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News Clips - July 20, 2007

From July 13 to July 19, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 99 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


Broken China
BusinessWeek | July 23
When the bureaucratic machinery of China rolls into action, it is a sight to behold. A mayor announces a plan to reclaim hundreds of acres from the sea and build a massive industrial complex. A few years later, busy factories and roads stretch as far as the eye can see, families are living in thousands of new apartments, and 10,000 workers have launched Phase Two. This is the side of China that awes the outside world. The mainland's extraordinary ability to mobilize people and capital to accomplish daunting feats in record time is the reason it has averaged annual growth of 9.5% for three decades. ... Why, then, is it so hard for this same government to crack down on exporters of dangerously tainted seafood, toothpaste, and medicine, despite years of warnings by local and foreign experts? ... Writing scientific papers, though, doesn't necessarily equal innovation. "China is spinning its wheels," says Zhu Jian-Gang, director of Carnegie Mellon University's electrical engineering department and an adviser to China's national optical lab in Wuhan. While government and university labs have first-rate facilities, Zhu says most of the work is unimpressive. These institutions are focused on turning technologies into money-making products rather than discovering breakthroughs. "They do a lot of research, but it isn't important," Zhu says. One problem is that promotions are too often based on seniority and connections rather than on merit. "That does not create an environment that attracts young people," he says.


Scholars of altruism explain what works and what does not at conference on philanthropy
The Chronicle of Higher Education | July 19
Campaigns to raise money for colleges and other philanthropic causes, at once an act of psychological appeal and financial solicitation, are increasingly the subject of research by scholars of altruism. A conference here last weekend illuminated the status of the field, showing what approaches seem to work best and what conventional wisdom may be open to question. ... In one experiment described at the conference, researchers found that information from a charity about the scope of a crisis may dilute the emotional impact of an image of a single victim. One group of subjects in the experiment was shown a photograph of Rokia, a 7-year-old girl in Mali who was facing starvation. A second group was shown the same image along with information about the scale of poverty in Africa. The image of Rokia, without the accompanying statistics, won the charity more money. "It really puts fund raisers in a fix," said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and one of three researchers who conducted the study. "They want to appeal to the mind and the heart. But if they do, there's a real risk of undermining the heart."


Fed inflation stand criticized in 'false debate': John M. Berry
Bloomberg | July 19
Federal Reserve officials have been criticized recently for shortchanging ordinary Americans by focusing on an inflation measure that excludes soaring food and energy prices. That's a curious sort of populist complaint. It's really nothing less than a call for higher interest rates because the overall consumer price index rose at a 5 percent annual rate in the first half of this year and the core CPI -- which excludes food and energy -- climbed less than half as much. ... Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee yesterday that core inflation measures are a better predictor than current overall measures of what inflation is likely to be in the future. Since monetary policy affects the economy with a lengthy lag, the Fed has ``to look forward a year or two years,'' he said. ... The Financial Services Committee also held a hearing the day before Bernanke testified at which economist Allan H. Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University, the author of a two- volume history of the Fed, said central banks have to be careful not to change monetary policy in response to "one-time price changes. "An oil price increase is a tax on consumers and producers," Meltzer said. "Whether it comes as a restriction of supply as in the 1970s or mainly an increase in demand, as currently, it is a non-monetary event." And a central bank ought not to respond by raising interest rates to reduce growth of the money supply, he said.


Going giddy just thinking of a windfall
The New York Times | July 14
As I write this column, I am anticipating a possible $30,000 windfall. It would mean extra work, so it’s not a proper “take the money and run” kind of windfall. Nor, as my husband pointed out, would it be life-changing the way several million dollars might be — or heck, even half a million. ... I felt like a one-woman example of the varieties of human economic experience. I was greedy despite myself. I didn’t have the money — yet it was spent already, and, yes, I wanted more. Research done by behavioral economists suggests that the concept of “enough” is almost absent from the human psyche, perhaps even from our DNA. If there’s more to be had, we want it. Buying things apparently stimulates certain areas of the brain that relate to pleasure, according to studies by George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. “There’s a lot of evidence that money produces an immediate emotional response,” he said. Apparently for some of us, you don’t even need the actual money.


How to sell the airwaves?
Washington Post | July 13
The airwaves that carry billions of calls, text messages and e-mails have become one of the hottest corporate properties. Not only are they in demand by a nation of 240 million mobile-phone users, they are also in short supply. Soon, one of the last available sections of airwaves -- and one of the most attractive -- will be sold, and the issue of how to manage that sale has become the focus of debate. ... Analysts say the open network question has revived the debate over network neutrality on the wireless front. Net neutrality, a hot issue on Capitol Hill a year ago, concerns the ability of Internet service providers to give preferential treatment to certain content providers. However, applying net neutrality to the wireless industry raises new questions, and opinions differ on the meaning of an "open" network. "Definitions are blurry at best, even in the broadband world," said Jon M. Peha, associate director of the Center for Wireless and Broadband Networking at Carnegie Mellon University. Strict requirements around an ambiguous concept might "make a number of carriers much less likely to bid," he said.


Do vaccines make people careless
UPI | July 13
If a vaccine offers only partial protection, U.S. researchers ask, can it increase risky behavior by giving the recipient a false sense of security? A team at the University of North Carolina led by Noel Brewer designed a study to answer that question, and the results came out both yes and no. The researchers conducted a random phone survey of 705 adults who lived in areas where Lyme disease is common just after the 80-percent effective Lyme vaccine became available. ... Brewer said he thought his results indicated that they would not, and in a commentary on the article, Baruch Fischoff of Carnegie Mellon University agreed, citing a 2007 Cochrane Library review that found that girls given Plan B emergency birth control "just in case" were no more likely to engage in sex than girls who were not given the pills. The study is published in the early online issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Education for Leadership

Project Olympus: Keeping Carnegie Mellon grads in Pittsburgh
Pop City Media | July 18
The goal of Olympus is as lofty as its name: to transform Pittsburgh into the next Silicon Valley. Approximately 95 percent of Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science grads leave Pittsburgh upon graduation, says Carnegie Mellon professor Lenore Blum. Tired of staffing west coast start ups, Blum’s newest venture, Project Olympus is designed to retain Pittsburgh’s brain trust. “We produce the best and most sought after high tech products and resources on the planet ---namely our students,” says Blum, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science. “Then we export them everywhere but here.” Project Olympus provides funding for Carnegie Mellon’s intellectual stars to develop “Next Generation Computing” companies without having to leave Pittsburgh. Through the help of an innovation lab, professors and students collaborate to transform creative computing ideas into start up businesses. Blum believes these technologically advanced start ups will encourage the next wave of high tech companies to establish offices in Pittsburgh (a la Google).


Mixon enjoys challenging role in Loblolly's play
Pensacola News Journal | July 13
Pensacola native Laura Mixon has taken on a challenging summer project as she prepares to enter her junior year in pursuit of a musical theater degree at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Mixon, 21, plays the role of Wisp in Loblolly Theatre's newest play, "the writing on the wall," which opens tonight in the company's performance space at 1010 N. 12th Ave. The play was written by Loblolly Director Yolanda Reed. Mixon is well known to many in Northwest Florida through her years as a featured performer with the Pensacola Children's Chorus and through her work in local theater productions, including Loblolly's 2004 presentation of "Unemployed Quartetta."

Arts and Humanities

Music review: PNME ensemble, audience have fun
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | July 16
The Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Kevin Noe, presented a wide and varied program with style and self-confidence at City Theatre on Friday. Jeffrey Nytch's "Personal Affects" received its premiere performance. Commissioned by the ensemble, Nytch's work was the second of three premieres on the PNME's schedule this summer. ... Nytch's combination of the three poems into a single work created an austere narrative arc of self-discovery and personal reconciliation. Carnegie Mellon University composer Reza Vali's "Folk Songs, Set No. 9," a series of eight vignettes, was thoughtfully played with appropriate and varying degrees of intimacy and vigor by flutist Lindsey Goodman and guest cellist Kathryn Bates. It was a treat to hear the complete set of Vali's mix of authentic folk songs (based on existing Persian folk material) and "imaginary" folk songs (music of Reza's own invention, composed in the style of Persian folk songs).


C-3PO actor's pride in Star Wars
SAFW News | July 16
Anthony Daniels thought the original 1977 film "A New Hope" would turn out to be "pretty hokey" and was coerced into auditioning for the role. However, the legions of fans Star Wars still commands have convinced Daniels that he and Guinness helped create hugely valid works of movie magic. The soft-spoken British actor is certainly proud of his performance as Threepio, the prissy protocol droid who provides much of the comic relief throughout the hugely popular science-fiction saga. ... Besides life as the man behind the C-3PO mask, Daniels is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, tutoring post-graduates in computer entertainments, and also works with Boston Science Museum. "I like the education side, doing something useful with Star Wars and taking it further than the movies," he said. "I think maybe I'm growing up at last."

Information Technology

Robots that walk on water
Scientific American | July 18
As if signing books and performing surgery on patients were not enough, robots can now walk on water, too, thanks to engineers at Carnegie Mellon University (Carnegie Mellon). What started as a class project three years ago ended up as insectlike mechanical robots with four to sixteen legs. The "bugs," two to six inches long and weighing a few grams, can scoot over water, reports IEEE Transactions on Robotics. Called STRIDE, for surface tension based robotic insect dynamic explorer, the robots use water's surface tension to amble on their spindly legs exactly like water striders, the insects that motivated the challenge. ... Carnegie Mellon's water-walking robots use the force of surface tension on Teflon-coated legs a few hundred microns thick and two to four inches in length to keep themselves above water. To move and turn, they use "a sculling motion, [where] during the front stroke the leg is in the air, and during the reverse stroke the leg is pushing water [but] never breaking the water surface," says principal investigator Metin Sitti. This is exactly how water-striders move, although their peak speeds are around five feet per second, compared with several inches a second for these robots.


Latest weapon against spam also enlists computer users to assist the Internet Archive
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | July 18
Luis von Ahn's office is a welcome burst of color and playfulness in an otherwise dull and stodgy building. Save for his computer chair, his room in Carnegie Mellon's Wean Hall offers only beanbag chairs and bouncy balls as visitor seating. Stuffed animals and Legos line the shelves on the walls. The visual parade of color is just another manifestation of the computer science professor's creative spirit. At 28, Dr. von Ahn has already made a name for himself with a simple yet radical idea: capitalizing on tasks computers can't do, but human minds can, to enhance artificial intelligence. As a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon in 2000, Dr. von Ahn and his adviser Manuel Blum developed a security measure to foil Internet spambots. They called these tests Captchas -- Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Ever had to decipher a squiggly, distorted word to gain access to a site like Yahoo? That's a Captcha.


Carnegie Mellon takes RoboCup 2007 on penalties
Campus Technology | July 17
In a pair of matches whose excitement level had to be measured in degrees Kelvin, Carnegie Mellon University last week took home gold and bronze from the 2007 RoboCup competition in Atlanta. RoboCup, sponsored by the RoboCup Federation, is a research initiative that pits teams of robots against one another in league-based soccer matches. Carnegie Mellon took first and third place in the Small-Size Robot League and the Four-Legged Robot League, respectively. Both were won on penalty kicks.


Competition a kick for Carnegie Mellon soccer robots
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | July 13
Some ran, others rolled and particle-sized ones even scooted, as Carnegie Mellon University robots shot and scored impressive results in the International RoboCup Federation's 2007 soccer competition in Atlanta. During games last weekend, Carnegie Mellon's CMDragons won a world championship in the small-sized robot league for the second straight year. The school's team of robots resembling cookie tins on wheels defeated 12 other teams for the gold medal. Manuela Veloso, the Carnegie Mellon computer science professor who helped create the competition 10 years ago, expressed pride in the university's showing among teams from 33 countries. "They did an amazing job, developing robots with speed and ability," she said of students and faculty members who built and programmed the victorious CMDragons team that won the championship in a shoot-out with Thailand's Plazma-Z team to settle a 6-6 tie. "It was the most interesting game ever seen in RoboCup with small-sized robots," Dr. Veloso said. "We had amazing hardware, an amazing goalie and amazing defense, along with a remarkable human team." CMDragons used the same small-sized robots it used last year. James Bruce, who completed a doctorate at Carnegie Mellon in December with plans to work for Google, led CMDragons to victory, Dr. Veloso said.


FBI, Carnegie Mellon identify 1 MM botNet nodes
Campus Technology | July 13
The FBI and Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) have identified the IP addresses of more than 1 million zombie computers throughout the United States as a part of security sweep nicknamed "Operation Bot Roast." Zombies are computers that are unwitting hosts for the activities of bots, pieces of malicious software that are often used to facilitate crimes. The CERT and FBI are currently notifying owners of the computers, during which time they hope to uncover additional evidence of criminal botnet activity. Armies of bots, or botnets, are used to facilitate crimes such as identity theft, denial of service attacks, phishing, click fraud, and the mass distribution of spam, adware, and spyware.

Regional Impact

Nine Hilltop communities unite to improve their neighborhoods
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | July 16
Vandalism, graffiti, gun violence and tired commercial corridors in Pittsburgh's southern "Hilltop" neighborhoods mimic conditions in many city neighborhoods, but a unique intervention has begun. A clear-eyed group of planners, leadership trainers and researchers have assembled a plan to bring nine neighborhoods together to collaborate in getting out of their collective rut. The Coro Center for Civic Leadership has been a leader in a year of research, meetings, surveys and plans resulting in a nine-neighborhood brainstorming session scheduled for Saturday at Potters House Ministries in Mount Oliver. ... Coro teamed with Carnegie Mellon University's Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy and drew in a coterie of planners, clerics, business owners and heads of nonprofits.


Residents question Braddock's redevelopment
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | July 13
Sean Walden has heard his mother preach about Braddock's better days, when working-class people with money in their pockets strolled the city's main street to shop. Now, most storefronts sit empty and Allegheny County tears down buildings on Braddock Avenue to keep them from falling. Walden's parents moved their family to nearby Swissvale, but he still hopes for a Braddock revival. "Right now, it's kinda dirty, but we're getting it a little better," said the round-faced boy, wearing a plain white T-shirt and black athletic shorts. "People have got to want it for themselves." The county has pumped nearly $10 million into Braddock since 2004, including $1.2 million for an employment and training center where Walden, 15, and 49 other teens work for minimum wage. They plant gardens, make videos and plot the community's rebirth. ... Government can put money into places such as Braddock, but it has to let local people decide how to use it, said Luis Rico-Gutierrez, director of the Remaking Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. "It's worth spending the money, but it has to be done to empower the people," Rico-Gutierrez said.


Teen robot kings arrive in Pittsburgh from Kuwait
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | July 18
A robot built and programmed by three high school students navigated around a volcano and saved a small Hawaiian village in 90 seconds. It traversed the village, constructed of plastic pipe and plywood, using precise measurements of the 4-by-8-foot area that was the competition field for the 2007 International Botball Tournament. "It was the first time we had someone encourage our talents," said Majdi Yousef Sulaiman, 16, a student at Al Ru'Ya Bilingual School in Kuwait. "We like to show we are geniuses," he said jokingly. He and classmates Mohamed Al Jondob, 14, and Anas Omar Al Badawi, 16, designed two robots that won the top prize -- and a trip to Pittsburgh -- in the tournament at Carnegie Mellon University's Doha, Qatar campus. The three are spending the week in the city. Botball is an educational game designed by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, an Oklahoma-based nonprofit that focuses on improving science and math skills. Carnegie Mellon's Doha campus in the Arabian Gulf hosted its first tournament in 2005. "It's a full-fledged engineering challenge at the high school level," said Chuck Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar. "We tell them what they have to do, and then unleash them on the challenge."


Holly Hunter
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | July 16
Oscar- and Emmy Award-winning actress Holly Hunter once roomed with Monessen's Frances McDormand in New York City after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University. The 47-year-old actress is the mother of twin boys with her boyfriend, actor Gordon MacDonald. The TV series "Saving Grace," starring Hunter as a hard-driving, angel-fighting detective, premieres at 10 p.m. next Monday on TNT. ... "I can only say thank you [laughs]. I loved going to Carnegie Mellon. I've got to get back. I have to get back to Carnegie to talk to the students. I learned so much there, and so much has been useful to me throughout the years. That has been a huge benefit for me in my career. To be able to work, to be able to take a script and take it apart in purely technical terms, to use a script and learn about a character using this very pragmatic tool. That's where I learned it, at that conservatory, and it's been incredibly beneficial to me."


Research on energy gets a boost
The Times of India | July 16
In an effort to boost research activities in the area of renewable energy in the country, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), Bangalore and SSN Institutions, Chennai. Carnegie Mellon University, U.S., is also a partner in the initiative, providing leadership and technical support. ... Also present on the occasion was Raj Reddy, researcher in artificial intelligence, robotics and human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon, N Balakrishnan, associate director, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, and R Natarajan, former chairman of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and former director of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Chennai.


Study examines effectiveness of Lyme disease vaccination
Daily India | July 15
A new study has examined whether a vaccine that offers only partial protection can backfire by increasing risky behavior, as a false sense of security could make recipients less careful than they otherwise would be. While the study looks at the response to Lyme disease vaccination, its authors suggest the research also sheds light on the controversy over whether girls should receive the HPV vaccine to fight cervical cancer. Ticks spread Lyme disease, which is usually treatable by antibiotics. However, late detection or a poor response to antibiotics can lead to lasting pain, fatigue and neurological problems. The vaccine, known is LYMErix, is about 80 percent effective. ... Baruch Fischhoff, professor of social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, is not convinced that the two vaccines are comparable. "I have trouble extrapolating to HPV. They found that people who deliberately took a vaccine understood and took actions based on the benefit of having it to live easier lives. If I get more benefit at the same level of risk, what's wrong with that," he said. Fischhoff does not see adults choosing vaccination to prevent a tick-borne illness as similar to girls receiving a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted infection that they could encounter much later in life.