Welcome to the December 22, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please Note: In observance of the holidays, TechNews will not publish on Wednesday, Dec. 24, and Friday, Dec. 26. Publication will resume Monday, Dec. 29.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Not Ready for Cyber Attack
Reuters (12/19/08) Mikkelsen, Randall
The results of a two-day cyberwar simulation involving 230 representatives from U.S. government defense and security agencies, private companies, and civil groups found that the United States is not prepared to defend itself against a major hostile attack against its computer networks. The war game simulated a surge in computer attacks during a time of economic vulnerability, and challenged participants to find a way to mitigate the attacks using real-life knowledge of tactics and procedures. The exercise took place almost a year after President Bush launched a cybersecurity initiative aimed at improving U.S. computer defenses. "There isn't a response or a game plan," says Mark Gerencser from Booz Allen Hamilton, which ran the simulation. "There isn't really anybody in charge." U.S. Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) says that a successful attack could cause the U.S.'s banking or national electrical systems to fail. Both the government and industry need to invest billions of dollars to improve security, says U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.). Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff told participants that cyberattacks will become a routine warfare tactic to damage command systems in preparation for a traditional attack, and that international law and military doctrines need to be updated to address cyberattacks.
Sun, Consortium to Drive Tech Accessibility Project
IDG News Service (12/18/08) Kanaracus, Chris
Sun Microsystems is working with the European Commission-funded open Accessibility Everywhere: Groundwork, Infrastructure, Standards (AEGIS) Project to improve disabled users' access to mobile devices, computers, and rich Internet applications. AEGIS involves about 20 companies from Europe and Canada, as well as the Adaptive Technology Resource Center at the University of Toronto, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the University of Cambridge, the European Platform for Rehabilitation, and the Vodafone Spain Foundation. For desktop computers, AEGIS will focus on an open source framework for future magnification-based assistive technologies, says Sun's Peter Korn. "Fundamentally, we are looking to take advantage of advances in video hardware. What a cheap video card can do these days is really impressive," Korn says. Technologies that magnify parts of a screen are already available but they need to be more powerful and flexible, he says. There also is a significant amount of work needed to improve mobile devices and applications. "What assistive technologies exist for mobile are bolt-on, reverse-engineered, and ultimately unsatisfying solutions with limited ability to work with downloaded/third-party applications--the very place where mobile device capabilities are most rapidly expanding," Korn says. He says AEGIS is focusing on open source technologies to keep costs down and make it more affordable to develop accessible products.
Consortium Hopes to Attract Students to Computer Careers
Greenville News (SC) (12/19/08) Smith, Tim
The Consortium for Enterprise Systems Management will work with South Carolina's middle schools, high schools, and colleges to interest students in careers in computer science and mainframe computing. The goal of the consortium, which includes Clemson University, Furman University, IBM, the University of South Carolina (USC), and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, is to foster the development of computer scientists and information technology managers, perform business research in information technology, and nurture management skills among existing computer professionals. Consortium officials say the partnership is the first of its kind in the United States. IBM will provide software for the consortium, which will be based at a privately built research facility on USC's Innovista campus. "This consortium represents the best of a public-private partnership," says USC president Harris Pastides. BlueCross CEO Ed Sellers says that more than 30 companies have been asked to participate in the partnership. Consortium officials note that five out of the nine fastest growing occupations in the United States are in computer science or engineering, yet students in both high school and college are moving away from information technology careers. IBM's Andy Bernardin says the decline of available mainframe professionals is a lost opportunity, and the situation will only worsen as new types of information are introduced.
DOE Awards Supercomputer Access to Cutting-Edge Projects
U.S. Department of Energy (12/18/08) Sherwood, Jeff
The Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science has selected 66 projects, including 25 new projects and 41 renewal projects, that will receive nearly 900 million processor hours on supercomputers at DOE's national laboratories. The projects were selected based on their technical readiness and scientific merit and are meant to advance research in key scientific areas. "From understanding the makeup of our universe to protecting the quality of life here on earth, the computational science now possible using DOE's supercomputers touches all of our lives," says DOE's Raymond Orbach. "By dedicating time on these supercomputers to carefully selected projects, we are advancing scientific research in ways we could barely envision 10 years ago, improving our national competitiveness." The supercomputing time and data storage resources are provided by the DOE's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which Orbach launched in 2003. Access to the DOE's supercomputers will enable these projects to perform cutting-edge research in a matter of weeks or months, instead of the years or decades it would take without the supercomputers. The 2009 INCITE allocations of 889 million processor hours is more than triple the time allocated in 2008.
Culture Vultures Go Beyond, Way Beyond Google
ICT Results (12/22/08)
The European MultiMatch project has developed a multilingual, multimedia smart search system optimized for cultural heritage. The MultiMatch system targets searches for cultural heritage information using a variety of smart search methods, and could be adapted to focus searches on specific areas, such as sports, politics, economics, or technology. "Consider that many portals already offer a specialized catalog, but in many cases the selection and classification of data is done manually, while the MultiMatch platform can perform this work automatically," says MultiMatch coordinator Pasquale Savino. "The system does not simply query the Web, it also searches through archives, many of them not publicly available." The MultiMatch system also supports multimedia searches, and can look for pictures using other pictures. For example, if a user has a picture of Picasso's Guernica, the system can search for pieces created in a similar style. The system also can perform comparative searches with sound and video files. MultiMatch works in English, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, and German. Results are presented in an aggregated way, with resources identified by type and sorted by priority. The system can access whatever metadata descriptions are in place as part of an archive, but if no metadata is available, the system tries to infer the semantic content of a page, which is part of a self-learning system that will improve over time.
One Laptop Per Child Ready for Version 2.0
New Scientist (12/18/08) Marks, Paul
The One Laptop Per Child project has distributed its XO computer to 600,000 children in 31 countries, says project founder Nicholas Negroponte. He says children in Peru, Cambodia, and Rwanda have received laptops, and Palestine will be the next nation to receive a shipment. Negroponte says the project has been most successful in South America, particularly in Uruguay and Peru. Every child in Uruguay will receive a laptop by 2009, he says. Negroponte says the XO laptop's wide distribution should silence the project's skeptics. "When we first said we could build a laptop for $100 it was viewed as unrealistic and so 'anti-market' and so 'anti' the current laptops, which at the time were around $1,000 each," he says. "It was viewed as pure bravado--but look what happened: the netbook market has developed in our wake." The biggest challenge is the immature telecommunications networks in places such as Africa, where a Web connection can cost 40 times as much as one in the United States. Other challenges include ensuring that the laptops reach their destination. For example, a 200-troop bodyguard was needed to make sure the laptops and a satellite dish reached a school in Columbia.
Robot Venture Announces Car Robotics R&D Platform
Tech-On! (12/19/08) Michimoto, Kenji
Japanese robotics firm ZMP will work with Tokyo Metropolitan University professor Toru Yamaguchi to develop a car robotics platform as well as conduct research and development into new robotics applications for humans and automobiles. The platform will consist of a 1/10-scale car robot model and software applications and include CCD stereo cameras, an image processing board, a Wi-Fi module, a gyro sensor, an acceleration sensor, an odometry internal sensor, a laser range finder, and an infrared external sensor for ranging. The software will support Linux as well as code for an image processor. Yamaguchi's research has focused on humatronics, which deals with technologies for exchanging and sharing information between humans and automobiles.
The Economics of Data Preservation
UCSD News (12/16/08) Zverina, Jan
An interim report issued by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access highlights the urgency of the current state of affairs and identifies challenges to long-term, economically workable solutions. A recent IDC study concluded that the volume of digital data started surpassing storage capacity last year, and that this trend will continue into the future. The study projects that the total corpus of digital data will have increased tenfold over 2006's volume within three years. The preservation of digital data within the public interest is necessary for the maintenance of a complete and accurate "digital record" of human society. "The long-term accessibility and use of valuable digital materials requires digital preservation activities that are ... provisioned with sufficient funding and other resources on an ongoing basis to achieve their long-term goals," says OCLC research scientist and taskforce co-chair Brian Lavoie. The group's interim report cites systemic obstacles such as a shortage of funding models to accommodate long-term access and preservation requirements; confusion and/or a dearth of correspondence between stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities in relation to digital access and preservation; not enough institutional, enterprise, and/or community incentives to uphold the collaboration necessary for reinforcing sustainable economic models; complacency that current practices are adequate; and worry that digital access and preservation is too big a challenge to tackle. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access was launched by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in partnership with the Library of Congress, the Joint Information Systems Committee of the United Kingdom, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the National Archives and Records Administration.
Making Sense of the 'Semantic Web'
CNN (12/18/08) Mollman, Steve
The semantic Web could enable more interactive and accurate searches and is considered a crucial component of emerging Web 3.0 technology. Researchers are exploring ways of implementing the technology to improve contextual searching. For example, German researchers have developed an experimental kiosk that enables users to sync their iPhones, which are largely semantic in how they mark MP3 and other files with information that can be read by computers. The kiosk can automatically generate a list of songs arranged by artist, title, or genre based on the information in the iPhone. "Complex operations should be hidden," says Simon Bergweiler, who developed the kiosk with Matthieu Deru at the Advanced Tangible Interface Lab, part of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence. The researchers plan to launch a Web site version of the kiosk that will enable users to drag icons of artists and videos to automatically search for related content. The researchers also plan to develop interactive kiosks for German libraries that will enable users to initiate searches that involve context. The goal is to create a system that can be used for quick and precise interaction with any rich semantic content. The researchers say that semantic kiosks also could be used by mechanics, for example, who could hold mechanical parts with RFID tags next to the semantic device to instantly receive technical data on the part.
Why Don't We Read So Well on Screen
University of Stavanger (12/11/08) Toft, Trond Egil
Reading on a computer screen creates more brain stress than reading the same text on paper, wrote the Center for Reading Research's Anne Mangen, a professor at Norway's University of Stavanger, in an article for the Journal of Reading Research. In her article, "Digital fiction reading: Haptics and Immersion," Mangen said that touching and turning physical pages enhances a person's ability to absorb information, while reading on a computer disturbs that process. Mangen says that reading on a screen causes a new form of mental orientation that causes the reader to lose the completeness, tranquility, and constituent parts of reading a physical text. Mangen believes that learning requires time and mental exertion that new media forms cannot provide. Many people argue that children read less, and less well, than previous generations, but Mangen argues that even if young people do not read as many books as previous generations, it is still possible that they are actually reading more than before, as most of what they do on a computer or mobile device involves reading and writing in some manner. However, she notes that some researchers believe that we obtain a greater and more thorough understanding from reading text on paper, as we are not distracted, even subconsciously, by the navigation bars and banners that appear in online and electronic content. She says the most important difference is that when a text becomes digital it loses its physical dimension, which is unique to printed text, and the reader loses a feeling of totality.
Dartmouth Researchers Develop Computational Tool to Untangle Complex Data
Dartmouth News (12/16/08) Knapp, Susan
Dartmouth College researchers have developed the Partition Decoupling Method (PDM), a mathematical tool that can be used to untangle the underlying structure of time-dependent, interrelated, complex data. "With respect to the equities market, we created a map that illustrated a generalized notion of sector and industry, as well as the interactions between them, reflecting the different levels of capital flow, among and between companies, industries, sectors, and so forth," says Dartmouth professor Daniel Rockmore, who led the development effort. "In fact, it is this idea of flow, be it capital, oxygenated blood, or political orientation, that we are capturing." Capturing flow patterns is critical to understanding the subtle interdependencies found in the different components of complex systems. Analysis of the network of correlations is done using spectral analysis. The analysis is combined with statistical learning tools to uncover regions where the flow circulates more than would be expected at random. The result creates a detailed analysis of the interrelations and provides a wide view of the coarse-scale flow as a whole. Rockmore says PDM uses a different approach than similar programs designed to find how complex systems behave, and because it is not strictly hierarchical, PDM does not constrain interconnectivity.
Parallelization Is Next Performance Horizon
InfoWorld (12/17/08) Yager, Tom
Software's laggard pace behind hardware means that new processor and system architectures will usher incremental upgrades in common benchmarks and production performance, writes Tom Yager. He says the CPU, the compiler, the operating system (OS), and the virtual machine manager are all functioning toward the efficient shared utilization of static resources. "Since every actor fancies itself in charge of this goal, none is," Yager observes. "We'll have more cores and more sockets, live migration to put processes on idle cores regardless of location, but we should also start attacking the problem from another direction." Yager wants to replace the relatively rigid method for ascertaining how long a process is allowed to remain on a CPU with an adaptive strategy. Another parallelization strategy Yager suggests involves keeping cores and other resources inaccessible to the OS scheduler. He writes that "setting aside a logical coprocessor just for pattern matching ... would accelerate databases, data compression, intrusion detection, and XML processing, and if it were wired into the framework that everyone uses for pattern matching, the same code would work identically whether the coprocessor were present or not."
'Smart' Surveillance System May Tag Suspicious or Lost People
Ohio State University Research News (12/16/08) Gorder, Pam Frost
Ohio State University (OSU) researchers are developing a computerized surveillance system that incorporates video cameras, large video screens, and geo-referencing software to detect when someone is acting suspicious or appears to be lost. OSU professor James W. Davis and doctoral student Karthik Sankaranarayanan say they have completed the first three phases of the project, including a software algorithm that creates a wide-angle panoramic view of a street scene, another that maps the panorama into a high-resolution aerial image, and a method for actively tracking a target. The final goal is a network of smart video cameras that will enable surveillance officers to quickly and efficiently observe a wide area, with computers managing much of the work. "In my lab, we've always tried to develop technologies that would improve officers' situational awareness, and now we want to give that same kind of awareness to computers," Davis says. The system is designed to analyze and model the behavior patterns of people and vehicles moving in an area. "We are trying to automatically learn what typical activity patterns exist in the monitored area, and then have the system look for atypical patterns that may signal a person of interest--perhaps someone engaging in nefarious behavior or a person in need of help," Davis says. The system takes a series of snapshots from numerous directions to create a 360-degree, high-resolution view of the camera's entire viewing area. The researchers are exploring adding touch-screen capabilities to the system.
Congress in the Cyber-Crosshairs
National Journal (12/20/08) Vol. 40, No. 51, P. 18; Harris, Shane
Two years ago, seven U.S. House panels and eight members' offices were compromised by malware that could pilfer files and messages, and both the targeted House members and the attackers' Internet addresses suggest that the intrusions originated in China. In a speech before the House, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), whose office was targeted by the hack, argued that the fear of admitting vulnerability might be one of the reasons underlying U.S. intelligence and national security's reluctance to publicize the breaches sooner. "I strongly believe that the appropriate officials, including those from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, should brief all members of Congress in a closed session regarding threats from China and other countries against the security of House technology, including our computers, BlackBerry devices, and phones," he said. There appears to be a strong degree of disinterest from members of Congress about discussing cybervulnerabilities because they have little understanding of such issues. Former director of the DHS' National Cyber Security Division Amit Yoran says members of Congress have to juggle many competing issues, and cybersecurity has had a historically low priority. There is evidence that the expertise of the House and Senate's IT and security departments is very strong, but Yoran says the decision to follow security procedures is left to members and their staffers, who may elect not to follow procedures because they consider it an imposition. The Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded in a recent study prepared for President-elect Barack Obama that Congress is unsuited for managing executive-branch cybersecurity due to the inconsistency and fragmentation of its oversight. The study group recommended that Obama take charge of cybersecurity and establish a new office for cyberspace in the Executive Office of the President that would collaborate closely with the National Security Council, "managing the many aspects of securing our national networks while protecting privacy and civil liberties."
Ontologies and the Semantic Web
Communications of the ACM (12/08) Vol. 51, No. 12, P. 58; Horrocks, Ian
Information technology is being greatly influenced by semantic Web technologies, even if the semantic Web is a long way off from being fully realized. The World Wide Web Consortium noted in 2001 that an ontology-language standard is a prerequisite for semantic Web development, and established a standardization working group that authored the OWL Web ontology language standard. A key element of OWL is its foundation in Description Logistics, a family of logic-based knowledge-representation formalisms whose ancestors are Semantic Networks and KL-ONE, but possess a formal semantics that use first-order logic as a platform. OWL ontologies differ from databases in their possession of open-world semantics in which missing data is regarded as unknown rather than as false, and OWL axioms exhibit the behavior of inference rules rather than as database restrictions. OWL has become the de facto ontology development standard in many variegated fields, and the increasingly widespread employment of OWL is partly due to the availability of tools and reasoning systems. When ontology-based systems are used in safety-critical systems such as those involving medicine, reliability and correctness become crucial. The growing use of semantic Web technologies is made evident by extended support for them in commercial tools, deployments, and applications from commercial vendors.
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