Welcome to the November 14, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Why Veins Could Replace Fingerprints and Retinas as Most Secure Form of ID
Times Online (UK) (11/11/08) Harvey, Mike
Finger vein authentication is starting to gain traction in Europe. Easydentic Group in France says it will use finger vein security for door access systems in the United Kingdom and other European markets. The advanced biometric system, which verifies identities based on the unique patterns of veins inside the finger, has been widely introduced by Japanese banks in thousands of cash machines over the last two years. Hitachi developed the technology, which captures the pattern of blood vessels by transmitting near-infrared light at different angles through the finger, and then turns it into a digital code to match it against preregistered profiles. Veins are difficult to forge and impossible to manipulate because they are inside the body, according to Hitachi. The company also says finger vein technology is more affordable than iris scanning or face/voice recognition and has a lower false rejection rate than fingerprinting. Finger vein authentication is primarily used in Japan for ATMs, door access systems, and computer log-in systems.
Exploring Old Rome Without Air (or Time) Travel
New York Times (11/13/08) P. C11; Povoledo, Elisabetta
Google Earth's Ancient Rome 3D is a simulation of Rome circa 320 A.D. that can be explored in three dimensions. It consists of about 7,000 buildings reconstructed through the efforts of Bernard Frischer, director of the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. The project involved the collaboration of Google Earth, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, and Past Perfect Productions, a company whose specialty is 3D cultural heritage models. The simulation was initially based on Frischer's Rome Reborn 1.0 project, which was fine-tuned over the years as technology improved. Experiencing Ancient Rome 3D requires users to install the Google Earth software at earth.google.com and then access the simulation from the Gallery folder. The mayor of Rome said at a Nov. 12 news conference that Ancient Rome 3D could satisfy tourists who are disappointed to find the city's ancient structures in a state of decay, which "may not be enough to involve the tourist in the experience of Roman civilization." Frischer says that he hopes Ancient Rome 3D will be an ongoing scholarly work that is updated as new knowledge is contributed.
Better Work Culture Would Bring Women Back to IT, Says British Computer Society
The number of women in the U.K. IT industry continues to decline, but companies could be more creative in the way they make their cultures increasingly welcoming to women, says Rebecca George, the new chair of the British Computer Society Women's Forum. She says the industry can change its culture by becoming more aware of the difference in the way women and men act in the workplace. George believes there are more visible role models and professional networks for women today, but companies could do a better job of understanding female involvement in the workplace over the course of their careers, and responding accordingly to such shifts. "The IT industry is famous for its skill shortages, and I believe it's time to re-examine the problem of keeping and motivating female IT professionals," George says. "I believe that if you strive to have the right culture for everyone, you will bring women along as well." The number of female IT professionals declined 6 percent to 192,580 from 2001 to 2007.
U.S. Broadband Push Seen Gaining Steam
Investor's Business Daily (11/13/08) P. A5; Phipps, Jennie
On his Web site, President-elect Barack Obama says the United States should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access and calls for providing "true broadband to every community in America." "Bandwidth makes people more productive," says Princeton University professor Ed Felton. "Providing remote access to data gives people many more options in terms of where they work and whom they work for." In October, Congress ratified the Broadband Data Improvement Act, which requires that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provide an annual report on the availability of broadband, and on Nov. 5th the FCC voted to open vacant broadcast spectrum for unlicensed use. However, the United States still ranks 16th among industrialized nations for broadband development and penetration, according to a Consumer's Union study. Smithville Telephone's Cullen McCarty says the government should treat Internet access like it treated electrical access in the 20th century, when President Franklin Roosevelt pushed through the Rural Electrification Act, which established a lending program to pay for the installation of electrical systems. In rural areas, there is an obvious need to upgrade broadband capabilities, but Internet access is lacking in other areas as well, such as the U.S. automobile industry. The BMW 7 series, for example, recently released in Germany, has full access to the Internet. Burton Group analyst Jack Santos notes that the U.S. has more than 400 million mobile devices, more than one per person, and last year wireless phone conversation minutes exceeded wired conversations.
Online Tools Help Students Search for Meaning
ICT Results (11/11/08)
European researchers working on the Language Technology for eLearning (LT4eL) project have developed a learning management system (LMS) for classifying and locating teaching materials in eight different languages that searches by meaning instead of by text. The project has created a keyword extractor that analyzes each document in the LMS archive and proposes a list of keywords the author can accept, reject, or modify. The prototype currently can work with documents in Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, English, German, Polish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Trials show that the system works faster and more consistently than manual annotation, and a related tool can extract definitions from the material to build a glossary of key terms. The semantic search tool organizes keywords and definitions into a hierarchy according to their meaning to highlight the relationships between the keywords. However, the researchers say the strength of the LT4eL system is that the resources can be cross-referenced between multiple languages. The system should benefit students in exchange programs and those studying a field in which much of the material is not available in their native language. LT4eL project coordinator Paola Monachesi, of the Institute of Linguistics at Utrecht University, says that students are not yet using the semantic search to its full potential, largely because it is different from search engines that they are used to, so the project will look at the tagging system used on social networking sites to see if it could be adapted to make the semantic search more user-friendly.
Scientists Developing Computer Program to Treat Astronauts in Space
Monterey County Herald (CA) (11/13/08) Lindsay, Jay
Scientists are developing software for space flights that would give computers the ability to offer the guidance of a human therapist to help diffuse psychological and interpersonal problems before they compromise a mission. Clinical tests are scheduled to start in December. The four-year, $1.74 million project, called the Virtual Space Station, is sponsored by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, and uses a video recording of a therapist to help astronauts deal with a variety of problems. Through the Virtual Space Station program, a recording of Dartmouth psychologist Mark Hegel can be accessed through a personal laptop, accessible only to one astronaut at a time. The recording helps astronauts identify reasons for their problems and then devises a treatment plan based on the descriptions of the problems given by the astronauts. The software also can help astronauts learn strategies for handling conflict through interactive role-playing. While the program is designed for astronauts, project leaders say it could be used by people on Earth who cannot talk to a therapist. Civilian patients, not astronauts, will initially test the system. Harvard researcher and project leader James Cartreine says there are a lot of barriers to getting professional help, but getting help from a computer should be much easier.
3D Display Offers Glimpse of Future Media
PhysOrg.com (11/10/08) Zyga, Lisa
Researchers at the University of Southern California's Graphics Lab have developed a three-dimensional (3D) display that improves upon existing 3D technology. People do not need to wear special glasses to view the 3D effects, and can watch the display from all directions and heights. The display uses a modified video projector that projects both virtual and real images from a recorded movie at more than 4,000 frames per second. The display is interactive, and content can be updated 200 times per second. The 3D display system makes use of a rapidly spinning mirror to project the high-speed video, and its synchronization with the projector enables it to reflect a different image to viewers in all directions. The mirror rotates up to 20 times per second, creating the illusion of a floating object at its center, but the image is enclosed in a glass box to protect the spinning mirrors from being touched. "While flat electronic displays represent a majority of user experiences, it is important to realize that flat surfaces represent only a small portion of our physical world," the research team explains on its Web site. "The next generation of displays will begin to represent the physical world around us, but this progression will not succeed unless it is completely invisible to the user."
New Techniques Easier, More Secure
Columbian (WA) (11/09/08) Vogt, Tom
University of Idaho scientists are working to create computer passwords that are not only easier to remember but will provide better security as well. "Humans are good at remembering meaningful things, but bad at remembering arbitrary sequences of digits," says University of Idaho psychology professor Steffen Werner. Consequently, people tend to have trouble remembering the most secure passwords, which link together letters and number in random order, but may have more success with a sequence of pictures as a password. Werner says the challenge is to make a password that is memorable for the user yet as unpredictable and random as possible. Fortunately, people's visual memory is quite good, as people can extract a lot of information from a picture very efficiently, Werner says. He and his research team showed images to test subjects for about a minute, and then showed them nine-character strings of random numbers and letters. After 30 minutes, subjects were fairly successful in recalling both the images and the numbers and letters, but after about a month, the subjects could only identify 25 percent to 35 percent of the alpha-numeric sequence, but were still able to identify 90 percent of the images. In the system Werner is exploring, a password picture might include images in nine categories, such as a man, a woman, a child, a pet, another animal, a piece of fruit, an instrument, and a background. The user would select an image from each of these groups, and when logging on again later be asked to identify the image they selected from each group. Werner does not see this system becoming a password for day-to-day accounts, like email, but it could become a log-in system for accounts that are accessed less frequently, like retirement accounts.
Collecting Health Data in Areas With No Power Supply
University of Oslo (11/12/08)
To overcome the lack of power supply in rural Africa, researchers at the University of Oslo's Department of Informatics in Norway have been developing a health information system designed to enable authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) to improve health services in such areas. Systems have been established in a number of African nations, the latest being Sierra Leone. Much of the system software is reusable across countries, but adaptation to each individual country is a necessity given the variance of technological and organizational conditions. In situations where the computer network is insufficient, the researchers sometimes try to capture data with mobile technology. The Sierra Leone deployment uses low-energy PCs and data servers whose batteries are charged by solar energy. All data from villages and health centers is gathered, stored, and aggregated in data warehouses, where it is connected to population censuses and information from other sources. The researchers are currently working with the WHO to devise an open source country toolkit that blends the database applications with analytical tools, Web-based maps, and graphical representations. Oslo's Jorn Braa says all programming is performed using open source code. The researchers have elected to use the Linux operating system, which was chosen in part because a large percentage of African PCs are infected by computer viruses.
A Realer Virtual World
Forbes (11/07/08) Greenberg, Andy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab professor Joe Paradiso is working to create what he calls X-Reality, a computer-based system designed to integrate the virtual world with the real world. Backed by funding from Linden Lab, Paradiso is using sensors, displays, and software to bring real-world data into virtual worlds and to integrate access to virtual worlds with real-world situations. In late November, Paradiso's team will turn on 45 handheld devices, each equipped with an iPhone-like touch screen, a version of Second Life's software, wireless connections, cameras, and a variety of audio, motion, and infrared sensors, that are mounted on the walls of Media Lab's building. Anyone who enters the building while wearing a small electronic badge can walk up to one of the small screens and peer into a landscape in Second Life and communicate with others, and users in Second Life will be able to look into virtual screens that display the real world as seen by the devices. Paradiso says the result will be a physical building that users can access from anywhere in the world. Unlike other virtual meetings in which users' digital avatars awkwardly sit around a virtual conference table, an X-Reality meeting would take place mostly in the real world, with some virtual users participating through Paradiso's wormholes. X-Reality could potentially be used to map out a building's emergency response systems and help rescue workers find people trapped in the real building using the virtual wormholes.
ITU Challenges ICANN to Involve Governments
IDG News Service (11/06/08) Wanjiku, Rebecca
Hamadoun Toure, the secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), criticized the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC) at a recent public meeting in Cairo. He called the advisory committee "cosmetic" and "weak" because ICANN does not have to take its advice. Toure added that he believed governments should be able to participate in ICANN just as the organization's other constituencies do. This would help governments fight cyberterrorism in a coordinated way, Toure noted. However, GAC chairman Janis Kirklins said she believed the current structure of the committee is fine the way it is now. Meanwhile, Maimouna Diop, the director of ICT with the Senegalese Infrastructure and Telecommunication Ministry, said ICANN should find ways to involve governments--particularly the governments of developing countries--without forcing them to apply for the ICANN fellowship. "We must find a way to involve government officials from developing countries," Diop said.
E-Community Experiment Examines the Promise of Being Connected
Penn State Live (10/28/08) DuBois, Charlie
Pennsylvania State University researchers are investigating the employment of networked wireless services in the creation of a mobile electronic community, using State College, Pa., as a case study. The experiment is led by Jack Carroll, head of the Center for Human-Computer Interaction, who, with professor Mary Beth Rosson, outlined several ways communities could be affected by such services. Applications include using technology to enhance community engagement and make residents more active participants in development planning; helping authorities evacuate citizens in the event of an emergency; and making local history and culture more interactive, using wirelessly available imagery, stories, and information about community sites. Wireless networks might give Internet services and applications a greater sense of immediacy rather than making users feel isolated, which is a common complaint about current desktop systems. A greater sense of immersion and connection can facilitate more timely action, and Carroll says that while the technological ingredients for a mobile e-community--smart phones, Wi-Fi, Web-based tools, and software--are already in place, the missing element is ubiquity. He predicts that a mobile e-community will emerge in the next two years as users reach critical mass. "The infrastructure will be there in two years; it's mostly there now," Carroll says.
Yahoo's Hadoop Software Transforming the Way Data Is Analyzed
SiliconValley.com (11/05/08) Ackerman, Elise
Yahoo!'s Hadoop open source data-mining program is capable of searching through the entire Library of Congress in less than 30 seconds. Universities also are using Hadoop, which is part of Yahoo!'s huge computing grid. "It makes it possible to actually take advantage of all the computers we have hooked up together," says Yahoo!'s Larry Heck. Hadoop improves the relevance of ads Yahoo! displays on the Internet by analyzing the company's endless flow of data, which is now more than 10 terabytes a day, in real time. As users navigate through Yahoo!, Hadoop determines which ads are likely to catch their attention. Yahoo! also will be using Hadoop on the sites owned by the 796 members of a newspaper consortium that is working with Yahoo! to sell more advertising at better prices. Hadoop was first used to build Yahoo!'s Web index. Since then, the software has been adjusted by engineers and researchers both inside and outside of the company for use in experiments with giant data sets. Amazon, Facebook, and Intel developers are using Hadoop for tasks such as log analysis to modeling earthquakes. "We are leveraging not only the contribution that we are giving to the software, but the contributions from the larger community as well, everybody wins from it," Heck says.
Numbers Game: NC State Research Gives New Look to Election Statistics
North Carolina State University (11/03/08) DeGraff, Nate
North Carolina State University professor Christopher Healey has developed visual political graphics that simultaneously show many pieces of electoral information, enabling analysts to obtain nuanced views of U.S. national and state races. Healey got the idea for the advanced political visualizations following the midterm elections in 2006. He noticed that news channels tended to identify states as either red states or blue states, and wanted to devise a way to disprove this concept. The graphics Healy created showed that the political leanings of most states were far more complex than how they are presented in the media. "The maps used by news networks only reflect one piece of information, because there isn't a lot of opportunity to explain the maps," he says. "Viewers have to be able to understand the map in the time that it is on screen. Since people have more time to look at our maps, we can pack about five or six times the information into our maps." Healey's map divides each state or congressional district into four sections, which use varying shades of red or blue to indicate the margin of victory in congressional, gubernatorial, and presidential elections. The map also uses three-dimensional images to reflect each state's number of Electoral College votes, with the more populous states appearing taller on the map.
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