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Welcome to the June 1, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Obama Outlines Coordinated Cyber-Security Plan
New York Times (05/29/09) Sanger, David E.; Markoff, John

U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the country's disjointed efforts to "deter, prevent, detect, and defend" against cyberattacks will now be run by the White House, though he promised that he will prohibit the federal government from monitoring "private-sector networks" and Internet traffic used for communications. Obama's announcement accompanied the release of a new government strategy to combat rising computer security threats. The policy review was not specific on how the administration will turn many of the goals into practical realities or how the turf wars between the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies would be resolved. In response to critics who questioned how much authority the new cyberczar will have, Obama said the new coordinator would have "regular access to me," similar to the coordinator of nuclear and conventional threats. Many computer security experts hope President Obama's announcement will mark a turning point in the U.S.'s efforts to fight and reduce the cybersecurity threat, which have been largely unsuccessful so far. Although Obama did not discuss details on expanding the role of the military in offensive, pre-emptive, and defensive cyberoperations, senior officials said the Pentagon planned to create a new cybercommand to organize and train for digital war and to oversee offensive and defensive operations.

Teaching Computers to Recognise
ICT Results (06/01/09)

European researchers working on the Cognitive-Level Annotation Using Latent Statistical Structure (CLASS) project are developing visualization technologies capable of recognizing both specific objects and classes of objects. "The recognition of an object as belonging to a particular group is a harder problem for a computer than the recognition of a specific object," says Luc Van Gool of Belgium's Leuven University. "The reason is that object classes show large variability among their members." The CLASS project has developed a system in which the description of an object is based on the appearance of numerous, small patches. The researchers say that localized features provide the necessary robustness to handle the massive variations that occur within a group of objects. CLASS also developed a special mechanism, called efficient approximate neighborhood search, for the comparison of an image or an object with a vast number of reference images. The CLASS project's technology has been incorporated into a commercial application that enables mobile phone subscribers to take pictures of specific objects and receive relevant information on the object's subject. "It's like the object itself becomes the link to further information," Van Gool says. He says cities and museums could use this technology to offer interactive guided tours.

The Next Frontier: Decoding the Internet's Raw Data
Washington Post (06/01/09) P. A10; Hart, Kim

The massive amounts of data available on the Internet potentially have infinite uses. For example, advertisers want to mine photos and status updates on social networks to better sell products, while scientists are tracking weather patterns using decades of climate records. Now, U.S. White House officials want to make government data available to the public so citizens can monitor government actions. The problem is determining how to organize and display such a massive amount of data without having to sift through volumes of spreadsheets. Participants at the recent symposium at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab focused on solving this problem. "We're trying to understand data and make sense of it visually, but there's no way of evaluating how effective these visuals really are for people," says PricewaterhouseCoopers research manager Mave Houston. Analysts from the U.S. Department of Defense, SAIC, and Lockheed Martin expressed their frustrations with available information visualization tools, which are too complex for novice users, frequently do not work well with user-generated content, and have difficulty handling large amounts of data. The Human-Computer Interaction Lab is working on ways of linking information, creating user-friendly technology devices, and improving how people interact with the Web. "Our belief is that technology is not just useful as toys or for business," says lab founder Ben Shneiderman. "We're talking about using these technologies for national priorities."

Q&A: Corrado Priami Explains Why Computer Science Is Systems Biology's Best Foundation
GenomeWeb Daily News (05/29/09) Marx, Vivien

University of Trento professor Corrado Priami is CEO of the Microsoft Research-University of Trento Center for Computational and Systems Biology (CoSBi). "Biology is now experiencing heightened interest in system dynamics--interpreting living organisms as information manipulators--and [the field] is moving toward systems biology, looking at systems made up of communicating devices, information processing, interconnected computational units," Priami says in an interview. "Computer science is the best candidate for laying the foundation of systems biology, and not mathematics as it has been thought so far." Priami says that medium-term failure is the result of boosting computing power to solve increasingly complex problems, while solving a problem is accomplished with the discovery of the correct abstraction and the proper linguistic primitives to model the problem. He says the CoSBi Lab platform for in silico labs defines PCs as standard architectures in order that any lab can benefit from CoSBi's research while also being partially dependent on cloud computing. "CoSBi aims to contribute to the future of computer science by developing a novel generation of operating systems and programming languages that enables simulation-based research within a quantitative reference framework that connects in silico replica and actual systems by means of new quantitative conceptual and computational tools," Priami says. He stresses that open source, open access products and vendor products must coexist and vitalize each other to enhance the general quality of the available computational tools. Priami outlined the opportunities for computer science in systems biology in the May edition of the Communications of the ACM.

SIGGRAPH 2009 Technical Papers Focus on Technology and Advanced Techniques
Business Wire (05/27/09)

ACM's SIGGRAPH 2009 Technical Papers program will feature 78 papers on the latest computer graphic innovations, including a detailed simulation of intrusive surgical procedures and the development of infra-red flash photography. The papers focus on core topics in computer graphics, including modeling, animation, rendering, imaging, and human-computer interaction, as well as related fields such as audio, robotics, visualization, and perception. "These research papers provide a preview of the latest advances in computer graphics, and they highlight how important computer graphics are to art, science, medicine, and other fields," says SIGGRAPH 2009 Technical Papers chair Tom Funkhouser, from Princeton University. "SIGGRAPH papers have historically provided the most groundbreaking innovations in computer graphics. This content represents some of the greatest achievements in this field from across the globe and could very well lead to advancements that impact all of our lives." One paper discusses the interactive simulation of surgical needle insertion and steering, featuring algorithms for simulating and visualizing the insertion of surgical needles through deformable tissues to train surgeons and plan operations. The simulation features a fast mesh maintenance algorithm and physics-based methods for needle-tissue coupling. Other papers discuss dark flash photography using infra-red and ultra-violet light to capture images in low-light conditions, real-time hand-tracking using a color glove, an algorithm for synthesizing familiar bubble-based fluid sounds, and directable, high-resolution simulations of fire on graphics hardware.

EU Project Evaluates Nomadic Device Benefits for Drivers
Swedish Research Council (05/28/09)

Participants in the European Union (EU) project TeleFOT recently met at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, to assess the first year of an initiative to provide drivers with support functions via smartphones, personal digital assistants, and personal navigators. The European Commission believes the devices could be used to provide traffic and incident information. The devices also could be used to provide the actual speed limit, as well as assist with navigation and green driving options. Led by Chalmers' Design & Human Factors group in the Department of Product and Production Development, the project will develop new methods and tools that support drivers. During the next two years, the project will conduct field tests with drivers in Greece, Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Sweden to better assess the functions and systems. Equipment will be installed in vehicles to collect data, and studies will be conducted to determine how new methods and tools would impact efficiency, mobility, environment, and safety, and whether drivers would use the functions and systems.

Robots Rolling Toward Farm Revolution
New Scientist (06/01/09) Simonite, Tom

Carnegie Mellon University roboticist Tony Stentz says that in the near future the farming industry may undergo a significant change as robotic farmhands become a reality. Robots could help solve growing concerns in the developed world over a lack of available labor in an industry that relies on seasonal work. "Automation is becoming a necessity rather than an enhancement," says John Billingsley from Australia's National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture. The technology needed to make robots capable of working outdoors has been significantly advanced through the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Grand Challenge, which encourages researchers to develop autonomous vehicles that can travel through all types of terrain. "If you can deal with an off-road environment you have never seen before then you're well equipped for agriculture," Stentz says. "We have hit the elbow in the curve for this technology making it big outdoors." He says that during the next few years there will be rapid changes in what robots can practically and affordably provide for farmers. Stentz is experimenting with sending autonomous robots through a Florida orange grove and using a scanner to measure the trees' foliage and count the number of oranges. He says that tree-reading machines could record data more often and more thoroughly than farmers, providing an early warning of diseases and giving a more accurate yield prediction, which could make chemical and other treatments more effective.

EU Security Agency Warns on European Network Resilience
VNUNet (05/28/09) Bailey, Dave

Domain name services security extensions, Internet protocol version 6, and multi-protocol label switching have the potential to make European e-government and e-commerce network infrastructures more resilient and secure, according to experts at the information security agency of the European Union (EU). However, the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) says the EU does not have the technical experience and the operational best practices to ensure that the three key technologies for government and industry networks are a success. ENISA also says there is a need for better management and coordination between stakeholders. "The recent spotlight on network unavailability, caused by cyberattacks and physical phenomena, highlights the urgency and the importance of ENISA's work on improving the resilience of public communications, vital for European e-government and e-commerce," says ENISA executive director Andrea Pirotti. ENISA recommends that "resilient connectivity of European organizations must be ensured; European expertise, best practice and operational experience must be exploited; and the existence of European trained experts should be ensured."

When the Country Called: How a Team of Academic Experts Contributed to the President's Cyberspace Review
National Science Foundation (05/29/09) Zacharias, Maria C.; Cruikshank, Dana W.

The National Security Council's Melissa Hathaway sought the advice of a variety of computer security experts when she conducted the recently completed 60-day review of the U.S.'s cyberspace policy. The National Science Foundation arranged for a teleconference between Hathaway and a small group of academics, including Cornell University professor and TRUST Science and Technology Center chief scientist Fred Schneider and University of Washington professor Ed Lazowska, to gather ideas from experts in trustworthy computing and create a viable set of recommendations. The final version of the recommendations was signed by 67 academics. The document addresses how the academic community can help the administration by investigating difficult technical challenges through fundamental, open, long-term research and education, and how the administration can help the academic community be more effective partners in the U.S.'s efforts to design, build, and deploy trustworthy systems. "The entire process was a watershed moment for a research community that has long wanted to help solve what is clearly a pressing national problem--the need to create and deploy trustworthy systems to run our nation's critical infrastructures," Schneider says.

Inside the Swine Flu Virus
University of Texas at Austin (05/27/09) Dubrow, Aaron

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Utah have generated an emergency molecular model of the A/H1N1 swine flu using the Texas Advanced Computer Center's (TACC) Ranger supercomputer. Observing commercial drugs' interaction with the virus is the goal of the simulation, and the researchers' models of drugs binding to Spanish, Avian, and Swine flu viruses indicated how structural mutations in the swine flu protein can cause resistance to the anti-flu medication Tamiflu. Simulations "let us peek into the molecule so we can see the atomic interactions that are responsible for the protein and drug binding events," says University of Chicago researcher Eric Lee. "This is important, because drugs are designed with these specific atomic interactions in mind." The researchers produced the first atomistic model of A/H1N1 neuraminidase by combining genetic sequence data from swine flu samples with information from homology or common ancestral traits, and then employed the NAnoscale Molecular Dynamics modeling program to prepare simulations to show how the Spanish, Avian, and Swine flu viruses interact with Tamiflu and Relenza, a pair of phase III trial drugs candidates, and Sialic acid. The group requested and was granted priority access to TACC's Ranger machine to execute emergency simulations, and used 2,000 to 3,000 processors continuously over two weeks to create simulations revealing how drugs normally bind to the neuraminidase and how changes to the A/H1N1 protein could cause drug resistance. The researchers believe that it will be possible to intelligently design a non-resistible drug or vaccine by predicting the likely atomic-level mutations in the virus' structure.

iPhone -- The Work Tool for Sustainable Factories of the Future
Chalmers University of Technology (05/26/09) Hebrand, Sofie

The European Union-backed MyCar project is a collaborative effort involving Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology and the Volvo Group that is developing manufacturing assistance tools based on the iPhone. "In assembly work of the future we believe that iPhone-based work tools could be just as common as powered hand tools and automated screwdrivers are today," says Chalmers professor Johan Stahre. "The new tools are important to productivity but also to environmental and social sustainability of complex assembly work." Wearable information tools could cut down on the amount of paper used in assembly plants and provide operators with clear, accurate, and updated instructions. Late and rapid product alterations could be made more easily to accommodate customer requests and requirements. A wearable information tool also could supply operators with information when and where it is needed. By improving the work environment, operators can focus on core assembly tasks instead of having to read and memorize instructions. The new iPhone or iPod Touch information systems are being field tested at the Volvo Trucks pilot assembly plant. "The operators are very positive to the new opportunities that are opened up with this information tool," Stahre says. "Several operators who tested it said that they would to start using the new iPod Touch tool tomorrow if they could."

Toward Cheap Underwater Sensor Nets
UCSD News (05/26/09) Kane, Daniel

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego's (UCSD's) Jacobs School of Engineering recently presented a paper highlighting the energy conservation benefits of using low-cost reconfigurable hardware for their experimental underwater sensor networks. Scientists need a low-cost option capable of capturing and transmitting environmental data back to land in real time, says UCSD computer science Ph.D. student in charge of the project Bridget Benson. "We are building a low-cost, low-power modem for short-range, low-data-rate underwater networking," Benson says. "Our idea is to make the sensor and modem hardware as energy efficient as possible." Better energy efficiency would make batteries last longer and enable the sensors to take measurements more often. A higher sampling rate can significantly increase the utility of the collected data and allow scientists to plan and conduct experiments when conditions are exactly right. Benson says the underwater sensors also could act as "stepping stones" for underwater data transmission, without any single sensor having to send the signal over a long distance, helping save additional energy. After studying the patterns of energy consumption in underwater modems, the researchers determined that, for short distances, the hardware platform is a major power drain. The researchers then explored three different hardware platforms and determined that reconfigurable hardware provides the best low-energy implementation for the underwater communications algorithms they are using.

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