Welcome to the March 8, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Putin Spearheads Innovation Effort
Moscow Times (03/04/10) Medetsky, Anatoly
Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin announced that the government would spend more than a tenth of its budget on science and innovation this year. "We have assigned about 1.1 trillion rubles ($36.8 billion), or more than 10 percent of the federal budget, for fundamental and applied sciences, higher education, high-tech medicine, and specialized federal programs," Putin said. The government increased its science and innovation spending by more than 300 billion rubles in 2009 compared to 2008. The new effort to promote science and innovation includes requiring competition for scientific projects and giving preference to innovative options when the state buys products and services. Separately, Putin announced that Russia has allocated 1.1 billion rubles ($37 million) to develop supercomputer technologies in Russia. Last year Russia launched its fastest supercomputer, Lomonosov, at the Moscow State University's Research Computing Center. Lomonosov has a peak speed of 420 teraflops and is ranked as the 12th fastest computer in the world.
Robot Bred in Wales to Seek Life on Red Planet
Western Mail (Wales) (03/08/10) Williams, Sally
Aberystwyth University researcher Stephen Pugh has developed a picture-taking robot designed to look for signs of life on Mars. Pugh is fine-tuning the robot's onboard panoramic cameras and teaching it to point and shoot at features on the planet's surface. "I have been looking in particular at how the robotic rover can point its camera at specific targets, such as rocks, without human intervention," he says. The research's long-term goal is to increase scientific data for all future planetary missions. "NASA has already found evidence of ice on Mars, but I don't think rover will find evidence of anything more than water because if it was there I think we would have found it by now," Pugh says. The researcher is developing software that will enable the robot to discover locations of interest more quickly and to choose targets for pictures by itself, without communicating with scientists on Earth.
System to Facilitate Internet Use By Disabled Is Evaluated
Basque Research (03/04/10) Bulegoa, Prentsa
University of the Basque Country (UBC) researcher Markel Vigo recently published his Ph.D. thesis on the Web Accessibility Quantitative Metric (WAQM), a system that automatically measures the accessibility level of a Web page. WAQM can measure the level of accessibility according to the type of disability of each person and automatically create an accessibility report for each Web page. This allows users to conduct an Internet search and have criteria related to their specific disability taken into consideration. The system uses the Unified Guidelines Language to give each Web page a score, which is shown next to the Web page's link, based on its level of accessibility. Vigo says his system gives people with disabilities more control when carrying out a search on the Internet. WAQM also can create different accessibility grades based on the type of device that is being used. Each user gets a profile based on information about the type of disability, the Internet device of choice, and other factors, and this profile is used to personalize the accessibility report for each Web page.
Hunting Mobile Threats in Memory
Technology Review (03/05/10) Naone, Erica
Xerox PARC scientist Markus Jakobsson has developed a way to detect malware on mobile devices that can catch unknown viruses and protect a device without draining its battery or straining its processor. The approach relies on having a central server monitor a device's memory for signs that it has been infected. The system checks a device by shutting down nonvital applications to make sure nothing is running except the detection software and the operating system. If malware is present and active, it will need to use some random access memory (RAM) to execute instructions on the device. The central server contacts the detection software to see if malware is using RAM by measuring how much memory is available. Once a device passes this check, the system can be certain that no malware programs are actively running, at which point it can scan secondary storage for dormant malware. Jakobsson notes the system is designed to find existing malware, and is not a prevention program.
3D Graphics & Reality Fuse on the Fly
University of Oxford (03/04/10) Wilton, Pete
Oxford University researchers have developed the Parallel Tracking and Mapping (PTAM) program, a camera-tracking system for fusing real and three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated visuals. PTAM enables users to project virtual objects or characters into a video stream that appears on real world surfaces. "The blending of real and virtual worlds is common enough in films and television, but is usually achieved by extensive processing of the recorded images or by filming in studios with known objects at fixed locations," says Oxford professor David Murray. "The PTAM software allows developers to augment a camera's video stream in real time and in everyday locations." PTAM builds a map of thousands of features from objects and scenes, tracks accurately and at a standard frame rate, and calculates the camera viewpoint and angle. The technology also could improve global positioning systems and digital compasses, and provide support for satellite, 3G, and Wi-Fi signals.
'Microrings' Could Nix Wires for Communications in Homes, Offices
Purdue University News (03/03/10) Venere, Emil
Purdue University researchers have developed a device that uses microring resonators to convert laser pulses into bursts of pulsating radio-frequency signals that avoid interference. The researchers say the technology could eliminate the need for wires when transferring data in homes, offices, and cars. The technology could enable all communications to be transmitted from a single base station, says Purdue professor Minghao Qi. Similar technology could eventually be developed to both transmit and receive signals. The key factor in making the breakthrough practical is that the pulses transmit radio frequencies of up to 60 gigahertz, which does not require a license in the United States. The unlicensed band also is permitted globally, which would allow the system to be implemented worldwide. The system's tiny silicon microring resonators filter out certain frequencies and allow others to pass. The microring filter can be tuned by heating the rings, which causes them to change and filter out different frequencies.
The Next Secure Hash Algorithm Had Better Be a Good One
Government Computer News (03/03/10) Jackson, William
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is in the middle of a multi-year competition to pick the next hash algorithm, to be called SHA-3, which will be used to protect government files. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven professor Bart Preneel says SHA-3 will need to be sophisticated enough to withstand hacker attempts for the next 20 years. "It is unlikely there will be another competition (for SHA-4) before 2030," Preneel says. However, some observers say the selection process is moving too quickly. "I think they should pick three winners, not one, and spend several years studying them," says former National Security Agency technology director Brian Snow. The contest started with 51 algorithms, which were narrowed down to 14 in the first round. Researchers are now examining the 14 algorithms and are expected to pick a final five in late 2010. Both Snow and Preneel are concerned that not enough time is being given to thoroughly vet the remaining algorithms before a final choice is made.
Aerial Surveillance Technology Could Keep Soldiers Safer
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (03/02/10) McLaughlin, Simon
Cranfield University researchers have developed an autonomous computer framework for use in multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (MUAVs). The framework enables one operator to control numerous vehicles from a safe position on the ground, which the researchers say makes surveillance missions significantly cheaper. The framework allows an operator to program a mission objective and, through a series of control algorithms, it manages each vehicle's functions, including navigation, guidance, path planning, and decision making. "We have to be absolutely certain of the behavior of the UAVs if they are operating over civilian areas or in a battle situation," says Cranfield professor Antonios Tsourdos. The framework also increases the chances of a mission being conducted safely and successfully. In addition, MUAVs using the framework can be used by search and rescue services and for environmental surveillance, as well as for other civil applications, such as mining and traffic control.
Printable Sensors to Detect Fingers Without Touching
Engineer Live (03/01/10)
The European Union 3Plast research consortium plans to develop sensors that can be printed onto plastic film and attached to everyday objects. The sensors are being designed to respond to changes in temperature and pressure, which would enable them to detect the movement of a finger. "The sensor is combined with an organic transistor, which strengthens the sensor signal," says project leader Gerhard Domann. Researchers have already printed sensors onto film, and are now optimizing transistors that can amplify changes in temperature and pressure. "By providing everyday objects with information about their environment--for example, whether a person is approaching--by means of pressure and temperature sensors, we can create and market new devices that can be controlled just by pointing a finger," Domann says. It will likely take several years to print sensors on large surfaces, he says.
Quantum on Quantum
Science News (02/27/10) Vol. 177, No. 5, P. 28; Petit, Charles
Researchers at Harvard University and Australia's University of Queensland have designed and constructed a quantum computer capable of simulating and calculating the behavior of a molecular quantum system. The two photons that function as qubits in a quantum device are entangled, meaning that their states are linked and consistent over distance, thus augmenting the quantum computer's ability to explore all possible solutions to a complex problem at once. The researchers tasked the computer with calculating the energy levels of the hydrogen molecule. Through simulation of the quantum forces inherent in the electrons of atomic bonds themselves, the computer's photons accurately nailed the energy levels to within 6 parts per million. This milestone is "great, a proof of principle, more evidence that [a quantum computer] is not pie in the sky or cannot be built," says University of California, Berkeley professor Birgitta Whaley.
Blue Ribbon Task Force Report: Preserving Our Digital Knowledge Base Must Be a Public Priority
UCSD News (02/26/10) Zverina, Jan
The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access recently released a report addressing the problem of ensuring that digital information will be accessible in the future. The report provides principles and actions to facilitate long-term economic sustainability and context-specific recommendations geared toward four specific scenarios--scholarly discourse, research data, commercially-owned cultural content (such as digital media), and collectively produced Web content such as personal Websites and blogs. "Valuable digital information spans the spectrum from official e-documents to some YouTube videos," says Task Force co-chair Fran Berman. The report also cites four distinct prioritized courses of action--organizational action, technical action, public policy action, and education and public outreach action. The report concludes that preservation strategies need to develop at their own pace. "A key element of a robust sustainability strategy is to anticipate the effect of these changes and take steps to minimize the risk that long-term preservation goals will be impacted by short-term disruptions," says Task Force co-chair Brian Lavoie.
Survey: Educators Aren't Discussing STEM Careers With Students
eSchool News (02/25/10) Stansbury, Meris
Science and math educators are keeping classes knowledgeable and interesting, but they are not promoting science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, according to most students surveyed by Harris Interactive for the American Society for Quality (ASQ). High school student respondents also say they do not think STEM knowledge is crucial to acquiring a good job. "We believe that as students get older and begin to diversify their studies and become more aware of the wide range of available career opportunities, they start to think that math and science aren't necessarily critical to their job hunt," says ASQ's Maurice Ghysels. He says that teachers often leave out discussions of career options because of time and budget constraints. One of the challenges is that teachers themselves may have little knowledge of the wide variety of available STEM career options. Despite these drawbacks, there are ways to kindle interest in STEM careers among students, one of them being to offer hands-on lab activities and real-world examples of STEM applications at an earlier educational level such as elementary school.
Data, Data Everywhere
The explosion of digital information has brought with it major benefits as well as drawbacks, and among the latter is the paucity of storage space to house all that data and the increasing difficulty of guaranteeing data security and shielding privacy. Factors underlying the surfeit of information include technological innovations, coupled with plummeting prices for digital devices. The volume of digital information increases by a factor of 10 every five years, and Cisco projects that the amount of traffic streaming over the Internet annually will balloon to 667 exabytes by 2013. Accompanying the growth of data is the advent of data scientists, who combine the talents of software programmers, statisticians, and storytellers/artists to sift meaning out of the information deluge. Although the increasing digitization of the world is likely to bring advantages to all kinds of fields and industries via data aggregation and analysis, currently the data flood has greatly contributed to major problems such as the recent financial crisis, where it became apparent that banks and rating agencies were long reliant on models which, although they required a massive amount of data to be fed in, did not mirror actual financial risk.
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