Welcome to the November 20, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
PRACE Is Ready for Implementation: Applications Ported
Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (11/16/09)
The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) has been researching promising petascaling techniques, as well as related work on optimization techniques and the study of software libraries and programming models suitable for petascale computing. The combined work has laid the foundation for the efficient exploitation of the upcoming Tier-0 systems. The applications studied cover a variety of scientific areas and represent European high-performance computing use, with most of them originating from the European scientific community. The applications were ported, evaluated, and scaled on the PRACE supercomputer prototypes. Each application was ported to an average of three prototype systems. Porting to cluster-based systems encountered the fewest problems, while programs that were ported to Cell-based prototypes required a major time investment. PRACE researchers say it was essential to tune the options and parameters used when compiling and running a program, such as the choice of numerical libraries and compiler options. The project developed a tool for studying optimal compiler options and platform-specific recommendations. PRACE researchers also explored the programming models and software libraries required by petascale applications, and completed a survey and analysis of the new upcoming programming models and languages suitable for such programs.
Assoc Prof Tai Xue-Cheng Wins 8th Feng Kang Prize in Scientific Computing in China
Nanyang Technological University (11/19/09) Lu, Sunanthar
Tai Xue-Cheng, a specialist in numerical analysis and computational mathematics at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), has been named the winner of the 8th Feng Kang Prize in Scientific Computing. Tai, a professor in NTU's School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, has developed mathematical models for restoring images that have been degraded due to wear and tear to their original look. His models have been used for magnetic resonance imaging medical-image processing and other medical and industrial applications as well. "It is a surprise and also an honor for me to receive this prestigious award for computational mathematics," Tai says. "This encourages me to continue to strive for excellence in my research and to seek solutions for challenging scientific problems." The award is dedicated to the memory of Feng Kang, a Chinese pioneer in computational mathematics. The award seeks to bring attention to Chinese mathematicians who have made significant contributions in numerical linear algebra, computer-aided geometric design, and numerical partial differential equations and scientific computing.
Building the Smart Home Wirelessly
Researchers at Taiwan's National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) say that radio tags, combined with mobile communication devices, could provide seamless smart home multimedia services. The researchers, led by NCKU's Yueh-Min Huang, have proposed an intelligent home network system that integrates radio frequency identification (RFID) technology into the Open Service Gateway Initiative (OSGi) to enable people to access a video monitoring and media system throughout their household, or possibly remotely. The system could enable users to remote check the home's security system or turn off lights. When someone is home, the technology could control entertainment systems as a person moves about the house, allowing a song to follow them from room to room. The researchers note that more than 70 manufacturers have joined OSGi, which means the standard could see widespread adoption. "The open architecture system in this paper can provide rapid, automatic, and convenient services, thereby substantially improving the quality of life for users," the researchers say.
Self-Policing Cloud Computing
Technology Review (11/20/09) Talbot, David
Researchers at IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center and IBM Research-Zurich have developed a cloud computing security system that makes elements of the cloud act as a kind of virtual bouncer. The new system is based on the theory that as long as the cloud can see a customer's data and leased computational devices, it should check those elements for malicious code. The system enables the cloud to search virtual machines to see what operating systems they are using, whether they are running correctly, and whether they contain malicious code. The IBM research was one of several papers presented at the recent ACM Cloud Computing Security Workshop, the first event to focus on cloud computing security. "In clouds, the barrier to entry is lower, and the thing customers are most concerned about is their information," says IBM's J.R. Rao. "We want to make sure their information is handled in a manner consistent with their expectation of security and privacy." Cloud computing could become particularly dangerous if hackers learn how to place malicious virtual machines on the same physical servers as legitimate users. Hackers could theoretically steal data from cache memory on multicore systems within the server. Microsoft has proposed a system that would assign hierarchies within cache memory, which would serve as a partition to protect against this kind of attack.
Southampton's World-Class Supercomputer Opens Windows
University of Southampton (ECS) (11/18/09)
The University of Southampton's new supercomputer was ranked 74th on the Top500 supercomputer list and is the fastest university-owned supercomputer in England. It also is the fastest Microsoft Windows-powered computer in Europe. "We are interested in making this advanced capability available to every researcher from their desktop, without the need for specialist IT skills," says professor Simon Cox, the director of the Microsoft Institute for High Performance Computing at Southampton. "Using the familiar Windows desktop environment, they are able to carry out extremely large calculations that were previously inaccessible, due to the complexity of more traditional [high-performance computing (HPC)] systems." Southampton's Oz Parchment says the objective of using Windows as the operating system is to make supercomputing available to everyone on campus, which requires making it easier to use. "We look forward to bringing even more new research domains into the world of HPC to solve problems that they have previously been unable to tackle," Parchment says. "The system is helping existing users focus more on their research, without having to worry about the underlying IT."
ORNL, Partners Helping Scientists Deal With Data Deluge
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (11/18/09) Walli, Ron
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and other research partners are building DataONE, a new network that will be able to store massive amounts of information. DataONE, backed by $20 million in funding from the National Science Foundation's DataNet program, is uniting universities and government agencies in an effort to meet the growing demand for organizing and providing large amounts of highly diverse and interrelated but often incompatible scientific data, says ORNL's Robert Cook. "The network will drive advanced research and data acquisition, storage, mining, integration, and visualization for citizen scientists, researchers, and decision makers," Cook says. DataONE is led by the University of New Mexico, and includes partners from across the United States, Europe, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Cook says DataONE will give scientists from numerous disciplines a way to collaborate on extremely important environmental scientific challenges. "Scientists have collected an enormous amount of environmental data useful in climate change research--rainfall, temperature, forest and agricultural properties, bird species and their migration patterns," he says. "The challenge is to discover those data sets, understand how they were collected, and use them to address the important climate change questions for science and society."
Open Shop for Environmental Data
ICT Results (11/16/09)
European Sensors Anywhere (SANY) project researchers have developed a system for accessing and reusing environmental data from a variety of sources. The system enables the free exchange and use of environmental monitoring data regardless of its source. Numerous sensors around the world, and even in space, observe and report the condition of land, atmosphere, and oceans for a variety of purposes. The researchers say the creation of a single system to provide access to this data could assist in important decisions, such as how to adapt better to climate change. SANY uses a service-oriented architecture that enables applications to be built from modular components accessed over the Internet. For example, one service may obtain data while another plots a map, and another could process the data in a specific way. "The SANY Sensor Service Architecture allows everybody who makes environmental observations to advertise them over standardized service interfaces," says SANY coordinator Denis Havik. "Anybody who needs environmental data can go and search for it--or look in a catalog--and retrieve it using standardized methods." The SANY system converts all data, regardless of its source or format, into a standard format established by the Open Geospatial Consortium, and can work with both raw and processed sensor data. The researchers have been running pilot programs to demonstrate the potential of the SANY approach, including an air quality program to demonstrate the feasibility of seamless presentation of data from independent monitoring networks.
Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter Wins the Rutherford Medal
University of Auckland (NZ) (11/19/09)
Professor Peter Hunter, director of the University of Auckland's Bioengineering Institute, has been awarded the Rutherford Medal, New Zealand's highest science honor. Hunter was chosen due to his leading role in the Physiome Project, a major international effort to build sophisticated computer models of all human organs. Hunter started working on the Physiome Project in 1996, following many years of work in developing the world's first anatomically based computer model of the human heart, which included developing new ways of modeling the structure and function of heart tissue. "The Physiome Project started off by looking at the heart, but it soon spread to the lungs, then the musculoskeletal system, and now all 12 organs in the human body," Hunter says. "The idea is to create mathematical models that link gene, protein, cell, tissue, organ and the whole body into one cohesive framework that will eventually become a Web resource for diagnosing and treating patients, surgical planning, education, and the design of medical devices." Hunter says the Physiome Project is still in the early stages, but there have already been some exciting applications created by the project, such as heart models used to diagnose cardiac disease. The United States has invested about $100 million in the Physiome Project so far, and the European Commission has invested about $400 million.
Are Nations Paying Criminals for Botnet Attacks?
Network World (11/17/09) Messmer, Ellen
Countries that want to disrupt other nations' government, banking, and media resources can simply hire cybercriminals to launch botnet attacks, according to new report by McAfee that interviews 20 cybersecurity experts. McAfee's Dmitri Alperovitch says botnet attacks are hard to trace because of the anonymous nature of how they are requested and paid for. William Crowell, former deputy director of the U.S. National Security Agency, says that "anyone can go to a criminal group and rent a botnet. We've reached a point where you only need money to cause disruption, not know-how, and this is something that needs to be addressed." The July 4th, 2009, cyberattacks launched against South Korea and the United States prompted Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) to urge the United States to "conduct 'a show of force or strength' against North Korea for its alleged role in the attacks," the report says. Alperovitch says there is no concrete evidence that North Korea was behind the cyberattacks, but points out that it was unusual that the botnet was concentrated entirely in South Korea. Alperovitch also notes that North Korea gets its Internet link from China because North Korea never took ownership of the top-level domains it was assigned by ICANN. Countries that are known to be expanding their cyberwarfare capabilities include the United States, France, Israel, Russia, and China, according to the report. Major cyberconflicts have the potential to hurt businesses and individuals, indicating a need for greater public discussion about such issues.
Internet Still Under U.S. Grip: Forum Delegates
Agence France Presse (11/18/09) Zayan, Jailan
Delegates at the recent Internet Governance Forum have raised concerns that ICANN is still primarily under U.S. control. The new agreement between ICANN and the U.S. Commerce Department was intended to assuage these concerns by creating global panels to review ICANN's work in key areas. However, some delegates still called for the body to be replaced by an international one. "The U.S. still has a key to the back door" when it comes to Internet administration, said Keisuke Kamimura, a researcher at the Center for Global Communication at the International University of Japan. "Regarding accountability and transparency, they have identified it as an issue to be reviewed, but more needs to be done." Chencqing Huang, head of the Internet Society of China, said ICANN should be replaced. "We want to have an international organization under the framework of the United Nations to replace ICANN," Huang said. Others at the forum said the developing world still lacks adequate representation in ICANN. "We, the people of the developing world, are there," said Fuad Bajwa, a member of the United Nations IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group and an ICANN member. "From my experience in ICANN, I saw less staff members from my part of the world." Despite these objections, ICANN said that it is a multi-stakeholder body and noted that no country has ever been refused domain registration.
Invisibility Visualized: New Software for Rendering Cloaked Objects
Researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have developed a new visualization tool that will enable users to see what a cloaked object looks like in real life. Designed to handle complex media, such as metamaterial optical cloaks, the software is able to show the visual effects of a cloaking mechanism and its imperfections. The latest issue of the Optical Society's Optics Express features full-color images in which a virtual museum nave is rendered with three walls, a ceiling, and a floor. A large bump appears in the reflecting floor covered by an invisibility device. The carpet cloak in the middle of the room hides the effect of the bump and any object hidden underneath it, as the observers see a flat reflecting floor. However, the observers still see the invisibility cloak due to surface reflections and imperfections. "It's important to visualize how an optical device works," notes the software's developer Jad C. Halimeh.
The Mandelbulb: First 'True' 3D Image of Famous Fractal
New Scientist (11/18/09) Aron, Jacob
Daniel White has created an image, the Mandelbulb, that he says is the most accurate three-dimensional (3D) representation to date of the Mandelbrot set, a fractal equation named after Yale University mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who coined the term "fractal." Previous attempts at a 3D Mandelbrot image do not display real fractal behavior, White says. "I was trying to see how the original [two-dimensional] Mandelbrot worked and translate that to the third dimension," he says. "You can use complex maths but you can also look at things geometrically." White's approach works due to the properties of the "complex plane," a mathematical landscape in which ordinary numbers run from east to west while imaginary numbers run from south to north. Multiplying numbers on the complex plane is the same as rotating it, while addition is like shifting the plane in a particular direction. Creating the Mandelbrot set requires repeating these geometrical actions for every point in the plane. In 2007, White published a formula for a shape that was close to a 3D Mandelbrot, but still lacked true fractal detail. White then began a collaboration with Paul Nylander, who realized that raising White's formula to a higher power would create the desired effect. White acknowledges that the Mandelbulb is still not quite a "real" 3D Mandelbrot, as there are still areas without enough detail. "If the real thing does exist--and I'm not saying 100 percent that it does--one would expect even more variety than we are currently seeing," he says.
NIST Demonstrates ‘Universal’ Programmable Quantum Processor for Quantum Computers
National Institute of Standards and Technology (11/16/09) Ost, Laura
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) physicists have demonstrated the first "universal" programmable quantum information processor capable of running any program allowed by quantum mechanics that uses two quantum bits (qubits) of information. The processor could be used in a future quantum computer and represents the first time any research group has advanced beyond demonstrating individual tasks on a quantum processor. The NIST researchers analyzed the quantum processor using methods common in traditional computer science by creating a diagram of the processing circuit and mathematically determining the 15 different starting values and sequences of processing operations required to run a given program. "This is the first time anyone has demonstrated a programmable quantum processor for more than one qubit," says NIST postdoctoral researcher David Hanneke. "It's a step toward the big goal of doing calculations with lots and lots of qubits." NIST researchers performed 160 different processing routines on two qubits, which Hanneke says is a large and diverse enough sample to fairly represent two-qubit programs.
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