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ACM TechNews
August 18, 2008

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Welcome to the August 18, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Officials Say Flaws at Polls Will Remain in November
New York Times (08/16/08) P. A10; Urbina, Ian

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission says that flaws in voting machines used by millions of people will not be fixed in time for the presidential election because of a government backlog in testing the machines' hardware and software. The flaws have created doubt over the ability of some machines to provide a consistent and reliable vote count, but commission officials say that they will not be able to certify that flawed machines are repaired by the November election, or provide software fixes or upgrades because of a backlog at the testing laboratories used by the commission. "We simply are not going to sacrifice the integrity of the certification process for expediency," says commission chairwoman Rosemary E. Rodriguez. Consequently, machine manufacturers and state election officials say states and local jurisdictions are forgoing important software modifications meant to address security and performance concerns. In some cases, election officials in need of new equipment are being forced to buy machines that lack up-to-date upgrades. The federal government does not require that states use machines certified by the commission, but most states rely on the commission to approve new machines and software, and at least 10 states have rules or laws requiring federal certification. For example, Ohio requires federal certification, and although there is software available to correct the state's machines, the newer software cannot be used because it has not been certified. "We need the federal oversight to create consistent standards and to hold the manufacturers to a certain level of quality, but we also have to be able to get the equipment when we need it," says Ohio secretary of state Jennifer L. Brunner. "Right now, that equipment is not coming, and we're left making contingency plans."
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Some Russian PCs Used to Cyberattack Georgia
USA Today (08/18/08) P. 1B; Acohido, Byron

Thousands of Russian citizens have volunteered their PCs to be used in cyberattacks against Web sites supporting Georgia, say security experts. Several hours after skirmishes between Russia and Georgia started, a call for action was posted on the Web site stopgeorgia.ru, which listed Georgia government sites as potential targets. The site also posted a software tool that emits a stream of nuisance requests from the user's PC to target Web sites. Clicking on the tool allowed users to participate in a denial-of-service attack on Georgia's Web pages, says Damballa researcher Artem Dinaburg. Thousands of pro-Russia users have been clicking on the tool and attacking a list of pro-Georgia Web sites. Russian cybercrime lords are also assisting Russia's assault by directing part of their large botnet networks to join the attack. Damballa recently identified a few hundred PCs in the United States that were also being used to attack pro-Georgia Web sites. A similar attack cut off most Internet services in Estonia for several weeks last year, and there have been at least a dozen smaller-scale attacks over political disputes between Russia and Baltic states with Western affiliations, says VeriSign's Kimberly Zenz. "This type of attack will form at least a part of all geopolitical conflicts from now on," says Team Cymru's Steve Santorelli.
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Spare Some Bandwidth?
Technology Review (08/18/08) Inman, Mason

Pakistani computer scientists are developing DonateBandwidth, software that will boost Internet download speeds in developing countries by enabling users to share their bandwidth. The software breaks up popular pages and media files, allowing users to access them through each other, essentially building a grassroots Internet cache. In developed countries Internet service providers (ISPs) create Web caches to copy and store Internet content locally to help improve customers' browsing speeds. However, in countries such as Pakistan, Internet connections are generally slow and expensive, and few ISPs offer caching services. Lahore University of Management Services (LUMS) computer scientist Umar Saif says in Pakistan, almost all of the Internet traffic leaves the country, even when a Pakistani user is browsing Web sites hosted in Pakistan. "The packets can get routed all the way through New York and then back to Pakistan," Saif says. Saif and his team at LUMS say DonateBandwidth works similarly to the BitTorrent peer-to-peer networking program, but can be used to share cached Web sites as well as to download files from other DonateBandwidth users. Saif's team is testing a proof-of-concept version of the program, and plans to work with the University of California, Berkeley's Eric Brewer to implement it in Pakistan.
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Dutch National Supercomputer Huygens Beats Human Go Professional
SARA Computing and Networking Services (08/13/08)

A computer has defeated a human being in the game Go for the first time. The new Dutch supercomputer Huygens beat Go professional Kim MyungWan in an official match with a 9-stones handicap during the 24th Annual Congress for Go in Portland, Ore. Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers have turned their attention to Go after IBM's Deep Blue defeated Garry Kasparov in chess, but still were not expecting a computer program to beat a top Go player in a regular match under normal tournament conditions until 2020. Huygens, located at SARA Computing and Networking Services in Amsterdam, used the MoGo Titan application developed by INRIA France and Maastricht University. "During the official match a quarter of the supercomputer, i.e. 800 processors--nearly 15 Teraflop/s--was used," says Maastricht University Ph.D. student Guillaume Chaslot. "This is the most powerful computer system ever used for playing a computer game, and 1,000 times more powerful than the chess program Deep Blue."
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HP Labs Adopts 41 University Projects
EE Times (08/14/08) Merritt, Rick

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs researchers have selected 41 academic projects from 34 institutions to receive up to $100,000 in funding for one year as part of HP's first annual Innovation Research Awards. Some of the projects will focus on new modeling tools to create energy-efficient data centers, more powerful lasers to create faster optical interconnects, and online agents for more accurate predictions. "Deepening HP Labs' strategic collaboration with those in academia, government, and the commercial sector ensures HP's research endeavors result in high-impact research that meets the scientific and business objectives of HP and its partners," says HP Labs director Prith Banerjee. Four of the projects focus on quantum devices that could possibly replace semiconductors. In one of those projects, University of California at Santa Barbara's John Bowers will use CMOS to design a hybrid silicon ring resonator laser that could power tiny lasers for next-generation optical interconnects. Meanwhile, University of California, Berkeley researchers are developing a tool to model the energy efficiency of data centers, and separate projects at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan will look at automated tools as a way of managing super-sized data centers. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher will examine automated Internet tools and explore the possibility of prediction economies.
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Researchers Craft Multimedia Passwords
Techworld (08/14/08) Dunn, John E.

Canadian researchers have developed ObPwd, a new system that consumers can use to create secure passwords from images, MP3 files, or videos. With ObPwd (object-based password), consumers could use the picture of a cat to generate a sophisticated password that could not be cracked unless someone had access to the specific image or file used to generate the password. "Users keep a record [memorized or written] of a pointer to their content used in generating each password," writes Carleton University's Mohammad Mannan and P.C. van Oorschot in a public paper on the approach. "Users can write down the password in a secure place, or re-create it from the content when needed." They would need to remember the file used to create the password, rather than a string of text. A software version has been released in beta form as an add-on tool for Mozilla, and as a standalone Windows XP utility. However, files that are too large could slow down the generation process, and creating passwords from public material such as pictures on a Facebook page or common image files is not recommended.
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Will the Semantic Web Have a Gender?
Read Write Web (08/06/08) Kirkpatrick, Marshall

Computer scientists should be careful not to impose exclusively male perspectives and assumptions on the Semantic Web, says Corinna Bath, a research fellow at Austria's Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology, and Society. "Binary assumptions about women and men are not reflected [upon] or the [gender] politics of [a particular] domain is ignored," she contends. "Thus, the existing structural-symbolic gender order is inscribed into computational artifacts and will be reproduced by [their] use." For instance, the Dublin Core ontology is comprised of a list of elements that can be used to describe a document, and it is likely that the list overlooks classes of relationships that are critical to understanding documents accurately, which could be revealed by different viewpoints. The current Semantic Web is primarily based on sets of subject, predicate, and object, also known as "triples," and Bath says even the modeling concepts should be challenged because "the class concept and the inheritance concept lack to represent social processes, because of limited formal expressiveness for conflict, change, and fluidity." She questions computer science modeling grounded on the conviction that a lack of doubt about something is proof that it is true, especially when not all views on the matter have been considered. Bath says the representation, storage, and distribution of knowledge is undergoing a major overhaul with the advent of the Internet, and that the manipulation and use of information will be a critical component of most of our life and work in the future. The Semantic Web's epistemologies, concepts, and leading metaphors will thus play a vital role in how information is applied, she concludes.
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New Technology Could Lead to Camera Based on Human Eye
Northwestern University News Center (08/07/08)

Digital cameras revolutionized how people take and use pictures, and a new technology developed at Northwestern University could advance photographic images even more by producing improved images with a wider field of view. Northwestern University professor Yonggang Huang and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor John Rogers have created an array of silicon detectors and electronics that can be conformed to a curved surface, mimicking the human eye. Rogers and Huang established experimental methods and theoretical foundations to transfer the electronics from a flat surface to a curved one. Rogers created a hemispherical transfer element made from a thin electrometric membrane that can be stretched out into the shape of a flat drumhead. While the membrane is flat, electronics can be transferred onto the elastomer, which then pops back into its hemispheric shape, which would normally cause the electronics to suffer catastrophic mechanical failure. Rogers and Huang solved this problem by creating an array of photodetectors and circuit elements that are so small, approximately 100 micrometers square, that they are not as affected when the elastomer returns to its hemispheric shape, similar to how straight buildings can exist on the curved surface of the earth. Tests showed that more than 99 percent of the devices still worked after returning to a hemispherical shape, and the silicon in the devices was compressed to only .002 percent.
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The Secret Lives of Supercomputers, Part 1
TechNewsWorld (08/07/08) Haskins, Walaika

The decreasing costs of building and operating supercomputers is making them more accessible for use in solving a wide variety of problems. "It is probably the biggest trend in supercomputers--the movement away from ivory-tower research and government-sponsored research to commerce and business," says IBM's Michael Corrado. Corrado notes that more than half the machines on the Top 500 Supercomputers list reside in commercial enterprises. University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra says companies are using supercomputers because they provide a competitive advantage. "Industry can no longer compete in the traditional cost and quality terms," Dongarra says. "They have to look for innovation, and they do that by using supercomputers, so it really becomes one of the key ingredients to their innovative capacity, production, growth--and really affects our standard of living today." He says almost every industry is now using supercomputers. Even small and medium-sized enterprises have been able to access supercomputers due to their lower costs. "This mainstreaming of supercomputing will only continue," says analyst Gordon Haff. "The very largest machines will still tend to be used for scientific research or other government-funded applications, but there's plenty of computing being applied to corporate research and even direct business applications as well."
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University of Arkansas Researchers Combine Technologies to Heal Patients, Virtually
University of Arkansas (08/05/08)

In an effort to make health care more efficient and cost-effective, University of Arkansas researchers have built a new kind of hospital that uses location aware systems, sensors, smart devices, radio-frequency identification, and virtual reality. Currently the Razorback Hospital can be visited by anyone in the virtual world Second Life. This past spring and summer, students and faculty members worked to create the virtual hospital and supply chain in Second Life, and the group recently offered a public demonstration and discussion. Because Second Life has no limits, the group was able to create things that they believe will exist in the real world in the near future, such as smart pill bottles that only the owner can open and keep track of the pill count, smart shelves that know when they need restocking, a restocking robot, wheelchairs that can follow waypoints to move patients around, and RFID readers and tags. The students also create internal organs for the hospital's avatars, which will allow virtual doctors to perform virtual organ transplant operations. "We feel there is huge potential here--well beyond health care or the groups we have touched so far," says project staff member Adam Barnes. "The project is really about the future world we will all live in--where every object is a network object and humans can communicate with things as well as they do with each other."
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Citizen-Inspired E-Government for 'Thin-Skinned' Cities
ICT Results (08/11/08)

The European cities of Dublin, Helsinki, and Barcelona have been working together on a new citizen-inspired e-government tool that will improve the cities' responsiveness to the needs of the population, as well as encourage citizen involvement in public affairs. "All three cities already had special projects underway aimed at 'e-enabling' certain parts of the city and were working closely with local universities to achieve this aim," says project coordinator John Donovan. The collaborative ICiNG project launched a platform and a range of services at the conference of European City Administrators in Barcelona, Spain, in June. Donovan says the citizen-based tools, designed by citizens for citizens, can be accessed by city authorities to improve their services. The consortium behind the project aimed to develop new e-government concepts based on a multi-modal, multi-access approach that was sensitive to the needs of citizens and the local environment. One of the first steps was to talk with local community groups to determine the real needs of the city and preferred communication methods. The ICiNG tools can be accessed though PCs, handheld devices, mobile phones, and environmental sensors, and the intelligent infrastructure makes it possible to have both a public administration services layer for officials and a community layer for the public. One of the main features of the platform is the Urban Mediator software, which allows communities to mediate local, location-based conversations, activities, and information using interactive maps to represent local information. The software also provides a set of tools to process, share, and organize this information.
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Computer Communications Experts Probe Latest Advances in Digital Messaging and Transmission
AScribe Newswire (08/13/08)

Networking computing professionals have gathered in Seattle to learn more about the latest developments in network security, wireless protocol design, peer-to-peer games, and data center architecture. Scheduled for Aug. 17-22, ACM's SIGCOMM 2008 offers 20 demonstrations, five one-day workshops, and its first session on data center networking. University of Massachusetts professor Don Towsley will discuss the success of Internet analysis and mathematical modeling during his keynote address, "Modeling the Internet Is Fun! But can you make a living?" SIGCOMM 2008 will also offer 36 paper presentations, including Accountable Internet Protocol, which describes a design for providing strong guarantees of the authenticity of an Internet address, and Spamming Botnets: Signatures and Characteristics, which discusses a spam signature generation framework that identified spam campaigns and unique botnet host IP addresses. The SIGCOMM Award for lifetime contributions and the SIGCOMM Test-of-Time Award will be among the honors presented at SIGCOMM 2008.
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Vegetable Scales With a Mind of Their Own
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (08/08)

About 300 supermarkets in Europe are testing intelligent self-service scales that are capable of recognizing what a customer has placed on them. "The scales automatically recognize which fruit or vegetables are to be weighed and asks the customer to choose between only those icons that are relevant--such as tomatoes, vine-ripened tomatoes, and beefsteak tomatoes," says Sascha Voth, a scientist with the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB in Karlsruhe. Customers confirm the particular fruit or vegetable on a touch screen. The scales have a Webcam module for integrating a camera into the unit. "An image evaluation algorithm compares the image with stored data and thus automatically recognizes which type of fruit this is," Voth says. The scales can recognize items through a plastic bag, determine the changes in color and brightness of produce, and work in different kinds of illumination.
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A 'Next-Gen' Tool to View Genomic Data
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard (08/04/08)

Researchers at the Broad Institute have developed the Integrative Genomics Viewer (IGV), a novel and freely available visualization tool intended to help users simultaneously integrate and analyze different types of genomic data, and give them the flexibility to focus on specific genomic regions of interest or zoom out for a wider, whole genome view. The Broad Institute's Jill Mesirov says the new tool creates a Google Maps-like view of integrative genomic data, and combines different types of genomic data into a single, holistic view. IGV will allow researchers to choose a Google Maps-like "street view" of the As, Cs, Ts, and Gs that create a genome, while simultaneously visualizing additional layers of complex information about gene expression and sequence alterations in the genetic code. Other genomic details can also be viewed in IGV, and more importantly all data types can be overlaid or superimposed to determine how changes at one level will affect another. Users can select a variety of options, viewing data as a heat map, histogram, scatter plot, or another format of their choice. The new visualization tool is free and publicly available to researchers on the Internet. Broad Institute director of cancer informatics development Michael Reich says the IGV was designed from the ground up to handle all types of genomic data, and to provide a strong platform for future growth and refinement.
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When the Meteor and the 1PB Database Collide
Computerworld (08/08/08) Lai, Eric

The Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) is a joint venture between the U.S. Air Force and a number of universities that aims to track asteroids and other near-Earth objects through satellite and telescopic observation. Economically compressing, storing, and crunching the massive volume of raw image data produced by Pan-STARRS is an enormous database engineering challenge, and Johns Hopkins University professor Alex Szalay says Pan-STARRS will utilize a cluster of 50 PC servers linked to 1.1 petabytes of disk storage through fast Infiniband networking gear. Pan-STARRS' choice to use Microsoft's SQL Server 2008 for database management rather than a program better established for ultralarge data warehouses is based on factors that include cost and Microsoft's long association with the astronomical community, mostly through the offices of database researcher Jim Gray, who played a critical role in the construction of earlier databases of astronomical and Earth imagery. Pan-STARRS, which Gray partly conceived, will contain 300 terabytes of data by the end of the decade, and Szalay says some individual tables will be as large as 20 TB. Being a clustered system means that the data in Pan-STARRS will be partitioned, with an independent names database functioning as the index. Szalay says most searches will be facilitated through a graphical interface that "looks and feels a lot like MapQuest or Google Maps."
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