge engineers say. The spans are known as "deck truss" bridges, which means the highways sit on arched steel trusses, which in turn sit on piers that carry the weight of traffic to the ground. Another way of characterizing them: They don't have steel arches soaring above the roadways, as suspension bridges do. Of the 30 deck truss bridges identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation yesterday, only four are listed as structurally deficient, none of them in Allegheny County. And of the six in PennDOT District 11, which covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, none is considered to be deficient. Deck truss bridges are one of the most prevalent designs in the United States, because they are so flexible, said Carnegie Mellon University structural engineering professor Irving Oppenheim.


Our uncanny ability to spot a fake
BBC News | August 9
Every video gamer knows that it does not take much to destroy the sense of immersion evoked by the best games. A clunky interaction with a computer-controlled character or even bodily movements that somehow just don't seem right can throw a player right out of the game world. ... One of the panel sessions at the Siggraph show in San Diego discussed insights from psychology and neuroscience that could help understand and confront this pressing problem. To begin with, said Professor Jessica Hodgins, from the computer science and robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon University, it was clear that notions of what counts as "human" involved much more than just life-like looks.


Photo tool could fix bad images
BBC News | August 8
Research teams have developed an algorithm that uses sites like Flickr to help discover light sources, camera position and composition in a photo. Using this data the tools then search for objects, such as landscapes or cars, that match the original. The teams aim to create image libraries that anyone can use to edit snaps. James Hays and Alexei Efros from Carnegie Mellon University have developed an algorithm to help people who want to remove bits of photographs. The parts being removed could be unsightly lorries in the snaps of the rural idyll where they took a holiday or even an old boyfriend or girlfriend they want to rub out from a photograph. To find suitable matching elements, the research duo's algorithm looks through a database of 2.3 million images culled from Flickr. "We search for other scenes that share as closely as possible the same semantic scene data," said Mr Hays, who has been showing off the project at the computer graphics conference Siggraph, in San Diego. ... Early tests of the algorithm show that only 30% of the images altered with it could be spotted, said Mr Hays. The other approach aims to use net-based image libraries to create a clip-art of objects that, once inserted into a photograph, look convincing. "We want to generate objects of high realism while keeping the ease of use of a clip art library," said Jean-Francois Lalonde of Carnegie Mellon University who led the research.


Coalition courses
Guardian Unlimited | August 7
Britain's global academic footprint looks set to expand this month after Cranfield University becomes the country's first institution of higher learning to plant the union flag on Australian soil. The university specialises in defence and security studies, or what it describes as issues of "resilience", covering a range of areas from an organization's vulnerability to terrorist attacks or the best options for using explosive devices for clearing mines, to research programmes including disaster management and missile control systems. ... Last year, Australia welcomed the country's first foreign higher education institution to its 39-strong university club: Carnegie Mellon, an American university with a reputation for excellence in science and technology. ... "One of the things we knew, but which still came as a surprise, is the fact that, unlike many other parts of the world, students in Australia don't like to travel for their higher education," says Timothy Zak, the chief executive of Carnegie Mellon's Heinz school in Adelaide, reflecting on the challenges awaiting his British counterparts. "While we certainly would like to recruit students outside Australia, we are still pretty under-represented in the country.",,2142736,00.html


Carnegie Mellon in Qatar holds summer preview program
The Peninsula | August 5
Twenty-two seniors and 13 juniors ended the rigorous Summer College Preview Program at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. The students spent the last three weeks enrolled in a programme designed to better prepare them for the demanding curriculum of a selective American university. ... "It's very important for students to understand the level of work that they'll face at top American universities," said Gloria P Hill, Ph.D., Carnegie Mellon Qatar Vice Provost for Education. "We've found that pre-college programmes that enhance high school preparation are an effective away to introduce students to the academic rigour at most colleges.", she said.


How good are bridge safety inspectors
Guardian Unlimited (AP) | August 3
The main protection against collapsing bridges in America are the eyes and ears of inspectors like Jody Ferris, who on Friday was checking a repaired weld on a 34-year-old bridge with some pretty low-tech tools: flashlight, hammer, ruler and camera. Experience is what counts, said Ferris' boss, Joe Miller of the Maryland Department of Transportation. "Nothing is better than the human element." Many in the industry disagree, and a federal test of bridge inspectors gives them reason for concern. On one bridge, a fifth of the inspectors missed serious problems. "Visual inspection is just not enough to be absolutely certain you have no cracks," said Steven Fenves, a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "A guy has a little hammer in his hand, he knocks down a few flakes of rust and a few flakes of paint and tries to make sense of it while fearing for his life in a dangerous situation." ... Inspectors at times can't even see everywhere they need to see. That's especially true of bridges built before the 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River _ an event that forever changed design rules, said Fenves and James Garrett, an infrastructure expert at Carnegie Mellon University.