Welcome to the February 3, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Obama Budget Boosts Science, Innovation
InformationWeek (02/02/10) Hoover, J. Nicholas
U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed spending $3.7 billion on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in his 2011 budget, including increasing funding of K-12 education by nearly 40 percent from a year ago to $1 billion. Obama's plan also calls for tripling the number of U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships to 3,000 by 2013, providing $500 million to the U.S. Department of Education's Investing in Innovation Fund. Meanwhile, NSF, the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology would get a 6.6 percent increase in funding to $824 million in 2011, and their budgets would be doubled within five years. A record $66 billion would be spent on non-defense research and development (R&D). Obama also wants to make the federal research and experimentation tax credit permanent, and start an approximately $12 million program for commercializing innovations in government R&D.
Hacking for Fun and Profit in China Underworld
New York Times (02/02/10) Barboza, David
Internet security experts say Chinese hackers are behind an escalating number of global attacks to steal credit card information, commit corporate espionage, and wage online warfare against other nations. In China, and in some parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, computer hacking has become a lucrative hobby for skilled hackers. "They make a lot of money selling viruses and Trojan horses to infect other people's computers," says author Scott Henderson, who has spent years tracking Chinese hackers. There are conferences, training academies, and magazines all devoted to providing information about hacking. In China, there is a loosely defined community of hackers who work independently, but who also sell their services to corporations and the military. One such hacker, going by the code name Majia, says he does not work for a major Chinese technology company because it would limit his freedom, so he must remain underground. Majia and other hackers keep a tight hold on their hacker secrets, including knowledge of software flaws such as zero-day vulnerabilities, for future use.
Making Vagueness Into an Exact Science
Aberdeen Press and Journal (Scotland) (02/02/10)
Aberdeen University computer scientist Kees van Deemter is creating a system that would be able to understand the meaning of vague phrases. Vagueness is a key part of everyday communication, according to van Deemter, who notes that advertisers might use a word such as "powerful" to describe a product, or politicians might use the term "failing schools" in a speech. Although the average person on the street would have a good understanding of "wind speed" if it was described as "strong," the exact figure would not mean much to the person. However, computers would understand the number. Van Deemter is developing computer systems that would use exact figures as well as vague words. "What is more, they need to be able to make that judgment call: whether to be fully precise, or to sacrifice some precision, in order to be understood better," he says.
Urgent Computing Aids Haiti Relief
University of Texas at Austin (01/29/10) Dubrow, Aaron
The Mid-American Geospatial Information Center (MAGIC) at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Space Research (CSR) is a repository of remote sensing data used to provide support for disaster response by providing vital information. "We know the typical suite of products that responders need in the field and have been developing those using satellite imagery, and more recently, aerial imagery," says MAGIC's Gordon Wells. After the recent earthquake in Haiti, MAGIC has served as one of the main thoroughfares in the flow of information to help emergency operators in the region. Working with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) since the disaster struck, MAGIC has produced, organized, and distributed data to scientists and responders. "We're refining the geospatial data so that the field teams can use the imagery effectively during their field traverses," Wells says. The MAGIC team also is helping Purdue University and University of Texas researchers study the nature of the earthquake itself. CSR depends on TACC for cyberinfrastructure, information technology, and computing expertise.
Competition Seeks to Attract More Women Into IT
V3.co.uk (02/02/10) Neal, David
Britain's Women in Technology has teamed up with the National IT Learning Center to introduce the Rise of the Cyberella Competition, which will provide funding for information technology (IT) training as its prize. The winner will have the chance to determine the nature of the IT training program and whether to pursue design, technician, or networking qualifications. Women interested in participating in the competition only need to explain in 100 words why they deserve to win free IT training. The competition's organizers say the event is an opportunity to dispel the nerdy image of the IT industry and to encourage more women to consider a career in technology. "IT is a great place to work but we need more 'Cyberellas,' women with strong IT skills and qualifications who will be a great asset to the industry as well as being role models to encourage more women to join the profession in the future," says Women in Technology director Maggie Berry.
High, Not Flat: Nanowires for a New Chip Architecture
Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (Germany) (02/02/10) Bohnet, Christine
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics and the Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf have described the electrical resistance and current flow inside silicon nanowires. Their research could lead to a three-dimensional transistor architecture based on nanometer-sized wires. Unlike current transistors, which are arranged lying flat next to each other and are about 50 nanometers in length, the new architecture, in which the transistors are rotated 90 degrees so they stand like tiny columns, would allow for numerous vertical transistors to be built on the area normally occupied by one flat transistor. Nanowire-based electronics would be smaller and more energy-efficient, according to the researchers, and could enable the fabrication of extremely efficient solar cells.
Digital Doomsday: The End of Knowledge
New Scientist (02/02/10) Simonite, Timothy; Le Page, Michael
In the event of a disaster that destroys the vast majority of the world, humanity's legacy will largely reside on data stored on hard drives. However, hard drives were never meant for long-term storage and no one can be sure how long they will last. The Canadian Conservation Institute's (CCI's) Joe Iraci says that although the most important data is backed up on magnetic tapes or optical discs, these formats cannot be trusted to last even five years. Iraci has conducted accelerated aging tests by exposing different forms of media to high heat and humidity. The tests found that the most reliable data storage devices are recordable CDs with a reflective layer of gold and a phthalocyanine dye layer. Many experts believe that after a major catastrophe only information that is written on paper will survive. "Even the worst kind of paper can last more than 100 years," says the CCI's Season Tse. Proposals to make a paper format that can store digital data for centuries using a system similar to bar codes have been slowed due to a lack of commercial interest. Another option is the Rosetta Disk, which holds descriptions and texts of 1,000 languages. The Rosetta Disk is made out of nickel, etched with text that is only readable at 1,000 times magnification. Each disk holds about 30,000 pages of text or images.
Best Connected Individuals Are Not the Most Influential Spreaders in Social Networks
Technology Review (02/02/10)
Boston University (BU) researchers have developed a method for studying and identifying hubs within social networks. The approach emphasizes the location of the individual within the network as opposed to the number of connections. "In contrast to common belief, the most influential spreaders in a social network do not correspond to the best connected people or the most central people," says BU's Maksim Kitsak. The researchers found that if a hub exists at the end of a branch it will have a minimal impact on the core of the network. However, a less connected person strategically placed in the core of a network can have significant effects that lead to dissemination through a large fraction of the population, Kitsak says. By studying a quantity called the network's k-shell decomposition, researchers can locate these specially placed individuals, which is the key to understanding the dynamics of a network.
Adding Noise Enhances Mammogram Accuracy, SU Researchers Find
Daily Orange (Syracuse University) (02/01/10) Napoli, Victoria
The use of sound in mammogram systems has the potential to lead to more accurate detection of cancerous lesions, according to Syracuse University researchers. The team studied the phenomenon called stochastic resonance and selected a random signal for their algorithm. "If you have a surgery, and you thought it was a lesion, and it turns out to be normal tissue, that's devastating," says professor Hao Chen. "Our algorithm reduces this kind of probability because lesion detection is better." Syracuse professor Pramod K. Varshney says the sound technology has helped reduce false positives in a mammogram image and improved detection of areas that contain an anomaly. The spontaneous signal approach is adaptive, inexpensive, and can improve the systems which are not replaceable, he says. The researchers plan to continue to develop the technology for use in other medical applications.
MIT News (01/29/10) Hardesty, Larry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Pablo Parrilo has developed a set of techniques that makes it easier to understand nonlinear systems. Parrilo uses algorithms for analyzing nonlinear systems, which takes away much of the guesswork involved in tackling these types of problems. Although Parrilo's approach only works with certain kinds of nonlinear equations, the properties that make equations susceptible to his approach are properties common to physical systems in the real world, says Russ Tedrake, a robotics researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. "The impact he's had has been huge. Huge," Tedrake says. Parrilo's techniques have been used in several fields, including robotics, aircraft engineering, quantum mechanics, and microbiology.
Mind-Control Mobile-Phone Games
Brain Maze is a mobile phone game developed by Lancaster University researchers that requires players to use their brain waves to move a marble around a course. Players use tilt controls and a brain-wave reading headset, and an accelerometer-equipped phone picks up electromagnetic waves. To move the marble through the mind gates, players have to actually think about getting through them. They also must shift their mental state from a meditative state to an active state, as Brain Maze uses both alpha and beta waves, say Lancaster's Paul Coulton and Will Bamford. "While much of the recent press around mobile phones has concerned the emergence of touch-screen devices, this game takes the user's experience to a whole new level and highlights the possibility of reaching the holy grail of computer interaction--using brain control," Coulton says.
Real-Time Webcam Images Painted Onto Google Earth
New Scientist (01/29/10) Campbell, MacGregor
Washington University of St. Louis Ph.D. candidate Austin Abrams has developed Live3D, a browser-based application for Google Earth and geospatial databases that replaces the two-dimensional (2D) image of virtual buildings and other objects with images drawn from live feeds of webcams. The images come from the Archive of Many Outdoor Scenes (AMOS), a collection of live feeds from nearly 1,000 webcams streaming from various sites worldwide. Live3D maps webcam images onto a three-dimensional (3D) model of a location or landmark. Using the system's Web interface, users outline a region of the webcam image by moving the corners of a polygon. Live3D then takes the outlined 2D image and warps it to fit the 3D geometry of Google Earth. "We wanted to make Google Earth and geospatial databases a little more alive," Abrams says.
Wireless Optical Transmission Key to Better Indoor Communications
Penn State Live (01/27/10) Messer, Andrea
Penn State University (PSU) researchers have developed a wireless optical communications system that could provide faster, more secure communications with a wider bandwidth. The optical system is more secure than radio frequency transmission because radio waves can pass through some substances. The system uses a high-powered laser diode as a wireless optical transmitter and an avalanche photo diode as the receiver. The researchers used infrared light, but the system also will work with visible and ultraviolet light. The system provides a bandwidth of one gigabit per second or more over a gigahertz band, says PSU graduate student Jarir Fadlullah. The optical system can operate in places where radio frequency transmission is problematic due to interference. Wireless optical transmissions also can transfer sensor data and high resolution images, unlike radio frequency communications. One possible application suggested by researchers is wireless projection of high definition TV.
The Next 20 Years of Microchips
Scientific American (01/10) Vol. 302, No. 1, P. 82
Microchip designers are pushing the envelope to make future integrated circuits faster, less expensive, and smaller. Among the concepts being researched is Hewlett-Packard's memristor, a new type of circuit element generated at each raised intersection of overlapping nanowires that can store information. Also under investigation are graphene transistors, one-atom-thick devices that conduct electrons faster than any other material at room temperature, thus increasing the speed of information processing. In the realm of biological computing, researchers are looking at the possibility of a small chip that uses DNA strands. The strands would process different portions of a computing task concurrently and cohere together to represent the solution. Quantum computing efforts include a project at the University of California, Santa Barbara that yielded a number of different logic gates formed by tapping electrons in niches that are etched into diamond. Meanwhile, the University of Maryland and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology have developed a string of calcium ions suspended between charged plates in a vacuum chamber that are capable of performing quantum calculations.
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