Welcome to the June 9, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
‘Imaginary' Interface Could Replace Real Thing
MSNBC (06/08/10) Hadhazy, Adam
German researchers are developing Imaginary Interfaces, an interface system for mobile devices that would replace the screen and keyboard with gestures supported by visual memory. Imaginary Interfaces uses a small, chest-mounted computer and camera to detect hand movements. "We definitely envision a system like this replacing all input for mobile devices," says Potsdam University research student Sean Gustafson. The camera is equipped with a ring of light-emitting diodes that project invisible infrared light. The camera sees this light reflected by the nearby gesturing hands but the background is not illuminated. There are two basic commands used to operate Imaginary Interfaces. Making an "L" shape creates a two-dimensional plane where the finger-tracing interaction takes place. Users also can "pinch" to select a point in space on the plane that can serve a function. "We are exploring how users can sketch interfaces, then use them," says Potsdam professor Patrick Baudisch.
Examining Ancient Manuscripts in a Digital Age
University of Southampton (ECS) (06/09/10) Lewis, Joyce
The University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) is collaborating with the Archaeological Computer Research Group to develop new imaging technology for studying ancient manuscripts and objects. The Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) System for Ancient Documentary Artifacts will make high-resolution still or video images that capture the detailed surface properties of the documents and objects. The researchers say that access to high-quality digital versions of the ancient documents and objects will enable scholars to conduct in-depth studies of artifacts remotely without being restricted by fixed lighting angles. "For example, we are going to take documents which were written by Roman soldiers on wooden tablets and find ways to allow people to study the writing," says ECS's Kirk Martinez. "Instead of having just one flat picture for people to look at, they will be able to use light to explore the images in greater detail." The researchers are developing several RTI systems, and a pilot test involving a selection of ancient documents is scheduled for late summer.
IBM to Open Research Lab in Brazil
Wall Street Journal (06/09/10) P. B5; Ante, Spencer E.; Becker, Nathan
IBM announced that it will open a research laboratory in Brazil that will focus on developing technology systems for natural resource development and large-scale events. The lab will be IBM's ninth but the first one in South America and the first new lab in 12 years. "We are very excited about Latin America and Brazil in particular," says IBM's Robert Morris. "Some of the pressing problems around sustainability are present in Brazil." The company plans to develop technologies for extracting oil, gas, water, and other natural resources. The focus on large-scale events coincides with Brazil's hosting of the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016 and will include developing software systems that help companies and governments manage large clusters of people. IBM, which already has researchers working in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, will hire more than 100 additional researchers in the next few years. The lab is part of IBM's effort to create a global innovation network. "The work we do in Brazil will export innovation into other countries," Morris says.
Breaking Down the Web Barriers Bit by Bit
ICT Results (06/08/10)
Progress is moving forward in the development of a system to make the Internet accessible to people with disabilities through efforts such as the NavigAbile project, which is based on profiling at the entry point so that users are provided with the most customized solution possible. NavigAbile generates profiles by asking users a series of questions about how they prefer to receive and view information and about their favored mode of communication. Users with limited motor skills can have text read aloud by a computer voice, while those with limited reading ability can have text rendered in picture languages. Most NavigAbile users need some kind of assistance, and support is offered through several hundred trained NaviTutors and teachers, while an online training course for these user supporters has been established. "We are researching how to turn NavigAbile into a Web 2.0 platform, making it easier for the users' families, supporters, and teachers to have more opportunities to communicate with each other," says project manager Leopoldo Ferre.
Researchers: Poor Password Practices Hurt Security for All
IDG News Service (06/07/10) Heichler, Elizabeth
University of Cambridge researchers recently completed a large study of password-protected Web sites and found that a lack of industry standards harms end-user security. Weak implementations of password authentication at low-level sites compromises the protections offered by higher-security sites because individuals reuse passwords, write Cambridge researchers Joseph Bonneau and Soren Preibusch. Attackers can use low-security Web sites such as news outlets to learn passwords associated with specific email addresses, and then use those passwords to access higher-security sites such as e-commerce vendors, Bonneau says. Based on data collected from 150 Web sites, the researchers say they found widespread, poor design choices, inconsistencies, and mistakes. "Sites' decisions to collect passwords can be viewed as a tragedy of the commons, with competing Web sites collectively depleting users' capacity to remember secure passwords," write the researchers. More than 75 percent of sites examined failed to provide users with feedback or advice on choosing a secure password. The researchers also found widespread weaknesses in how passwords are submitted to the server when users log in.
NSF, NIH to Measure Federal Science Funding Impact
Campus Technology (06/07/10) Schaffhauser, Dian
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation have launched Science and Technology for America's Reinvestment: Measuring the EffecT of Research on Innovation, Competitiveness and Science (STAR METRICS), an initiative to measure the impact of federal investment in the sciences. STAR METRICS is a multi-agency venture aimed at monitoring how research and development grants affect employment, knowledge generation, and health outcomes. The program will gather data from research institutions that volunteer to participate and the federal agencies that fund them. The first phase of STAR METRICS will use university administrative records to determine the employment impact of federal science spending. The second phase will measure the impact of science investment in four areas--economic growth, workforce outcomes, scientific knowledge, and social outcomes. "In the short term, we'll know the impact on jobs," says NIH director Francis Collins. "In the long term, we'll be able to measure patents, publications, citations, and business startups."
Student-Built App Allows Paris Metro Riders to Use Smartphones to Get Directions
Toronto Globe & Mail (Canada) (06/09/10) Church, Elizabeth
Ryerson University (RU) students have developed a smartphone application designed to help disabled passengers navigate the Paris Metro, plan their trip, and ask for assistance from transit staff. The program is one of 26 projects under development at RU's Digital Media Zone, a new initiative designed to tap students' knowledge to create digital products with help from the school's staff and business advisers. The mobile transit companion app is a free download that uses a touch screen or voice commands to receive inputs, and can use vibrations to send alerts, such as when visually impaired users are nearing their stop.
Hebrew University Invention Provides Quicker, More Efficient Use of Surveillance Videos
Hebrew University of Jerusalem (06/08/10)
Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) researchers have developed software that provides a summary of recorded video, generating a very short video of the essential activities in the original video captured over a long period of time. The program, developed by HUJ professor Shmuel Peleg, works by separating the moving objects from the static background in videos and then simultaneously presenting multiple events that have occurred at different times. Users can view all the events in a very short time and revert to the original video for further examination. Peleg says the system provides a solution for users who are unable to dedicate enough workers to review long segments of video surveillance materials.
Intel, IMEC and Five Flemish Universities Open Flanders ExaScience Lab
IMEC (06/08/10) Weingartner, Markus
IMEC, Intel, and five Flemish universities have opened the Flanders ExaScience Lab at IMEC's research facility in Leuven, Belgium. The lab will develop software to run on Intel-based exascale computer systems. The ExaScience Lab will become part of Intel's European research network, which consists of 21 labs employing more than 900 researchers. The Flanders ExaScience Lab will focus on enabling scientific applications, beginning with the simulation and prediction of electromagnetic activity in the space surrounding Earth's atmosphere. "We are excited to embark on this innovative collaboration in Flanders, bringing together scientific expertise in the fields of space weather prediction, computational simulation, reliability, visualization, and performance modeling," says Intel's Stephen Pawlowski. The Flanders ExaScience Lab will include researchers from the University of Antwerp, Ghent University, Hasselt University, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, and Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Soon to Arrive in Ghana
The Ghana-India Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE) has partnered with the EU Pascal2 Network of Excellence to establish an artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory in Ghana. The AI lab will offer courses to university students, as well as a chance to gain hands-on experience in researching AI. The lab will be geared toward research involving robotics, natural language processing, machine learning, and neural networks. AITI-KACE views the AI lab as a hub for learning and conducting innovative research on AI. Meanwhile, the Pascal2 Network of Excellence will offer boot camps for various research areas of AI for Ghanaian students. The boot camp on machine learning is scheduled for July in Marseille, France, and five scholarships have already been offered to students at universities in Ghana.
Immortal Avatars: Back Up Your Brain, Never Die
New Scientist (06/07/10) Geddes, Linda
Companies such as Lifenaut are taking the initial steps toward the creation of a digital avatar into which one's knowledge and personality can be uploaded, and that survives its human template's death. There are various projects underway to make representations of the human face that are lifelike as well as empathetic in order to aid interaction with digital avatars. Another challenge is imbuing the avatar with human-like conversational abilities, and Lifenaut is customizing chatbot software for individuals. The Lifenaut avatar converses using capabilities derived from the Jabberwacky chatbot, which seeks common patterns in conversations and uses this to guarantee that its dialogue makes the most possible sense in the context of what has just been said to it. Uploading a personality into the Lifenaut avatar is arduous, starting with the rating of nearly 500 statements according to how accurately they reflect the individual's feelings, followed by the construction of "memories" for the avatar by uploading diary entries, photos, videos, and other material. The subject also must spend hours in conversation with other avatars, to be mined by his or her avatar as a source of knowledge and mannerisms.
Northeastern University News (06/07/10) Eriksen, Jenny Catherine
Northeastern University professor Alan Mislove, whose research focuses on how people interact in the virtual world, recently discussed social networking's future and its impact on privacy. Mislove says that many patterns of human interaction in the offline world are mirrored on social networking sites such as Facebook. He also says that Facebook's recent privacy changes would have had a bigger impact if they had focused on the default settings. Since most people do not change the default privacy settings, much of their activity on Facebook remains open to any Internet user. However, Mislove says that if users begin to restrict access to their information, gathering data from social networking sites will become problematic for researchers. He notes that such data could help to verify or invalidate theories in fields such as sociology, psychology, political science, and anthropology. Mislove also says that government regulation of social networking sites may be necessary because Facebook has become the largest social network with more than 400 million users, which makes it a near monopoly and results in a lack of competition that does not allow the market to find the right stance on user privacy.
Archive Project Will Digitize WWII Enigma Messages
IDG News Service (06/05/10) Kirk, Jeremy
British historians have launched a project to digitize messages intercepted from Germany's Enigma machine during World War II. The encrypted messages were decoded by mathematicians and cryptography experts at Bletchley Park. The German military messages were typed on trimmed slips of paper and glued into now-fragile, decaying books. Bletchley Park's archive also includes drawers full of maps, and a system of index cards used to classify messages by subject. Once the typed transcripts of the decoded messages have been scanned, they will be indexed using optical character recognition technology, which will make them searchable by keyword. "You can start to do research and connect up names, places, phrases, which is exactly what we want in this because these messages never tell you a whole story, they tell you a bit of a story," says Bletchley Park Trust CEO Simon Greenish. The messages reveal how the Allies duped the Germans into believing they would not land at Normandy, France, and include the transmissions of the colorful British double agent Eddie Chapman.
The Grill: Fred Brooks
Computerworld (06/07/10) Fitzgerald, Michael
Fred Brooks, who was project manager for the IBM System/360 and the lead designer of its operating system, says that software developers should plan on continuously iterating on their design. He says the central argument of his new book, "The Design of Design: Essays From a Computer Scientist," is that programmers would be wise to study issues beyond software. Brooks notes that "there are these invariants across mediums in which one designs. Let's try to identify these invariants and learn from the older design businesses." Brooks contends that the growing complexity of design has necessitated a shift toward team design, and he says the design of something new should begin with the selection of a chief designer who is granted authority over the design's parameters. Brooks laments the current state of U.S. computer science education, and cites a lack of preparation in elementary and especially middle school, where the cultivation of a foundation in mathematics is essential. He traces the dearth of educators to a lack of appropriate recognition and pay levels relative to other professions.
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