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News Clips - February 23, 2007

From February 16 to February 22, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 233 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


Bacteria-bot steered through fluids
Discovery Channel | February 21
Isaac Asimov's story about a voyage through the body onboard a tiny research vessel is getting closer to reality. Researchers have found a way to use the natural propulsion of bacteria to drive a micro-scale robot through liquid. Such a device could one day deliver drugs or monitor places inside a person's body dominated by fluid, such as the eyeball cavity, urinary tract or spine. "We're using S. marcescens, the kind of bacteria that cause pink stains on shower curtains," said Metin Sitti, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. Navigating through those watery realms is no easy task for the tiny bacteria. At their size, moving through water is like swimming through molasses. But they each have a rotating corkscrew-like tail called a flagellum to propel them. Sitti and his team introduced about five to 10 bacteria to a tiny polystyrene bead. The bacteria clung to the bead because they naturally have a positive surface charge and the bead has a negative charge.


Urban road race to test limits of robotics cars
CNN (Reuters) | February 19
In what sounds like a science fair project on steroids, engineers at Stanford University plan to have an unmanned robot car ready to navigate urban traffic in less than a year. ... The Stanford car will compete in the agency's third and most challenging derby -- the DARPA Urban Challenge, in which robotic cars will drive in a mock city environment. Cars must merge, navigate traffic, traverse busy intersections, avoid obstacles and master the most delicate of skills -- determining who has the right of way. ... An array of other U.S. universities, many with corporate partners, are involved in the 2007 challenge, including Carnegie Mellon University, which finished a close second to Stanford in the 2005 race.


Study unclear on new wave of U.S. violence
United Press International | February 19
A criminology expert said, despite a recent increase in the U.S. murder rate, it's not yet clear whether the nation faces a new wave of violent crime. Carnegie Mellon University Professor Alfred Blumstein notes recent data show a 2.5-percent increase in killings and a 2.9 percent rise in robberies in 2005. But one specific number that concerns Blumstein is the 9.7-percent rise in robberies during the first six months of 2006. He says that increase might be caused by such policies as the reduced size of urban police forces and redirection of police resources to deal with terror threats. He also cites a reduction of social service programs occurring as a result of cuts in federal funding.


Let Us Now Praise Archivists
The Chronicle of Higher Education | February 16
Archives rarely get love letters. It was thus a pleasure to read "My Dream Archive." ... Informed advice is always welcomed by archivists — such as myself — who realize that customer service is one important connection to the primary resources found within our care. That said, I am happy to report that many of Christopher Phelps's concerns are being addressed digitally. Archives, large and small, are scanning unique documents, and the resulting online archives fulfill many qualifications of his dream. Online archives are available 24 hours a day, from the comfort of your favorite chair and the silence of your own well-lit office. Online archives involve no cost and time for travel. Searchable archives can allow highly specific searches. ***This was written by Carnegie Mellon University Heinz Archivist, Jennie Benford.


Massive insider breach at DuPont
InformationWeek | February 15
The Delaware U.S. attorney on Thursday revealed a massive insider data breach at chemicals company DuPont where a former scientist late last year pleaded guilty to trying to steal $400 million worth of company trade secrets. He now faces up to a decade in prison, a fine of $250,000, and restitution when sentenced in March. ... While many companies worry about departed employees stealing intellectual property through some sort of back door planted in their IT systems, 75 percent of the 40 proprietary and confidential information thefts studied between 1996 and 2002 by Carnegie Mellon's CERT program in a July 2006 study were committed by current employees, says Dawn Cappelli, a senior member of the technical staff at the CERT program at Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute. Of those current employees committing intellectual property thefts, 45% had already accepted a job offer with another company. "In between the time they have another offer and the time they leave is when they take the information," she says.

Education for Leadership

American education thriving ... in Qatar
The Christian Science Monitor | February 22
It looks like an American college campus, except for those little things like – a sign by the gate that admonishes undergraduates to "Please Remind Your Maids That They Are Not Allowed Beyond the Entrance." Or the fact that although nearly everyone is wearing jeans, you'd never know it because most are covered by full-length abayas and dishdashas. Welcome to Education City – Qatar's 2,500-acre answer to getting a top US education without giving up your mom's pampering, your maid's cooking, or your weekend camel races. Taking globalization of higher education to new heights, five American universities, including Carnegie Mellon and Georgetown, have opened satellite campuses here in the past few years, employing some of the same professors as at their stateside campuses, demanding the same tuition, and – theoretically – providing the same education.


Grad students launch Buxfer, helps split tab online
India West | February 16
As Ph.D. students on tight budgets, Ashwin Bharambe, Amit Manjhi and Shashank Pandit often found themselves splitting hairs over their split lunch checks. One an expert in data mining, another a database security specialist and the third an expert in network gaming, none of them showed any particular aptitude in the kitchen. They ended up going out to lunch and dinner almost every day, often picking up the tab for each other and losing track of who owed whom what. The three Indian Carnegie Mellon University computer science students eventually came up with a clever solution to their social and financial dilemma. In 2004, Bharambe, now 27, wrote a programming script that could track the collective expenses and debts among his circle of friends.


Moodjam team feels good about google gadget awards
Pop City Media | February 14
A team of Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. students garnered two Google Gadget Awards for, a website where people express their moods through clever words and very cool bands of color, creating a daily record either on MoodJam’s site or on a homepage. Ian Li, Scott Davidoff, and Karen Tang, Ph.D students in the School of Computer Science’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII), collaborated to bring MoodJam to life. Even though it was just a side project it was a winner, bringing in “prettiest” and “gadget most likely to help you get a date” in the Lifestyle category of the student competition sponsored by Google, Inc.

Arts and Humanities

Operetta has children's interests at heart
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | February 22
A children's opera that will debut at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh this weekend promises to introduce kids to fine arts in a style they can appreciate and understand, producers say. "Phantasmagorilla? No! Phantasmagoria," which will present three afternoon shows Saturday and Sunday at the museum, features music by prominent composer Efrain Amaya and a libretto by his wife, artist Susana Amundarain. The Venezuelan couple both live and teach at universities in the Pittsburgh area. ... "Phantasmagorilla? No! Phantasmagoria" -- partially named for a gorilla character that appears during the show -- features a small chamber ensemble with a cast of six singers. They are members of the Point Chamber Orchestra, which Amaya conducts. Amaya -- an artist lecturer at the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland -- says the opera will feature Latin American rhythms, along with some hip-hop and reggae. Music with elements of pop in a classical setting will appeal to kids, and introduce them to fine arts in a way they can enjoy, he says.


Distracted drivers cause 80 percent of accidents
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | February 20
Forget the cell phone. You're half the driver you could be if you're simply listening to a passenger let alone talking to someone -- or doing worse -- while cruising down the highway. And all these years you've been blaming the tunnels for the region's bad drivers. Brain power associated with driving decreases by 40 percent when a driver listens to someone talk, whether it's a passenger or on the radio, said Marcel Just, a psychologist who directs the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University.


People underestimate the power of drug cravings
Scientific American | February 19
A novel study may provide an answer to a question that has puzzled drug abuse researchers for years -- namely, why someone would try a drug like heroin for the first time knowing that it is highly addictive. Based on their findings, the researchers infer that people experiment with drugs that they know are addicting partly because they can't fully appreciate the intensity of drug cravings and therefore underestimate the odds that they will become addicted. ... "If addicts can't appreciate the intensity of craving when they aren't currently experiencing it, as these results suggest, it seems unlikely that those who have never experienced a craving could predict its motivational force," Dr. George Loewenstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who was involved in the study, said in a press release.

Information Technology

Carnegie Mellon folds open source into new degree offering
TechNewsWorld | February 21
The software industry isn't what it used to be. Open source software, globalization and outsourcing  have irrevocably changed the sector and the skills needed by those who choose to work in it. That's the reason given by the Western branch of a major Eastern university when it announced last week a new degree program that gives its students the necessary skills to succeed in the brave new world of software. The Master of Science (MS) program in Software Management announced by Carnegie Mellon West, located in Mountain View, Calif., will offer students "a hands-on, team-oriented education that both bolsters and breaks with tradition," the university said. ... A key component of those next-generation organizations will be open source   software. Open source software components have been ingrained throughout the curriculum of the new degree program, explained Carnegie Mellon West Associate Dean of Education Martin Griss.


Robot cars racing for $2 million prize
Sci-Tech Today | February 19
Robotic cars will compete for bragging rights -- and a $2 million prize -- in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Urban Challenge next winter. The race, which will run in November 2007, offers a glimpse into the future of smart cars. ... Carnegie Mellon finished second behind Stanley last year and is revving up to take the lead in November with its driverless Chevy Tahoe. Like Stanley, Carnegie's Chevy will be equipped with automated throttle, brakes, and steering for computer control of physical motion. Planning software will continuously determine where and how to drive, how to stay out of trouble, and how to quickly reach a destination. "The Urban Challenge will develop a leap of capability beyond what is possible in today's human-driven cars," William "Red" Whittaker, a professor in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and team leader for Tartan Racing, said in a statement.


Martian progress: Carnegie Mellon enhances the rovers' planetary prowess
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | February 16
Four years after they were supposed to have turned into dust-clogged doorstops on the Martian surface, the robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still rolling along. They have covered and photographed 17,000 meters of the landscape between them, beaming 200,000 images to Earth -- more than enough to keep the Fotomat at NASA busy for years to come. ... Developed at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute by research professor Tony Stentz and former Carnegie Mellon student David Ferguson, the software is still in the testing phase. When it is fully activated, Spirit and Opportunity won't need humans as often to help them out of a jam.


Case management posts lower serious-illness costs
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | February 16
A new study led by a Carnegie Mellon University researcher has found that a case management program for seriously ill patients resulted in lower costs and fewer hospital admissions. Patient satisfaction scores were high even as overall costs dropped by 26 percent and hospital admissions by 38 percent, according to the study, published in the February edition of The American Journal of Managed Care. ... "This is great news for those in this population who typically face some of the most expensive, complex health care needs," said Latanya Sweeney, director of Carnegie Mellon's Data Privacy Lab and the study's lead author. Other authors included Dr. Andrew Halpert and Joan Waranoff of Blue Shield of California.

Regional Impact

Paper-based voting systems winning supporters
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | February 19
Marybeth Kuznik, Pennsylvania's loudest advocate for paper-based voting systems, swears she isn't against computers. ... Michael Shamos, a Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor who tests voting machines for Pennsylvania, says the sudden rush to throw out touch-screen machines is irresponsible.
"The situation in Congress has gotten to the point where only advocates are being heard, and no scientific evidence is being presented, so the debate is now purely political," he said in an e-mail message.


Actress visits Hill District home of playwright Wilson
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | February 22
Actress Phylicia Rashad visited playwright August Wilson's childhood home at 1727 Bedford Ave. in the Hill District yesterday. Rashad was in Pittsburgh to talk with drama students at Carnegie Mellon University. Having played Wilson's ancient seer, Aunt Ester, in his "Gem of the Ocean" on Broadway, she asked to visit Wilson-related sites, both to pay her respects and to do research to direct "Gem of the Ocean" in Seattle in April.


Carnegie Mellon in Qatar plans college preview program
The Peninsula | February 21
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is introducing a new program that will help high school students from Qatar and the surrounding region prepare themselves for the academic challenges they will encounter at American universities. ... “A lot of students find the transition from high school to college quite difficult. Their schools spend a lot of time preparing them to gain admission to colleges and universities, but very little time and attention is spent teaching students what will be expected of them once they arrive on campus," said Gloria Hill, Assistant Vice Provost for Education, Carnegie Mellon University.


Speak the book
Business Standard | February 20
The visually impaired find open source the key to future access over the Internet. The promise of technology has been slightly out of reach for the visually impaired. It may be that information that should be accessible is not, or that the products have been too costly for most, or even that complexity has presented a barrier to usage. ... Anthony Wasserman of Carnegie Mellon University West shared an interesting view on open source. Imagine a scenario five years hence when a visually handicapped person walks into a standard PC store. An appropriate device is chosen and set up so it can be controlled by voice command, by using the keys on the phone or an external braille device. “The response from the device will come as audio feedback from the machine in the form of recorded speech prompts or text-to-speech, delivered wirelessly to an external braille device,” he finishes.


The importance of post-silicon debugging
Electronic Engineering Times | February 19
If you're a chip designer, you may not want to admit it's possible that you need a post-silicon debugging tool. But unless you're convinced your chips will always be perfect the first time, it could be worth a second look. Post-silicon validation is a new area for EDA providers, but is not a new practice. When a chip is first fabricated, somebody needs to do "silicon bring-up" and make sure the chip works as intended. It's like checking out a PCB in the lab before shipment, except you're doing it with a piece of silicon that may have limited visibility and accessibility. ... Rob Rutenbar, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, called post-silicon debug a "dirty little secret" that can cost $15 million to $20 million and take six months to complete. It's surprising, therefore, that EDA providers have paid it so little attention.