Welcome to the May 29, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Pentagon Plans New Arm to Wage Computer Wars
New York Times (05/29/09) P. A1; Sanger, David E.; Shanker, Thom
The U.S. Pentagon is planning to establish a new cyberwarfare command as a complement to a soon-to-be-announced civilian computer network safety overhaul, according to administration officials. They say President Obama will announce the creation of a White House office that will oversee an effort to limit access to government computers and shield systems that run the stock exchanges, clear global banking transactions, and support the air traffic control system. Officials report that Obama will soon sign a classified order to set up the military cybercommand, which signals that the United States must prepare strategies for the use of cyberweapons in its arsenal. The new command will initially be tasked with organizing the various elements and capabilities currently scattered among the armed services. A cyberczar will be appointed to run the White House office, but because the position will not have direct access to the president, some experts say it is not high-level enough to resolve a series of bureaucratic skirmishes that have erupted as billions of dollars have suddenly been apportioned to protect against cyberthreats. The key issue is whether the U.S. National Security Agency or the Pentagon should lead in preparing for and waging digital war. The White House has never stated whether Obama supports the U.S.'s use of cyberweapons, and the public announcement is expected to concentrate exclusively on defensive measures and the government's acknowledgment that it must be better organized to contend with cyberthreats. Pentagon civilian officials and military officers say the new command is initially expected to be a subordinate headquarters under the military's Strategic Command, but it could eventually become independent.
Cellular Counter Brings Computer Programming to Life
Wired News (05/28/09) Keim, Brandon
Synthetic biologists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Boston University have created prototype cell-level counters that could eventually be used to coordinate complex sets of genetic instructions for biomolecular machines, such as disease-hunting cells or intracellular computing networks. "What we've done is to impose some of the controls we've imposed in electrical engineering onto the biological cell," says MIT synthetic biologist Timothy Lu. "We hope to be able to control the cell more reliably, and have it perform more defined functions. This forms the fundamental basis for building more complicated circuits." The genetic counters are a new tool synthetic biologists can use to create biomolecular machines. By using computer models to examine molecular manufacturing possibilities and enzyme tweezers to assemble designs, scientists may be able to hack and redesign cells, or possibly create them from scratch. These components could then be used to build dynamic, complex systems. "We cut and paste together the biomolecular components into genetic circuits, just as an electronic engineer uses a soldering gun to put together electronic components on a circuit board," says Boston University biomedical engineer James Collins. The researchers used those components to create a counter, which makes it possible to track and synchronize the flow of electrons, coordinating the interplay of routines that are the foundation for computer systems.
DEISA PRACE Symposium 2009 Attracted Almost 200 Participants From More Than 20 Countries and Four Continents
Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (05/22/09)
The Distributed European Infrastructure for Supercomputing Applications (DEISA) and the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) combined their individual annual science symposia into a larger European high-performance computing (HPC) gathering. The DEISA PRACE Symposium 2009, which recently took place in Amsterdam, attracted almost 200 participants from more than 20 countries, including scientific users, HPC technology experts, and government representatives. The theme of this year's symposium was "HPC Infrastructures for Petascale Applications." The symposium featured speakers from different scientific communities, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy in the United States, RIKEN in Japan, the Australian National University, and Russia's Moscow State University. "High-performance computing is crucial for climate research to understand mechanisms of climate change and predict future climate change perturbed by human activities," says CNRS research and climate modeling expert Sylvie Joussaume, the chair of the European Network for Earth System modeling. "The powerful computing is needed to understand and to predict extreme events and assess the regional impacts of the climate change on society and economy."
Faster Internet on the Road
Technology Review (05/29/09) Grifantini, Kristina
Researchers at Rutgers University's Winlab and NEC Laboratories have developed R2D2, a system designed to improve Wi-Fi wireless Internet access when traveling. R2D2 features special antennas and software that integrate directionality and diversity wireless techniques to maintain an Internet connection. Directionality involves focusing all of the radio energy from an antenna in a single direction, which increases the average signal strength but can cause the connection to fail when the base tower is out of range. Diversity spreads the antenna's signal equally in all directions to reach as many base towers as possible, which minimizes signal loss but weakens the signal. "You have to hit the sweet spot in between these two extremes," says NEC researcher Kishore Ramachandran. The system determines how much to widen or narrow its antenna beam, and can warp the signal into multiple lobes, if necessary, to reach the base stations. To sustain a high-quality signal, R2D2 continually switches base stations as the vehicle moves out of range. Rutgers University researcher Dipankar Raychaudhuri, who was not involved in the R2D2 project, says a benefit of the proposed scheme is that it works well with existing Wi-Fi and vehicular radio standards. "R2D2 shows that it's better to focus on the middle path between [directionality and diversity]," says Microsoft researcher Ratul Mahajan. "They did a good job of showing that this is one way to do it that is practical and brings significant gains."
Craigslist Founder to Keynote Computer Policy Conference
AScribe Newswire (05/27/09)
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark will give the keynote address at ACM's 2009 Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP), which takes place from June 1-4 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In addition to Newmark, Susan Crawford, the Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology, and Innovation, will give a speech titled "Computer, Freedom and the Obama Administration." Leading technologists, policymakers, business leaders, and advocates on critical technology topics will gather at the conference to discuss various topics, including Internet voting security, censorship and the Internet, the future of print media, cybersecurity and the new administration, government security, the future of medical privacy, and hacking as a national security threat. The conference also will host expert panels, speakers, and sessions that focus on these issues.
Researchers Reveal New Robot: A Fish Called WANDA
University of Wollongong (Australia) (05/28/09) McIlwain, Kate
Scientists at Australia's Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, the National Centre for Sensor Research at Dublin City University, and the Defense Science and Technology Organisation Maritime Platforms Division have developed the Wireless Aquatic Navigator for Detection and Analysis (WANDA), a robotic fish that contains a camera and can seek out and swim toward a particular object of interest. The researchers say WANDA's real innovation is an active flexible joint tail fin that is activated through conducting polymer artificial muscles. Researcher Scott McGovern says the major advantage of the polymer materials is the ease with which it mimics the tail fin motion of a real fish. WANDA is more mobile and flexible than previous sensing systems, and its fish-like movements create better maneuverability than conventional propeller-driven devices. Conducting polymers also are more robust than the traditional materials used in similar devices. WANDA has been designed to continually swim and search for a pre-defined color and could be used to detect water quality and pollution levels in water catchments and dams. Existing systems detect pollution at certain points along the catchment, but WANDA could swim around the entire structure to provide a more thorough picture of the whole area. WANDA also is capable of inspecting water pipers that human divers cannot reach, or mapping out underwater areas.
In Search of a Do-It-Yourself Wall-E
CNet (05/29/09) Terdiman, Daniel
There has been an explosion in hobbyist or do-it-yourself (DIY) robotics, with one recent example being a 16,000-member community attempting to individually create a live version of the robot Wall-E from the movie of the same name. Sherry Huss, organizer of the Maker Faire festival, says the availability of various robotics kits has sparked greater interest from hobbyists. Also contributing to the phenomenon is the emergence of inexpensive components and easy-to-use, solder-free microcontrollers such as Arduino. Make magazine editor Phillip Torrone is building a solderless robot, which he describes as "servos, rubber-banded to a battery pack, rubber-banded to an Arduino, and a wire as the front 'wheel.' " The machine can be designed to seek hot or cold temperatures, or be bump-aware, or to use a pen or pencil to function as a drawbot. No less than 24 robotics hobbyists are expected to be showcased at Maker Faire, although Torrone says the DIY robotics movement has yet to truly take off. "I would say it still hasn't 'started,' until more people with a casual interest can make robots," he says. "We're just starting to get to that point."
Really Virtual Reality
ICT Results (05/27/09)
The INTUITION Network of Excellence, established by the European Union in 2004, united researchers and industrialists in an effort to develop virtual reality (VR) systems capable of introducing a new range of innovative products. "Virtual reality looks exotic to the general public," says Angelos Amditis from the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems in Athens. "But for many of us this looks like a key technology that could really enable innovation and creation of new jobs, opportunities, and products." The INTUITION effort attracted more than 60 formal partners and 80 associated organizations, making it the largest Network of Excellence in the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research. During the past four years, INTUITION created 16 internal projects and many external projects. "The idea was to increase cooperation by creating groups of two, three, or four partners to develop a specific application," Amditis says. A major result of the effort is the ability to build virtual prototypes, which can be created in significantly less time and at a fraction of the cost of physical prototypes. The progress made by the INTUITION project, which finished last October, will be built upon by a Brussels-based association called EuroVR, which will launch later this year. A major priority of EuroVR will be drafting standards for VR applications. The lack of standards has kept costs high, which has limited investment and confined VR to niche products.
MIT's 'EyeStop' Giving Riders iPhone-Like Experience
InformationWeek (05/26/09) Gardner, W. David
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) SENSEable City Lab, in collaboration with Florence, Italy, have developed EyeStop, an interactive, solar-powered bus stop waiting area that enables commuters to browse the Web, create bus routes, and determine the exact location of approaching buses. The EyeStop touchscreen can be used to indicate a desired destination, with the system highlighting the shortest route. When a bus approaches, the EyeStop shelter glows increasingly bright. For bus users, EyeStop could work with location-based services that are increasingly available on smartphones and mobile devices. "Since the Renaissance, there has been an interplay between the physical form of the city and its citizenship," says MIT's Carlo Ratti, who leads the SENSEable City effort. "Today's technologies are adding new possibilities to that age-long relationship, thanks to the addition of digital information to physical space." EyeStop also can act as an environmental sensing node to gather information on air quality and other environmental factors.
Personal Discrimination on the Web
Inderscience Publishers (05/21/09)
Researchers in India and Japan say they have discovered an automatic way of differentiating between Web sites that express personal opinions and corporate marketing Web sites that were designed to trick users into thinking they are personal Web pages. In an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Business Intelligence and Data Mining, Takahiro Hayashi from Niigata University and colleagues describe their approach, which extracts subjective expressions from Web pages and scores them based on the degree of subjectivity. The researchers tested their system against 1,200 Web pages on products, tourist spots, restaurants, and movies, and found that their method is more effective in finding personal opinion pages than a general search engine. The researchers say that finding genuine personal opinions is significantly harder than finding commercially-biased sites because search engines tend to ignore personal home pages, personal blogs, Web forum sites, and smaller customer opinion sites. The system relies on the fact that marketers and advertisers tend not to report negative comments on a product or service, while personal opinion sites tend to be filled with both positive and negative comments. Expressions with a negative meaning, sentence-final particles, interjections, and specific symbols can be extracted from a Web page and fed into the researchers' algorithm, which determines a weighted and categorized ratio of negative to positive expressions and provides an indicator of whether a page is commercial or personal.
FCC Develops Strategy for Rural Broadband
CNet (05/27/09) Reardon, Marguerite
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released a broadband strategy for the rural United States that cautions against relying on a single technology. "Rural broadband likely will include a variety of different technologies that together can support the state-of-the-art, secure, and resilient broadband service that should be our goal for rural America, just as it is for the non-rural parts of the nation," acting FCC chairman Michael Copps says in the report. Existing issues involving universal service fund, network openness, spectrum access, special access reform, intercarrier compensation, access to poles and rights of way, and video programming need to be resolved. Federal, state, local, and tribal organizations need to work together to collect data and determine where broadband is available and who is using it. The agency also needs to develop initiatives to drive demand for broadband services. High network cost is another issue, and the Obama administration has provided $7.2 billion in stimulus money for broadband. The report will serve as a foundation for developing a national broadband policy, which is due by February 2010.
Every Move You Make: Free Smart Phone App Helps Burn Calories
University of Houston News (05/18/09) Merkl, Lisa
University of Houston professor Ioannis Pavlidis, along with other developers in the university's Computational Physiology Lab, have developed Walk n' Play, an iPhone application that enables users to keep track of their physical activity. Walk n' Play allows players to compete in real time against other iPhone users or a simulator and watch their calories burn as they go about their day. "You just keep the phone attached to your waistband or carry it in your pocket as you normally would, and it records every little motion you do--from walking to climbing stairs--and translates it into calories burned," Pavlidis says. "The game operates on a 24-hour cycle and tallies everything up daily." Pavlidis says Walk n' Play turns the world into a treadmill and gives a more accurate calorie count than exercise machines. A major aspect of the application is its gaming and competition function. Users could enter a buddy system with a friend, or challenge themselves against a simulator that is programmed to follow an ideal routine for maintaining or losing weight through healthy activities. "Modern conveniences have changed our way of life," Pavlidis says. "The basic idea behind the application we've developed is for people to get motivated and back to living more active lifestyles."
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