Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the February 8, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Chinese, Russian Universities Claim Top Spots in ACM International Programming Competition
ACM (02/05/10)

The top 10 rankings of the 2010 ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ACM ICPC) were dominated by four Russian teams and four Chinese teams. In first, second, third, and fourth place were China's Shanghai Jiaotong University, Russia's Moscow State University, China's National Taiwan University, and Ukraine's Taras Shevchenko Kiev National University. Russia's Petrozavodsk State University finished in fifth place, followed by China's Tsinghua University, Russia's Saratove State University, Poland's University of Warsaw, Russia's St. Petersburg State University, and China's Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen) University. ACM President Dame Wendy Hall described the ICPC's global nature as an exceptional instance of the association's recent efforts to extend its technical activities, conferences, and services for the computing profession, and to acknowledge computing achievement in international areas. "By strengthening ACM's ties in multiple regions throughout the world and raising awareness of its many benefits and resources with the public and in-country decision-makers, we can play an active role in the critical technical, educational, and social issues that surround the computing community," she said. Hall also stressed the importance of computer science education in the international economy, citing ACM's initiatives to help high school students, teachers, and parents better comprehend the kinds of careers that studying computer science facilitates.


New German-Japanese Research Consortium--Quantum Computing in Isotopically Engineered Diamond
University of Stuttgart (Germany) (02/08/10)

The German Research Foundation and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) are launching Quantum Computing in Isotopically Engineered Diamond, a research project designed to develop new logic devices for faster computing and secure communications. The project is coordinated by University of Stuttgart professor Fedor Jelezko and Tsukuba University professor Junichi Isoya, with contributing research from the University of Dortmund, the Technical University of Munich, the National Institute of Material Science, and the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency. The research project will combine Stuttgart's expertise in the detection and manipulation of internal quantum states of single atoms in diamond with JST's knowledge of synthetic diamonds and single atom doping technologies. The technology will be used for testing novel data-processing protocols.


White House Seeks Public Input on Innovation Goals
InformationWeek (02/04/10) Hoover, J. Nicholas

The White House has issued a request for public input on new technologies the U.S. government might pursue with research and development funds. The White House wants to offer a variety of "grand challenges" for inventors and scientists to tackle in the coming years. "The focus of this [Request for Information] is on hard, unsolved scientific or engineering challenges that will have significant economic or societal impact and address an important national priority," the White House says. It also is asking the public how the progress of these projects should be monitored and what the appropriate roles are for the government and other stakeholders. The effort follows the administration's open government strategy to increase citizen participation in government. The White House says it is working with Anil Dash's nonprofit Expert Labs to "explore new ways of tapping the expertise of the American people on these grand challenges."


FlashFind--Lightning-Fast Search on Mobile Devices
Fraunhofer FIT (02/05/10)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Architecture and Software Technology (FIRST) have developed FlashFind, a collection of search technologies optimized for use on mobile devices. FlashFind's tools enable full-text searching on locally stored digital data and support a variety of mobile clients, including e-readers, mobile phones, navigation systems, smartphones, and media players. The researchers say FlashFind enables users to search very large datasets and does not require network access. Beyond search, FlashFind also features tools for indoor routing, navigation, map compression, and TPEG services. FIRST developed FlashFind as part of the Future Mobile Navigation Toolkit, but it also can be used separately.


Research Reveals How Brain Arranges Nouns
The Tartan (02/08/10) Buch, Abhay

Insights into how human brains categorize objects--and their potential for human-computer interfaces as well as neuropsychiatry--have been drawn by members of Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU's) Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. Research from CMU neuroscientists Marcel Just and Vladimir Cherkassky and computer scientists Tom Mitchell and Sandesh Aryal signals that people represent all non-human objects in terms of three dimensions, defined by Just as relating to eating, shelter, and the way the object is employed. With fMRI, the scientists discovered that objects belonging to a specific dimension induced activity in a specific region of the brain. The researchers also learned that they could anticipate which parts of the brain would be triggered by new words and that they could determine how many objects were being thought about. Just says that scientists can "identify the quantity a person is thinking about, as long as [they] instantiate it as an object." He says the research clears a path for further enhancements in direct communications between the human brain and computers. Additional augmentations to the technology could enable people to communicate with computers by thought.


'Rugged' Initiative Brings Secure Software Development to the Masses
DarkReading (02/05/10) Higgins, Kelly Jackson

The Rugged Software Development Initiative (RSDI) was recently launched by security experts in an effort to ensure that the software writing process includes thinking about security from the very start. RSDI will encourage developers to create resilient software capable of withstanding attacks while performing its normal functions, says The 451 Group's Joshua Corman, who helped developed the initiative along with OWASP chair Jeff Williams and the Monterey Group's David Rice. They describe RSDI as a value system for writing secure software, as opposed to a compliance program, and they hope to incorporate the tenets of rugged code development into computer science programs at universities. Unlike other security initiatives, RSDI does not include any new frameworks for secure coding. Instead, Corman says it will serve as an "on-ramp" for secure software development. He envisions the initiative leading to scenarios such as programmers voluntarily pledging to be Rugged software developers or developing an Underwriters Laboratory label for measuring a software's ruggedness.


Finding a Parking Space Could Soon Get Easier
Technology Review (02/08/10) Jonietz, Erika

Rutgers University researchers have developed an algorithm to help find open parking spaces, using ultrasonic sensors, global positioning system (GPS) receivers, and cellular data networks. The goal is to create Web-based maps or additions to navigation systems that make parking availability data accessible to those looking for a parking space. The researchers, led by Rutgers professors Marco Gruteser and Wade Trappe, say that data could help alleviate traffic congestion and cut down on energy use. To implement their system, the researchers mounted ultrasonic distance sensors on the passenger-side doors of three cars, which over two months collected parking data in a limited urban area. They then created an algorithm that converted the ultrasonic data into information on available parking spaces. Combining that data with GPS data, the algorithm generated maps that were more than 90 percent accurate. To distinguish parked cars from other objects, such as trees or recycle bins, they measure the length and width of each object using the ultrasonic sensor readings. Gruteser says the parking availability information could be distributed over the Internet and used by drivers to decide whether to park on the street or use a garage.


Stanford's Robotic Audi to Brave Pikes Peak Without a Driver
Stanford Report (CA) (02/03/10) Blackman, Christine

Scientists at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS) have redesigned an Audi TTS with computers and global positioning system (GPS) receivers so that the car can drive itself. The car will attempt to scale Pikes Peak without a driver at race speeds following a GPS trail from start to finish. "Our first goal is to go up Pikes Peak at speeds resembling race speeds, keep the car stable around corners, and have everything work the way we want it to," says Stanford's Chris Gerdes. The car has reached speeds of 130 miles per hour without a driver during test runs at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It uses differential GPS, which corrects for interference in the atmosphere, and can locate the car's position on Earth within about two centimeters. The car measures its speed and acceleration with wheel-speed sensors and an accelerometer, and also employs gyroscopes to control equilibrium and direction. "The computer puts all this information together and then compares it to a digital map to figure out how close the car is to the path that we want it to take up Pikes Peak," Gerdes says.


First Germanium Laser
MIT News (02/02/10) Hardesty, Larry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a germanium-based laser that can produce wavelengths of light useful for optical communication. The researchers say it is the first germanium laser that can operate at room temperature and is easily incorporated into existing processes for manufacturing silicon chips. The laser could be an important step toward computers that move data using light instead of electricity. Transmitting data with lasers could be much more energy efficient, and can increase the speed of silicon chips. However, germanium lasers need to become more power-efficient before they are a practical source of light for optical communications systems, says Analog Devices Semiconductor's Tremont Miao. Nevertheless, Miao says the MIT research is very promising. "The promise is exciting, and the fact that they got germanium to lase at all is very exciting," he says.


Sparkling Victory for ECS Researchers in Lemonade Game
University of Southampton (ECS) (01/28/10) Lewis, Joyce

University of Southampton (ECS) researchers recently won the inaugural Lemonade Game Tournament by defeating research teams from Princeton University, Brown University, Rutgers University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Michigan. The teams had to create an agent that recognizes a collaborator in a repeated three-player zero-sum game. The agent must cooperate with the collaborator in order to defeat the third player. However, the agents are not able to communicate directly with one another, so they must indicate their willingness to collaborate by signaling. The ECS team designed an agent that classified the style of behavior that other agents in the game are playing, and used this information to rank their potential as collaborators. The researchers are working on improving the agent for the next tournament.


Secure Radio Signal for Central Locking
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (02/10)

Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT) researchers have developed a prototype remote car key that is more secure than the existing central locking systems of auto manufacturers. SIT's remote key uses an asymmetric algorithm, which allows the key to have its own separate code, and also means the information no longer has to be embedded in the car. The SIT team used an asymmetric algorithm, even though they are associated with high levels of computation intensity and energy consumption. "We have built a small cryptographic chip, which is particularly energy-saving," says SIT scientist Johann Heyszl. "In addition, we have developed a new, efficient protocol which minimizes computation effort and the amount of data that has to be transmitted." The prototype offers the same battery life and encrypts the electronic immobilizer the same way as central locking systems that use symmetric algorithms.


In Cyber War, Most of U.S. Must Defend Itself
Defense News (02/01/10) Vol. 25, No. 5, P. 29; Matthews, William

There are concerns that the United States is extremely vulnerable to a full-scale cyberattack, and the U.S. Cyber Command is not in a position to protect U.S. civilian computer networks, as its primary responsibility is to defend military networks. Richard Clarke, who served as the president's special cybersecurity adviser during the Bush era, recently wrote that the Department of Homeland Security "has neither a plan nor the capability" to protect very much of the U.S.'s cyber infrastructure. Furthermore, he said private-sector businesses "almost uniformly believe that they should fund as much corporate cybersecurity as is necessary to maintain profitability and no more." Meanwhile, U.S. military networks are under constant cyberattack because they are such an appealing target, according to Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn. "And the frequency and sophistication of attacks are increasing exponentially," he notes. McAfee's Dmitri Alperovitch says that a number of foreign governments, including China, France, Russia, and Israel, are equipping themselves with advanced cyber-offensive technologies. McAfee hints at the possibility that countries are competing in a quiet cyber arms race, and communications systems, banks, and power grids are just as likely to be targets as military networks.
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Smokey Bear Now Studies Computer Science
Miller-McCune (02/10) Russell, Sue

Innovative computer mapping tools and airborne imaging technology are being used by researchers with access to supercomputers to predict wildfire behavior. For example, the Los Alamos National Laboratory's Rod Linn and Lawrence Livermore's Michael Bradley designed a computer-modeling system to predict wildfire behavior that uses the FIRETEC program, which factors in weather changes and the effects of complex terrains. The researchers coupled FIRETEC with HIGRAD, a program that adds in the atmospheric conditions and the effects of smoke plumes. By simulating past fires and hypothetical future fires, the researchers hope to predict wildfire spread accurately enough to assist first responders. The researchers also are studying how increasing wind, or reducing humidity, changes fire behavior. Meanwhile, University of California, Riverside professor Peter Sadler uses computer simulations to study the impact of fires on the growth of shrubbery, grasses, and other combustibles. However, these fire prediction models still need to be simplified computationally so they run fast enough to build a practical, close to real time, predictive model, says Florida State University professor Phil Cunningham.


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