Welcome to the December 23, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
As Attacks Increase, U.S. Struggles to Recruit Computer Security Experts
Washington Post (12/23/09) P. A1; Nakashima, Ellen; Krebs, Brian
Cyberattacks are increasing in frequency and sophistication at a time when the U.S. government is struggling to address a shortage of proficient computer security experts. This shortage comes as the Pentagon is trying to staff a new Cyber Command that melds offensive and defensive computer security capabilities while the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to expand its own cybersecurity force by as many as 1,000 people over the next three years. Realizing that meeting this goal will be difficult, DHS is focusing on training people already in the federal government in cybersecurity skills. In November, the Government Accountability Office warned a Senate panel that the number of scans, probes, and attacks reported to the DHS' U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team has increased by more than 300 percent. Mischel Kwon, former director of the readiness team, says that for years federal law forced most civilian agencies to spend their cyberfunds on security audits instead of on building a robust security program. Karen Evans, the Bush administration's information technology (IT) administrator, points out that most federal IT managers do not know what advanced skills are required to counter cyberattacks. The National Science Foundation's Scholarship for Service program, which pays for up to two years of college in exchange for an equal number of years of federal employment, is a key element in the U.S. government's initiative to cultivate cybersecurity talent. However, the private sector often offers much higher salaries for cybersecurity personnel than the private sector.
Computer Identifies Authentic Van Gogh
Tilburg University (Netherlands) (12/23/09)
Tilburg University Ph.D. student Igor Berezhnoy has used artificial intelligence to develop new digital technology for analyzing the authenticity of paintings. Berezhnoy has proposed the Method for the Extraction of Complementary Colors as a way to analyze colors in paintings and determine their authenticity. The approach was tested on digital reproductions of paintings by Vincent van Gogh, who started using complementary colors for contours of objects or parts of scenes during his French period. Moreover, Berezhnoy says his digital analysis method, the Prevailing Orientation Extraction Technique, is capable of detecting the orientation of brush strokes. The computer algorithms also can identify the "fingerprint" of a master and reveal his or her identify. Working with the Van Gogh Museum and the Kroller-Muller Museum, Berezhnoy tested the computer algorithms on digital reproductions of Van Gogh's paintings. He says the tool will help art historians conduct visual assessments of paintings, but not replace them.
R&D Spending in U.S. Expected to Rebound
Wall Street Journal (12/22/09) P. B7; Naik, Gautam
The United States recorded its first annual decline in spending on research and development (R&D) since 2002, as R&D spending this year fell about 3.8 percent to $382.6 billion, after accounting for inflation, according to the Battelle Memorial Institute. However, U.S. spending is expected to rebound in 2010 and rise 1.7 percent to $395.9 billion, and some of the funding will come from the stimulus package. The spending figures include funding received from the U.S. government as well as from U.S. companies. Approximately $1.11 trillion was spent on R&D globally in 2009, and that amount is expected to rise 4 percent to $1.16 trillion next year. Spending also declined in Japan and Europe this year, but China and India showed growth at a slower pace. "India and China's R&D engines are large and getting larger, and are driven by factors beyond" the temporary swings of the global economy, says Battelle researcher Martin Grueber. China could surpass Japan as the world's second-biggest spender on R&D, after the United States, in 2011.
Technological Safety Net for Fall-Prone Elderly
ICT Results (12/21/09)
A new system being developed by European researchers in the SensAction-AAL project uses a wearable, wireless-enabled device equipped with motion sensors to monitor older adults susceptible to falls. The information collected through the device can be used to help the elderly perform rehabilitation exercises to improve their balance and mobility, evaluate the progression of a disorder such as Parkinson's, or alert someone in the event of a fall. "Falls in which a person does not get up, so-called unrecovered falls, are usually a sign that they need immediate assistance. But detecting them remotely is not easy," says University of Bologna researcher Lorenzo Chiari. "The main challenge is developing a software algorithm that can differentiate between an unrecovered fall and something less serious." Chiari says the SensAction-AAL software is able to detect unrecovered falls with a high degree of accuracy and send an SMS or email alert, making it a potentially life-saving device in the event a user suffers a serious incident. The software is embedded in the portable device, designed to be worn around the waist, which also contains the gyroscopes and accelerometers used to perform motion and position sensing. Bluetooth or Zigbee wireless communications technology is used to connect the device to a user's or doctor's computer and then to a secure database and server.
Obama Cyber Czar Choice Worries About Smartphones, Social Networking
Network World (12/22/09) Greene, Tim
Howard Schmidt, U.S. President Obama's choice for cybersecurity czar, has previously worked in both the public and private security sectors and also has written a book on defending the Internet. He is expected to focus on a number of issues as he begins his new job. For instance, Schmidt--who helped produce the "National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace" while working for the Bush administration--could use the government to promote education and research and push vendors to make more secure products. "What is the government doing to make sure universities and companies have dollars to do research that will enhance security?" Schmidt said in an earlier interview. He added that there is research and development that needs to be done that may not improve homeland security but may make the Internet more secure. Schmidt also will likely work to make cybersecurity as big a priority as physical security. In addition, Schmidt could call for increased security on smartphones and other mobile devices, since he has said that cybercriminals will increasingly target these devices as they become more and more like computers. Finally, Schmidt will likely work to counter threats from terrorists to the U.S.'s cyberinfrastructure. Schmidt has said that terrorists are most likely to target financial institutions' IT networks, though attacking those systems will be difficult because of all the work the financial services industry has done to protect itself.
How Intelligent Vehicles Will Increase the Capacity of Our Roads
Technology Review (12/22/09)
Traffic flow will improve as more computer-controlled vehicles hit the road, according to new research from Arne Kesting and colleagues at the Technical University of Dresden. "One percent more [computer-controlled] vehicles will lead to an increase of the capacities by about 0.3 percent," according to the researchers. However, traffic capacity is expected to improve even more once vehicles are capable of communicating with each other, which would allow them to move nearly bumper to bumper, in a platoon. Traveling as one unit, vehicles would be able to communicate the moves they intend to make, and platooning also should lead to better fuel efficiency. At this point, legal issues such as liability in a platoon crash remain more of a challenge than the technology. Adaptive cruise control systems use a radar or laser-based device to monitor the road, and to control both the accelerator and brake to keep a vehicle at a certain distance from other vehicles.
Computer Science Education: It's Not Shop Class
New York Times (12/21/09) Lohr, Steve
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has a plan to reform U.S. high school computer science education by giving the curriculum a much-needed update. NSF program director Janice Cuny says the goal is not to offer students the digital equivalent of shop classes, but rather to "teach them the magic of computing." Today's high school students need to be technologically functional and literate, stresses Computer Science Teachers Association executive director Chris Stephenson. "And that will be true for them no matter what they become--artists, geologists, doctors, lawyers and, yes, computer scientists," she says. A broader and smarter high school computer science curriculum will ideally generate more U.S. computer scientists, but for the most part it will cause the pool of people who comprehend and sample the discipline to swell. "The main goal is to broaden the funnel, to show more kids the extraordinary depth of this field and all you can do with it," says Google's Alfred Spector. Computer science veterans are struck by the mainstreaming of artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language translation, and other things conceived decades ago.
How Could Santa Know If You've Been Good or Bad?
CSIRO (Australia) (12/21/09) Legovich, Daniel
New automated expression recognition technology would enable Santa to determine who has been naughty or nice, according to Simon Lucey, a computer scientist at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). A CSIRO team is using machine learning to train the system on how to spot the different components of a facial expression, such as a twitch of the mouth or the widening of the eyes. "Our computer program looks at these components, matches them against a list drawn up by expert psychologists, and decides what expression just flitted across a face," Lucey says. Machine learning has helped to refine the system's technique, and has made it very difficult for a human to fool the computer program. "When it comes to finding out who's been naughty or nice, we show the computer what expressions are associated with good behavior and it watches for a departure from that," Lucey says. CSIRO believes the technology could be used to detect pain in people who cannot speak. Also, the system's ability to recognize gestures could improve telecollaboration.
Do Computers Understand Art?
Plataforma SINC (Spain) (12/23/09)
Researchers from the University of Girona and the Max Planck Institute have demonstrated that certain mathematical algorithms can offer clues about a painting's artistic style, although this is still a far cry from human-like artistic interpretation. The research team has shown that some artificial vision algorithms mean a computer can be programmed to "understand" an image and distinguish artistic styles based on low-level pictorial data, which covers such aspects as brush thickness, the type of material, and the composition of the color palette. Medium-level information encompasses differentiation between certain objects and scenes appearing in an image, as well as the type of painting. High-level information accounts for the historical context as well as knowledge of the artists and artistic trends. "It will never be possible to precisely determine mathematically an artistic period nor to measure the human response to a work of art, but we can look for trends," says study co-author Miquel Feixas. The researchers' analysis of various artificial vision algorithms used for art classification discovered that certain aesthetic measurements--calculating the order of the image by examining pixels and color distribution--along with the composition and diversity of the color palette, can be helpful. The researchers plan to apply their work to the development of image viewing and analysis tools, the classification of and search for museum collections, the creation of public informative and entertainment gear, and a better understanding of the interplay between people, computers, and works of art.
NWO Researcher Develops a 'Blacklist' of Expressions
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (12/21/09)
Dutch researcher Nicole Gregoire has developed a way for linguistic computer systems, such as speech recognition software or programs that prepare automatic summaries, to understand phrases that are not used for their literal meaning. Working with STEVIN, a long-term research and stimulation program for Dutch language and speech technology, Gregoire developed a database of 5,000 phrases whose meaning depends more on context, such as "missing the boat." The list, which is known as DuELME, is divided into different classes on the basis for the structure of such phrases. Doing this reduces the amount of manual work required to incorporate the database into a computer system, and makes it possible to use the list for a number of different systems.
Women's Issues in Science and Engineering Take Center Stage
Symmetry Magazine (12/21/09) Carter, Kandice
The focus of the recent Women in Science and Engineering Workshop was the challenges that female scientists and engineers must contend with. The goal of the workshop, which was put together by the Committee on Women in Physics and Engineers at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, was to learn about best practices at other institutions while also seeking expert advice. The committee hopes that the knowledge exchanged at the workshop can be applied to its mission to boost the participation of women in physics and engineering. One of the more notable findings discussed at the workshop was the discovery that scientists, engineers, and others may be contributing to gender inequity without realizing that their own bias plays a role. The three most cited reports at the workshop provide hard data on gender disparities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, and make recommendations on steps that both individuals and institutions can follow to resolve them.
A Virtual Physician's Conference
The Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST is collaborating with Protestant Hospital in Witten, Germany, to improve the flexibility of telemedicine software. Current tools tend to be one-off solutions that have to be reprogrammed for alternative applications, which makes the software costly and time-consuming. "Our software is designed to be modular--you start with the basic core services and simply add the specialist individual services you need in each case," says ISST's Oliver Koch. The researchers are using existing open source solutions for basic program functions, which can be adapted for a specific application by simply modifying certain parameters. Protestant Hospital doctors are using the software each week to check on the healing process of problematic wounds. A barcode is photographed together with the wound, and subsequent images of the wound are automatically assigned to a patient's files as a result of the barcode recognition. The software also automatically adds new information on the progress of the treatment.
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (12/17/09)
Researchers at the University of Washington (UW), the Nature Conservancy, and the University of Southern Mississippi have developed the Climate Wizard, a Web-based tool designed to help scientists and non-scientists understand climate change data. Climate Wizard enables users to test different climate change scenarios based on information from 16 climate-change models to create color-coded maps of states, countries, or regions that can be used to illustrate the effects of changes in temperature and precipitation. For instance, users can see how low, medium, or high levels of greenhouse gas emissions might affect the climate in the mid part of the century or the end of the century. Users also can take data from some or all of the 16 individual climate models to create an ensemble map. Such maps can provide a better range of future climate change than single models can, says UW's Evan Girvetz.
IU Informaticists Show New Levels of Refinement in Predicting Human Mobility, Epidemic Spread
Indiana University (12/17/09) Chaplin, Steve
Indiana University (IU) researchers report that human mobility patterns can be modeled to provide a refined view of the spread of an epidemic, potentially aiding in emergency public health decision making. The researchers say that refined computational strategies could lead to new levels of accuracy on the behavior of targeted mobility networks and epidemic progression. The researchers, led by IU professor Alessandro Vespignani, say that these strategies also could provide a better balance between needed computational time and refining the flexibility of human mobility and infectious disease models during a real-time public health emergency. "The present analysis opens the path to quantitative approximation schemes that calibrate the level of data resolution and the needed computational resources with respect to the accuracy in the description of the epidemics," Vespignani says. "These results already have contributed to the improvement of the computational models we use to provide estimates and projections of the H1N1 pandemic." The researchers mapped the locations of 220 International Air Transport Association-indexed airports and a set of 3,363 subpopulations. They also fed commuting data from 29 countries in five continents into the model and constructed commuting networks at the subpopulation level, as well as a third data level for a hypothetical pandemic influenza. The researchers then created simulations that enabled them to discriminate between the main contributions of mobility flows to the spread of the pandemic. "This approach outlines the possibility for the definition of layered computational approaches where different modeling assumptions and granularities can be used consistently in a unifying multiscale framework," Vespignani says. "These results clearly show that the level of detail on the mobility networks can be chosen according to the scale of interest."
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