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News Clips - March 7, 2008

From February 29 to March 6, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 713 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


Turning glare into watts
The New York Times | March 6
At first, as he adjusted pumps and checked temperatures, Aaron Boucher looked like any technician in the control room of an electrical plant. Then he rushed to the window and scanned the sky, to check his fuel supply. Mr. Boucher was battling clouds, timing the operations of his power plant to get the most out of patchy sunshine. It is a skill that may soon be in greater demand, for the world appears to be on the verge of a boom in a little-known but promising type of solar power. ...  “The one thing that’s eventually going to raise its head is desert biodiversity, and the land area itself,” said Terrence J. Collins, an environmental expert and professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Building the plants in deserts poses another obvious problem: deserts are not exactly teeming with power lines. “Whatever you do, you’ve got to have the wiring,” Mr. Collins said.


With style from the past, a rig to call home
The New York Times | March 2
The truck driver has long had the image of the heroic loner, an image reinforced in country music and in films like “They Drive by Night” in 1940 with George Raft and Humphrey Bogart and “Convoy” in 1978 with Kris Kristofferson. “There’s a great history of people choosing this profession because they are independent,” said Dee Kapur, president of the Navistar Truck Group, which makes the International line of big rigs. “They want to see the country. They are 21st-century cowboys, in a way." Navistar has tapped into that theme with its new truck, the LoneStar, a truck cab for 18-wheel tractor-trailers that was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show last month and goes on sale in April. ... He consulted with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who analyzed the historical typology of International trucks, from the streamline bulldog Metros of the 1930s to boxy 1970s “cab over engine” models. ... The tables have been turned again, with the LoneStar based on a classic line of trucks. Navistar displayed a customized D-Series next to the LoneStar at the Chicago show, reminding buyers of the source of the LoneStar’s design.


Can't save? Blame your brain (Money Magazine) | March 3
Slow and steady wins the race, but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Those dueling proverbs sum up the investing mind. When you imagine choosing between making a quick buck or growing rich later, you know the right answer: Be patient and hold out for the bigger gain. But as soon as you face a real rather than an imaginary choice, the fast money seems irresistible. ... "When our emotions are charged, we have a hard time waiting for a reward," says Carnegie Mellon University's George Loewenstein, one of the first study's authors. Even the chance of getting a slightly bigger reward tomorrow doesn't have the same stimulating effect on your brain as a gain today does.


Get grandpa a dog -- or a robot
CNN (AP) | February 29
Dogs may have a hard time wrapping their paws around this one: Robotic competition is nipping at their heels in the man's-best-friend department. A study by Saint Louis University found that a lovable pooch named Sparky and a robotic dog, AIBO, were about equally effective at relieving the loneliness of nursing home residents and fostering attachments. ...  Sara Kiesler, professor of computer science and human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in the study, said the results of the study are encouraging but not completely convincing. The problem is inferring it was the robotic dog that reduced the loneliness, and not the human who brought him into the room, she said. She said another study could compare a visit from AIBO with someone stopping by with a stuffed animal or even just a candy bar.

Education for Leadership

The state of video art
The Stranger | March 5
Takeshi Murata's spectacular Monster Movie is the unmistakable star of the show up now at Western Bridge. To make the four-minute-long piece, Murata digitally tore up a few seconds from the 1981 B movie Caveman using tools that allow him some degree of improvisation, turning the scenery into a roiling blitz of psychedelic color that surrounds the monster as he performs a funny-sad convulsive dance. ... Carnegie Mellon student Jennifer Levonian's animations in the humble medium of watercolor are astoundingly funny, smart, and well-made. She inserts herself as a character into each video, whether it tells the story of an attempted cover-up involving an invasion of macaws at Colonial Williamsburg, a bank robbery with a Busby Berkeley twist, or a sweaty and patriotic church picnic.


Sunday North: Butler area graduate making waves at Carnegie Mellon
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | March 2
Boredom can be a stimulant ... just ask Carnegie Mellon University swimming sensation Molly Evans. A freshman and Butler Area High School graduate, Evans has qualified for the NCAA Division III championships in six individual events -- she will swim three at the meet -- and hopes to also compete on a relay March 13-15 at Corwin M. Nixon Aquatic Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She has hit the athletic scene at Carnegie Mellon like a tidal wave. In her first competition for the Tartans Evans won three events, reached two NCAA qualifying times and shattered a school record in the 200-yard backstroke by seven seconds.

Arts and Humanities

Cell use impairs drivers, Carnegie Mellon study says
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | March 6
Just listening to a cell phone conversation cuts a person's ability to concentrate on driving by more than a third, a Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist told state lawmakers Wednesday. The House Transportation Committee met Downtown to gather information as it considers several legislative proposals on restricting cell phone use by drivers, particularly teenagers. Marcel Just, who directs Carnegie Mellon's Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, showed colorful images of brain activity in a person driving in silence compared with one listening to a cell phone conversation. Activity dedicated to driving decreased by 37 percent when listening.

Information Technology

What's keeping women out of IT?
IEEE-USA Today's Engineer Online | March Issue
Women have been involved in computers since the time of Babbage's analytical engine. Ada Lovelace is widely credited with writing the first computer program (an algorithm to calculate Bernoulli numbers), and the programmers of the first modern computer, the ENIAC, were six women who had only block diagrams and wiring schematics to work from. ... It has become “common wisdom” that females view computers as tools for accomplishing other ends (socially-useful, helping people, etc.), while males view computers as ends in themselves (fascinated by the computer itself, studying the internals, hacking the kernel, writing peripheral drivers, etc.). However, this wisdom was overturned at Carnegie Mellon University (Carnegie Mellon), a leader in the effort to increase female enrollment in CS. As the program changed, women and men were able to expand their focuses to include technical and non-technical interests.

Regional Impact

Competition hasn't cut electric rates: study
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | March 5
Electricity customers in Pennsylvania and other states that restructured their power industry to create a more competitive market now pay more for electricity than consumers in noncompetitive states, a study released Tuesday concludes. On average, power users in restructured states pay 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour more than customers in states that didn't restructure, according to "Electricity Prices and Costs Under Regulation and Restructuring," a study published by Carnegie Mellon University's Electricity Industry Center. A kilowatt hour is one kilowatt of power used in one hour.


Carnegie Mellon robotic juggernaut shows off its stuff
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | March 3
Crusher is the kind of robotic juggernaut people might expect to see in action thrillers. It rolls over cars, climbs low walls and negotiates the rockiest terrain -- and does so autonomously. What this robot can't climb over it goes around. One almost expects to see the Fantastic Four walking beside it. The 6.5-ton armor-clad robot, which Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center developed for the U.S. Army, demonstrated its titanic abilities recently at Fort Bliss, Texas, where it showed battlefield potential to keep troops out of harm's way.


Carnegie Mellon prof wins $250,000 prize
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | March 3
A longtime Carnegie Mellon University professor is $250,000 richer after adding one of the biggest awards in his field to his list of achievements. Takeo Kanade, a pioneer in teaching computers to see and understand their surroundings, today was named winner of the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia gives the award, which includes the cash.


Clinton in tailspin, Carnegie Mellon professor says
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | February 29
Even if she takes a couple of key states, Hillary Clinton probably can't stop Barack Obama from winning the Democratic presidential nomination, says Carnegie Mellon University political scientist Kiron Skinner. Clinton's only hope at this stage is to attack Obama, a strategy sure to further erode her support among black voters, Skinner said Thursday at the Duquesne Club, Downtown. "Whatever strategy she had has been used, and the positions between the two candidates are so close on core issues like health care, the only thing she has left ... is negative campaigning," Skinner told a luncheon group.


New image technique could allow scanners to read minds
The Guardian | March 5
Scientists have developed a mind-reading technique that allows them to accurately predict images being viewed by people, by using scanners to study brain activity. The breakthrough by American scientists took MRI scanning equipment normally used in surgical procedures to observe patterns of brain activity when a subject examined a range of black and white photographs. ... Other scientists say the advance should be welcomed as a major leap in understanding brain function. "I think it's a significant advance," said Prof Marcel Just, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "It's much more exciting than mind reading and police interrogation... These people are finding how the brain codes naturalistic scenes. They understand what the brain is saying."


Sense of touch comes to computers
Tamil Star | March 5
A controller developed at Carnegie Mellon University allows computer users to manipulate three-dimensional images and explore virtual environments not only through sight and sound, but by using their sense of touch. The device, expected to be used mainly for research, training and industrial purposes, comes close to the sensitivity of the human hand. Using magnetic fields, the so-called haptic device replicates the response a hand might have to textures and gravitational forces, said Ralph L. Hollis, a Carnegie Mellon professor who developed the controller. Haptic refers to devices that convey the sense of touch.


Levitating joystick improves computer feedback
New Scientist Magazine | March 4
A computer controller levitated by magnets provides a new way to physically experience virtual objects. The "maglev" system has benefits over more mechanical haptic controllers – computer interfaces that stimulate the user's sense of touch – and its inventors are now working to commercializing the technology. Haptic technology has uses ranging from remote medical breast checks and exploring distant lands, to recreating the feel of fabrics. But most haptic interfaces to date rely upon gloves or robotic arms to provide feedback to a user. The complex mechanics involved increases weight and friction that can make it difficult to provide a natural feel. To solve that, Ralph Hollis and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, US, developed a haptic device with just one moving part (see video, top right).


For Qatar, relations with West are a balancing act
International Herald Tribune | March 4
For Sheik Hamad bin Jasim bin Jaber al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister and chief diplomat, it's natural to play host to the U.S. military while sharing one of the world's largest natural-gas fields with Iran. Qatar's royal leadership has learned to balance contradictory political interests as a means of national preservation for the tiny country. Saudi Arabia, a kingdom friendly to the United States, looms on Qatar's western border, and Muslim clerics rule Iran just across the Gulf. ... Last month, Hamad attended the opening of the Brookings Doha Center, affiliated with a Mideast policy unit at the Brookings Institution in Washington that is funded by the Israeli entrepreneur Haim Saban. Qatar also houses branches of U.S. universities, including Georgetown, which is based in Washington, and Carnegie Mellon of Pittsburgh.


Authors explore shoddy ethics in the workplace
The Vancouver Province | March 2
Most of us would be horrified at the idea of cheating a customer or selling bad quality goods, much less making money out of another person's suffering. ... Scandals like Enron, WorldCom, Parmalat and Tyco International would not have occurred, writes Harvard Business School faculty member Max H. Bazerman and his colleagues, "if leaders and employees within these firms had taken note of the unethical behavior of their colleagues rather than overlooking such behavior." Bazerman, along with Carnegie Mellon business professors Francesca Gino and Don A. Moore, set out to explore why, in a paper published last month titled See No Evil: When We Overlook Other People's Unethical Behavior. Their elucidation of the subtle ways we can end up "on the dark side" should make all employers and employees sit up and take note.