Welcome to the May 1, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Panel Advises Clarifying U.S. Plans on Cyberwar
New York Times (04/30/09) P. A18; Markoff, John; Shanker, Thom
A report based on a three-year study by a panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences says the United States does not have a clear military policy on how to respond to a cyberattack. The report, "Technology, Policy, Law, and Ethics Regarding U.S. Acquisition and Use of Cyberattack Capabilities," says the United States needs to clarify both its offensive capabilities and its planned defensive response. Admiral William A. Owens, a former vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and an author of the report, says the notion of "enduring unilateral dominance in cyberspace" by the U.S. is not realistic, in part due to the low cost of the technologies required to mount attacks. Owens also says the idea that offensive attacks are non-risky military options also is incorrect. The report's authors included several scientists and cyberspecialists. The report says the United States should create a public national policy regarding cyberattacks based on an open debate about the issues and urges the United States to find common ground with other nations on cyberattacks to avoid future military crises. The Pentagon National Military Strategy states that cyberattacks on U.S. commercial information systems or transportation networks could have a greater economic or psychological effect than a relatively small release of a lethal agent. The effort to project a lack of clarity is seen as being important to keeping adversaries uncertain of the severity of a U.S. counterattack, which has historically been an essential element of deterrence.
Record Amount of Supercomputer Time Means New Science
Wired News (04/30/09) Buchen, Lizzie
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has committed to releasing a record amount of supercomputing time--1.3 billion processor hours--starting in 2010, giving scientific researchers the opportunity to run the biggest and most intricate simulations ever to help solve some of science's most difficult and complicated problems. Scientists will be competing for time on the Cray XT Jaguar system at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee and the IBM Blue Gene/P Intrepid system at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, two of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Unlike other DOE supercomputers, the Jaguar and the Intrepid are dedicated to open, unclassified research. "This is an incredible increase in computing power, which was itself a huge increase from the year before," says DOE's Jeff Sherwood. "It's for research that would not be possible without petascale computing." This year, 900 million processor hours were available, and both supercomputers received significant performance improvements. Jaguar's processor count increased from 31,328 to 180,832 and Intrepid's increased from 32,768 to 163,840. The only supercomputer with more power is IBM's Roadrunner at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is used for nuclear weapons simulations. "These are the only places in the world where you can do these types of simulations," says ORNL's Bronson Messer, who is using the Jaguar to simulate core-collapse supernovae. "In the case of stars and dark matter, there's a lot of physics going on. They're very attractive targets for a big machine like this."
Enhanced Learning With Interactive Courses for TV
ICT Results (04/29/09)
The European Union-funded Enhanced Learning Unlimited (ELU) project aims to create tools for interactive TV education courses, known as t-learning, that can complement electronic learning on the personal computer. ELU wants to extend the advantages of interactive learning to a wider audience, particularly in areas where Internet penetration is relatively low. "Television was targeted as the means to transmit life-long knowledge to potential learners in a highly relaxed and comprehensible mode," says ELU project coordinator Alex Shani. "Learning while watching TV and enjoying oneself is the main driver of ELU's work." ELU researchers developed configuration parameters and content to help define interactive, multimedia presentations, as well as templates for multimedia pages and presentations, interactive quizzes, a virtual teacher, and support for ancillary devices. Template models can be adapted for particular programs depending on appearance, content, and the level of difficulty. The project also developed ELU Script, which describes every course, and an authoring tool to help educators create complex interactive courses using a visual interface. ELU's software was developed using the open interactive TV standard Multimedia Home Platform (MHP), which will allow ELU technology to be used with MHP-enabled TV set-top boxes and Java-enabled devices capable of running MHP or its related middleware.
Iranians and Others Outwit Net Censors
New York Times (04/30/09) Markoff, John
People around the world are circumventing their governments' censorship of Web content using tools developed and provided by a diverse coalition of political and religious activists, civil libertarians, Internet entrepreneurs, diplomats, military officers, and intelligence agents. In Iran, Web filters and other government-authorized Internet obstructions are being subverted by software created by members of the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, based largely in the United States and closely associated with China's Falun Gong spiritual movement. Experts say the Falun Gong has up to now committed the most resources to thwarting repressive governments' Web censorship, constructing a system that facilitates open, unrestricted access to the largest number of Internet users. Government censorship systems can block access to certain Internet Protocol addresses. In response, the Global Internet Freedom Consortium sends emails with links to software that connects to a computer abroad and then redirects requests to the blocked addresses. To stay ahead of government-tracking systems, the software keeps changing the Internet address of the remote computer. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Tor Project freely offers software first developed at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratories that can be used to send clandestine messages or to reach blocked Web sites. The University of Hong Kong's Rebecca MacKinnon determined in a study that a large portion of blog censorship in China is performed by private Internet service providers rather than by the government.
ACM Launches Communications Website to Extend Coverage of Emerging Computing Research, IT Trends, Practical Applications
AScribe Newswire (04/30/09)
ACM has unveiled a new Web site (http://cacm.acm.org) to complement its flagship print publication Communications of the ACM. The Web site offers exclusive news, opinion, research, information, extensive content from the current issue of Communications, the complete archived issues of the publication, access to searchable content from the ACM Digital Library and from other sources around the Web, and hosts a blog section. Featured on-site experts for BLOG@CACM include Jason Hong of Carnegie Mellon University blogging on mobile computing, Tessa Lau of IBM Almaden Research Center blogging on intelligent interfaces, and James Horning of Sparta Inc. blogging on security. Another blog structure, Blogroll, will offer postings from the ACM USACM on public policy issues, the Computing Community Consortium on fostering new research visions, and a blog on high-performance computing news for supercomputing professionals. The Web site also offers a Careers section, and makes it easy for users to access content directly from the site or via RSS feeds and email alerts. "The site allows users to comment and initiate discussions on posted articles, triggering dynamic dialogs within the computing community," says Editor-in-Chief Moshe Vardi. "Our goal is to ensure that readers and browsers alike are gaining essential insights into industry information that are invaluable for their professional advancement."
Google Begins Tracking Swine Flu in Mexico
Computerworld (04/29/09) Gaudin, Sharon
Google is attempting map how the swine flu is spreading through Mexico by compiling information from swine flu-related searches in Mexico. The mapping effort is based on Google Flu Trends, which Google launched last November after researchers noticed a correlation between people searching for flu information and the number of people who got the flu in any given area. "Google Flu Trends may be able to detect influenza outbreaks earlier than other systems because it estimates flu activity in near real time," says Google Flu Trends engineer Jeremy Ginsberg. Ginsberg says the current project may produce relatively faulty data because of the lack of available information from the Mexican government. "While we would prefer to validate this data and improve its accuracy, we decided to release an early version today so that it might help public health officials and concerned individuals get an up-to-date picture of the ongoing swine flu outbreak," Ginsberg says. "Our current estimates of flu activity in the U.S. are still generally low as would be expected given the relatively low confirmed swine flu case count. However, we'll be keeping an eye on the data to look for any spike in activity."
A Software to Improve the Design of Aircraft Wings
Basque Research (04/29/09) Diez, Victor Gardeazabal
TECNALIA is working with AERNNOVA on the ICARO project, which is developing multidisciplinary optimization software that would help design the most effective aircraft wings. The use of software would help designers address issues such as mechanical loads, vibrations, aeroelasticity, fluid dynamics, temperatures, viability, and cost. The ICARO project's software would calculate the temperatures of the heat flows that occur when the aircraft is parked on land, is in the ascent stage, cruising, and landing. The effectiveness of a proposed design would be determined by comparing the temperatures and flows calculated with the maximums and minimums that the structure can withstand. The automated process is repeated several times until the software finds a design that reduces weight and cost and addresses other key variables.
Second Skin Captures Motion
Technology Review (04/29/09) Grifantini, Kristina
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Second Skin, a new motion-tracking system for capturing a subject's movements in a more efficient and inexpensive manner. The researchers say Second Skin could be used for creating special effects for movies as well as to enable people to monitor their own motions to practice physical therapy or to perfect activities. "I think it's a breakthrough technology," says New York University professor Chris Bregler. "It lets you do motion capture in lots of scenarios where a lot of other people wanted to do motion capture before and couldn't." Unlike more expensive convention motion-tracking systems, Second Skin does not use cameras, and instead uses inexpensive projectors that can be used either indoors or outdoors, says MIT Media Lab professor Ramesh Raskar, Second Skin's lead researcher. Small photosensors embedded in normal clothing record any movement. The projectors emit patterns of near infrared light, about 10,000 different patterns a second. When the patterns hit the tiny photosensors embedded in the subject's clothes, the photosensors capture the coded light and convert it into a binary signal that indicates the position of the sensor. The light hits each sensor differently, depending on where they are, giving each sensor a unique light pattern, which are recorded about 500 times a second for each sensor. Sensors send information to a lightweight microcontroller worn by the subject, which transmits data to a computer via Bluetooth.
North East Scientists Invent Hi-Tech Gadgets to Help Elderly
JournalLive (United Kingdom) (04/29/09) Loraine, Paul
Newcastle University researchers are developing satellite navigation-type gadgets that could be used to help the elderly find their way around unfamiliar neighborhoods or large stores and supermarkets. The researchers also are working on the Ambient Kitchen, a high-tech kitchen that could help people cook by monitoring a person's progress using electronic tags and sensors built into the floor, utensils, appliances, cupboards, and work surfaces. The Ambient Kitchen is programmed to know every step involved in preparing a series of recipes, and if the cook departs from the correct process, advice is projected onto one of the kitchen walls. The technology is designed to give people with dementia more confidence when cooking. The researchers are using 3,000 volunteers to test their devices. "The involvement of real people and the commitment to having people talk to us about what we should be developing is very important," says Newcastle human-computer interaction reader Patrick Olivier. "This isn't the usual university egg heads working in isolation." Olivier says the idea for the kitchen was inspired by the struggles of dementia patients. "We were motivated by people with dementia having trouble making food and drinks," he says. "When they get lost half way through making something, which is typical, the technology will prompt them." Another technology under development is a special brooch that, when touched, enables the wearer to notify a care giver that their help is needed.
In Major Shift, Apple Builds Its Own Team to Design Chips
Wall Street Journal (04/30/09) Kane, Yukari Iwatani; Clark, Don; Wingfield, Nick
In a major strategy shift, Apple reportedly has begun boosting its capability to design its own computer chips in an effort to create exclusive features for its products. Apple has been hiring people from different areas of the semiconductor industry, including engineers to create multifunction chips used in cell phones. The internally developed chips could be used to significantly reduce the power consumption of the iPhone and iPod Touch devices, and possibly add graphics circuitry to help its hardware play realistic game software and high-definition videos. Apple's new focus on chip manufacturing also is an effort to share fewer details about its technology plans with external chip suppliers, sources say. People familiar with Apple's plans say they do not expect Apple's internally designed chips to become available until 2010 at the earliest. The new approach represents a significant break from the traditional approach among large electronics companies to outsource the development of chips and other components to external suppliers. Sources say engineers from P.A. Semi, which was bought by Apple, will develop ARM-based chips that could improve the performance and battery life of Apple's mobile devices.
New Human Movement Model Can Aid in Studying Epidemic Outbreaks, Public Planning
North Carolina State University (04/27/09) Shipman, Matt
Scientists at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology have developed the Self-similar Least Action Walk (SLAW), a new statistical model that simulates human mobility patterns, replicating how people move over time. The researchers say SLAW could be used to plan land use or study public health and disease outbreaks. The model was created using global positioning system devices given to about 100 volunteers at five locations in the United States and South Korea, who were tracked over time. By plotting the points where the volunteers stopped, and their movement trajectories, the researchers developed patterns of mobility behavior. NCSU professor and study co-author Injong Rhee says the researchers found that people tended to perform multiple activities in a cluster that were close to one another, such as going to a bank, dry cleaner, and pharmacy all on the same street. The researchers also found that study participants generally visited locations that were popular with other people more frequently. Rhee says people's behavior illustrated statistical patterns, such as making the most efficient use of time and effort by grouping activities together that are in geographical proximity. Rhee says a realistic human mobility model could be used to plan roads, study virus outbreaks, to determine where to place cellphone towers, or any situation that calls for predicting where people will go.
Software: The Eternal Battlefield in the Unending Cyberwars
Computerworld (04/27/09) Anthes, Gary
Cybercriminals still have the upper hand on the Internet despite nearly two decades of technological advancement, and Carnegie Mellon University professor William Scherlis says the cybercrime problem is being exacerbated by three information technology (IT) trends. These trends include a migration from functional system silos to interconnected, enterprise, and cross-enterprise systems; decentralization of IT responsibility; and the very rapid propagation of actions throughout networks and systems. Cornell University's Fred Schneider believes a much more effective cybersecurity approach would concentrate on accountability rather than prevention, whereby cybercriminals would be kept in check if they could be apprehended and held accountable rather than blocked. The realization of this concept is being impeded by a widespread expectation of online anonymity, and by inconsistencies of local law and custom that could complicate the prosecution of cyberattackers outside the United States. Microsoft's Scott Charney argues for a fundamental revision of cybersecurity, first by the establishment of end-to-end trust that supports strong authentication at every boundary and tier in computing. Microsoft's Steve Lipner says many components of the end-to-end trust model already exist, such as the tamper-proof Trusted Platform Module. Also needed is the implementation of a mechanism for auditing events to deliver accountability. Scherlis says users also can take action. He recommends that users "be absolutely rigorous about configuration management and configuration integrity, both during development and ceaselessly during operations."
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