Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org

ACM TechNews
August 8, 2008

Learn about ACM's more than 3,000 online courses and 1,100 online books
MemberNet
CareerNews
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the August 8, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Cloud Computing's Perfect Storm?
Technology Review (08/07/08) Borland, John

Intel, Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, and a group of three international research institutions recently announced they will be participating in a collaborative cloud-computing research initiative aimed at developing an Internet-based computer infrastructure stable enough to host a company's most critical data-processing tasks. The project could also lead to advancements in fields such as climate-change modeling and molecular biology. The six linked data centers, each one operated by a project sponsor, will be one of the largest experiments ever focusing on cloud computing. The large scale of the project will allow researchers to test and develop security, networking, and infrastructure components on a broad basis simulating an open Internet environment. To test this infrastructure, academic researchers will run real-world, data-intensive projects that could lead to new discoveries in data mining, context-sensitive Web searches, and communication in virtual-reality environments. Despite its promise, experts say the cloud-computing model remains technologically underdeveloped. The most progressive thinkers predict that companies will ultimately use remotely hosted cloud services to perform their most complex computing activities. Each of the companies involved in the new initiative has a specific set of research projects planned, with most broadly focusing on operational issues such as security, load balancing, managing parallel processes on a large scale, and how to configure and secure virtual machines across different locations.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Open-Source E-Voting Gets LinuxWorld Test Run
Computerworld (08/06/08) Weiss, Todd R.

Computer engineer Alan Dechert unveiled the open source electronic-voting system he helped develop at the recent LinuxWorld Conference & Expo. In December 2000, Dechert cofounded the Open Voting Consortium to research better ways to vote and to create an e-voting system that allows voters to make their selections on a screen, print their ballots, and then have the ballots scanned by reliable machines. Dechert says such a system leaves no ambiguity over what a voter intended, fixing a common problem found in punch-card systems and poorly designed ballot layouts. LinuxWorld attendees were able to view the system and vote in a mock election. The system runs on PCs loaded with Ubuntu Linux and a free, open source e-voting application created by the consortium. Dechert says election officials can easily set up and create a ballot for any election using a special software tool. Some local voting jurisdictions are already in talks with the group about further exploring the system; however, for use in national elections, the system would have to be heavily analyzed and eventually certified as an election system, Dechert says.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


EU Opens the Way for 'Cars That Talk'
Agence France Presse (08/05/08)

The European Commission has approved a plan that could lead to the introduction of technology that will allow vehicles to communicate with one another to reduce congestion and accidents. The initiative will encourage automakers and telecommunications companies to adapt existing technology for use in cars to take advantage of the pan-European bandwidth recently made available. The technology could be used to detect a slippery patch on roads and to communicate the information to nearby vehicles or to communicate sudden road closures and alternate routes. Under the plan, vehicle owners will not be forced to install the technology once it is made available. E.U. Telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding says that 24 percent of driving time in Europe is spent in traffic jams, which could cost the E.U. economy 80 billion euros by 2010. "So clearly saving time through smart vehicles communications systems means saving money," she says. Additionally, lives will be saved; upwards of 42,000 people died and more than 1.6 million were injured in road accidents throughout the European Union in 2006.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Hacking Electronic Toll Systems
CNet (08/06/08) Mills, Elinor

Attendees of the Black Hat 2008 security conference in Las Vegas were told that anyone with the right transponder reader could easily hack into the transponders used by drivers subscribing to electronic toll systems such as FasTrak and E-ZPass. Armed with the readers, hackers could steal unencrypted identification numbers off transponders, put the data onto their devices, and then stick the victim with the bill as they pass through tolls for free. Worse, data could be switched from a transponder installed in a vehicle used in a crime, thus providing the driver with an alibi. And while the identification number is not personally identifiable, it can be used to access customer information--including names, driver's license numbers, and credit card numbers--through the back-end database. Nate Lawson, a security expert at security consultancy Root Labs who warned of the vulnerability at Black Hat, is designing a privacy kit for the FasTrak system used in the San Francisco Bay Area that will allow users to put a "kill switch" on a transponder, thus making it unreadable until it is turned on with a special button.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


EFF Launches Coders' Rights Site at Black Hat Conference
Ars Technica (08/06/08) Timmer, John

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is using the Black Hat USA conference to launch the Coders' Rights Web site, which is intended to help security researchers understand the legal issues involved when searching for and testing vulnerabilities in commercial software. EFF civil liberties director Jennifer Granick is spearheading the project. "Coders who explore technology through innovation and research play a vital role in developing and securing the software and hardware we use everyday," Granick says. "Yet this important work can be stymied by bogus legal threats." The site contains cautionary information for anyone thinking about getting involved in testing for security threats. Many commercial programs come with end-user license agreements (EULAs) that forbid any sort of disassembling of the compiled code, prohibiting anyone bound by the EULA from using a common method for finding vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, the legal enforceability of click-through agreements varies between jurisdictions, and developers that work with specific software development environments or toolkits may be subject to nondisclosure agreements that prevent them from revealing the inner workings of the software. Some security measures may also fall under laws governing trade secrets, and any discoveries concerning security measures taken to protect digital rights management protected content can face challenges from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Innovative Research Brings Quantum Computers One Step Closer
University of Surrey (08/06/08) La, Peter

Atomic quantum waves have been suspended in a silicon crystal using the free electron laser FELIX in the Netherlands. The project headed by the University of Surrey kept the quantum waves oscillating long enough for a computer operation, which marks a breakthrough in the effort to develop a workable quantum computer. Until now, researchers only have been able to fix a limited number of atoms in a vacuum for a short period of time, and they have not suspended enough atoms to make a whole computer. The quantum wave is capable of holding more information than a regular computer bit, which means computer logic and programs will need to be more powerful and much faster to crack a code. The researchers involved in the Surrey project now plan to produce a higher number of computer bits. "We hope that this work will open up a new field of physics, where quantum coherence can be explored in solid crystals, but at the same time we have brought a scalable silicon quantum computer a step nearer," says team leader Ben Murdin.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Robots Learn to Move Themselves
BBC News (08/06/08)

Software that will enable robots to learn how to use their limbs has been developed by researchers in Leipzig. Similar to the interconnected sensing and processing of a brain in a neural network, the software sends out signals to move in a certain way and predicts where the robot should end up. Obstacles such as a wall can throw off the prediction, but the software enables a robot to learn about its environment and to try different moves. "It's like a newborn baby--it doesn't know anything but tries motions that are natural for its body," says Ralf Der at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences. Der has tested the software on a simulated dog, which learned how to jump over a fence, and a humanoid, which learned how to stand upright and do back flips. He says his software offers more flexibility than planning movements with traditional programming, and adds that it can be used with any robot. Der's team wants to add long-term memory to enable a robot to know what to do when it encounters similar situations. Video demonstrations are scheduled for this week's Artificial Life XI conference in Winchester, England.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Ancient Greeks Help Build Better Computer Networks
iTWire (08/05/08) Winder, Davey

England's University of Leicester is leading a project to help develop a new paradigm for future global computing environments. Working with teams from the University of Exeter and the University of Glasgow, the project will study ancient Mediterranean crafts-people from the late Bronze Age up to classical times in an effort to improve code and data mobility over wide area networks. The research will focus on how and why their traditions, techniques, and technologies changed and were able to cross cultural boundaries. University of Leicester professor Lin Foxhall says that by investigating many crafts, researchers can explore the impact different technologies had on each other, allowing researchers to apply their understanding of ancient knowledge transfer to new computing paradigms. "We aim to find good metaphors for new modalities of interaction and production in global ubiquitous computing," Foxhall says. "By harnessing the past, we aim to find new solutions for future computational systems that can operate in resource-limited environments."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


IT's Advantage Women as Hiring Tide Turns
Economic Times of India (08/06/08) Sreekala, G

Women in India are finding it easier to obtain jobs in the IT sector as companies are making a specific effort to hire women and are organizing exclusive technology conferences for them. Companies have already realized the potential benefits of having more women in their workforce. "Women can bring in a different insight and dynamics to the work environment," says Kalpana Margabandhu, the director of IBM's India Software Labs and chairperson of the Indian Women's Leadership Council. "This can help improve our products and technology." Only 16 percent of women enroll in engineering as many female students tend to stay away from math and science curriculums. Many female engineers may also find it difficult or intimidating to try to enter the male-dominated IT industry, and the long work hours often expected in the high-tech industry are difficult to balance with family responsibilities. To create an interest among women students to pursue a variety of careers in research, business, and technology, IBM recently conducted an exclusive technology day for women in Hyderabad. "We have also launched 'Bring women back' to create a channel to hire women professionals who have taken a career break," Margabandhu says. In a similar effort, Microsoft recently visited 11 cities to recruit women for its Hyderabad center.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Nissan Goes High-Tech to Stop Accidents, Inefficient Driving
IDG News Service (08/04/08) Williams, Martyn

Nissan has developed two systems intended to keep drivers safer and preserve energy by communicating safety and fuel-efficiency information to drivers through force feedback in the pedals and steering wheel. The first system, called side collision prevention, uses millimeter-wave radar to monitor the driver's blind spot. The system indicates the presence of an object with a small light positioned near the side-view mirror, and works with other systems in the car to sense when a dangerous maneuver is being attempted. When a driver attempts to change lanes when a car is in the blind spot, an audible warning sound alerts the driver and the steering wheel gently resists the turn. The resistance is light enough that the driver could change lanes in an emergency, but is effective at letting the driver know there is another car in the area. The second system, called eco-pedal, monitors the car's fuel consumption and transmission efficiency during acceleration and cruising to determine the optimal acceleration for the best fuel efficiency. The system illuminates the dashboard to indicate when the car is driving within the "eco-driving" range, and begins to flash when the car moves out of the optimum range, and turns orange when the car is being driven inefficiently. If the driver insists on accelerating, the resistance in the pedal can be pushed through without significant effort, but the pedal's resistance also makes it easier to hold the accelerator in the optimal position and drive using the least amount of fuel.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Viterbi Algorithm Goes Quantum
University of Southern California (07/31/08) Mankin, Eric

The Viterbi Algorithm, a 41-year-old logic tool for rapidly eliminating dead end possibilities in data transmissions, now has a new application in quantum communications. University of Southern California (USC) graduate student Mark Wilde and professor Todd Brun worked on quantum communication applications for an environment in which a sender is trying to send a quantum message to a receiver using a stream of entangled photons. Noise is created in the transmission of quantum data, and the USC researchers are hoping to correct the problem through the Viterbi Algorithm. In the system created by Wilde and Brun, the sender encodes each quantum bit of the message with the help of an entangled qubit (ebit). The receiver receives the sent message and combines the transmitted qubits with the other half of the ebits. The receiver measures all of the qubits, processes the results from the measurements, performs recovery operations, and finally decodes the message. The fact that a noisy quantum communication channel can be modeled as a sequential process of steps, each step of which changes the state of the system, provides an opening, and the Viterbi Algorithm can analyze the products of such progressions, called "Markov processes." In the USC analysis, the receiver watches the steps coming out of the measurement process and tests them against statistical probabilities using standard Viterbi tools, allowing the receiver to reliably spot errors and know which message qubits are incorrect before opening the message.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


UCR Gets Grant to Fund High-Tech Methods of Classifying Ancient Artifacts
San Diego Union-Tribune (07/28/08)

University of California, Riverside (UCR) computer scientists will build new tools that will allow anthropology professors to quickly compare and categorize ancient Native American artifacts by shape and quality. The applications will enable UCR to document and archive early Native American images, beads, and tools. The National Science Foundation has awarded an $805,000 grant over three years to help fund the project, "Tools to Mine and Index Trajectories of Physical Artifacts." "By taking advantage of recent advances in data mining and indexing, a massive amount of useful information can potentially be extracted from the anthropological resources that abound in North America," says UCR computer science professor Eamon Keogh. "Spatiotemporal predicates" could help provide answers about the development and spread of Native American cultural practices, such as where the curved style of an arrowhead found in Oklahoma originated. The tools have other potential uses, such as allowing law enforcement to track the "tags" of street gangs.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Scientists Open Columbia's New Computational Biology Lab
Columbia University (07/29/08)

Columbia University's new Pe'er/Bussemaker Lab for Systems Biology will work to develop and apply tools that can analyze and derive meaning from the massive amounts of data being created by the rapidly expanding field of systems and computational biology. Systems and computational biology is the crossroad between modern molecular biology and new research techniques that developed out of engineering, computer science, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, and physical fields. Lab cofounder Dana Pe'er says systems and computational biology could potentially allow scientists to pose limitless questions on how our cells work and other issues related to general human health, such as the study of gene networks, the analysis of protein shapes, the prediction of biological function, and understanding how a cell processes signals. Pe'er says data created from such research could answer important questions such as what happens within a disease and what drug targets can lead to a cure. The lab contains a "smart board," a whiteboard computer with touch-screen technology, digital writing, video projection, and other capabilities considered vital to visualizing large amounts of data among groups of researchers. "The new lab allows students from across different disciplines to interact and openly discuss their research," Pe'er says. "Each discipline--biology, computer science, physics, engineering, chemistry and mathematics--contributes tools and a particular way of thinking."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Technique to Compress Light Could Open Doors for Optical Communications
University of California, Berkeley (07/30/08) Tompa, Rachel

University of California, Berkeley scientists have developed a way of compressing light that could enable the development of new technologies in optical communications, miniature lasers, and optical computers. Berkeley researchers, led by professor Xiang Zhang, have developed a way of confining light to spaces only 10 nanometers wide, just five times the width of a single piece of DNA and more than 100 times thinner than current optical fibers. "There has been a lot of interest in scaling down optical devices," Zhang says. "It's the holy grail for the future of communications." Rupert Oulton, a research associate in Zhang's group, says that ideally optics researchers would like to squeeze light down to the size of electron wavelengths to create better cooperation between light and matter. However, such efforts are hindered when light is compressed farther than its wavelength, because light does not want to stay inside a space that small, Oulton says. Researchers have been able to compress light beyond its limits by using surface plasmonics, where light binds to electrons allowing it to propagate along the surface of metal. However, the waves can only travel short distances along the metal before diminishing. Oulton was working on combining plasmonics and semiconductors, which have even more pronounced losses, when he thought of a new technique. Oulton ran simulations to test the idea, and found that not only could light be compressed just tens of nanometers wide, but it could travel distances nearly 100 times greater than in conventional surface plasmonics alone. "This technique could give us remarkable control over light," Oulton says. "And that would spell out amazing things for the future in terms of what we could do with that light."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To be removed from future issues of TechNews, please submit your email address where you are receiving Technews alerts, at:
http://optout.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

To re-subscribe in the future, enter your email address at:
http://signup.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

As an alternative, log in at myacm.acm.org with your ACM Web Account username and password, and follow the "Listservs" link to unsubscribe or to change the email where we should send future issues.

to the top

News Abstracts © 2008 Information, Inc.


© 2008 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.