Welcome to the March 26, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
CRA Taulbee Report: CS Enrollments, New Majors Up for 2nd Straight Year
Computing Research Association (03/24/10) Harsha, Peter
The Computing Research Association's (CRA's) 2008-2009 annual Taulbee Survey of its member departments found that the number of undergraduate students enrolled in computer science (CS) departments as well as the number of new CS majors have risen for the second consecutive year. The portion of new CS majors increased 8.5 percent over last year, while the total number of majors increased 5.5 percent, amounting to a 14 percent two-year gain. "The best and brightest students recognize that computer science is a field that offers tremendous intellectual excitement, great job prospects, and the ability to change the world," says CRA chairman Eric Grimson. He says the uptick in CS enrollments and majors is a sign that the field has regained its coolness. The Taulbee survey suggests that CS graduation rates should climb in two to four years as the new students graduate. Meanwhile, total Ph.D. degree production declined by nearly 7 percent from last year, representing the first drop in seven years, implying that last year's total was a recent high in production.
Institute for Web Science Partnership Announced
University of Southampton (ECS) (03/22/10)
The universities of Southampton and Oxford will co-host the Institute for Web Science, a new institute established to span the chasm between research and business and help commercialize next-generation Web technologies. "We must understand the forces that have shaped [the Web], anticipate its evolution, and determine its future social and economic impact," says Southampton professor Nigel Shadbolt, who will direct the institute with visiting professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee. "But we must also research a next generation of the Web." The institute will serve as a nexus for collaboration between the hosting universities and other institutions in Britain and the related business communities. It also will take advantage of Southampton and Oxford's reputations and their connections to centers overseas to draw funding and talent. "It is important and appropriate that Oxford should be involved in initiatives that seek to tap into the exciting future possibilities and potential of the Web," says Oxford professor Andrew Hamilton.
Getting Families and Friends Together Again, Virtually
ICT Results (03/26/10)
Researchers engaged in the together anywhere, together anytime (TA2) project seek to make telepresence technology available to households by creating the components needed to build an affordable and easy-to-install in-home telepresence system. The hardware would consist of a TV set, sound system, cameras, and microphones positioned in a living room, while the communications backbone would be managed by transparent software. The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS has devised an audio communication engine to supply low-delay, hi-fi quality sound, while other project partners are focusing on the development of enhanced video communications, the linkage of interactive devices, and ambient intelligence deployment. The researchers say the technology should be especially beneficial for children and older adults, because they often find themselves more alone than other social groups.
NASA's Mars Rover Starts to Think for Itself
Computerworld (03/24/10) Gaudin, Sharon
The Mars rover Opportunity features new artificial intelligence software that will enable it to decide on its own when to stop and analyze rocks as it travels across the planet's surface. Uploaded by engineers over the winter, the Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS) software is designed to work with Opportunity's computer system, which sets the specific criteria for taking images of rocks. Previously, NASA scientists determined which rocks needed further analysis after studying the images sent back to Earth by the rover. "It's a way to get some bonus science," says NASA's Tara Estlin. "We spent years developing this capability on research rovers in the Mars Yard here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory." The upload of AEGIS also will serve as a test of robotic autonomy for NASA. The space agency wants to make greater use of robotic autonomy in future space missions.
IMEC Team Shows Wireless 'Thought-to-Text' Cap
EE Times (03/23/10) Clarke, Peter
A prototype of a device that enables people with motor disabilities to communicate with just their thoughts was on display at the Medtech Conference in Stuttgart, Germany. A team from IMEC, the Holst Center, and the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven developed the Mind Speller as a portable cap, which positions electrodes in key areas on the head to capture electroencephalogram (EEG) signals. A portable device connected to the cap includes a proprietary eight-channel EEG-chip to process the EEG signals, a microcontroller to digitize the EEG signals, and a 2.4 GHz radio to transmit EEG signals wirelessly to a nearby PC. The team developed signal processing algorithms that enable the PC to interpret brain waves and spell words and phrases. The Mind Speller can be adjusted for different people suffering from paralysis or speech or language disorders. IMEC is making the Mind Speller easier to use by adapting it to work with dry electrodes.
Funding for WWII Code-Breaking Centre Bletchley Park
Times Online (United Kingdom) (03/26/10) Devlin, Hannah
The U.K. government has provided a 250,000-pound grant to repair Bletchley Park, where British mathematicians, including Alan Turing, worked to break Germany's Enigma codes in World War II. The site also is where one of the world's first programmable computers, Colossus, resides. British prime minister Winston Churchill destroyed all evidence of the secret code-breaking program after the war, due to fears the Soviet Union would discover it, but in 1991 the Bletchley Park Trust, formed by historians and ex-codebreakers, saved the site and opened it to the public. The grant will be used to make repairs to the structure and to buy new computer equipment, but Bletchley Park supporters have more ambitious plans to turn the center into a National Museum of Computing.
HTML 5 Could Challenge Flash
Technology Review (03/23/10) Naone, Erica
The Adobe Flash plugin has maintained its status as one of the most common ways for developers to create complex interactive Web features irrespective of the browser or operating system used, but experts point to new browser technologies such as the HTML 5 open Web standard as emerging challengers. Whereas Flash introduces additional capabilities to browsers following downloading and installation, the nonproprietary HTML 5 would guarantee that similar functionality is embedded within browsers that adopted it as a standard by default, with no single company controlling it. At the recent South by Southwest Interactive event, industry experts discussed the possibility that HTML 5's Canvas component--which permits graphics, animation, and interactive features to run inside a browser without any additional plugins--could replace Flash's own in-browser graphics and animation rendering capabilities. Complicating the competition between Flash and HTML 5 is the lack of support for Flash in Apple's iPhone and iPad, while HTML 5 does not function on Internet Explorer.
Major Step Towards the Application of Self-Organizing Neural Networks for Remote Sensing
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid researchers have developed self-organizing neural network training and visualization algorithms for remote sensing. The researchers modified the Growing Cell Structures (GCS) model to make their neural network algorithms easier to use to create simplified models of the large volumes of information generated by remote sensors. The project developed several GCS-based multidimensional information visualization methods and network-labeling techniques for semi-supervised and unsupervised classification or multispectral information-based variable estimation processes. Several GCS-adapted measures have been developed to evaluate the quality of the trained network. The technology has been applied across several topics in the remote-sensing field, such as classification of land covers, evaluation of the quality of training areas selection, estimation of the physical variables of aqueous covers, and the analysis of spectral index validity for images with special features.
Laser Security for the Internet
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (03/23/10)
Jacob Scheuer at Tel Aviv University's School of Electrical Engineering has developed an information security system that acts as a type of key bearer. The system is designed to transmit the key bearer, a binary code, in the form of 1s and 0s via light and laser rather than numbers. "The trick is for those at either end of the fiber-optic link to send different laser signals they can distinguish between, but which look identical to an eavesdropper," Scheuer says. The system, which runs on existing fiber-optic and computer technology, makes use of a specially designed laser that can reach more than 3,000 miles without losing key parts of the signal. Scheuer says only the sender and receiver would be able to unlock the shared key code, and notes that the strategy is simpler and more reliable than quantum cryptography. Lab demonstrations showed the use of light pulses to transmit binary lock-and-key information could be absolutely secure.
Academic Paper in China Sets Off Alarms in U.S.
New York Times (03/20/10) Markoff, John; Barboza, David
A paper by Chinese researchers envisioning a cyberattack on the U.S. power grid has ignited concerns in the United States. The researchers outlined an assault on a small U.S. power grid sub-network that triggers a cascading failure of the entire electrical infrastructure. The paper's co-author, Chinese graduate engineering student Wang Jianwei, says the research is purely theoretical, and that its intent is to find ways to augment power grids' stability by investigating potential vulnerabilities. Although some analysts see the paper as a sign that China has an interest in interfering with the U.S. power grid, University of Pennsylvania physicist Reka Albert disagrees. "Neither the authors of this article, nor any other prior article, has had information on the identity of the power grid components represented as nodes of the network," Albert says. "Thus no practical scenarios of an attack on the real power grid can be derived from such work." Wang says he chose the United States as a potential target because it publishes data on power grids, and it was the only country he could find with accessible, useful information.
Gaming--Step By Step
ExpressNews (University of Alberta) (03/19/10) Poon, Ileiren
The University of Alberta (UA) computing science department helped Edmonton game developer BioWare solve a pathfinding challenge in one of its videogames. The UA researchers were faced with the challenge of creating pathfinding programming capable of navigating complicated scenarios while minimizing the amount of memory needed. The researchers, led by UA professor Nathan Sturtevant, broke the decision-making process into separate levels, enabling the computer to calculate the steps needed by the character. "One of the things I really wanted to see was that if a character is standing on one side of the game map, would it be possible to mouse click on the farthest point away and watch your character then walk for 10, 20, 30, 40 seconds and get to where you wanted them to go?" Sturtevant says.
UPC Students Try to Send a Spherical Robot to the Moon
Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (03/16/10)
Students at the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya's Castelldefels School of Technology are working with Team FREDNET to place a small robot named PicoRover on the Moon. The robot is equipped with a built-in camera to send images from the lunar surface back to Earth. The prototype uses a spherical design that enables it to move along the lunar surface in low gravity and on uneven surfaces. The team plans to develop a fully autonomous robot capable of moving or stopping on the lunar surface as required. The team has developed controls for the device, which consist of a small computer equipped with Wi-Fi that weighs two grams. The current model is a 12-centimeter ball housing a motor, a battery, a remote control system, and a high-definition camera, all weighing less than 250 grams. The group also is developing antennas for sending the images back to Earth.
New Spam Targeting Facebook Users Is Invisible to Most Virus Scans, Says UAB Expert
University of Alabama at Birmingham (03/18/10) Reiber, Andrea
Fake Facebook emails and related viruses are a serious malware threat, according to Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Warner says that only one-third of the 42 most common antivirus products are detecting the malware, which is called BredoLab. The team has uncovered at least eight versions of BredoLab since March 16. "What is troubling is the newer versions of the BredoLab used in this latest attack campaign are not being detected by the majority of antivirus services--and that means the majority of users who unwittingly click on the bogus attachments linked to fake emails are going to have their computers infected," Warner says. The spam asks Facebook users to open an attachment to obtain new login information. "Once a computer is infected with BredoLab, the cybercriminals are able to add any other malicious software they desire to the infected computer" he says.
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