Welcome to the April 21, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
A New European Project to Boost Multilingual Internet Use
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (04/20/10) Martinez, Eduardo
The European Monnet project is building multilingual ontologies to retrieve and present information across languages, as well as to meet industry and governmental needs to better use the information on the Internet. The project, a collaboration between European organizations and higher education institutions led by the National University of Ireland, will focus on business intelligence and public-sector applications. The main goal of the business intelligence side of the project is to provide access to industry solutions and financial information about businesses across languages. The primary goal of the public sector-related uses of the project will be applying the Monnet's technologies and methodologies to applications providing multilingual access to government information and public services. The major challenges revolve around setting up the infrastructure and formalisms for representing and accessing knowledge across languages. Monnet project researchers will try to solve these problems by providing a semantics-based solution for integrated information management and access across language barriers.
Cyberattack on Google Said to Hit Password System
New York Times (04/19/10) Markoff, John
The cyberattack against Google's computer networks, first disclosed in January, also reportedly breached the company's password system, called Gaia, which controls user access to almost all of its Web services. Although the hackers do not appear to have stolen the passwords of Gmail users, the Gaia breach leaves open the possibility that hackers may find other unknown security weaknesses. The intruders were able to gain control of a software depository used by the Google development team by luring an employee to a poisoned Web site through a link in an instant message. "If you can get to the software repository where the bugs are housed before they are patched, that's the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," says McAfee's George Kurtz. An attacker looking for weaknesses in the system could benefit from understanding the algorithms on which the software is based, says Neustar's Rodney Joffe. Google still uses the Gaia system, although now it is called Google Sign-On. Soon after the intrusion, Google activated a new layer of encryption for its Gmail service. The company also tightened the security of its data centers and further secured the communications links between its services and the computers of its users.
PRACE Award 2010 Winners Announced
Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (04/19/10)
ISC has named Klaus Iglberger and Ulrich Rude, professors at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, the winners of the 2010 Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) Award. PRACE offers a prize for outstanding research on petascale computing to European students and young scientists. ISC selected their paper, "Massively Parallel Granular Flow Simulations with Non-Spherical Particles," as the winning submission. "The paper proposed by Iglberger and Rude addresses successfully the issue of simulating flows of granular materials in a realistic way, that is with particles of different shapes moving in a complex environment," according to Francois Robin, a member of the ISC Award Committee. "It introduces a new algorithm for this purpose that shows an excellent scalability on a very high number of cores, making possible very large simulations that will be useful in important applications like the design of silos." Iglberger and Rude will have an opportunity to present a keynote address on their research at the ISC'10 in Hamburg, during the Scientific Sessions on May 31.
Microsoft Sponsors New Web Font Standard
CNet (04/20/10) Shankland, Stephen
Microsoft has become a sponsor of a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) effort to standardize Web-based fonts with technology called the Web Open Font Format (WOFF). "Given the increasing interest in WOFF from browser implementers, tool creators, and type foundries, [it] is expected that WOFF will soon serve as that single, interoperable format and that other implementers will add support over time," says W3C's WebFonts Working Group. WOFF is one of several technologies designed to improve typography on the Web. However, newer Web font technologies, such as the @font-face instruction set and Embedded OpenType, are inconsistently supported by browsers. WOFF attempts to address some typography problems, such as download size, by compression and by letting Web developers offer only the necessary subset of characters for a Web page rather than the entire font. WOFF also accommodates metadata that can include type designer and licensing information to help protect intellectual property.
An Artificial Eye on Your Driving
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (04/20/10)
Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and General Motors (GM) are developing algorithms that will enable car-mounted cameras to detect road hazards and alert drivers to make split-second decisions. TAU professor Shai Avidan says the goal is to develop a system that can recognize people, distinguish them from other moving objects, and react almost instantaneously. Avidan also worked on another smart-camera system called MobilEye, which detects and tracks vehicles in real time. Avidan's new project is developing smart cameras that are aware of their surroundings. For example, such systems would help drivers check for vehicles in their blind spot, avoid children that dash into the street, or automatically block the car door from opening if a cyclist is racing by. The underlying technology also could be used in computer games to track a player's movements, or for surveillance to detect a potential intruder. "Now, as the price of cameras drop and computer power grows, we'll see more exciting applications that will keep us safe and make our lives more comfortable," Avidan says.
Ultrathin Silk-Based Electronics Make Better Brain Implants
Wired News (04/19/10) Weaver, Janelle
University of Pennsylvania (Penn) engineers have designed silk-based electronics that can stick to the surface of the brain, allowing for better brain-computer interfaces. The researchers say the silk-based devices are thin and flexible enough to reach previously inaccessible areas of the brain. "This development heralds a new class of implantable devices, not just for the brain, but for many other tissues," says Penn neurologist Brian Litt. The researchers printed electrode arrays onto silk films that dissolve after they are placed on the brain's surface and flushed with saline. After the silk film disintegrates, the array wraps itself around the brain. "This will significantly improve recording by conforming the electrode array to the surface of the brain," says Columbia University biomedical engineer Barclay Morrison. When the device was tested on the visual-processing area of a cat's brain, it recorded neural activity for about a month without causing inflammation. The new system, consisting of stable, finely spaced electrodes, could lead to the development of better neural prosthetics, Morrison says.
Secure P2P Scheme Leverages Social Networks
InformationWeek (04/19/10) Claburn, Thomas
Microsoft and Catholic University of Leuven researchers are proposing Drac, a method to secure anonymous instant messaging (IM) and voice-over-IP (VoIP) communication using peer-to-peer technology. Drac makes IM and VoIP traffic anonymous and unobservable by exposing the social connections of the users who make up the nodes of the peer-to-peer network. "Drac gives away the identity of a user's friends to guarantee the unobservability of actual calls, while still providing anonymity when talking to trusted third parties," the researchers say. Although anonymous online communications may conceal the content of conversations, information about the network addressing the timing of messages and the volume of traffic often reveal as much as the hidden correspondence, according to the researchers. Drac is designed to preserve anonymity while also stopping traffic analysis by using a peer-to-peer relay architecture that routes data through social networking connections.
Robots With Skin Enter Our Touchy-Feely World
New Scientist (04/19/10) Marks, Paul
One of the key missing components for humanoid robots is skin, which researchers say will help make them more socially accepted by facilitating the avoidance of accidental injury, among other things. In May, a team at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) will circulate to various labs the first components of a touch-sensitive skin for their iCub humanoid robot. Constituting the skin are triangular, flexible printed circuit boards that function as sensors. An alternative skin under development at Peratech uses an elastic material called quantum tunneling composite, which facilitates the interpretation of touch with the impregnation of nanoparticles charged by an electrical current. Meanwhile, Shadow Robot is about to test a human-like, touch-sensitive fingertip consisting of a fluid-filled sac and internal sensors that quantify vibration, pressure, and temperature. IIT roboticist Giorgio Metta says robot skin has to fulfill numerous criteria, including resilience, large surface area coverage, and sensitivity to even light tactile input anywhere on that surface.
Self-Training Video Analytic Software Developed to Monitor Crowds
Curtin News (04/19/10) Ratcliff, Shaun
Curtin University of Technology (CUT) researchers have developed software that can detect unusual behavior in crowds, providing a new tool in the fight against crime and terrorism. The software learns typical behavior in busy environments and then reports on unusual activity. "It identifies events of interest which may never have been foreseen by the user, and can alert security officers to their occurrence in real time," says CUT professor Svetha Venkatesh, who led the research effort. The software was tested in Belmont, Australia, for the past six months with encouraging results. "During this pilot program, the software was able to identify behavior such as loitering in a normal social and built environment, arson attempts, unusual-sized groups, incorrect vehicle traffic direction, and anti-social and illegal behavior," Venkatesh says. The software also is being adapted for use in video surveillance systems.
A Flexible Color Display
Technology Review (04/16/10) Bourzac, Katherine
Hewlett-Packard (HP) Labs researchers are testing a flexible, full-color display that saves power by reflecting ambient light instead of using a backlight. The prototype's pixels are controlled by fast-switching silicon transistors printed on plastic. "Our goal is to make a display with the color saturation of newsprint that can be manufactured for about $10 per square foot," says HP Labs' Carl Taussig. Flexible display researchers are working to develop reflective displays built on plastic that use less battery life. Plastic transistor arrays also provide better durability, says Arizona State University's Nick Colaneri. HP aims to provide a brighter color reflective display technology by stacking red, green, and blue pixels in the same area. "If you get loss at each layer, you get a huge overall loss, so we're engineering the light path to prevent that," Taussig says. "The drawback is that it's complicated." Other companies also are developing flexible displays, and Colaneri says cost will likely be the decisive factor. "There are several radically different approaches to manufacturing, and it's too early to say what the costs will be," he says.
Visualization of Geographic Patterns May Predict Spread of Disease
Penn State Live (04/15/10) Messer, Andrea
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University's GeoVISTA Center have developed the GeoViz Toolkit, software that combines text mining with geographical mapping to enable users to search publicly available data to identify and visualize data patterns. The GeoViz Toolkit can create interactive maps based on the information, and requires no programming experience. The GeoVISTA Center's Frank Hardisty says the program could help public officials in their efforts to track the spread of disease, or to monitor patterns of incidents involving crime or terrorism. With text mining, users would be able to search within documents for key information such as the date and the description of a disease-related death. Visual geographic analysis would show which locations are more susceptible to the disease, and might link the occurrences with a cause or trigger. "First, GeoViz methods can help first responders gain better situational awareness," Hardisty says. "Second, a better retroactive understanding of clustered patterns like disease incidence and public security incidents will lead to the development of effective control measures."
Pentagon Turns to 'Softer' Sciences
Nature (04/14/10) Weinberger, Sharon
The U.S. Defense Department's defense research and engineering office is overseeing a budget migration away from applied research and into disciplines such as biology, computer science, the social sciences, and cybersecurity. Defense chief technology officer Zachary Lemnios says that cybersecurity is a priority for Defense Department researchers, and last summer he launched a joint study with the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity to examine the best areas where cybersecurity funds should be committed. The results of the study are being fed into a proposal to Congress for a new $200 million cybersecurity research and technology program. Lemnios told a House of Representatives panel that his office will underwrite research to "harden key network components; increase the military's ability to fight and survive during cyberattacks; disrupt nation-state level attack planning and execution; measure the state of cybersecurity; and explore and exploit new ideals in cyberwarfare." Another priority area for the Pentagon is synthetic biology, and breakthroughs in this discipline could perhaps lead to the creation of "living sentinels" that can monitor the presence of explosives or chemical pollutants.
Random, But Not By Accident: Quantum Mechanics and Data Encryption
UM Newsdesk (04/13/10) Tune, Lee
Researchers at the University of Maryland's Joint Quantum Institute (JQI), working with European quantum information scientists, have demonstrated a method of producing certifiably random strings of numbers based on the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics. The technique is based on the work of physicist John Bell, who studied a condition called entanglement, in which matter particles become so interdependent that if a measurement is performed to determine a property of one, which will be a random value, the corresponding property of the other is instantly determined as well. Bell showed mathematically that if the objects were not entangled, their correlations would have to be smaller than a certain value, expressed as an "inequality." However, if they were entangled, their correlations could be higher, violating the inequality. The JQI test was the first to violate a Bell inequality between systems separated over a distance without missing any of the events. "If we verify a Bell inequality violation between isolated systems while not missing events, we can ensure that our device produces private randomness," says JQI's Dzmitry Matsukevich.
High-Performance Computing Reveals Missing Genes
Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (04/13/10) Whyte, Barry
Researchers at Virginia Tech's (VT's) Department of Computer Science and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute used a supercomputer to locate small genes that have been overlooked by scientists in their search for the microbial DNA sequences of life. The researchers used the mpiBLAST computational tool, which enabled them to conduct the study in 12 hours, instead of the 90 years it would have taken using a standard personal computer. The researchers say the study is the first large-scale attempt to identify undetected genes of microbes in the GenBank DNA sequence repository, which currently contains more than 100 billion bases of DNA sequences. "This is a perfect storm, where an overwhelming amount of data is analyzed by state-of-the-art computational approaches, yielding important new information about genes," says VT professor Skip Garner. There are currently more than 1,200 genome sequences of microbes stored in the GenBank database. "To facilitate the rapid discovery of missing genes in genomes, we used our mpiBLAST sequence-search tool to perform an all-to-all sequence search of the 780 microbial genomes that we investigated," says VT professor Wu Feng.
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