Welcome to the May 26, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Scientist Infects Himself With Computer Virus
Financial Times (05/26/10) Palmer, Maija
University of Reading scientist Mark Gasson has deliberately infected himself with a computer virus in order to study the potential risks of implanting electronic devices in humans. Gasson implanted a radio frequency identification chip into his left hand last year. The chip, which is about the size of a grain of rice, gives him secure access to Reading's buildings and his mobile phone. Gasson then introduced a computer virus into the chip. He says the infected microchip contaminated the system that was used to communicate with it, and notes that it would have infected any other devices it was connected to. Gasson says the experiment provides a "glimpse at the problems of tomorrow," considering devices such as heart pacemakers and cochlear implants are essentially mini-computers that communicate, store, and manipulate data. "This means that, like mainstream computers, they can be infected by viruses and the technology will need to keep pace with this so that implants, including medical devices, can be safely used in the future," he says.
Researchers Race to Produce 3D Models of BP Oil Spill
Computerworld (05/26/10) Thibodeau, Patrick
The U.S. National Science Foundation recently made available an emergency allocation of 1 million compute hours on the Texas Advanced Computing Center's Ranger supercomputer to study how the BP oil spill will affect coastlines. The goal is to produce a three-dimensional (3D) computer model that can forecast how the oil may spread in environmentally sensitive areas by showing in detail what happens when it interacts with marshes, vegetation, and currents. The model "has the potential to advise and undergird many emergency management decisions that may be made along the way, particularly if a hurricane comes through the area," says University of North Carolina professor Rick Luettich. The model, called Advanced Circulation Model for Oceanic, Coastal and Estuarine Waters, can track the oil spill into the marshes and wetlands due to its fine scale resolution, says University of Texas professor Clint Dawson. The 3D modeling can show what happens to the oil at various depths and how it travels as it comes in contact with underwater surfaces.
Major Step Ahead for Cryptography
University of Bristol News (05/26/10) Fryer, Joanne
Researchers at the University of Bristol (UB) and Katholieke University have developed a new system for encrypted data computing that they say could have a broad impact on areas such as database access, electronic auctions, and electronic voting. "Our scheme allows for computations to be performed on encrypted data, so it may eventually allow for the creation of systems in which you can store data remotely in a secure manner and still be able to access it," says UB professor Nigel Smart, who developed the system along with Katholieke's Frederik Vercauteren. Many encryption schemes have been proposed that either have the "add" operation or the "multiply" operation, but not both. In 2009, IBM researcher Craig Gentry developed the first scheme that simultaneously allows users to add and multiply ciphertexts. However, Gentry's scheme was only theoretical. Smart and Vercauteren's scheme is a simpler version of Gentry's scheme. Although the new system is not fully practical, it is a key step toward forming a system which is truly practical.
IU-Developed Software Helps Researchers Find Meaning in Massive Scientific Data Sets
Indiana University (05/24/10)
Researchers at Indiana University's (IU's) Data to Insight Center have released XMC Cat, software that makes sorting the massive amounts of data produced by advanced scientific instruments and supercomputers more manageable. XMC Cat is a catalog of metadata that can help scientists more quickly locate the data most useful to their research. Finding the right data can be like looking for a scientific needle in a massive digital haystack, says IU professor Beth Plale. "XMC Cat breaks that stack into manageable, well-organized sections, making it much easier for scientists to sort through and find what they need," Plale says. XMC Cat also can adapt to the languages used by various scientific communities. "XMC Cat is architected to adapt to these various schemas--so, unlike similar tools, it adapts to the scientific community, rather than requiring the community to adapt to the software," says IU's Scott Jensen, the program's lead developer. In addition, XMC Cat includes a point-and-click query interface that adapts to concepts contained in the user community schema as well as the ability to share query definitions.
Electron 'Spin' in Silicon Will Lead to Revolutionary Quantum Chips
University of Southampton (ECS) (05/26/10) Lewis, Joyce
Researchers in the United Kingdom say they are building the world's first silicon-based integrated single-spin quantum bit system. The nanoscale system will be able to initialize, manipulate, and read the spin states of single electrons. Capturing the spin of electrons is an advantage over using the electronic charge because it can maintain coherence and is more resistant to interference in silicon or graphene. The integrated single-spin technology could lead to the development of novel nanospintronic devices that use the spin of individual electrons to transmit, store, and process information. The devices have the potential to dramatically improve scaling of functional density and performance while reducing the energy dissipated per functional operation. The technology could increase the processing power of conventional computers, and be used in quantum computers. "This project is a paradigm shift in information and communication technology," says University of Southampton professor Hiroshi Mizuta. "It is not just an extension of existing silicon technology; we have introduced a completely new principle based on quantum mechanics, which will make it possible for industry to continue to use silicon as devices get smaller."
An Invisible Touch for Mobile Devices
Technology Review (05/25/10) Greene, Kate
Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) researchers are developing a prototype gesture-sensing interface for mobile phones. The interface uses a video recorder and microprocessor attached to a user's clothing to capture and analyze their hand movements, sending an outline of each gesture to a computer display. HPI researchers Patrick Baudisch and Sean Gustafson envision users applying an "imaginary interface" to augment a phone conversation by tracing shapes with their fingers in the air. To start the system, a user "opens up" the interface by making an "L" shape with the left or right hand, which creates a two-dimensional spatial surface, a boundary for the forthcoming hand gestures. "There is no setup effort here, no need to whip out a mobile device or stylus," Baudisch says. The researchers found that users were able to go back to an imaginary sketch to extend or annotate it, using their visual memory.
Virtual Romanesque Monuments Being Created
Plataforma SINC (Spain) (05/25/10)
Researchers at Cartif Foundation and the University of Valladolid used laser scanners and photographic cameras to create full color plans in three dimensions of places of cultural interest. The technique has been used to virtually recreate five churches in the Merindad de Aguilar de Campoo. "With this methodology, an exact model of the monuments or places of interest can be obtained in a virtual way," says Cartif researcher Pedro Martin-Lerones. The method involves two specific software programs, one which superimposes the photographic information onto a three-dimensional (3D) model, and another that generates the final plans in 3D in a timeframe that is 40 percent faster than previous methods. "It makes it easier to draw up intervention projects, as well as preservation and renovation projects on churches or other buildings, in addition to its potential uses for popularizing--on the Internet, for example--the monuments in 3D," says Martin-Lerones.
Lights, Camera, Real-Time 3D Action
ICT Results (05/26/10)
European Union-funded EDCINE project researchers have developed a prototype camera that records metadata on the settings of the camera and its global positioning system-plotted position. The EDCINE team has demonstrated how to reduce post-production equipment manufacturing and development costs by moving away from proprietary technology to interoperable technology using the shared JPEG 2000 standard. The JPEG 2000 format allows frame-by-frame multilevel access for single-frame editing and the files can be decompressed and recompressed without the loss of data. "The idea is to streamline the transmission of the image within the production process using a lossless variant of JPEG 2000 compression," says EDCINE project manager Benoit Michel. EDCINE researchers also played a key role in amending film industry standards to meet the requirements of the next generation of fast-action, three-dimensional movies.
DARPA Builds Cyber Range to Test Security Measures
Government Computer News (05/24/10) Rosenberg, Barry
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working with industry to develop the National Cyber Range (NCR), a cybersecurity testbed for researching network attack-and-defend strategies on a wide scale. The goal is to accelerate government research and development in high-risk, high-return areas and jumpstart technical cybertransformation in the private sector. NCR will provide a real-world simulation environment that companies and research organizations can use to develop and test advanced concepts and capabilities for defending U.S. communications networks against cyberthreats. "We want to create a test range that is fully automatic and rapidly configured so that we can get the results back out to the community," says DARPA's Michael VanPutte. "We need better solutions, so what we ask is for the community to bring their ideas to NCR, test them, and see what works and what doesn't work in a quick fashion." During the second phase of the NCR program, which began in February 2010, DARPA, Lockheed Martin, and Johns Hopkins University will build and evaluate prototype ranges and their corresponding technology.
ICANN Head Warns Against Putting Internet Addresses Under UN Control
Reuters (05/25/10) Dziadosz, Alexander
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom is against proposals that would put the group under the control of an international body such as the United Nations. Countries such as Iran and Brazil have argued that ICANN should cede its authority to the United Nations. However, Beckstrom says that multilateral state control could make ICANN less nimble and therefore less likely to quickly develop technologies such as Arabic-language domain names that feed rapidly expanding Internet demand. "It's hard to imagine any replacement for [the current system], and I feel I can say that somewhat objectively because I've worked for government as well," he says. The U.S. government recently agreed to set up an international review team to monitor ICANN's performance and issue recommendations. The contract that gives ICANN authority over much of the Internet’s basic plumbing, such as allocating Internet Protocol addresses, is up for review next year.
New Computational Model Contributes to the Sustainable Use of Plant Species
Cambridge UK (05/25/10)
The Royal Botanical Gardens and Microsoft Research Cambridge collaborated with scientists in Georgia to create a sustainable harvesting computational model to help protect populations of the snowdrop plant from unsustainable harvesting. Using the model, the researchers predict that the snowdrop populations in Georgia could support commercially valuable harvesting levels of about 15 million bulbs per year. The team studied the national status of plant populations and interviewed local officials about their cultivation and harvesting methods. They used this data to develop a computational method to estimate the abundance and distribution of bulbs in Georgia. The team also developed a management plan and monitoring system, which could be used in Georgia and serve as a model for other harvesting systems around the world. "Microsoft Research Cambridge's computational model played a vital role in establishing sustainable harvesting practices for Snowdrops in Georgia, and the same model could easily be transferred to other species and countries to help prevent over-harvesting," says Microsoft scientist Matthew Smith.
Silicon Replacement: Gallium Arsenide?
PC World (05/23/10) Mulroy, James
Gallium arsenide (GaAs) could be used to develop electronic devices that are more efficient and less expensive than those run on chips made from silicon wafers. Researchers studying GaAs have developed a new process for producing chips made from the expensive but efficient semiconductor. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's John Rogers says stacks of thin films of semiconductor are grown onto a wafer, and then each individual film is removed one by one and placed onto a cheaper substrate or base to support the ultra-thin film. The technique eliminates the excess material thickness for larger diameter wafers, making them less expensive and more efficient. The Illinois team used the process to "build devices--including transistors, solar cells, and infrared cameras--on the substrates, leaving the wafer intact and ready for a new batch of film," Rogers says. The researchers say that using the technique to manufacture computer chips would result in faster and less expensive computers.
Remote-Access Meters Can Cut Your Energy Costs
CSIRO (Australia) (05/24/10) Finlay, Jo
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has led the development of software and smart antennae technology that enables users to remotely control energy use over the Internet. The smart metering system is designed to aggregate a large number of smaller users, which had been logistically impossible and cost prohibitive until now. "By taking advantage of common broadband Internet connections we are now able to build and deploy a very cheap, real-time platform to deliver energy services to individual dwellings," says CSIRO project leader Martin de Groot. Mini smart-meters would be installed in a house or business' electrical switchboard, and then managed from a centralized control platform. Users would have the opportunity to scale back energy use at times when it is needed elsewhere on the grid, and they could receive alerts of a surge in energy use at home on their mobile phones. "Once regulatory approval has been given, energy service companies will be able to offer householders more favorable electricity supply agreements and enable them to be more adaptable in their consumption patterns," says de Groot.
Paper Supercapacitor Could Power Future Paper Electronics
PhysOrg.com (05/21/10) Zyga, Lisa
Stanford University researchers have developed an onboard power source for paper transistors and paper displays. The paper supercapacitor is made by printing carbon nanotubes onto a treated piece of paper. In the paper supercapacitor, all the necessary components are integrated onto a single sheet of paper in the form of single walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs). At first, the researchers found that the SWNTs penetrated the paper through micron-sized pores, which would cause the device to short-circuit. To solve this problem, the researchers coated both sides of the paper with polyvinylidene fluoride, which blocked the pores but still allowed for electrolytes to be transported through the paper, making the treated paper function like an electrolyte membrane and separator without short-circuiting. The researchers printed SWNTs on both sides of single sheets of paper and added electrolytes to form a supercapacitor. The new integrated structure allows for high-speed printing, which greatly reduces fabrication costs and brings disposable, flexible, and lightweight paper electronics closer to reality.
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