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ACM TechNews
July 21, 2008

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Welcome to the July 21, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Hold Off on WiMax Investments, Gartner Cautions
Network World (07/18/08) Reed, Brad

A new report from Gartner Research says that business should not invest in WiMax technology until the technology establishes a greater deployment base in the United States and until vendors produce more dual-mode cellular/WiMax handsets. Gartner predicts that WiMax networks in the United States will start operating commercially over the next two years, but that WiMax itself will remain a "niche technology" that will be best used serving emerging or rural markets that do not already have access to broadband services. One of the major hurdles WiMax faces is that WiMax will not be able to provide national coverage for some time, as only Sprint and Clearwire partners will be launching commercial WiMax services for the first time this September. Gartner analyst Phillip Redman says business will have to wait until coverage extends to more cities than the ones that will be covered by the end of the year. Additionally, Redman says that enterprises that want both WiMax data and cellular voice capabilities will have to wait at least a few years until more dual-mode handsets are available. Redman says that because WiMax is starting as a data-only service, businesses will have to rely on VoIP for mobile voice needs, and they should look elsewhere until WiMax devices include cellular coverage. "In competitive markets, WiMax is going to have a very tough row since it's starting from scratch," says Redman. "But WiMax still has great opportunities in different markets. I think it makes sense in developing markets and developing economies that don't have broadband comp from wireline carriers."
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Software Maps Rwandan Health
BBC News (07/16/08)

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS), led by Max Baber from the University of Redlands in California, is using a system of electronic mapping to lay many different types of data onto a single image to track and predict disease outbreaks in Rwanda. GIS can be used to help developing countries best utilize their limited resources, such as drinking water. Baber says roads, power lines, and buildings can be digitized in GIS, along with attribute information on the buildings, such as if they are residential or commercial. Combining such information on a map allows for correlations that otherwise might have been missed to be found and exploited. Information collected in Rwanda includes the locations of health services, water, and electricity supplies, and how many cases of illnesses such as malaria have occurred in different parts of the country. The interactive layers of the map can be used to plan where specific health services should be deployed. "Once you start to gather the data and tie it down to its location, then you can start to see relationships between things like access to unclean water and the impact unclean water is having on health in those locations" says Baber. So far, the system has allowed Rwandan health workers to track the number of malaria cases at each health facility, where malaria is increasing or decreasing, and where people are most at risk. GIS can also be used to determine the energy needs of a town, the effect of heavy industry on the environment, or the impact of deforestation on carbon dioxide emissions. The biggest challenge of using GIS is collecting enough information to make the databases reliable.
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DNS Flaw Discoverer Says More Permanent Fixes Will Be Needed
Computerworld (07/17/08) Vijayan, Jaikumar

Dan Kaminsky, a security researcher at IOActive who recently discovered a previously unknown cache-poisoning vulnerability in the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS) protocol, warned IT managers at a press conference on July 17 that while patches have been released to address the flaw, more may need to be done to address the issue over the next several months. Kaminsky noted that the patches that were issued in the wake of the discovery of the flaw earlier this month are at best a temporary measure aimed at protecting the DNS infrastructure from hackers trying to exploit the flaw, which exists in a transaction identification process that the DNS protocol uses to determine whether responses to DNS queries are legitimate. Kaminsky said that while DNS messages include what are supposed to be random identification numbers, only about 65,000 different values are currently being used as identifiers. Compounding the problem is the fact that the process of assigning identifiers to packets is not especially random and can be guessed, Kaminsky said. If hackers are able to identify the identification numbers on DNS messages, they could introduce forged data into the DNS system and redirect Web traffic and email to systems they control. Although the patches that aim to correct this vulnerability appear to be working, there are people who have gotten very close to exploiting it, Kaminsky said. As a result, IT managers should expect to see more security patches that aim to correct the flaw over the next several months.
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Robots Deemed Less Intelligent Than Humans, Still
iTnews Australia (07/15/08) Tay, Liz

New research at Germany's RWTH Aachen University found that humans enjoy interacting more with each other than with machines, and think they are more intelligent than robots. As part of the study, the brain activity of 20 participants was monitored as they played a simple game against a regular computer notebook, a functionally designed Lego-robot, the anthropomorphic robot BARTHOC Jr., and another human. The participants also preferred to interact with more human-like opponents, as they considered them to have rational decision-making abilities and strategy. Humans also thought the more human-like opponents were intelligent. They considered physical traits such as movement and facial attributes to be human-like. Robots that work in close contact with humans, such as a nurse or caretaker, would need to have human-like features, the study suggests. "Recent research proves that the more social a situation is the more human-like features are demanded by the subjects," says RWTH psychologist Soren Krach. "If the robot works within a factory where there is no direct contact to human beings, the shape does not matter."
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Immersed in Imagery, Analysts Get a Deeper View of Intelligence Data
Federal Times (07/14/08) Vol. 44, No. 21, P. 15; Singer, Jeremy

Trend analysis is one of the applications of immersive visualization, a system in which analysts examine imagery from various sources projected onto four walls, wearing special eyewear that facilitates a three-dimensional view. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) uses immersive visualization to study trends. Troy Gilbert, leader of DIA's immersive visualization team, says immersive displays are currently being used for 17 projects. He says other users of the technology include automakers, ship builders, and companies seeking natural resources. Among the sources of imagery that immersive displays incorporate are aerial sensors, satellites, and products developed from intelligence collected by human sources. The displays can be used to visualize past events as well as simulate expected events before they take place, says Tom Cooke with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency support team to DIA. Advanced geospatial intelligence (AGI) techniques are specially developed computer processes and algorithms that can help intelligence analysts perceive features that the human eye might miss, says Brian McIntosh of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's office of science and methodology. Applications of AGI methods include searching for chemicals that may have been leaked into a specific area, while the use of AGI tools with commercial imagery could help civil agencies contend with wildfires and other emergency situations by coordinating response strategies, McIntosh says.
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Bridging the CE-PC Gap: (Compute) Power to the People
EE Times (07/14/08) Williston, Kenton

A new category of powerful Internet applications will be driven by consumer computing devices that blend low cost and user-friendliness with PCs' limitless flexibility, and most of these gadgets will be pocket-sized and can be powered by a battery for an entire day thanks to their efficiency. In addition, the devices will be ubiquitous through their affordability, which will allow them to be used by children and in developing countries. Challenges to making this vision a reality include bolstering the hardware; de-fragmenting operating systems and making them more user-friendly; vastly improving the Internet experience; and instituting good business models. True Internet usefulness depends on the reliance of consumer computing devices on specialized applications or widgets that meld device data with online data and services, and OS fragmentation is one key reason for the dearth of widgets in contemporary devices. Open OSes such as Symbian, Android, and Windows Mobile could be more widely embraced than proprietary OSes thanks to their availability for license to any manufacturer, while the biggest hurdle facing consumer computing devices is the lack of a business model that encourages wide-open, unrestricted Internet connectivity. Carriers are unsurprisingly reluctant to accept such a model because they are fiercely protective of their fee-based proprietary systems. The consumer computing revolution is expected to proceed gradually and subtly as the Internet continues penetrating more consumer devices.
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IBM Slims Down the Web for Your Phone
IDG News Service (07/14/08) McMillan, Robert

Researchers at IBM's Almaden Research Center have developed Highlight, software that enables mobile users to create slimmer Web pages that are easier to view on small devices such as mobile phones. Highlight is an extension for the Firefox browser that enables users to record the steps required to perform simple tasks on the Web, such as looking up flight arrival information on a Web site. Users can then "clip" sections from a Web site and save them to another Web server, which sends the slimmer page to a mobile device. Developer Jeffrey Nichols says Highlight works well for task-driven jobs such as shopping or getting local restaurant recommendations. However, not all Web sites are willing to have their content copied onto other servers. Highlight, which has not been publicly released, uses code from another IBM project called CoScripter, which offers a way to record repetitive Web tasks and share them with others on a Web page. CoScripter developer Allen Cypher says CoScripter still needs more work before it will be ready for widespread use, but it could be ready by the end of the year. Cypher says CoScripter uses "sloppy programming" to turn a series of clicks into a script that can be shared and edited by other CoScripter users, making repetitive Internet tasks much easier.
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DOD Aims for Supercomputer Upgrades Every Two to Three Years
Computerworld (07/14/08) Thibodeau, Patrick

The U.S. Department of Defense's (DOD) latest supercomputer will be one of the 20 fastest supercomputers in the world. The $12.65 million, water-cooled IBM system has 4,700 Power processors, and will operate at about 80 teraflops, or 80 trillion calculations per second. The new supercomputer will have about four times the computing ability of the IBM system it will replace. The new supercomputer "will provide the computational capability needed by higher resolution ocean and atmospheric models for improved accuracy of forecasts," says Dave Cole, assistant director of the Naval Oceanographic Office Major Shared Resource Center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Such an application "is essential to more effectively support Navy flight and sea safety, search-and-rescue operations, optimal aircraft and ship routing, and mission planning." DOD plans to have its new IBM supercomputer up and running in October.
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Google Is Watching, Perhaps Soon in Your Home
InformationWeek (07/11/08) Claburn, Thomas

A recent paper, co-authored by Google researcher Bill N. Schilit and computer scientists Jeonghwa Yang from the Georgia Institute of Technology and David W. McDonald from the University of Washington, proposes "home activity recognition," a system that would track people's activities at home through home network interactions. "Activity recognition is a key feature of many ubiquitous computing applications ranging from office worker tracking to home health care," the paper says. "In general, activity recognition systems unobtrusively observe the behavior of people and characteristics of their environments, and, when necessary, take actions in response--ideally with little explicit user direction." Home monitoring could be used to remind people to perform forgotten tasks, help them remember information, or encourage them to act more safely. However, the concept raises several privacy questions, including how the data will be protected, who will have access to the data, and what will prevent the data from being subpoenaed or stolen. The paper provides a sample of the type of data that could be collected, similar to a Web history log that records the use of devices attached to a home network. "Going forward we are eager to find alternative sources for interaction event capture," the paper says. "Rather than just waiting for the desktop operating systems to accommodate user activity tracking, we see the Web platform as a potential shortcut to a friendlier environment for activity capture."
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Software Helps Developers Get Started With PIV Cards
National Institute of Standards and Technology (07/09/08) Brown, Evelyn

Two software programs have been developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that demonstrate how Personal Identity Verification (PIV) cards can be used with Windows and Linux systems to perform logon, digital signing, verification, and other services. The software is intended to assist software developers, system integrators, and computer security professionals in the development of products and solutions in response to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 and the FIPS 201-1 standard. NIST collaborated with the industry to develop the standards for the PIV cards that will be used for the directive. Each card contains a unique number, two of the employee's biometric fingerprint templates, and cryptographic keys stored on an embedded chip. NIST's Donna Dodson says the agency wanted to provide IT professionals with a model of how PIV cards can be used to support authentication to federal information systems. Each federal agency will implement the use of PIV cards on its own schedule. NIST developed the demonstration software to show that PIV cards can work with common computer activities. For example, user name and password can be replaced with the user inserting his or her PIV card in a reader and entering a personal identification number, which could eliminate the need for passwords for other applications and provide access to secure databases for authorized users.
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Carnegie Mellon Launches New Research Center to Grow Mobile Device Technologies and Services
Carnegie Mellon News (07/11/08) Swaney, Chriss

The CyLab at Carnegie Mellon University recently launched the Mobility Research Center, which is dedicated to studying business, organizational, and technical issues surrounding mobility in managing systems in cell phones, home appliances, and building infrastructures. The new center will develop underlying technologies that will ensure privacy, security, and the reliability of sensitive and valuable information. CMU's Information Networking Institute has launched a new master's degree program in mobility to complement the new research center and to educate and train students. The ubiquity of handheld devices has made demand for new technologies to manage data and streamline connections extremely high, and the Mobility Research Center will focus on improving hardware and software technology for mobile devices, including studies on how people work, play, shop, and collaborate on mobile devices, and how new applications and services can change their lives, according to CyLab founding director Pradeep K. Khosla. Several mobile device manufacturers, including Motorola and Nokia, will work with the center. The Mobility Research Center will also collaborate with CMU's Human-Computer Interaction Institute and the School of Computer Science. "This anywhere-anytime computing capability has prompted a need for increased emphasis on how all this novel mobile technology will benefit consumers," says Mobility Research Center co-director Martin Griss. "We are moving from the plain old mobile phone to the truly mobile companion."
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Open-Source Quality Tester Out in Alpha
IDG News Service (07/14/08) Kanaracus, Chris

Alitheia Core, an alpha version of a tool for measuring the quality of open source software, is now available from the Software Quality Observatory for Open Source Software (SQO-OSS) project. "Whilst core functionality is provided, performance issues remain and customization is currently disabled," says a SQO-OSS press release. SQO-OSS has made a Web interface available, but also has plans to plug into the Eclipse IDE. "By analyzing public data sources relating to open source projects, the system utilizes metric-based assessment techniques to assess quality characteristics," says the project's Web site. A group of academic institutions, companies, and open source projects in Europe is behind Alitheia Core. The European Commission has provided support for the SQO-OSS project, which has made Alitheia Core available under the two-clause BSD open source license.
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Multithreaded Supercomputer Seeks Software for Data-Intensive Computing
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (07/14/08)

A multi-institutional group of researchers has been awarded $4 million to develop software for supercomputers and to create the Center for Adaptive Supercomputing Software, a joint project between the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Cray, Inc. PNNL director of Computational Sciences and Mathematics Moe Khaleel says the new software will allow for much faster analysis of complex problems, such as understanding and predicting how the power grid behaves, one of the most complex engineering systems ever built. Researchers from Scandia National Laboratories, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Washington State University, and the University of Delaware will also be working on the new software. New supercomputers are being built with multithreaded processors that allow for multiple, simultaneous processing. In traditional supercomputers, each processing chip gets a piece of memory to use for its computations. A multithreaded system lumps all the memory together, enabling the processor to access the larger memory pool, but each processor has multiple threads. One thread allows the processor to perform a calculation while another thread accesses the next piece of memory, creating a faster and more power-efficient process. "Traditional supercomputers are not well suited for certain kinds of data analysis, so we want to explore this advanced architecture," says PNNL computational scientist Daniel Chavarria.
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Infusing Petascale Thinking
NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) (07/08/08) Jewett, Barbara

The development of a petascale computer promises to revolutionize education, which is the goal of the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation (GLCPC), of which the nonprofit Shodor research and education organization is a member. "The consortium education plan focuses on the substantial transformation of the undergraduate experience to include not only computational thinking but the computational thinking that leads to the ability to work with petascale technologies," says Shodor executive director Bob Panoff. He notes that the improvement of pre-college and graduate education requires investment in undergraduate education, and GLCPC's Blue Waters petascale computing project will concentrate on alliances with the National Science Digital Library's Computational Science Education Reference Desk, TeraGrid, and the National Computational Science Institute. Panoff says the development of effective computational modules designed to serve as a platform for multiscale modeling and petascale computing will be facilitated through these partnerships. Another Blue Waters component is the Virtual School for Computational Science and Engineering co-founded by University of Michigan professor Sharon Glotzer and University of Illinois National Center for Supercomputing Applications director Thom Dunning as a site where students can learn about petascale computing for science and engineering. "Many aspects of the nuts and bolts of computational science ... fall between the cracks, and as a result, it is not easy for today's students to learn all they need to know to become tomorrow's innovators in high-performance scientific computing," observes Glotzer. She says the mission of the virtual school is to fill in the gaps in students' knowledge, particularly in petascale computing. "For many of our most important scientific applications, petascale computing will force us to rethink how we structure our codes to take full advantage of the architecture of these new machines," Glotzer says.
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The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete
Wired (07/08) Vol. 16, No. 7, P. 108; Anderson, Chris

Thirty years ago, statistician George Box said "all models are wrong, but some are useful." At that time imperfect models were the only option to explain complex theories involving topics such as cosmological equations and human behavior. However, researchers operating in today's era of massively abundant data do not have to settle for imperfect models, and can go without models completely. Speaking at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, Google research director Peter Norvig updated George Box's maxim to say, "All models are wrong, and increasingly you can succeed without them." The massive amounts of data that are readily accessible in today's high-tech, petaflop industry enable researchers to replace traditional tools with actual data and applied mathematics. The new information age is making the traditional approach to science--hypothesizing, modeling, and testing--obsolete. Petabytes of readily available information allow researchers to analyze data without hypotheses about what the data might show, and to instead simply submit massive amounts of information to the world's biggest computing clusters and let statistical algorithms find patterns. The best example is the shotgun gene sequencing done by J. Craig Venter. Using high-speed sequencers and supercomputers to statistically analyze data, Venter went from sequencing individual organisms to sequencing entire ecosystems. By sequencing the air, Venter discovered thousands of previously unknown species of bacteria and other life forms, without hypothesizing that they were there. Experts say that such techniques are about to become mainstream.
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