Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 9, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of Columbus Day, TechNews will not be published on Monday, October 12. Publication will resume on Wednesday, October 14.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Prizes Aside, the P-NP Puzzler Has Consequences
New York Times (10/08/09) Markoff, John

The frenzy of downloading that accompanied the September cover article in the Communications of the ACM when it was issued online reflects the intense interest in the subject of the article--the progress, or lack thereof, on solving the P vs. NP challenge. P represents the class of problems that can be solved in polynomial time, while NP represents the class of problems that can be confirmed in polynomial time. It is theorized that if P equals NP, some of the most complex real-world computing problems, such as optimizing the layout of transistors on a computer chip, could be addressed, triggering an acceleration of technological and economic productivity. Cracking computer codes raises a similar challenge. Such tasks share the common characteristic that an increase in the size of a problem is accompanied by an exponential increase in the computer time needed to solve it. Progress on meeting the P vs. NP challenge has been slow, but Lance Fortnow of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University believes the theory might be proved or disproved through algebraic geometry.


What's Next for the Netflix Algorithms?
Technology Review (10/08/09) Naone, Erica

Experts will convene at the ACM Conference on Recommender Systems, which takes place Oct. 22-25 in New York City, to discuss what insights have been gleaned from the Netflix Prize, a $1 million competition to improve the accuracy of the movie rental company's in-house recommendation system by 10 percent. Ces Bertino, a member of one of the teams that competed for the Netflix Prize, says the contest had value in forcing participants to apply all algorithms to the same set of uneven real-world data rather than choosing the datasets. "Because people had to use a fixed dataset, they needed to deal not only with the advantages of a particular method, but also the weaknesses of it," Bertino says. "You could not escape it." Another contestant, Gavin Potter, says the winning algorithms succeeded through the recognition that combining various strategies generated the best results. University of Minnesota professor John Riedl says the winning models imply that integrating many algorithms with machine-learning methods could conceivably be a solid general strategy for handling large datasets. He believes it is time for people in the field of recommendation systems to focus on neglected system elements that could benefit the industry. The winning algorithms also could find application in areas that include fraud detection, market trading, fighting spam, and computer security, says Nicholas Ampazis at Greece's University of the Aegean.


IT to Create 2.8 Million Jobs in the Asia Pacific by 2013
Business Technology Asia (10/06/09) Selvaretnam, Sumathi

Nearly three million jobs are expected to be created by the Asia-Pacific region's information technology (IT) industry by 2013, according to a new IDC study, which also projects 4.8 percent growth in IT spending each year for the next four years. "Innovation in technology will play a vital role in enabling new business opportunities and employment growth throughout Asia," says Microsoft's Emilio Umeoka. "IT will be a catalyst for the wider economic recovery, as companies take advantage of technology solutions to improve their cost base and service outcomes." The study involved the participation of more than 50 nations, and focused on IT's contribution to gross domestic product, IT job creation, software sector employment, formation of new companies, local IT spending, and tax revenues. The study predicts that 32,000 new businesses will be created by higher IT spending by 2013, with the majority of those companies being small and locally owned. Singapore's IT spending is expected to grow by almost 2 percent a year through 2013 and create approximately 17,000 new IT jobs. The study names cloud computing as the next major IT development area, and anticipates that the sector could generate close to $300 billion in net new business revenues to the Asia-Pacific region's economy by the end of 2013.


Expeditions in Computing Continue to Break New Ground
National Science Foundation (10/06/09) Cruikshank, Dana W.

The U.S. National Science Foundation's directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering recently created three new Expeditions in Computing. Each of these projects will receive $2 million in funding per year over five years to bring their concepts to fruition. "This year's Expeditions projects are driven by challenge problems that arise from the most pressing issues facing our society today--groundbreaking research shaped by societal needs," says Expeditions program officer Mitra Basu. One of the projects is a collaborative venture between Harvard and Northeastern University researchers to create robotic bees that mimic real bees in their ability to fly autonomously and coordinate activities amongst themselves and the hive. The scientists intend to focus on the development of compact high-energy power sources, extremely low-power computing, and distributed algorithms for multi-agent systems. The RoboBees will be designed to yield novel insights into how nature addresses complex problems in an elegant way. Another Expedition project, under way at UCLA, seeks to improve energy efficiency, development effort, time-to-solution, cost, and general productivity by an order of magnitude through customizable domain-specific computing. The UCLA researchers are concentrating on developing a customizable heterogeneous platform featuring a broad spectrum of customizable computing components, customizable and scalable high-performance interconnects founded on RF-interconnect technologies, automated compilation instruments and runtime management systems to facilitate swift development and implementation of domain-specific computing systems, and a reusable mode for reproducing success in different application domains.


ACM Group Taps Visionary in Multimedia Research for Top Award
ACM (10/05/09)

The ACM Special Interest Group on Multimedia (SIGMM) has named Lawrence A. Rowe the winner of its prestigious technical achievement award. Rowe, currently president of FX Palo Alto Laboratory and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, will receive the 2009 SIGMM Award for Outstanding Technical Contributions to Multimedia Computing, Communications, and Applications for his research in media software systems and leadership in the multimedia research community. Rowe led the development of the Berkeley Webcasting System; the Berkeley MPEG1 Tools software; the Berkeley Multimedia, Interfaces, and Graphics (MIG) Seminar Internet Webcast; and the Open Mash Streaming Media Toolkit. He is a past chair of SIGMM and an ACM Fellow. SIGMM will honor Rowe at the ACM International Conference on Multimedia 2009, which takes place Oct. 19-24 in Beijing, China.


A Report From the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
Computing Community Consortium (10/08/09) Alvarado, Christine

The 1,600 attendees at the ninth Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, which took place in Tucson, Ariz., from Sept. 30-Oct. 3, are evidence that gender equality in computer science could be right around the corner, writes Harvey Mudd College professor Christine Alvarado. Many high-profile women were invited to speak at the conference, including Google vice president Megan Smith and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor Fran Berman. College-level finalists from the ACM student research contest demonstrated their original projects at the conference. An Amazon.com booth encouraged students to compete in a coding contest to see who would be christened a "Ninja Coder." Female students wore shirts emblazoned with the words "I code like a girl, and I'm proud of it!" The conference also organized two dance parties for participants and hundreds attended.


FCC Chief Promises Industry More Spectrum--and Net Neutrality Rules
Washington Post (10/08/09) P. A25; Kang, Cecilia

Despite recent moves by several wireless companies to open their networks, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski says that more rules are needed to require them to provide equal access to the Internet. "I believe it will be essential to ensure that the Internet remains open--a vibrant platform for innovation and investment, creativity and speech, an enduring engine for job creation and economic growth," Genachowski says. "That is why I said two weeks ago that the FCC should codify a fair and common-sense framework to preserve an open Internet. And later this month, I expect that the FCC will begin an open proceeding to explore how best to do so." He says the FCC's goals include finding more spectrum for wireless networks, which could be derived from Wi-Fi. AT&T and Verizon representatives have said in the past that wireless networks cannot be as unlimited as wired broadband networks because of issues with Internet traffic. Genachowski says the FCC will take into account that wireless networks operate differently. "I also recognize that the wireless industry has its own market structure and competitive landscape, which of course we'll analyze in our proceeding," he says.


E-Infrastructures Give Real Boost to Virtual Observatories
ICT Results (10/08/09)

Astronomers are being enabled to access data centers from anywhere in the world thanks to virtual observatories (VOs) developed by the Euro-VO Data Center Alliance (DCA) project. Astronomical data has long been warehoused in specialized data centers that are often incapable of interoperating. Euro-VO DCA sought to remove that obstacle. "Some data centers use grid-based systems, which use their own standards," says project coordinator Francoise Genova. "We needed to develop a way that they could connect and exchange data with the broader VO standards." The Euro-VO Astronomical Infrastructure for Data Access project took up the earlier initiative's work, and its goal is to unify the digital data collections of European astronomy facilities, combining their access mechanisms with evolving e-technologies and augmenting the science yielded from the information. Many new science projects and novel ways of using astronomical data are supported by more and more data centers joining the VO community and sharing their data interoperably.


UIC Researchers Probe Computer 'Commonsense Knowledge'
UIC News (10/06/09) Francuch, Paul

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) researchers Robert Sloan and Gyorgy Turan have received a three-year, $500,000 U.S. National Science Foundation grant to develop artificial intelligence algorithms that can process new pieces of information and evolve from them--essentially, an artificial form of common sense. "It's been the Holy Grail of artificial intelligence research since its early days to answer questions that a young child can answer about the world," Sloan says. "We're still a long way from that." Sloan and Turan will examine the construction of knowledge-based systems such as Cycorp's Cyc and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Open Mind Common Sense. Users of these systems can enter any data they like into the algorithms. The researchers plan to work out how to key in conflicting data, how to store new data quickly, and how a machine can also evolve from this knowledge. "Our task is to understand the problem, find useful mathematical models, understand the basic mathematical properties and, hopefully, provide some efficient computational methods and algorithms in those models," Turan says. The researchers plan to study common sense knowledge bases and the mathematical methods that can support them.


School of Computing Develops a New Tool for Household Multimedia Resources Sharing
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (10/02/09) Martinez, Eduardo

Computing researchers at the Polytechnic University of Madrid have collaborated with the private companies iSOCO and Telefonica I+D to develop software for sharing personal multimedia resources among households connected to a telephone network. The tool, called UPnPGrid, would enable a family to send a photo of their children playing football from a PC in the home to relatives. The recipients would be able to see the photo instantly on a TV screen, but other relatives online at the time throughout the house also would be able to access the photo. UPnPGrid offers some privacy because senders can determine the recipients of the information and data. With its distributed open software architecture, UPnPGrid is able to facilitate real-time image, video, and audio file sharing between networked devices, regardless of the manufacturer, operating system, or programming language. UPnPGrid also could be deployed on content services support networks for operators such as Telefonica. The partners continue to develop new software functions, and expect to complete their work in June 2010.


Prototype Security Software Blocks DDoS Attacks
Network World (10/05/09) Greene, Tim

Auburn University researchers have developed a software filter that protects computers against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks without bogging down the computer's CPU and memory. The identity-based privacy-protected access control filter (IPCAF) also wards against session hijacking, dictionary attacks, and man-in-the-middle attacks. Instead of warding against IP addresses, which can be faked by hijackers, IPCAF sends a user ID and password to computer users and the Web site they are attempting to access. Then the two parties create fake IDs and values for each packet so that each one is double-checked. Computers check the value in each packet and choose whether to accept it or not. Only then are more memory and CPU resources used to deal with them. The researchers say that IPCAF also is useful because it does not rely on separate and expensive applications that bog down memory. Instead it uses servers and client machines without affecting computer use. IPCAF uses hash-based message authentication code to create the value it will use to confirm every single packet, which saves CPU power, says Auburn's Chwan-Hwa "John" Wu. When testing IPCAF, Wu found that the computer network was only stalled by 30 nanoseconds during an attack through a 10Gbps connection. "For humans, there is no difference," he says. Meanwhile, security teams can possibly track the source of the original attack.


Smart 'Lego' Blocks Take Touch Screens Into 3D
New Scientist (10/06/09) Barras, Colin

Patrick Baudisch, Torsten Becker, and Frederick Rudeck from the University of Potsdam in Germany have created Luminos, prototype blocks whose positions are mirrored on Microsoft's Surface tabletop computer when they are constructed into shapes. Luminos have patterns on their bases that label their shapes, enabling the Surface computer to use its four cameras to view them. The computer then maps what it sees into a three-dimensional image. Even when a Lumino sits atop another, fiber-optic threads transmit its label down to the computer. Because the threads are at an angle, the Surface computer can view the patterns of a tower of blocks through its base. Surface can read up to 10 blocks in a stack. Baudisch says that Luminos are the first of their kind that does not need batteries or electronics, allowing application designers greater freedom in the planning stages. "The fundamental benefit of these tangibles on tabletops is that users can feel them when operating them," says RWTH Aachen University's Jan Borchers. He says that in the past the only physical interaction with computers was "an eye to watch the computer screen and a few digits to press keyboard and mouse buttons. This is now changing, as embedded computers are becoming ubiquitous." Baudisch says that Luminos will help engineers and architects by enabling them to understand the mechanics of their constructions and perhaps making structural suggestions of its own.


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