ACM TechNews
Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 26, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


L-CSC Cluster Awarded Top Spot on Green500 List
Scientific Computing (11/24/14)

The L-CSC supercomputer at the GSI Helmholtz Center in Germany is the greenest supercomputer in the world, according to the 16th edition of the twice-yearly Green500 list of the world's most energy-efficient supercomputers. The L-CSC cluster, which is powered by Intel Ivy Bridge central-processing units and a FDR Infiniband network and accelerated by AMD FirePro S9150 graphics-processing units, was the first and only supercomputer on the list to surpass 5 gigaflops per watt. Suiren, a supercomputer at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization/KEK in Japan, was second on the list at 4.95 gigaflops per watt. The Tokyo Institute of Technology's TSUBAME-KFC, which was the most energy-efficient supercomputer over the previous two editions of the Green500, came in third. "Although this 190-megawatt power envelope is still far from [the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]'s optimistic target of a 67-megawatt power envelope, it is approximately 16 times better than the initial projection of a nearly 3,000-megawatt power envelope from 2007 when the first official Green500 list was launched," says Green500 founder Wu Feng, a professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.


Global Forum: Innovation Creates Opportunity, Causes Disruption
Network World (11/24/14) Jay Gillette

The 23rd Global Forum, an annual gathering of technology leaders, was held last week in Geneva, Switzerland, bringing together representatives from international organizations, vendors, service providers, academia, and government agencies from 35 countries. Among the issues discussed at the forum was the future of product delivery, with Gary Shapiro of the Consumer Electronics Association saying three new methods--driverless cars, unmanned aerial vehicles, and three-dimensional printing--will become widespread between 2020 and 2030. The European Commission's Bror Salmelin said innovation was moving toward an Innovations Network model led by "curators and bridgers." Wireless innovator Willie Lu discussed efforts to bring the Internet to commercial air travel, including an Air China program providing passengers with 30MB high-speed Internet access. During a keynote session, Telecom ParisTech professor Gerard Pogorel highlighted some issues surrounding the "situation of the digital citizen," including productivity gains not translating into growth, technology failing to penetrate into the sphere of education, and democracy remaining largely unchanged by technological innovations. Alcatel-Lucent's Gabrielle Gauthey discussed the need for governments to help ensure investments in network growth. Women's issues also were discussed in the form of efforts to give pregnant women in isolated areas access to health care workers through special "pink phones."


College Diplomas, With a Side of Specialized Study
The Wall Street Journal (11/21/14) Caroline Porter

Recent college graduates, especially those in the liberal arts and political sciences, increasingly are turning to coding boot camps, online courses, and community colleges to give them more marketable skills. Unemployment among recent graduates remains above historical highs at about 5 percent, and 45 percent of them are in positions that do not require a degree. A 2013 study from Burning Glass Technologies found liberal-arts graduates doubled the number of job opportunities available to them when they had additional skills, such as marketing, data analysis, and computer programming. For many recent graduates, the skills they seek are programming skills. Coding boot camps, which can last from one to eight months and cost nothing to $20,000, are seeing an upswing in enrollment, nearly tripling from 2013 to 2014. Another avenue for developing basic coding skills are massive open online courses (MOOCs), many of which are free. Other recent graduates also are turning to community colleges where they can earn certifications in highly desirable skills. Analysts say basic computer science and programming skills may not get recent graduates into the most lucrative positions in those fields, but they can help them gain entry into entry-level positions.
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Innovative New Supercomputers Increase Nation's Computational Capacity and Capability
National Science Foundation (11/24/14) Aaron Dubrow

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced support for the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center's Bridges and Indiana University's Jetstream, two new supercomputing acquisitions for the open science community that will complement existing resources with capabilities that enable advanced computing to be available to a wider range of emerging scientific disciplines. NSF says Bridges and Jetstream respond to the needs of the scientific computing community for more high-end, large-scale computing resources while helping to create a more inclusive computing environment. Both systems will be part of NSF's eXtreme Digital program, the most comprehensive collection of integrated digital resources and services enabling open science research in the world. Bridges focuses on research problems that are limited by data movement rather than by floating-point speed. Bridges will help users address new kinds of problems in genetics, the natural sciences, and the humanities where researchers are impacted by the volume of data rather than computational speed. Meanwhile, Jetstream will add cloud-based computation to the national cyberinfrastructure, enabling researchers to create virtual machines on the remote resource that look and feel like their lab workstation, but are able to harness thousands of times the computing power. Both systems enable researchers to conduct studies on demand, as needed, in a desktop-like environment.


New Device Could Make Large Biological Circuits Practical
MIT News (11/24/14) David L. Chandler

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a new kind of load driver, a device that could enable biological circuits to behave almost as predictably as electronic circuits. Biological circuits have many potential applications, according to the researchers. "One specific one we're working on is biosensing--cells that can detect specific molecules in the environment and produce a specific output in response," says MIT professor Domitilla Del Vecchio. She says the new load driver is similar to load drivers used in electronic circuits in that it provides a kind of buffer between the signal and the output, preventing the effects of the signaling from backing up through the system and causing delays in outputs. The new load driver could escalate the complexity of biological circuits, opening up new possible applications while ensuring their operation is robust and predictable, according to Del Vecchio. "Del Vecchio and (MIT professor of biological engineering Ron) Weiss have made a major advance for the field by creating a genetic device that can account for and correct for such interactions, leading to more predictable circuit behavior," says Boston University professor James Collins.


Research Opportunity From NSF for Algorithms in the Field
CCC Blog (11/20/14) Tracy Kimbrel

A new program solicitation called Algorithms in the Field (AitF) has been announced by the U.S. National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer Science and Engineering (CISE). The initiative is designed to promote collaboration between theory researchers and those in more applied areas. Bridging the gap between theory and practice in the design, analysis, implementation, and evaluation of algorithms can lead to new fields and broader cutting-edge applications. The intention is that by working jointly "in the field," researchers from different communities will continually inform each other, innovate in their respective areas, and develop algorithms that are validated by theory, systems, and applied communities. AitF also is designed to encourage collaboration between theoretical computer science researchers, who focus on the design and analysis of provably efficient and provably accurate algorithms for various computational models, and applied researchers, including a combination of systems and domain experts who focus on the particular design constraints of applications and/or computing devices. Each proposal must have at least one co-principal investigator interested in theoretical computer science and one interested in any of the other areas typically supported by CISE. Proposals are expected to tackle the dissemination of the algorithmic contributions and resulting applications, tools, languages, compilers, libraries, architectures, systems, and data.


Linguistic Mapping Reveals How Word Meanings Sometimes Change Overnight
Technology Review (11/23/14)

To track how language evolves, Stony Brook University researcher Vivek Kulkarni and colleagues map the linguistic vector space of words. By examining the linguistic space at different points in time, it is possible to see how meanings have changed. The researchers use three different databases to see how words have changed: a set of five-word sequences that appear in the Google Books corpus, Amazon movie reviews since 2000, and messages posted on Twitter between September 2011 and October 2013. The results reveal which words have changed in meaning as well as when the change occurred and how rapidly. Prior to the 1970s, for example, the word "tape" was used almost exclusively to describe adhesive tape, but subsequently gained a second meaning of "cassette tape." Kulkarni and his team have observed similar, more recent trends on Twitter and Amazon with changes in the usages of words such as "candy" and "streaming" as a result of the popular Candy Crush Saga game and the phenomenon of video streaming. "This effect is especially prevalent on the Internet, where the rapid exchange of ideas can change a word's meaning overnight," the researchers note. They say their research could be useful for building language processing machines that are better able to understand current terminology.


Rice Builds On-Ramp to Cloud Computing
Rice University (11/21/14)

Big data researchers at Rice University will soon be able to compute in the cloud with fewer barriers. The university is installing the Big Research Data Cloud (BiRD Cloud), which will allow for cloud bursting. When an application exceeds local computing capacity, it will be allowed to "burst" with the user's permission so it can share the load with remote servers. BiRD Cloud "will be a great resource for fitting statistical and machine-learning models to big data with massive numbers of variables," says Rice professor Genevera Allen. In one project, Allen is developing statistical tools to make the best use of large volumes of cancer data collected by hospitals. Rather than a single node, BiRD Cloud will incorporate 88 Hewlett-Packard SL230 nodes, each a computer on a card with two Intel eight-core Ivy Bridge processors. The nodes will be interconnected through 10 GB Ethernet. With a total of 1,408 computational cores, the system's peak computing power will be 29.3 teraflops. Rice and the U.S. National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation Program funded the system, which officials expect to be available to all Rice researchers by April 2015. Jan Odegard, with Rice's Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology, says BiRD Cloud will be expandable and will give researchers the option to buy additional computational resources.


Tomorrow's Degradable Electronics
SINTEF (11/20/14)

SINTEF researchers in Norway say they have successfully made components containing magnesium circuits designed to transfer energy that are soluble in water and disappear after a few hours. The new circuit is printed on a silicon wafer and is only a few nanometers thick, enabling it to dissolve more quickly. The researchers say they now have to find a coating or film that will act as a protective packaging around the circuits. "Lithium generates a technical problem for our lab, so we're considering alternatives, including a variety of plastics," says SINTEF researcher Geir Uri Jensen. "In order to achieve this, we've brought in some materials scientists here at SINTEF who are very skilled in this field." The nature of the coating must be tailored to the time at which the electronics are required to degrade, which is just one week in some cases. "When the external fluids penetrate to the 'guts' inside the packaging, the circuits begin to degrade," notes SINTEF's Karsten Husby. "The job must be completed before this happens." The researchers use horizontal and vertical etching processes in the lab to deposit all of the layers onto the silicon circuits.


Internet Architecture Board Calls for Net Encryption by Default
Dark Reading (11/19/14) Kelly Jackson Higgins

The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) wants encryption to become the standard across the Internet in an effort to ensure the privacy and security of information exchange. IAB's stance "represents the progression of trying to introduce some real security into the [Internet] standards-making process," says FireEye's Richard Bejtlich. However, although encryption is the key to securing the Internet, there are consequences. "If you think about the security infrastructure [enterprises] have built up over the last 10 years, network antivirus, data leakage prevention, scanning network traffic...when you suddenly encrypt that traffic, these tools cannot operate on an encrypted network," says Blue Coat's Hugh Thompson. Still, encryption is gaining popularity among organizations. Three years ago, only about 10 percent of traffic volume at a typical business was encrypted, compared to nearly 40 percent today. "We also acknowledge that many network operations activities today, from traffic management and intrusion detection to spam prevention and policy enforcement, assume access to cleartext payload," says IAB chairman Russ Housley. "For many of these activities there are no solutions yet, but the IAB will work with those affected to foster development of new approaches for these activities which allow us to move to an Internet where traffic is confidential by default."


Facebook's Flow Could Help JavaScript Programmers Spot Elusive Bugs
IDG News Service (11/19/14) Joab Jackson

Facebook researchers have developed Flow, an open source debugging tool for JavaScript designed to highlight problems caused by the misuse of data types. Flow, which Facebook has used on many of its own projects, "improves speed and efficiency so developers can be more productive while using JavaScript," according to Facebook engineers. Flow is a static type checker, ensuring when a program is run that its variables, functions, and other code elements will adhere to their original specifications. The tool can check to see if a value assigned to a variable is the correct type, and to see if a function has passed the correct number of inputs. The researchers say these types of error checks could avert program failures and help secure the program against malicious misuse. Flow differs from TypeScript because it enables the developer to check only portions of the code, and does not require the programmer to compile the program for inspection. It also functions in the background, and it can check standard primitive types such as numbers, strings, and Boolean values along with structured types such as functions, objects, and arrays. Flow is initially available as a plug-in for both the Emacs and Vim code editors, but Facebook says versions for other editors may be issued later.


A Computer Science Professor Found a Way to Identify Most 'Anonymous' Tor Users
International Business Times (11/17/14) Dylan Love

Former Columbia University researcher Sambuddho Chakravarty has found that although Tor was designed to enable users to anonymously browse the Internet, 81 percent of those using Tor can be de-anonymized by exploiting a technology in Cisco routers called Netflow that can reveal a user's originating IP address. The Netflow exploit is the latest in a series of incidents indicating Tor is not a foolproof security system. "Tor runs on top of a complex series of interconnections between apps and the underlying network," says SecureIdeas CEO Kevin Johnson. "To expect that everything in that system is going to understand and respect it, it becomes very complex." Netflow breaks down Internet traffic into its various types, for example 50 percent email, 35 percent Web traffic, and the remainder being Tor. Chakravarty's method for exploiting Netflow works by injecting a repeating traffic pattern into the connection and then checking the router's flow records to find a match. If the system finds a match, then the user is no longer anonymous. Chakravarty is now researching network anonymity and privacy at the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi.


Note to Future Self
The Economist (11/19/14)

A decade ago, dozens of former fighters from Northern Ireland's Troubles gave interviews for the Belfast Project oral history project on the understanding the recordings of the interviews would not be made public until after their deaths. However, last year Boston College was forced to turn over some of the recordings to Northern Ireland's police service as part of an investigation into a murder. The incident inspired Jonathan Zittrain, director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, to develop a sort of cryptographic time capsule. Zittrain says valuable items such as papers and personal correspondence often are donated with the understanding they will be withheld for a certain period of time and, with the help of a recently awarded $35,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, he is trying to develop a cryptographic means of keeping those promises. However, Zittrain does not want to make the material irrevocably inaccessible until the appointed time, so he is pursuing what he calls a "bank and trust" model in which the files are encrypted and their key is broken into several fragments, which are entrusted to a library or lawyer in different jurisdictions with instructions to hand them back at a specified time. Zittrain hopes to have a prototype service up and running within nine months.


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