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News Clips - January 18, 2008

From January 11 to January 17, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 281 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


Board tells states to look for bridge design flaws
The New York Times | January 16
Acting swiftly on the recommendation of accident investigators, the Federal Highway Administration told state authorities to take a new look at bridges to make sure they do not have the kind of design flaw that doomed the I-35W bridge, which collapsed in Minneapolis last summer. ... Another bridge expert, Steven J. Fenves, an emeritus professor of civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon who is now a guest researcher at the Commerce Department, said the board’s discovery would probably lead to a re-analysis of all bridges like the one in Minneapolis, called “fracture critical” because the failure of a single part can make the whole structure collapse. “They’ll do it hierarchically,” he said, based on factors like the bridge’s type, size and condition.


Researchers control robot with brain signals
PCWorld | January 15
Scientists in Japan have succeeded in controlling a humanoid robot with signals picked up in the U.S. from a monkey's brain and transmitted across the Internet, they said Tuesday. ... The robot, called CBi for Computational Brain interface, is about the same size as a human at 155 centimeters tall and weighs 85 kilograms. It has 51 degrees of freedom of motion and was developed by JST and Christopher Atkeson of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute to enable such neuroscience research. The hardware side of the robot was developed by Sarcos, a Salt Lake City robotics company.,141367-c,futuretechnology/article.html


The spillover effect of $100 oil
BusinessWeek | January 15
U.S. consumers are hurting. Amid the housing crisis, a weakening job market, and spiraling inflation, consumers are facing the toughest economic climate in more than 15 years. With crude oil prices hitting the once-unthinkable $100 milestone on Jan. 2 and now hovering in the mid-$90s, overall conditions aren't likely to be helped by a modest easing in crude prices. ... "The economy is getting death by 1,000 cuts," says Lester Lave, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. "One-hundred-dollar oil alone won't cause a recession, but it could break the camel's back." A growing chorus of analysts agrees. "One-hundred-dollar oil could be the swing element," says David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's. (S&P, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP).) "If prices remain at this level, a recession in the first half of 2008 is likely. [But] most Americans feel a recession is already here."


Quick takes: Injunction blocks NASA rules, another loss at Virginia Tech, UMass Alumni dispute, research digs at South Pole, recruiting blacks to computer science, semester may be doomed in Israel, 'American Idol' scholarship, British lecturer vs. Google
Inside Higher Ed | January 14
A new consortium of research universities has been created to promote robotics and computer science to black students in elementary and secondary education, and at historically black colleges. The consortium grows out of collaboration in which a Carnegie Mellon University professor helped establish robotics labs at Spelman College and several other historically black institutions. The broader effort will involve research programs and summer internships for students at black colleges, outreach to high schools in the communities of the black colleges, and national efforts as well.


Mind reading is now possible
Newsweek | January 12
Crime investigators always have their ears open for information only a perpetrator could know—where a gun used in a murder was stashed, perhaps, or what wounds a stabbing inflicted. So imagine a detective asking a suspect about a killing, describing the crime scene to get the suspect to visualize the attack. The detective is careful not to mention the murder weapon. Once the suspect has conjured up the scene, the detective asks him to envision the weapon. Pay dirt: his pattern of brain activity screams "hammer" as loud and clear as if he had blurted it out. ... Now research has broken the "content" barrier. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University showed people drawings of five tools (hammer, drill and the like) and five dwellings (castle, igloo …) and asked them to think about each object's properties, uses and anything else that came to mind.

Education for Leadership

Expanding horizon's: Johnny Lee sees the Wii's potential
Game Informer Magazine | January 14
While Johnny Chung Lee’s name might not ring a bell, his work with the Wii’s Remote has been viewed millions of times on YouTube. Lee’s innovative projects use the input device in some mind-bogglingly clever ways, from using it to track users’ fingers, to creating inexpensive multipoint interactive whiteboards (which is much, much cooler than it sounds), and creating a head-tracking system for VR displays. If you’re not familiar with these videos, you need to watch them immediately before reading on. ... Johnny Lee: I’m a PhD graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University studying human-computer interaction. I’m actually just finishing up my PhD. I’ve been doing a lot of work and am in a community that focuses on new ways to interact with computers, either by using innovative software or hardware technology.

Arts and Humanities

Good options can mask bad choices
The Washington Post | January 14
Take a step back from the Republican and Democratic presidential primary races and you will see a sharp difference between the two. Democrats argue about the relative merits of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, but opinion polls suggest that most Democrats think they are choosing among excellent options. Should any of these candidates win in November, your average Democrat will be delighted. ... Don Moore, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University, said the phenomenon reflects a kind of cognitive nearsightedness -- even when a decision has been molded by the available options, we tend to see it in absolute terms rather than in relative terms.


Panel to plot city's solar-powered future
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | January 17
A solar-powered Pittsburgh is the goal of a panel that will meet today and tomorrow to outline a plan to tap the city's sunlight. The nine-member panel, created by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and funded by the federal Department of Energy, combines city managers with experts in the electricity business, architecture, technology and engineering. They've been meeting monthly since September, and now will hole up for two days at Carnegie Mellon University to brainstorm on how to make solar power easier and more affordable here. "This is about putting together a long-term, viable plan for the city," said city Energy and Utilities Manager Jim Sloss. "After this two-day event, we want to have a very detailed outline of our plan."

Regional Impact

Call 4 action: Export believes Pittsburgh's economy still lagging
WTAE TV | January 15
Higher gas prices, larger grocery bills and salaries that are staying about the same are only a few reasons why some experts are suddenly using the word "recession" when describing the economy. In recent years, Pittsburgh's economy has lagged behind that of other major American cities, but right now, that could actually turn into a blessing. ... But in Pittsburgh, where, at best, there's been a modest boom, economic experts said the bust would be equally soft. "You'll see some aspects of a national recession, but you're not going to see the unemployment rate jump dramatically, because the kinds of service industry and other kinds of jobs we have in the region are relatively stable," said Carnegie Mellon University economist Robert Strauss.


MySpace pledge 'just the beginning'
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | January 17
A local computer expert and the teen victim of an Internet luring agree that's pledge this week to implement measures aimed at protecting children from online sexual predators is a solid first step, but hardly a panacea. "Nothing is foolproof," said Yang Cai, a computer science professor and director of Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab. "It's a good approach, but we still need more." Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett announced Monday that MySpace, a social networking Web site popular among teens and young adults, reached an agreement with all 50 U.S. attorneys general, plus the District of Columbia.


Carnegie Mellon teams gets $1.6 million to study quakes
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | January 16
Perhaps Jacobo Bielak never aspired to move earth, but he's ready to predict the consequences if and when it occurs. Based on his expertise, the National Foundation of Science PetaApps program has awarded $1.6 million to the Carnegie Mellon University engineer and his team to develop computer simulations to detail the seismic risks affecting Los Angeles and other large cities. The four-year grant will help Dr. Bielak improve Carnegie Mellon's earthquake simulations to better predict what impact quakes of various intensities would have on urban areas. The goal is to save lives, buildings, infrastructure and transportation systems.


Scientist uses high tech to recover low-tech data
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | January 11
Dr. Yang Cai spent many Sundays last fall walking through the cemetery of Old St. Luke's Church in Scott. He would pass the remains of William Lea, a French and Indian War veteran who donated the land for the burial ground, and Capt. David Steel, a Revolutionary War veteran who belonged to one of Pittsburgh's founding families. But Dr. Cai wasn't there to honor distant kin or dignitaries. Instead, the Carnegie Mellon University senior computer scientist was there to shed light, literally, on those and other longtime occupants of the cemetery.


Memory takes on multicore approach
EE Times Asia (subscription) | January 18
Independent security cryptanalyst and design consultant Joseph Ashwood claims he has created a memory chip architecture for the 21st century—one that matches multicore microprocessors with parallel, concurrent access to multiple memory chips. ... Sound too good to be true? JoAnne Leff, founder of J.L. Associates, thought the same thing when she was first approached by Ashwood to represent him in licensing the technology. So she sent the design over to Carnegie Mellon University for confirmation. "We were skeptical, of course, but Carnegie Mellon confirmed for us that the Ashwood memory architecture really is a breakthrough in memory design," said Leff. "Now we want to license it to all major players involved in the applications of this technology, not only to improve the performance of individual memory chips, but also to give users fast, parallel access to solid-state drives (SSDs)."


Forget the label, look at the price
The Age (Los Angeles Times) | January 16
When it comes to wine tasting, pleasure lies in the price. Using brain scanners to monitor the minds of wine drinkers, scientists found that people given two identical red wines got more pleasure from tasting the one they were told cost more. The study, reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrated for the first time how marketing tactics - such as raising the price of a product - can cause the brain to play tricks on itself. ... George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, who was not involved in the study, said the findings supported other research on consumer behavior. "People pay high prices for water from Italy and we know that water tastes about the same wherever it comes from," he said.


Israeli researchers help shed light on cancer genetics
Israel21c | January 13
For a long time, scientists have known that some genes are associated with cancer. But thanks to the efforts of a combined team of Israeli, US and German researchers, the subtle nature of this link may soon be better understood. Using a technique known as 'computational biology,' the scientists were able to identify 480 human genes which are involved in cell division processes - of which 100, they say, behave abnormally in cancerous cells. ... According to co-lead author Associate Professor Ziv Bar-Joseph, of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, the results were surprising, indicating that some genetic mutations associated with cancer may be caused by the irregular operations of the cell cycle, rather than vice versa.


High price makes wine taste better
The Sunday Times | January 13
Restaurants charging inflated prices for wine could be doing their customers a favor. A study has found that people who pay more for a product do enjoy it more. The researchers discovered that people given two identical red wines to drink said they got much more pleasure from the one they were told had cost more. Brain scans confirmed that their pleasure centres were activated far more by the higher-priced wine. ... Scott Rick, a researcher in neuroeconomics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said: “There are people who derive pleasure from spending, and those for whom it is painful."


Who benefits from a website's privacy policy?
The Hindu (Guardian News Service) | January 10
"We may keep you informed of such products and services (including special offers, discounts, offers, competitions and so on) by any of the following methods: E-mail, Telephone, SMS text message and other electronic messages such as picture messaging ..." This was the site's privacy policy. What I wanted to buy: a light bulb. It turned out that this privacy policy wasn't really the policy. When asked, the company explained: "It's an off-the-shelf policy and actually doesn't reflect the policy that we follow." In other words, it came with its website because some lawyer thought more about covering the company's legal ass than consumer protection. Sadly, this is what most privacy policies are in fact about. ... But who reads privacy policies anyway? Lorrie Cranor, an associate research professor in computer science and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, says: "Except for a very small group of privacy fundamentalists, the only time people read them is if there's a problem." Then, of course, it's too late - as Facebook users recently found out when the service started displaying purchasing information from a variety of online partner vendors such as Blockbuster.