Welcome to the July 24, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computing for the Future of the Planet
Electronics Weekly (UK) (07/22/09) Hopper, Andy; Rice, Andrew
Computing could go a long way toward ensuring a sustainable future for human society and the earth, argue professor Andy Hopper and Andrew Rice of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. Research being conducted at the lab has four areas of concentration, including optimizing the digital infrastructure to achieve maximum energy efficiency, developing a global data collection network for sensing and optimizing humans' resource consumption and environmental impact, forecasting and responding to future events in natural systems, and finding digital alternatives to physical activities. The complexity of data centers and server farms has grown to such a degree that a large percentage of the digital infrastructure is committed only to coping with faults, and Hopper and Rice argue that software redundancy methods can be used to facilitate uninterrupted service. They also see potential in building data centers and server farms in close proximity to wind turbines and other large-scale renewable energy sources. Hopper and Rice write that their lab intends "to create a detailed model of the planet that is kept up-to-date with information collected from millions of sensors around the globe," which would allow the optimization of energy consumption and other natural resources while also measuring the environmental impact of human activities. Meeting the third challenge of predicting and reacting based on a world model requires optimizing the use of the chosen machine architecture and making sure that intermediate values in a model are not computed to an unnecessarily high degree of accuracy. Migrating from physical activities to digital alternatives carries substantial costs, and Hopper and Rice conclude that "intelligent choices about which activities we move to a digital world, compounded with our optimal digital infrastructure and other improvements in technology, should tilt the balance more strongly in the favor of computing."
Government Is Falling Behind on Cybersecurity, Report Finds
Washington Post (07/23/09) P. A19; Davidson, Joe
A report released by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton has found that the U.S. federal government is falling behind in its efforts to protect its computer systems from a variety of threats because it does not employ enough well-trained cybersecurity experts. The report cited several reasons for the lack of well-trained cybersecurity experts, including the fact that there are not enough qualified applicants for federal cybersecurity positions. The report also faulted the government's fragmented and uncoordinated approach to cybersecurity, as well as its cumbersome hiring process. Finally, the report said the disconnect that exists between the needs and perceptions of front-line hiring managers and human resource managers has contributed to the lack of well-trained cybersecurity experts in the federal workforce. The report offers several suggestions for how to address this problem. For example, the report says the cybersecurity czar President Obama plans to appoint should develop a strategy for meeting the government's current and future cybersecurity needs. The lack of a person who coordinates cybersecurity workforce planning or decision-making has resulted in a large gap in planning and readiness. The report also called on the government to encourage more U.S. citizens to study math, science, and technology, and to expand scholarship programs for students in computer science and cybersecurity programs.
Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds
New York Times (07/24/09) P. A1; Duhigg, Charles
Practitioners of high-frequency trading use powerful computers to transmit millions of orders at incredible speed, and critics warn that the method could be used to manipulate prices. Wall Street's computers employ muscular algorithms to process millions of orders a second and scan dozens of public and private marketplaces concurrently. This enables users to get a jump on marketplace trends and shift tactics in a matter of milliseconds. "This is where all the money is getting made," says former New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) CEO William H. Donaldson. "If an individual investor doesn't have the means to keep up, they're at a huge disadvantage." Stock exchanges say that a mere handful of high-frequency traders now account for more than 50 percent of all trades. "It's become a technological arms race, and what separates winners and losers is how fast they can move," says Joseph M. Mecane of NYSE operator NYSE Euronext. "Markets need liquidity, and high-frequency traders provide opportunities for other investors to buy and sell." The Tabb Group estimates that high-frequency traders generated about $21 billion in profits last year. "You want to encourage innovation, and you want to reward companies that have invested in technology and ideas that make the markets more efficient," says T. Rowe Price's Andrew M. Brooks. "But we're moving toward a two-tiered marketplace of the high-frequency arbitrage guys, and everyone else. People want to know they have a legitimate shot at getting a fair deal. Otherwise, the markets lose their integrity."
New Software Helps Us Understand How Viruses Evolve
University of Southampton (ECS) (07/23/09)
Software experts with OMII-UK at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science have helped improve a system the institution's biologists use to study viral and human proteins. Researchers use the SLiMFinder to predict the short, linear motifs (SLiMs) that are responsible for specific protein interactions, including when viruses use them to manipulate their hosts. "SLiMs consist of about three-to-five specific amino acids in the protein and could be responsible for the signaling pathways between many proteins, because they control the ways in which proteins interact," says Richard Edwards with the Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution Group. The OMII-UK team collaborated with researchers from the School of Biological Sciences to create a workflow for SLiMFinder. The software automates tasks such as data collection from databases and data manipulation, and offers a user-friendly interface. "This superior ease of use, combined with faster execution times, is helping to make SLiMFinder into a tool that could be of great interest throughout biological sciences," Edwards says.
NSF Awards Anita Borg Institute $332,000 for Student Scholarship and Travel Grants for 2009-2011 Grace Hopper Celebrations
Business Wire (07/22/09)
The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) will use a $332,532 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund scholarships that will enable students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) this year and in 2010 and 2011. "The three-year NSF funding enables ABI to scale the GHC scholarship process and meet increased student demand," says ABI's Jody Mahoney. Applications for scholarships have soared during the past four years, including a 76 percent increase from 2007 to 2008. ABI says scholarship recipients feel more inspired and confident about their career path, less isolated, and are more inclined to pursue advanced degrees. "NSF support is critical to the ongoing mission of GHC to increase the retention of underrepresented minorities and women in computing," Mahoney says. NSF has funded scholarships for students since the first GHC in 1994. The 2009 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, co-presented by ACM and ABI, takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 3 in Tucson, Arizona.
A Contest to Train Cyber Combatants
Technology Review (07/24/09) Lemos, Robert
A consortium that includes the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the SANS Institute, and the U.S. Department of Defense aims to cultivate a new generation of computer security and network administration experts with a triathlon of contests designed to inspire students to become technically proficient in protecting cyberspace. SANS Institute research director Alan Paller points to a shortage of cyberdefenders graduating from schools, estimating that the United States needs about 20,000 to 30,000 people capable of competing in a cybercompetition, versus about 1,000 now. The U.S. Cyber Challenge includes DC3's Digital Forensics Competition, in which teams vie to solve a series of puzzles that an expert might encounter when probing a crime. Almost 600 teams have registered for the contest so far this year, compared to 199 teams in 2008. The second contest is the CyberPatriot High School Cyber Defense Competition, whose goal is to nurture high school students' knowledge of network defense. The contest is run by the Air Force Association and the University of Texas at San Antonio's Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security. The third competition is NetWars, a SANS Institute-hosted capture-the-flag tournament waged on a virtual private network over the Internet. Teams are awarded points for assaulting other teams' virtual machines and commandeering certain services and files. Players attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in their rivals' systems and then protect the systems they compromised from the other attackers. The federal government has not announced funding for the U.S. Cyber Challenge, but companies such as Google and state governments such as Delaware have already expressed interest in participating in the competitions.
Report Offers Principles for Maintaining the Integrity And Accessibility of Research Data
National Academy of Sciences (07/22/09) Frueh, Sara; Burnette, Alison
A new report from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine says that maintaining the integrity and accessibility of research data in the digital age will require a collaborative effort between universities, research institutions, journals, agencies, and individual scientists. Research institutions must ensure that all investigators receive sufficient training in conducting research and managing data responsibly, and institutions, professional societies, journals, and research sponsors should develop and disseminate standards for ensuring the integrity of research data and provide data-management guidelines for new technologies as they arrive. The report suggests that both publicly and privately funded researchers make the data and methods behind their reported results public in a timely manner, except for special situations in which there are compelling reasons to withhold data. Researchers also should establish data-management plans at the start of each project to provide guidelines for the stewardship of data, and research sponsors should understand that financial support for data professionals is an appropriate part of supporting research.
DNS Security, Net Neutrality Up for Debate at IETF Meeting
Network World (07/22/09) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
An upcoming meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) will focus on domain name system (DNS) security, IPv6 adoption, and network neutrality. The meeting will include a panel discussion on securing the DNS, featuring speakers from ICANN, the Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Society, and VeriSign. The panel and several IETF working group meetings will discuss the DNSSEC security extensions. VPN Consortium founder Paul Hoffman says a major focus at the meeting will be signing the DNSSEC root because its implementation is going to happen in less than six months, and there is a significant amount of operational work that needs to be accomplished before that point. Another major issue at the conference will be the anticipated depletion of IPv4 addresses and the need to migrate Internet architecture and applications to IPv6. The IETF's IPv6 related working groups will discuss topics such as the need for carrier-grade network address translation devices during the transition and threats caused by tunneling IPv6 traffic over IPv4. A transition mechanism called Dual Stack Lite, proposed by Comcast, also will be discussed. The 6lopwan working group will discuss techniques under development for using IPv6 to connect low-powered, limited-bandwidth devices such as sensors.
Can Computers Decipher a 5,000-Year-Old Language?
Smithsonian.com (07/20/09) Zax, David
One of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world is the meaning of the Indus civilization's language, and University of Washington, Seattle professor Rajesh Rao is attempting to crack the 5,000-year-old script using computational techniques. He and his colleagues postulated that such methods could reveal whether the Indus script did or did not encode language by measuring the degree of randomness in a sequence, also known as conditional entropy. Rao's team employed a computer program to measure the script's conditional entropy, and then measured the conditional entropy of several natural languages, the artificial Fortran computer programming language, and non-linguistic systems such as DNA sequences. Comparison between these various readings found that the Indus script's rate of conditional entropy bore the closest resemblance to that of the natural languages. Following the publication of the team's findings in the May edition of Science, Rao and colleagues are studying longer strings of characters than they previously examined. "If there are patterns, we could come up with grammatical rules," Rao says. "That would in turn give constraints to what kinds of language families" the Indus script might belong to.
NASA: Robots Working Perfectly in Space Mission
Computerworld (07/22/09) Gaudin, Sharon
NASA recently announced that a set of robotic arms, one on the shuttle Endeavour and two on the space station, have performed perfectly during the past five days. The two arms performed tasks such as carrying astronauts, lifting large pieces of equipment, and "walking" up and down the spine of the International Space Station. The robotic arms were essential to the mission of the space shuttle Endeavour, which involved installing the final pieces of the Japanese laboratory to the space station. "It's very exciting to see all the robotic equipment perform to the expectations that we've all had," says NASA's Michael Curie. NASA's Holly Ridings says this mission is one of the most technical ever attempted by NASA. The robotic arm on the space station and the shuttle's robotic arm have been working constantly for days, starting when they worked together to unload and position the final piece of the Japanese Kino lab. The arm on the station lifted a 4-ton piece of the lab out of the shuttle's payload bay. Once the station's robotic arm, called the big arm, lifted the lab, it handed the lab to the shuttle's robotic arm. While the shuttle's arm held the lab, the big arm moved itself down the length of the space station. Either end of the big arm can attach to the station while the other end acts as a hand. The arms also have been used to lift a cargo carrier out of the space shuttle and position it where astronauts can access the equipment it contains. Recently, the arm held onto an astronaut and moved him back and forth, allowing him to position parts in their proper place. "It would not have been feasible for a spacewalker to have carried these objects from one place to another without the robotic arm," Curie says. "It made what would have taken three space walks possible to do in one."
Apps 'to Be as Big as Internet'
BBC News (07/20/09) Shiels, Maggie
Experts at the recent MobileBeat conference in San Francisco say the market for mobile applications will become "as big as the Internet," peaking at 10 million apps in 2020. Currently, Apple runs the most popular application store, with more than 65,000 applications and more than 1.5 billion downloads. Many attendees at the MobileBeat conference say the popularity of Apple's App Store, which is helping the mobile app market gain popularity and attention, also is its Achilles' heel because it caters to the "one hit wonder" model of mobile app development. Apps in the Apple store can quickly become extremely popular, but it is impossible for any single application to stay on the catalog's bestseller list, and many developers are learning that it is hard to reach a sustainable business because it is a hit-driven environment. Lee Williams, the executive director of the Symbian Foundation, a new app developer, says the App Store is flawed because it is currently a bucket of apps. "You need to get beyond that bucket and give the consumer the opportunity to wander down a really relevant aisle of content and applications that they can get access to," Williams says. He says that once this type of environment is established, the type of application will shift away from single-purpose, gimmick apps to applications that truly enrich the user's life by improving image sharing, social networking, or establishing stronger connections with friends and colleagues.
Molecules Mean More Moore
Rice University (07/14/09) Williams, Mike
Researchers from Rice University and North Carolina State University say that Moore's Law could be prolonged by attaching molecules to the surface of silicon. Electronics manufacturers use doping to pack more transistors onto integrated circuits, but mixing in dopant atoms has become more difficult at the nanometer scale. The researchers' monolayer molecular grafting process could involve bonding carbon molecules with silicon either through a chemical bath or evaporation. "We're putting an even layer of molecules on the surface," says Rice professor James Tour. "These are not doping in the same way traditional dopants do, but they're effectively doing the same thing." Tour expects the silicon industry to show considerable interest in monolayer molecular grafting. "This is a nice entry point for molecules into the silicon industry," he says. "This gives the Intels and the Microns and the Samsungs of the world another tool to try, and I guarantee you they'll be trying this."
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