Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the March 1, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


PRACE Evaluated Additional Prototypes for Next Generation Architectures
Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (02/26/10)

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe's work package for future petaflop computer technologies beyond 2010 recently assessed 12 prototypes for next-generation computer architectures. The evaluation included full systems, system components, software prototypes, and several research activities. For example, CINES and LRZ jointly evaluated a hybrid system containing both thin and fat nodes and compute accelerators within a shared file system. NCF assessed a system of ClearSpeed/PetaPath accelerator boards together with the ClearSpeed programming language. CEA looked at the performance of graphics processing units (GPUs) using CAPS hybrid multicore parallel programming. The CSC studied the maturity of OpenCL and performance improvements for multi-GPU programming on NVIDIA Tesla and AMD Firestream cards. CSCS evaluated the PGAS programming model using the Cray Compiler Environment for UPC and CAF. And EPCC evaluated the HARWEST Compiling Environment for developing programs on the FPGA-based Maxwell supercomputer.


IBM Speeds Up Data Analysis With New Algorithm
IDG News Service (02/25/10) Shah, Agam

Researchers at IBM's laboratories in Zurich have developed a new algorithm that can sort, correlate, and analyze millions of random data sets in minutes. Without the algorithm, the analysis would have taken days for supercomputers to process, says IBM researcher Costas Bekas. He says the algorithm could be used to analyze data measuring electricity usage and air or water pollution levels. The algorithm also could be used to break down data from global financial markets. The algorithm combines models of data calibration and statistical analysis that can assess measurement models and relationships between data sets. Bekas says the algorithm, which can analyze nine terabytes of data in less than 20 minutes, makes data analysis more cost and energy efficient because it reduces the load on supercomputers.


How to Spot Suspicious VoIP Signals
Technology Review (02/25/10)

Researchers at the Warsaw University of Technology in Poland have studied the characteristics of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls in an attempt to gain a better understanding of ordinary traffic. Security remains an issue for VoIP calls, which can be hijacked and used to send confidential information over the Internet. Wojciech Mazurczyk and colleagues decided to study ordinary VoIP calls so experts would have a way to compare and contrast regular calls with those that have been embedded with stolen data. VoIP calls can be compromised by changing the order in which the digital packets are sent, or by deliberately delaying certain packets that have embedded data, a technique known as Lost Audio Packet Steganography (LACK). The team's research shows that packets are not normally re-ordered in a way for hiding data, so attacks that re-order data are not a real threat. However, LACK attacks would be difficult to spot because of the routine loss of data packets.


In Networks We Trust
ICT Results (02/24/10)

European researchers working on the Remote EnTrusting by RUn-time Software authentication (RE-TRUST) project have proposed a solution to trusted computing that they say offers better security and authentication. RE-TRUST uses logic components on an untrusted machine to allow for remote entrusting authentication. "RE-TRUST will have a major impact on all commercial applications and solutions where security or trust is a concern, independently of whether they are based on a client-server or a peer-to-peer paradigm," says RE-TRUST coordinator Yoram Ofek. RE-TRUST solutions could work with peer-to-peer networks to enable them to become a new trusted distribution channel. The RE-TRUST team also developed trust solutions for code mobility, reconfigurable computing for software protection, and orthogonal replacement. "All applications and solutions running over a network, such as the Internet, can benefit from the RE-TRUST approach," Ofek says.


Tech Industry Searching for Girls Gone Geek
MSNBC (02/21/10) Tahmincioglu, Eve

The flagging attraction of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professions to young women is partly attributed to the geek factor, or the perception of such careers as uncool, socially isolating, and primarily geared toward males. The National Center for Women & Information Technology estimates that about 17 percent of high school girls take advanced computer science placement exams, which represents the lowest percentage of females among all such tests. Meanwhile, the number of women earning computer science degrees fell from 37 percent in 1985 to 18 percent in 2008. AT&T Labs researcher Amanda Stent says that "a movement to reclaim the notion of 'geek' " is underway to reverse this trend, and she is a member of a group dedicated to encourage more young women to become passionate about science and technology. Stent stresses that engineers, technologists, and scientists often work in groups and invent community-building, societally beneficial products.


The Safe Way to Use One Internet Password
Queensland University of Technology (02/25/10) Wilson, Rachael

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Ph.D. researcher Suriadi is investigating using an anonymous credential system, an Internet authentication system from the 1980s, to enable Web users to securely log in only once per Internet session. Suriadi says future single sign-on systems could give users access to multiple accounts--including email, bank, and shopping--but would need to provide extreme privacy to avoid hackers. He says the anonymous credential system could enhance the security and privacy of a single sign-on system. "The system works by revealing as little information about who you are as necessary for logging into an account, therefore allowing you to remain anonymous," Suriadi says. A single sign-on system backed by the anonymous credential system requires the cooperation of business and organizations to enable it, Suriadi notes.


Professors Find Ways to Keep Heads Above 'Exaflood' of Data
Chronicle of Higher Education (02/24/10) Fischman, Josh

Researchers remain optimistic about the prospect of keeping track of the exaflood of data, from gene sequences and distant pulsar signals to YouTube videos and email. During the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one session gave scientists and other academics an opportunity to learn more about some current strategies for storing data and using it productively. University of California at San Diego professor Larry Smarr demonstrated how genetic sequences from ocean bacteria can be coupled with environmental information about the organisms. Smarr said researchers were able to target specific gene sequences, annotated with helpful information. Meanwhile, Google researcher Hal Varian said the company's Google Insights for Search analytical tools used information on individual searches for Toyota automobiles to accurately predict its sales volume.


Mobile Monitor for Drivers' Safety
The National (UAE) (03/01/10) Chung, Matthew

Abu Dhabi University (ADU) researchers have developed Driver Riskometer, a smartphone application that tracks a user's mobile phone activity while driving. The application records the vehicle's top and average speed, the number of calls made, the time spent on calls, and the time spent tapping the phone's keys. The driver's performance is scored at the end of a trip on a scale of one (very safe) to seven (very risky). Studies have found that drivers using mobile phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as those not using a phone. "The idea is to give people feedback about their risk on the motorway and get them to enhance their driving," says ADU professor Ashraf Khalil. Drivers can check their records for a single journey or for a given day or month. After each trip, the overall risk score is recalculated based on the more recent performance.


An Emotion Detector for Baby
ScienceDaily (02/24/10)

Japanese scientists have developed a statistical program that could enable portable baby-monitoring devices to determine whether infant cries mean a baby is sleepy, hungry, needs a change, or is in pain. Tomomasa Nagashima and colleagues at the Muroran Institute of Technology used a sound pattern recognition strategy to analyze infants' crying patterns. The team analyzed the frequency of cries and the power function of the audio spectrum to classify different types of crying. Nagashima and colleagues were able to correlate the different recorded audio spectra with the emotional state of a baby as confirmed by the parents. Recordings of a crying baby with a painful genetic disorder helped the researchers differentiate the cries of babies who are in pain. They were able to achieve a 100 percent success rate in classifying pained cries and normal cries via their technique.


HP Labs Opens Singapore Research Hub
Business Week (02/24/10) Ricadela, Aaron

Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs announced the opening of a new research and development (R&D) center in Singapore. The Singapore lab will work with HP labs in Bristol, England, and Palo Alto, Calif., on research in cloud computing and software development. The Singapore lab is located in a government-owned research facility called Fusionopolis. HP says the lab in part will work to meet the needs of telecom companies. According to a recent National Science Foundation report, Singapore, China, and South Korea are the fastest growing countries for overseas R&D by U.S. companies. The Singapore lab is part of HP's renewed effort to generate cutting-edge technology developments from its scientific centers in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. HP Labs director Prith Banerjee has urged labs in China, England, India, Israel, and Russia to work with each other to produce more inventions that can be turned into revenue-producing technology for the company.


GPS Vulnerable to Hacker Attacks
BBC News (02/23/10) Palmer, Jason

Experts warn that technology reliant on satellite navigation signals is increasingly vulnerable to attack from widely available equipment. At a U.K. conference at the National Physical Laboratory, professor David Last said the global positioning system's (GPS's) biggest vulnerability is the extreme weakness of the signals that reach receivers, which allows jamming by Earth-based equipment to be executed. Such jamming has been conducted by military systems for years to disrupt adversaries' navigation systems, but small jamming devices are increasingly available online. Moreover, receivers can be fooled into accepting erroneous data by bogus GPS signals, Last warned. Seagoing vessels are especially susceptible to GPS hacking, given that their systems increasingly use satellite navigation directly as well as feed GPS signals into other equipment.


Nanotech Breakthrough to Revolutionise Microchip Manufacturing
Silicon Republic (02/22/10) Kennedy, John

Researchers at Ireland's Tyndall National Institute (TNI) have designed and fabricated a junctionless transistor, a breakthrough they say could revolutionize microchip manufacturing. In TNI's transistor, the current flows along a thin silicon wire and is controlled by a "wedding ring" structure that electrically squeezes the wire in same way the flow of water can be stopped in a hose by squeezing it. TNI professor Jean-Pierre Colinge says the transistor "significantly reduces power consumption and greatly simplifies the fabrication process of silicon chips." Colinge says the design can be fabricated on a miniature scale, which should lead to major cost reductions. "Minimizing current leakage is one of the main challenges in today's complex transistors," he notes. "The Tyndall junctionless devices have near-ideal electrical properties and behave like the most perfect transistors."


Software Muse Helps Bloggers Score Hits
New Scientist (02/18/10) Campbell, MacGregor

Researchers at IBM's Watson Research Center have created Blog Muse, software that helps bloggers with writer's block. Blog Muse is designed to generate a list of topics for bloggers to write about, based on other users' suggestions or the profiles of other writers. Although a test involving 1,000 IBM employee-bloggers did not lead to an increase in the number of blog posts, those using the software were twice as likely to receive comments, have an increase in readership, and receive higher ratings on their posts from readers. The IBM employee-bloggers were divided into three groups, with one receiving suggestions for topics from Blog Muse, another receiving random ideas, and a third group that did not get any assistance. Four weeks later, 64 percent of the group that used Blog Muse suggestions rated the ideas as "good," while 37 percent of the group that received random suggestions rated the topics as "good."
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Game Trains Soldiers in a Virtual Iraq or Afghanistan
UT Dallas News (02/23/10) Stockton, Sarah

University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) researchers are developing First Person Cultural Trainer, a computer training tool designed to make it easier for military personnel to perform missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The three-dimensional interactive game teaches soldiers the values and norms of Iraqi and Afghan cultures. Previously, training has been done by building actual villages and hiring actors to replicate a particular culture. The researchers worked to make the game's characters look, sound, and act as much as possible like the people they are meant to represent, says UTD professor Marjorie Zielke. "Much of the cultural data is being developed in real time by the military," Zielke says. "By having it in a systems-based approach that is composable ... we can respond to the data as soon as it becomes available."


Tomorrow's Forecast: Clear With a Chance of Tremors
University of Texas at Austin (02/10/10) Dubrow, Aaron

The goal of the Southern California Earthquake Center's (SCEC's) CyberShake project is to accurately predict earthquake activity for the next 50 years. The CyberShake predictions, called seismic hazard maps, have the potential to preserve lives and save billions of dollars by predicting catastrophic earthquakes. To create the most recent maps for CyberShake, SCEC partnered with the Texas Advanced Computing Center to take advantage of its Ranger supercomputer. The researchers hope that computational simulations eventually will become the dominant predictor of seismic hazards. CyberShake ultimately will be part of a system that incorporates real-world seismic changes as they happen, producing daily ground motion forecasts. The methods developed by the CyberShake team will affect many disciplines that use high-performance computing. For scientific computing applications that run serially, the CyberShake's methodology is an important innovation. Automated use of high-performance computing also could impact atmospheric research, high-energy physics, and biomedical research.


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