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ACM TechNews
September 3, 2008

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Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S.
New York Times (08/30/08) P. B1; Markoff, John

During the first three decades of the Internet most Web traffic flowed through the United States, but Internet traffic today is increasingly bypassing the U.S., which could have consequences for the intelligence community and the military. American intelligence officials have warned about this change for several years. "Because of the nature of global telecommunications, we are playing with a tremendous home-field advantage, and we need to exploit that edge," said CIA director Michael V. Hayden in 2006. "We also need to protect that edge, and we need to protect those who provide it to us." Some Internet technologists and privacy advocates say U.S. government and corporate policies that allowed the U.S. to monitor Internet traffic may be hastening the move away from the U.S. Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg says since the passage of the Patriot Act, many companies outside the U.S. have been hesitant to store client information in the U.S. Economics also has led to the shift, with more countries recognizing the importance of having their own networking infrastructure, and how being reliant on other countries for their Internet traffic makes them vulnerable. University of Minnesota professor Andrew M. Odlyzko says the U.S. now carries about 25 percent of the world's Internet traffic, down from 70 percent 10 years ago. "Whether it's a good or a bad thing depends on where you stand," says computer scientist Vint Cerf. "Suppose the Internet was entirely confined to the U.S., which it once was? That wasn't helpful."
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Dashing Computer Interface to Control Your Car
ICT Results (09/01/08)

The European Union-funded Adaptive, Integrated Driver-vehicle interface (AIDE) project has developed a dashboard interface that can link and control the increasing number of information systems being incorporated into cars, such as GPS devices, mobile devices, PDAs, and other intelligent car technologies. Current car safety systems will soon be joined by lane assistance, hazard detection, and other information systems for safe and efficient driving. All these information systems, combined with entertainment systems such as the radio and MP3 players, could cause drivers to become overwhelmed or distracted by the number of in-car systems, says AIDE manager Angelos Amditis. The AIDE system is designed to prioritize demands on the driver's attention based on driving conditions. For example, if the car is approaching a difficult intersection or stretch of road, it can hold all calls and text messages, or suspend non-safety critical information. The AIDE system supports numerous functions and can ensure that drivers get the best possible use out of those functions in a safe and easy-to-use way. If the system detects the driver is distracted, it will issue warnings with greater intensity. The AIDE system also can adapt to different drivers, with customization available in the timing, intensity, and method of warnings according to a driver's profile.
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Brain Scanners, Fingercams Take Computer Interfaces Beyond Multitouch
Wired News (09/01/08) Ganapati, Priya

Multitouch displays, which are sensitive to the pressure of more than one finger, may be the first step toward a revolution in how people interact with computers. The future of human-computer interfaces may involve using neurotransmitters to help translate thoughts into computing actions, through face detection, eye tracking, speech recognition, and haptics technology that uses the sense of touch to communicate with the user. "Computing of today is primarily designed for seated individuals doing office work in the developed world," says Scot Klemmer, a co-director of Stanford University's Human Computer Interaction Group. "If you flip any one of those bits--look at mobile users, or users outside of the developed world, or social computing instead of individual computing--then the future is wide open." Klemmer says users are increasingly looking for richer experiences from the digital world, with more seamless interactions with computing devices, particularly in entertainment. Drexel University's RePlay Lab is working to advance human-computer interfaces by measuring the level of neurotransmitters in a subject's brain to create games that are controlled by thought. The system uses the Functional Near-Infrared Imaging Device, which shines infrared light into a user's forehead and records the amount of light that is transmitted back to detect changes and deduce information about the amount of oxygen in the user's blood. Concentration sends more oxygen to the frontal lobe, meaning a gamer's concentration can be used to manipulate the height of platforms in the game. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute is developing FingerSight, an interface that uses a miniature camera attached to a fingertip, along with another device that offers feedback to the user through vibration. As users wave their fingers, software recognizes graphical controls on the screen and deduces the motion relative to the controls, allowing users to turn a dial.
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Computer Viruses Make it to Orbit
BBC News (08/27/08)

NASA is investigating how laptops brought to the International Space Station (ISS) in July were infected with the Gammima.AG computer virus. The malicious program does not pose a threat to ISS command or control systems because the infected laptops were only used to run nutritional programs and to let the astronauts send email back to Earth. An astronaut might have taken Gammima.AG into space via a flash or USB drive, and there have been reports that the astronauts did not have any antivirus software on their laptops. The spacecraft does not have a direct connection, and incoming data is scanned before it is transmitted. The computer virus, first detected on Earth in August 2007, is designed to steal passwords and login names so popular online games can be played. Computer viruses have been taken to ISS before, but NASA describes them as only a "nuisance." However, it now plans to install security systems.
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Public, Private Sectors at Odds Over Cyber Security
Los Angeles Times (08/26/08) Menn, Joseph

Cybersecurity experts say that three recent, significant computer security breaches highlight how badly the Internet needs a major overhaul, and exposes the rift between corporate America and the U.S. federal government over who is responsible for fixing the Internet. Over the past few months law enforcement officials busted an international ring that accessed customer databases and trafficked tens of millions of credit card numbers, a researcher discovered a major flaw in the Domain Name System that could allow hackers to redirect Web users to fake versions of popular Web sites, and computer attacks have been used to cripple the country of Georgia's Internet capabilities. However, these incidents have done little to make cybersecurity a more prevalent issue on a national scale. "Nothing is happening," says Jerry Dixon, former director of the National Cyber Security Division at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). "This has got to be in the top five national security priorities." The U.S. government has primarily argued that the private sector is better positioned to handle the problem, but corporations say the problem is too large for them to manage. Industry professionals say the Internet's technical underpinnings, which are loosely administered by the U.S. Commerce Department, need a major overhaul to eliminate vulnerabilities. The disagreement is largely because cybersecurity issues touch on so many different areas, with DHS overseeing the protection of government networks, the FBI and Secret Service pursuing cybercrimes, and the U.S. State Department following up on cases that lead to other countries. The U.S. government has assembled taskforces that called for increased cooperation and communication between public and private sectors, but experts say their efforts have yet to yield tangible results.
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Terror Threat System Crippled by Technical Flaws, Says Congress
Computerworld (08/27/08) Thibodeau, Patrick

A U.S. House subcommittee claims that a $500 million IT project intended to find connections between terrorist suspects and prevent future terrorist attacks is a failure, and is unable to handle even basic Boolean search terms such as "and," "or," and "not." Most of the subcommittee's charges come from a memo prepared by subcommittee staff about a data integration project called Railhead, which is intended to help intelligence and law enforcement agencies discover terrorist plots. Railhead, scheduled to be ready by the end of the year, is supposed to combine and upgrade existing databases, called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, and strengthen terrorism-fighting capabilities. However, the project has suffered from delays and excessive costs, and may be shut down, says subcommittee chairman Brad Miller (D-N.C.). "The end result is a current system used to identify terrorist threats that has been crippled by technical flaws and a new system that, if actually deployed, will leave our country more vulnerable than the existing yet flawed system in operation today," Miller writes in a letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Railhead uses XML to integrate data from dozens of data sources and a variety of agencies, but the design team behind the project says XML may not be viable. In testing by the Hewlett-Packard Quality Center, Railhead software was able to pass 148 tasks, failed to complete 26 others, and failed 42. Specific problems included a failure to create reports and failing to find non-exact matches for key entries, such as a suspected terrorist's name.
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Getting to the Root of Plants
EUROPA (08/27/08)

Mathematicians, engineers, and computer scientists have helped an international consortium of researchers from Europe, Asia, and the United States study root development at the molecular, cellular, and organ levels. New roots re-program the cells that overlay them, which causes them to separate and enables the new root to emerge, according to study headed by the Center for Plant Integrative Biology at the University of Nottingham. The horizontal movement helps the plant anchor itself in the soil as it looks for nutrients and water. The plant hormone auxin acts as a local inductive signal for re-programming adjacent cells, and helps facilitate the cell separation process that allows roots to spread out. "In addition to providing new biological insight into lateral root emergence, we have identified a large number of genes that control this process," says Malcolm Bennett, biology director for the center. "This is really important because this may enable us to breed crops with improved root architecture in the future."
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Research Aims to Put Tongues in Control of Devices
Associated Press (08/25/08) Bluestein, Greg

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed the Tongue Drive System, a magnetic, tongue-controlled system that enables disabled users to control electronic devices by turning their teeth into a keyboard controlled by the position of their tongue. Georgia Tech professor Maysam Ghovanloo says the system could give people full control over their environment by just being able to move their tongue. The Tongue Drive System essentially turns the tongue into a joystick, allowing users to manipulate wheelchairs and control home appliances and computers. "This could give you an almost infinite number of switches and options for communication," says the Shepherd Center rehabilitation hospital's Mike Jones. The researchers say the tongue is a flexible and sensitive muscle, and, like other facial muscles, generally maintains its function in paralyzing accidents because it is attached to the brain and not the spinal cord. The Tongue Drive System turns the tongue into a virtual keyboard using a magnet only 3 millimeters wide placed on the tip of the tongue. The magnet's movement is tracked by sensors on each side of the cheek that send data to a receiver. The movement is processed by software that translates it into a command for a wheelchair or other electronics.
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Real-World Lessons in Virtual World
National Science Foundation (08/27/08) Zacharias, Maria C.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a series of projects to demonstrate how computer gaming technology can be used to engage students in science and mathematics. Through computer games, players can immerse themselves in a problem that demands the tools of science or math to solve. The technology also can unite teams of players who must work together and combine resources to solve problems, providing the player with a network for learning. The WolfQuest project, for example, has players create a wolf avatar by developing an online identity. Players can then use controls to guide their wolves through the environment, participating in activities such as hunting and communicating with other wolves. Instead of offering facts about wolves, the game encourages a trial-and-error approach to help players learn what strategies wolves use to survive. The game illuminates ecological principles, including predator-prey relationships, and develops problem-solving skills in which players must review, analyze, and reflect upon the consequences of their actions. Another NSF effort is Project IT Girl, which has girls design and develop computer games. The goal is to inspire the game designers to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math careers. NSF also has helped develop educational tools for older students. LunarQuest is a multiplayer online game that has players complete a series of tasks while learning physics in a new way. For example, the game features robots that deliver mail throughout the galaxy but frequently get lost, so players have to apply principles of vectors to program the robots to get to the proper location.
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Robots Detect Behavioral Cues to Follow Humans
PhysOrg.com (08/21/08) Zyga, Lisa

University of California, Davis (UCD) researchers have developed a system that allows robots to use behavioral cues from human leaders and other robots to track and follow, a skill that will become increasingly important as robots continue to work alongside people in different settings. UCD's Sanjay Joshi says the goal is to make it the robot's actions more reliable and accurate. To create their following-robot system, the researchers integrated information on behavioral cues with other tracking methods, such as cameras, to improve the performance of robot followers. The system continuously predicts the position of the leader as it moves and instructs the follower robot on its next course of action. The researchers say behavioral cues that robots could use include any action or signal that a leader exhibits that suggest a future action, such a pointing or waving. Cues can also be unconscious, such as behaviors that indicate stress or sadness. Cues on movement could include walking patterns. For example, studies on human walking have shown that people unconsciously turn their head up to 25 degrees about 200 milliseconds before turning. The researchers tested how well a follower robot could follow a leader robot as it navigated a hallway. Turning was the most difficult action to follow, as the leader robot exited the follower robot's field of view. The addition of the behavioral-cue controller significantly helped the follower robot keep track of the leader. By detecting the leader's subtle behaviors, the follower could anticipate when the leader was about to turn and predict its future path, helping the follower keep pace with the leader even when it lost sight of the leader.
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MIT Model Helps Computers Sort Data More Like Humans
MIT News (08/25/08) Trafton, Anne

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an algorithm that will enable computers to find patterns in data similar to a human. The model analyzes a set of data, such as trees, linear orders, rings, dominance hierarchies, and clusters, and then determines the organizational structure that best fits the data. "Instead of looking for a particular kind of structure, we came up with a broader algorithm that is able to look for all of these structures and weigh them against each other," says MIT professor Josh Tenenbaum. Scientists in a wide range of fields could use the model to analyze large amounts of data. The model also provides new clues on how the human brain finds order in sets of information, and could advance research in artificial intelligence. Tenenbaum assisted recent MIT Ph.D. recipient Charles Kemp in developing the algorithm.
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Research to Boost Computer Processing Power
Arizona State University (08/20/08) Kullman, Joe

A $2 million Science Foundation Arizona grant has been awarded to four faculty members from Arizona State University's (ASU's) Department of Computer Science and Engineering and Raytheon Missile Systems for research that will explore ways of maximizing computational power on multicore processor systems. ASU professor and director of the ASU Consortium for Embedded Systems Sarma Vrudhula says future computer systems will likely have hundreds of processors. "This massive increase in processing capabilities will have a profound impact on every facet of human-machine interaction," Vrudhula says. The project will focus on developing thermal-aware parallel programming techniques and operating system policies for next-generation multicore processor systems. ASU's Rick Shangraw says the Science Foundation Arizona funding will provide ASU researchers with a valuable opportunity to collaborate with Raytheon and make significant progress on this technology. The project also will affect the design and deployment of advanced multicore processor systems for commercial applications in the embedded semiconductor industry.
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Realistic Special Effects Coming Soon for Home Videos
New Scientist (08/21/08) Barras, Colin

Microsoft and Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have developed Unwrap Mosaics, prototype video-editing software that enables users to add special effects and images to their videos in realistic ways. For example, someone could use the software to add a moustache or a tattoo to someone by editing a single frame of the video. The program adds the change to the rest of the video, making such additions move and interact with the actual recorded film in a realistic way. Unwrap Mosaics bypasses the need for making changes to every frame of a video by virtually stripping the outer layer from a selected object in a video and creating a two-dimensional (2D) surface that can easily be edited using photo-editing software. Weizmann researcher Alex Rav-Acha compares the technique to a tiger-skin rug, a flat surface that once covered a three-dimensional (3D) object. After editing the flat image, the software reverses the process and wraps the skin around the 3D object. The changes made to the skin are now attached to the 3D object, allowing them to move with the object throughout the movie. The 2D surface must capture every inch of the 3D surface for edits to match the object when it is wrapped around the object again. To unwrap an object completely, the software tracks 5,000 points spread evenly across the surface, making sure that all points are present in the final 2D skin. The researchers presented the program at the recent ACM SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles.
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University of Pennsylvania Scientists Move Optical Computing Closer to Reality
University of Pennsylvania (08/19/08) Reese, Jordan

University of Pennsylvania scientists have theorized a way of building optical devices that could ultimately be used to build optical computers. The researchers propose using nanosized metal chains as building blocks for novel optoelectronic devices, which would be able to operate at higher frequencies than conventional electronic circuits. The advance is currently theoretical, but the creation of a metallic nanochain would provide the combination of smaller-diameter optical components coupled with larger bandwidth, making optical waveguiding materials. As the velocity of the light pulses increases, the operating bandwidth of a waveguide also increases, which helps increase the number of information channels to allow more information to flow though a waveguide. Researchers investigated changing the shape of the particles in an attempt to increase bandwidth. Reshaping the nanoparticles resulted in a significant increase in the operating bandwidth of the waveguide, and constructing the chains from oblate spheroids resulted in decreased power loss as well. The combination of these two factors may make this design useful for building light-based devices in the future.
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KU Researchers Hoping to Improve Broadband Wireless Services
University of Kansas News (08/19/08) Ward, Michelle

The University of Kansas' Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC) is leading a multidisciplinary research effort to correlate the performance of millimeter wave communication systems with weather events that can weaken signals and disrupt transmissions. The research could aid in the widespread deployment of high-speed wireless access. Millimeter wave systems can transfer up to a billion bits of data per second and reduce the cost and improve the performance of broadband wireless services. The ITTC researchers will develop resilient network technologies that can redirect data around impacted links. Sprint Nextel and Sunflower Broadband are collaborating on the effort. The researchers have placed weather stations that collect meteorological data at Sunflower Broadband sites around Lawrence and on the university's campus. Onsite cameras will take pictures every 30 seconds to provide additional observations. The Sunflower cable network will transport the weather data back to the ITTC, where researchers will analyze the different weather measurements. "A variety of substances in the atmosphere may affect network performance," says professor Donna Tucker. The researchers also will test the range of millimeter wave systems, which are typically used only in close proximity to one another. Initial results from the study have found that millimeter wave systems work well over a relatively long distance in clear weather and are accessible most of the time.
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UB Wins Competitive Grant for 'Smart Room' Project
Buffalo News (08/18/08) Watson, Stephen T.

A University at Buffalo research effort to develop new technology for manipulating objects on a computer screen using hand gestures has been awarded an Innovation Research Award from Hewlett-Packard (HP). The research effort, proposed by UB Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors director Venu Govindaraju, is one of 41 projects from around the world chosen by HP Labs. The project aims to allow users to manipulate computer objects using just their voice and gestures. "The whole human-computer interaction would be very natural," Govindaraju says. The grants are intended to encourage collaboration in cutting-edge information technology research between HP and academic institutions around the world, says HP Labs director Rich Friedrich. The UB project grew out of Govindaraju's work to develop a smart room that would enable a user to control lights, music, temperature, and other settings of a room using voice and motion. Smart rooms and similar efforts to get computers to understand speech and gestures are part of a larger push toward ubiquitous computing, Govindaraju says. He says people today need to adjust to use a computer, relying on a keyboard and a mouse, but under ubiquitous computing, the computer would adapt to the person and essentially remain in the background.
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The Britney Spears Problem
American Scientist (08/08) Vol. 5, No. 6, P. 274; Hayes, Brian

Tracking the popularity of people and things on the Web is algorithmically challenging given the massive volume of data, and most algorithms sequentially process each element of an unending data stream, writes Brian Hayes. A device called a stream gauge must run in constant space and constant time, meaning that the gauge's storage space and clock cycles must be the same for each element in the data stream. Stream algorithms that need more than a constant amount of storage space have little practical use in large-scale applications, but in instances when the most common item is so popular that it accounts for the bulk of the stream entries, the algorithm needs only two registers and a constant number of clock cycles per stream element. The majority-finding algorithm uses one register for provisional storage of a single stream item, while the second register is a counter initialized to zero. Computing precise answers for many stream problems of practical interest is unnecessary when a good estimate or a probable correct answer will be sufficient. One approximation strategy involves breaking the stream into blocks. Methods in this area include sampling and hashing.
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