Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the April 26, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Method Developed to Identify Musical Notes at any Venue
Plataforma SINC (Spain) (04/23/10)

University of Jaen (UJA) telecommunications engineers have developed a method to automatically detect and identify musical notes in an audio file and generate sheet music. The system can identify notes from different instruments, musicians, types of music, or recording studio conditions. "We propose an automatic system to detect and transcribe musical notes for one-instrument musical signals which, unlike other methods, is capable of adapting to the music scene," says UJA's Julio Jose Carabias. "Automatic music transcription has many practical applications for musicological analysis and is of enormous assistance, for example, in recovering musical content, separating audio sources, and codifying or converting audio files." The researchers' method converts WAV music files into MIDI files, which makes it possible to visualize the sheet music and listen to the result. "Another advantage of this method is that it does not require prior training with a musical database," Carabias says.


Car Steered With Driver's Eyes
Freie University Berlin (Germany) (04/23/10)

Researchers at the Freie Universitat Berlin's Artificial Intelligence Group have developed eyeDriver, software that enables users to steer a car with their eyes. The driver wears a helmet that features two cameras. One camera is pointed at the driver's eyes and captures their movements, and the other camera points forward. The data is transmitted in regular intervals to an onboard laptop computer, where the eyeDriver software converts the data into control signals for the steering wheel. The software can calculate the position of the pupil in the eye, as well as the position in the scene that the user is looking at. The software has two modes. In "free ride" mode, the driver's gaze direction determines the desired position of the steering wheel. In "routing" mode, the software steers autonomously unless an intersection or fork in the road appears. In that case, the car stops and the driver must select the desired route.


Spammers Pay Others to Answer Security Tests
New York Times (04/25/10) Bajaj, Vikas

Spammers are paying people in countries such as India, Bangladesh, and China to pass Web security tests known as CAPTCHAS, which ask Web users to type in a string of semi-distorted characters to prove they are humans and not spam-generating robots, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn. He says thousands of people in developing countries, primarily in Asia, are solving these puzzles for pay. The completed CAPTCHAS help spammers open new online accounts to send junk emails. However, Internet company executives say the threat of spammers paying people to decode CAPTCHAS is not a major concern. They note that Web sites use several tools to verify accounts and maintain security. Some sites may send confirmation codes as text messages, which then must be entered into a separate verification page before new email accounts are activated. "Our goal is to make mass account creation less attractive to spammers, and the fact that spammers have to pay people to solve CAPTCHAS proves that the tool is working," says Google's Macduff Hughes.


Why the iPhone Could Be Bad News for Computer Science
silicon.com (04/23/10) Lomas, Natasha

Robert Harle, assistant director of research at the University of Cambridge's Computer Laboratory, says the closed philosophy of devices such as the iPhone discourages the kind of tinkering that encouraged generations of computer scientists in the past. "People can use their iPhone...but they don't want to delve into it, they don't want to understand the depths behind it," Harle says. "And I have a sneaking suspicion this is partly because we've got to the stage now with computing, computer science, [information technology], whatever you like, that it's now such a black box, such a complex thing, that you can't really fiddle in the same way as people used to." Cambridge's Computer Laboratory averages about 80 new students a year, down from 150 several years ago. In response, the school has launched a new Web site to promote the study of computer science, and is participating in open days and regional student conferences. Students also are not getting enough computer science education in grade school, which is bringing down university computer science enrollment numbers, and in turn, giving kids the wrong idea of what computer science is, Harle says.


Minput Makes Movement a New Way to Control Small Electronics
The Tartan (04/26/10) Lee, Brian

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Institute have developed Minput, a proof-of-concept miniature input device that provides mouse control and optical tracking for handheld devices. Minput features a 1.5-inch liquid-crystal display taken from a wristwatch originally developed to allow users to watch TV or movies, and two optical sensors. The researchers say Minput can be operated anywhere, including the surface of a table, on a user's leg, or on the palm of a user's hand. Users can manipulate Minput and control different programs via gestures such as flicking and twisting. For example, turning it like a knob would adjust the volume and sliding it left and right would change songs. Another modality functions like a virtual window, and users can slide Minput over photographs, text documents, and Web pages to interact with them. Minput also offers cursor control, which functions like a mouse for playing simple games.


German IT Body--IT's Still a Man's World
Reuters (04/21/10) Leske, Nicola

Finding young women to fill tech jobs continues to be a problem for the German information technology (IT) industry, according to a new study from German technology and telecoms association Bitkom and research firm Forsa. Women accounted for 9 percent of the 40,500 trainees in the sector in 2009, down from 14 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, just 15 percent of students pursuing computer science studies at universities last year were women. The industry still has to contend with negative perceptions, such as those about the workload and opportunities for advancement, says Bitkom's August-Wilhem Scheer. "Many preconceptions can be easily corrected," Scheer says. "The image of the lonely programmer who spends his nights in a basement and cannot find a partner is really dated." The industry continues to hold Girls' Days to get more young women interested in IT and communication technology, and companies have begun to implement their own programs for attracting female employees.


Tracking Criminal Data Centers
Technology Review (04/23/10) Naone, Erica

Malicious content on the Web can be very difficult to stop, said security experts at the recent Source Boston computer security conference. The difficulties involved in stopping malicious Web content can be seen in the 2008 shutdown of the malicious hosting company McColo, which at one point was responsible for more than 66 percent of the spam on the Internet. Although that spam stopped when McColo was shut down, botnets, such as the Grum, have taken its place, according to FireEye security researcher Alex Lanstein. He says that he has tried and failed to shut down SteepHost, the Ukraine-based company that is hosting the block of IP addresses that Grum uses for its attacks. But even if malicious hosting companies such as SteepHost were shut down, another company would quickly replace it, Lanstein says. An additional obstacle involved in stopping malicious Web content is the fact that IP addresses cannot be confiscated as long as their owners have paid for them, Lanstein says. Rapid chief security officer HD Moore says that it will continue to be difficult to shut down malicious hosting companies after IPv6 is introduced, since the implementation of the protocol would enable companies to purchase large blocks of IP addresses in order to evade tracking.


Japan Eyes 'Mind-Reading' Devices, Robots by 2020: Report
Agence France Presse (04/22/10)

The Japanese government is collaborating with the private sector to develop mind-reading consumer electronics and robots that could be ready in 10 years. The robotic devices would make use of brain-machine interface technology, which would enable them to analyze the brain waves and brain blood-flow patterns of users, who would wear sensor-mounted headsets. For example, the technology would enable users to use their thoughts to control TVs or send text messages. A car navigation system could automatically search for restaurants when the driver gets hungry, and air conditioners could cool a room when it gets too warm. Also, robots could help older adults or people with disabilities. Toyota, Honda, and Hitachi, as well as the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, Osaka University, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International are expected to be involved in the initiative.


NSA's Boot Camp for Cyberdefense
CNet (04/22/10) Terdiman, Daniel

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting its 10th annual Cyber Defense Exercise, a contest that pits students from various military academies against each other and against the competition's leaders at NSA in a bid to see whose cyberdefense skills are superior. The objective is to help the students learn about information assurance and its application toward the protection of the most crucial information systems in the United States and Canada. Air Force Capt. Michael Henson says the participants are tasked with building a network with all of the services mandated by the NSA's directive. They must then keep those services operational while battling attempts to bring them down electronically. "All of the faculty have agreed that it is important for the students to be exposed to situations where they can't guarantee a system is 100 percent locked down and have to react when that system is inevitably compromised," Henson says. He notes that much of the technology and methods that NSA uses against the student teams also is available in the commercial Internet.


Domestic Robot Helps Sick Elderly Live Independently Longer
Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands) (04/22/10)

The Eindhoven University of Technology's (TU/e's) Knowledgeable Service Robots for Aging (KSERA) project aims to link robots and smart homes to help elderly people live better. The KSERA project is focusing on helping chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Within the next three years, the project aims to complete several demonstration homes, which will be equipped with a robot and the domestic systems of a smart home. The robot will follow patients through the house, learn their habits, and warn a doctor if the patient is not doing well. In addition, the robot will provide entertainment in the form of Internet and videos. "We want to show what is possible in this area," says KSERA project coordinator Lydia Meesters. KSERA researchers also will collaborate with the TU/e-led RoboEarth project, which aims to build a global central memory for robots that will enable them to learn from each other. Ethical issues will be given special attention. "We need to define clear limits, for the robot will continuously measure and see very private data," Meesters says.


Bizarre Matter Could Find Use in Quantum Computers
Rice University (04/21/10) Boyd, Jade

Rice and Princeton university researchers have found that an unusual state of matter that acts like a particle with one-quarter electron charge also has a "quantum registry" that is immune to information loss from external disturbances. The researchers say that ultra-cold mixes of electrons caught in magnetic traps could have the necessary properties for constructing fault-tolerant quantum computers. "The big goal, the whole driving force, besides deep academic curiosity, is to build a quantum computer out of this," says Rice professor Rui-Rui Du. "It will take a while to fully understand the complete implications of our results, but it is clear that we have nailed down the evidence for 'spin polarization,' which is one of the two necessary conditions that must be proved to show that the 5/2 liquids are non-Abelian," Du says. Such liquids have a quantum registry, in which information does not change due to external quantum perturbations. "In a way, they have internal memory of their previous state," Du says.


Me and My Files
ICT Results (04/16/10)

The European Union-funded INTERMEDIA project is demonstrating the future of multimedia transfer and multi-device interactivity. The project was established to develop a way to make all of a person's personal data files and documents accessible on any device, anywhere. "What we really want is for us to carry all of this with us and be accessible to whatever device we happen to be using--a ski-pass reader, the screen on the seat back in an aeroplane, our car stereo," says INTERMEDIA coordinator Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann. The researchers devised a wearable jacket that can carry a user's relevant data or files and can download them to any device. However, this level of device interoperability requires a huge shift in the way devices are currently designed. Rather than try to force this change on the world, the researchers decided to simply prove that the me-centric model could work. They created a fictitious college student named Chloe, who uses her me-centric capabilities to switch from one device to the other. "This is foresight research, but narrowed down using Chloe to prove the concepts," says Magnenat-Thalmann.


How Older People Interact and Use Email in Their Daily Life
Asian News International (04/20/10)

Scientists from the Universidad Pompeu Fabra (UPF) have spent the past three years studying how older people interact and use email in their daily life, and the research will be used to make email systems more intuitive and accessible. The researchers followed about 400 people between the ages of 64 and 80 in social centers in Barcelona. The study found that older users often send relatives a few detailed and emotional emails a month, but provide close friends more frequent updates on their social life. The researchers designed prototypes for SeniorMail, a redesign of the Outlook Express email manager; Simple Mail, a simulated email system with a user interface of five functions; and Cybrarian, which has fewer functions but increases the size of the features. "We have observed that making it easier and remembering the steps to perform tasks is more important than increasing the size of the elements on the interface," says UPF researcher Sergio Sayago.


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