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News Clips - February 1, 2008

From January 25 to January 31, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 305 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


What's next from Fed? More cuts. | January 30
As expected, the Federal Reserve cut short-term interest rates by half a percentage point Wednesday, the second major rate cut by the central bank in less than 10 days. Anything less would have disappointed investors; any more might have spooked them. ... Allan Meltzer, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University's business school and a Fed historian--who does not think the Fed should have slashed rates Wednesday--warns that the central bank should stop thinking about the possibility of a recession and start paying closer attention to inflation if the U.S. wants to avoid a repeat of the 1970s.


Fed may cut rate below inflation, risking bubbles
Bloomberg | January 29
The Federal Reserve may push interest rates below the pace of inflation this year to avert the first simultaneous decline in U.S. household wealth and income since 1974. The threat of cascading stock and home values and a weakening labor market will spur the Fed to cut its benchmark rate by half a percentage point tomorrow, traders and economists forecast. That would bring the rate to 3 percent, approaching one measure of price increases monitored by the Fed. ...  The last time the Fed pushed real rates so low was in 2005, in the middle of the three-year housing bubble, when consumers took on $2.9 trillion in new home-loan debt, the biggest increase of any three-year period on record. Aggressive rate cuts are justified if there's "conclusive evidence'' that household income prospects are in danger, said Marvin Goodfriend, now a professor at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.


Officials make deals to learn who made drug deals
The New York Times | January 27
A black Hummer pulled into the Hooters parking lot as dusk fell. Arthur Dale Atwood, a professional bodybuilder with a 61-inch chest, opened the tailgate for a police informant to deliver more than 100 bottles of fake drugs made from vegetable oil. For months, city detectives had been watching as Atwood, 34, amassed steroids, human growth hormone, Ecstasy and exotic thyroid stimulators. Last May, the police made their move. Outside the Hooters lot, officers pulled over the Hummer. But instead of filing drug charges, they turned Atwood over to federal prosecutors running a more ambitious investigation. ... Drug policy experts said the prosecutors of Operation Raw Deal could seek, at best, to disrupt the steady flow of performance-enhancing drugs. “Use goes down when price goes up or availability is reduced,” said Jonathan P. Caulkins, a professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “We also know that ongoing enforcement pressure forces dealers to operate in inefficient ways, greatly increasing their costs of operation and, hence, increase the final retail price. So even if an operation doesn’t create a price spike, if it’s part of the background level of enforcement that forces the dealers to keep their heads down, then it may be doing some good."

Education for Leadership

Engineer unlocks Wii's hidden potential
CNET | January 28
I support the hardware-hacking philosophy on principle, but most of the movement's labors have left me uninspired. That all changed when I started seeing the uses that Carnegie Mellon researcher Johnny Chung Lee has found for the Nintendo Wii's infrared remote control. In a collection of videos, notable for their lucid explanations, the Ph.D. graduate student from Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute shows exactly how versatile the "Wiimote" system can be. Among the uses he convincingly demonstrates: a virtual-reality head tracker; a virtual whiteboard on a wall, tabletop, and laptop screen; and a Minority Report-style arm-waving and finger-pointing multitouch user interface.

Arts and Humanities

A boost to shots
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | January 27
The way you view yourself can not only be a source of happiness or unhappiness, it can also help determine the way your immune system reacts to the flu vaccine, and how many sniffles and coughs you have. That's what a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Duke University report in a study that will appear in the March issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. ... "The research adds to our understanding of the nature of situations and individual differences that place people at risk for illness," said Sheldon Cohen, a psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in the study.

Information Technology

From ranking blogs to predicting posture
MSNBC | January 28
Ranking blogs that deliver the biggest bang for the buck may not seem to flow naturally from detecting contamination in a city water system. With a new mathematical formula, however, Carlos Guestrin and his research team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh are setting their sights on improving how scientists monitor everything from algal blooms in lakes to subtle differences in how someone sits or slouches in a chair.


FAQ: Inside the high-stakes 700-MHz spectrum auction
Wired Magazine | January 24
The FCC's 700-MHz-spectrum auction officially began on January 24 and stands to be one of the most significant airwave auctions in U.S. history, potentially affecting everything from the cost of your wireless service to the competitive landscape among U.S. mobile providers for years to come. ... The 700-MHz auction represents the largest portion of spectrum to become available in years, according to David Farber, professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. Very broadly, this spectrum is divided into two bands -- the lower and upper 700 MHz. The lower band is 48 MHz wide, and the upper band is 60 MHz wide. Of the upper 60 MHz, 24 MHz is being reserved for public safety, according to the FCC.


Carbon embodied in international trade
Environmental Science & Technology Online News | January 30
Since adopting the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, developed countries that ratified the treaty have managed to reduce their carbon emissions. And yet global CO2 emissions have risen by nearly 35%. The failure of developing nations to enforce environmental regulations is often blamed for the increasing emissions. But, as a new study in ES&T (DOI: 10.1021/es072023k) shows, 5.3 gigatons (Gt) of the planet's carbon emissions are embodied in international trade. Most of that trade is driven by consumption in developed countries, which have become net importers of carbon emissions. ... This trend has been documented previously. In a paper (DOI: 10.1021/es0629110) published last year in ES&T, Scott Matthews and Christopher Weber of Carnegie Mellon University's departments of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy showed that the U.S. has increasingly outsourced its emissions to its trading partners, especially China. "It's a bit obvious" that China is producing more to meet consumption in the U.S. and in the EU, says Glen Peters of the Industrial Ecology Program at the Norwegian University of Science and author of the new ES&T study. "Otherwise, China wouldn't be growing so rapidly."


Teach-in to focus on global warming
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | January 28
Like some global game of connect the dots, climate change solutions likely will come from the merging of local programs and policies rather than an international treaty. That's what environmental policy expert M. Granger Morgan, head of Carnegie Mellon University's department of engineering and public policy, will tell those attending Focus the Nation's local kickoff event at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Doherty Hall on Carnegie Mellon's campus in Oakland. Billed by its organizers as the "largest teach-in in U.S. history," the three-day program at more than 1,400 schools and universities -- including 52 in Pennsylvania -- will highlight discussions of solutions for climate change, arguably among the most important issues of this century.


New research shows that genes can contribute to cancer in less obvious ways
Top Cancer News | January 21
A team of U.S., Israeli and German scientists used computational biology techniques to discover 480 genes that play a role in human cell division and to identify more than 100 of those genes that have an abnormal pattern of activation in cancer cells. Malignant cells have lost control of the replication process, so detecting differences in cell cycle gene activation in normal and malignant cells provides important clues about how cancers develop, said Ziv Bar-Joseph, a Carnegie Mellon University computational biologist who led the study. These genes also are potential targets for drug therapy.

Regional Impact

Videoconferencing lets West Mifflin students interact with professors
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | January 31
Polymers in plastics is not the typical topic for a tenth-grade chemistry class, said West Mifflin Area High School teacher Justin Sickles. But sophomores in two of Sickles' classes got an introduction to the topic via a videoconference with Carnegie Mellon University professor Michael Bockstaller. "It was really interesting," said Rachel Mauer, 15. Until Bockstaller's talk, she didn't know what a polymer was. But the day after, she could talk readily about their importance in plastic products used every day.


Pa.'s liquor control system lets state keep a tight grip on the bottle
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | January 27
Imagine that you owned every Starbucks in Pennsylvania, with a guarantee that no competing coffee shops could open anywhere in the state. Not only that, any restaurant that wanted to sell coffee had to get a license from you, and you got a percentage cut for every cup of coffee served, plus another cut any time a new coffee shipment came in from another state. That scenario is similar to Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board monopoly of the wine and liquor business. ... The PLCB is a huge operation, employing more than 3,600 full- or part-time store clerks and managers, plus a staff of more than 400 in its Harrisburg headquarters. The store-clerk positions are good, secure jobs, with the average salary above $30,000, with health benefits and a pension. "I'm not saying they are undeserving, but the main beneficiaries of the current system are probably the employees who work for the liquor stores," said Holger Sieg, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University who specializes in public finance. "If you look at the wages and benefits and compare them with employees in unregulated states, you will find significantly better salaries" in Pennsylvania.


State ponders justice reforms
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | January 28
With many of its prisons near capacity, Pennsylvania is one of 18 states that is taking steps to reform its criminal justice system, according to a national report released last week. ... Experts applauded lawmakers' decision to consider changes to the system. "I think it's absolutely brilliant news from the Legislature," said Al Blumstein, a criminology professor at Carnegie Mellon University. "During the crime concerns of the '80s and '90s, they passed mandatory sentences, particularly with drug offenses. The result is the criminal justice system is overburdened and it didn't do much about drug crime."


Scientists using electromagnetic forces to create shape-shifting robot | January 30
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are working on swarms of robots that use electromagnetic forces to cling together, and assume different shapes. Seth Goldstein, who is leading the project, has revealed that the main goal of his team is to create swarms of microscopic robots capable of morphing into virtually any form by clinging together. He, however, admits that it is still a distant prospect. The researchers are using simulations to develop control strategies for futuristic shape-shifting robots, and are testing them on small groups of more primitive, pocket-sized machines.


IITs to invest Rs 1,500cr for virtual varsity | January 29
The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are in talks with US-based Carnegie Mellon University to set up a Virtual IIT. To be set up at a cost of over Rs 1,500 crore over the next three to four years, it will enable aspiring IITians and engineering students who could not make it to the premier engineering institutes of technology to bag an IIT-equivalent degree online. Currently, a four-year BTech (IIT) tuition fee is around Rs 27,000 per year while that of a two-year MTech (IIT) is around Rs 5,000 per year. The Virtual IIT, on the other hand, will be online, and therefore cheaper. Details on charges for an online degree, forms submission, evaluation and exams are being worked out.


Carnegie Mellon invites gamers to PeaceMaker
The Peninsula | January 28
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar will be hosting a five-day PeaceMaker event in which anyone over the age of 18 is invited to play. The event, which started yesterday will run through Thursday. There are 10 computers ready for a diverse group of players to take on the challenge. PeaceMaker is an educational video game that challenges players to succeed as a leader where others have failed. The game is being inspired by real events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peacemaker will test your skills, assumptions and prior knowledge, and challenge you to bring peace to the region before your term in office is up.


Fed Focus- Emergency rate cut revives talk of "Bernanke put"
Guardian Unlimited (Reuters) | January 27
An emergency U.S. interest rate cut last week rekindled perceptions the Federal Reserve has a bias to protect the stock market, and a French bank trading scandal has made matters worse. Deep losses in stock markets around the world last Monday spurred the U.S. central bank into making its biggest rate cut in more than 23 years on Tuesday, but the stocks drop came as 144-year-old Societe Generale unwound positions taken by a rogue trader. ... Thursday's disclosure that SocGen dumped stock positions on Monday after discovering that a rogue trader had taken on huge positions has intensified criticism of the Fed for using the equity market as a barometer of the wider economy. "It is good monetary policy to put some distance between interest rate policy actions and market re-pricing," said Marvin Goodfriend, a former senior adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and now an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper Business School.