Welcome to the June 18, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Algorithm Ranks World's Top Soccer Talent
CNet (06/16/10) Moore, Elizabeth Armstrong
Northwestern University (NU) professor Luis Amaral and colleagues have developed an algorithm that ranks soccer players. The algorithm, which treats teams as networks and individual players as nodes, focuses on the flow of passes between players. It assigns a point to each player involved in a series of passes and finds the average point totals for that network of players. "We looked at the way in which the ball can travel and finish on a shot," Amaral says. "The more ways a team has for a ball to travel and finish on a shot, the better that team is. And the more times the ball goes through a given player to finish in a shot, the better that player performed." The researchers applied the algorithm to players involved in the 2008 European Cup. Spain was the best team in both the computer model and the EuroCup tournament. The computer model produced a first-place tie for the best player between Spain's Xavi Hernandez, who scored highest for individual match performance, and teammate Sergio Ramos, who scored highest for overall tournament performance.
White House Seeks Input on IT, Science
InformationWeek (06/17/10) Montalbano, Elizabeth
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is seeking public input on how the U.S. government can best use information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology--what it calls the "golden triangle" of modern technologies. The President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee is coordinating the information-gathering effort. PCAST is soliciting ideas from a diverse community, including researchers, the private sector, universities, national laboratories, foundations, and nonprofits. "Each of these research fields has the potential to enable a wealth of innovative advances in medicine, energy production, national security, agriculture, aerospace, manufacturing, and sustainable environments--advances that can in turn help create jobs, increase the nation's gross domestic product, and enhance quality of life," write PCAST's Eric Schmidt and Shirley Ann Jackson. The council wants input on how the gold triangle technologies interact, areas where further research is needed, and barriers that may prevent their broad use and commercialization.
18th-Century Painters Give Photography New Perspective
New Scientist (06/17/10) Venkatraman, Vijaysree
Software engineer Thomas Sharpless and colleagues have developed Panini, software that can make wide-angled digital photos with perfect perspective using a technique first developed by 18th-century painters. The researchers knew that vedutisti painters who worked in 18th-century Venice had excelled at painting wide-angled views of the city that appeared to preserve perspective perfectly, so they reverse-engineered the technique. Sharpless picked several vedutisti paintings of the interiors of buildings for which ground plans were available. In each painting, he picked about 20 points and located them on the plan. Comparing the coordinates from the painting and the plan, he developed mathematical functions to map transformations in images, and dubbed them the Panini projection. The researchers then used this data as the basis of a software viewer that can make a panoramic image using several photos to create a single view. The Panini projection is particularly useful for architectural vistas, deep views, and scenes where features in the center are more important than those near the edges, where other projection methods fail, says Furtwangen University's Helmut Dersch.
Tasty New Standards for Systems-on-Chips
ICT Results (06/18/10)
European researchers working on the SPRINT project have developed standards that will enable microchip designers to more easily integrate complex circuits. The researchers say the standards will lead to faster design processes, more energy- and cost-efficient microchips, and more sophisticated designs. They say the standards also will make systems-on-chip (SoC) integration faster, and allow for the development of more complex, powerful, and versatile microchips. Elements of a SoC often come from several intellectual property vendors, but there can be different physical interfaces in their designs, so systems integrators must first link the interfaces together. SPRINT researchers worked to move systems integrators from the so-called "register transactions" to the "transaction layer model." In a demonstration of the standards, SPRINT engineers were able to integrate individual circuits up to 20 times faster, and SoC design simulation was reported to be 500 times faster. The Open SystemC Initiative has already adopted the new standards, and some of the SPRINT partners have integrated them into their product line.
F.C.C. Moves to Expand Role in Broadband
New York Times (06/17/10) Wyatt, Edward
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to begin the process of giving the agency more authority to regulate broadband Internet service. The FCC wants to overturn a 2002 commission ruling that designated broadband transmission as a lightly regulated service and instead classify it as a telecommunications service, which is more strictly regulated. The FCC believes the change is necessary to expand the availability of the Internet, but opponents say it would give the agency the power to regulate Internet service rates. However, the FCC says that as part of the reclassification, it intends to exempt broadband service from most of the regulatory options it has under the stricter designation, keeping only those that are necessary "to implement fundamental universal service, competition and market entry, and consumer protection policies." The FCC began reconsidering its broadband regulation policies in April after a federal appeals court invalidated the commission's ability to require that Internet service providers not discriminate. "Let’s not pretend that the problems with the state of broadband in America don't exist," says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.
Study Shows Inequalities in "White-Spaces" Wireless
Technology Review (06/17/10) Simonite, Tom
University of California, Berkeley (UCB) researchers recently published a detailed analysis of the potential for long-distance wireless Internet connectivity using white spaces, the portion of the radio spectrum that was vacated by the switch to digital TV. The analysis shows how the interaction of population density, TV stations, and economics will determine what consumers get from spectrum, which will remain unlicensed. The spectrum's lower-frequency signals travel further and penetrate buildings more effectively than existing wireless data connections such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or cell phone links. The UCB model uses the Federal Communication Commission's database of active TV stations as well as census figures to calculate the usable white space available in each area. "White spaces are ultimately for people, not random locations, so we think it's important to also incorporate that," says UCB's Mubaraq Mishra. In general, the researchers found that areas with more TV stations and more people will experience slower access speeds.
Lawmakers Question U.S. Cybersecurity Readiness
Computerworld (06/16/10) Gross, Grant
U.S. lawmakers questioned whether the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) cybersecurity division can recruit enough quality personnel to protect the country against cyberattacks. "There is no doubt that we are not prepared to address a major cyberattack today," says Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at DHS. Reported attacks on U.S. agencies increased 400 percent from 2006 to 2009. "Those attempting to infiltrate and exploit this country's computer networks are both numerous and determined," says Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, the DHS division with responsibility for defending federal civilian agencies against cyberattack, is understaffed, and has had four directors in five years, Thompson says. However, computer science graduate students at top universities may not see the U.S. government as the best place to launch a career, says Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). "I don't know that we're going to succeed in getting those young people to apply for a federal job," she says. "But we need them."
Which Nation Talks About Football the Most in Cyberspace?
University of Oxford (06/17/10)
Researchers at Oxford University and the University of Kentucky completed a study using Google Maps that examined which countries discuss soccer the most and whether the term is used more or less than football. The researchers found that of all the countries participating in the 2010 World Cup, Algeria has the highest proportion of user-generated references to football. Algeria had 120 references to football out of a total of 5,489 indexed items, or 2.2 percent of all content, in Google Maps in Algeria. However, England was close behind with the second-highest proportion of references to football out of any country in the World Cup, with 2.1 percent. The researchers also found that there are twice as many references to "football" as there are references to "soccer" worldwide. The researchers developed software that searched for "placemarks" on a world grid that carried user-generated references to football or soccer. In addition, they trawled Google Maps for user-generated content that mentioned football or soccer. Oxford's Mark Graham says the research has applications beyond soccer. "We can ultimately map and measure the many ways in which our offline, material world is being represented on the Internet," he says.
What Is IBM's Watson?
New York Times Magazine (06/14/10) Thompson, Clive
IBM artificial intelligence (AI) researchers have labored for the last three years to create a machine that can understand questions in natural language and respond quickly with precise, factual answers. The result is the Watson supercomputer, which has been pitted against human players in Jeopardy tournaments. Watson is the product of IBM's grand challenge to meet the real-world necessity of precise question-answering, and key to its development was the shift in AI research toward statistical computation of vast corpora of documents. This shift was facilitated by the decreasing cost of computing power, an explosion of online text generation, and the development of linguistic tools that helped machines puzzle through language. Watson was fed millions of documents, and the system can tackle a Jeopardy clue thousands of times concurrently using more than 100 algorithms simultaneously. However, creative wordplay can sometimes trip Watson up. On the other hand, its lack of emotion and stress is an advantage over human players. IBM's David Ferrucci believes Watson may be modeling certain ways that the human brain processes language. IBM's John Kelly thinks that Watson's question-answering capabilities could aid greatly in rapid decision-making.
Researchers Predict Human Visual Attention Using Computer Intelligence for the First Time
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) (06/15/10) Levey, Simon
Queen Mary, University of London scientists have developed a computer-based model to better understand change blindness--the inability for people to see obvious changes to scenes around them. "The biologically inspired mathematics we have developed and tested can have future uses in letting computer vision systems such as robots detect interesting elements in their visual environment," says Queen Mary professor Peter McOwan. As part of the study, participants were asked to spot the differences between pre-change and post-change versions of a series of pictures. To eliminate bias, the researchers developed an algorithm that enabled the computer determine how to change the images that study participants were asked to view. In addition to being able to predict change blindness, the research showed that the addition or subtraction of an object from the scene is detected more often than changes in the color of the object. The researchers say the model will be useful in designing displays for road signs, emergency services, security, and surveillance to draw attention to a change or part of the display that requires immediate attention.
Rock Stars, Hollywood Take a Look at Iowa State Researcher's Unique 3-D Technology
Iowa State University News Service (06/15/10) Krapfl, Mike
Iowa State University professor Song Zhang has developed high-resolution, real-time, precise, three-dimensional (3D) imaging technology for use in diagnosing health problems. However, the technology also could be used in face recognition and security applications as well as in the entertainment industry. Zhang says that due to the growing popularity of 3D movies and TV, the technology has drawn the attention of Hollywood, videogame producers, and rock stars. A stylized version of Zhang's technology is featured in a music video by the band Radiohead, and U2 recently contacted him for imagery that could be shown on the video screens during a performance. The current technology requires too much data and memory to be practical for entertainment, but Zhang and his research team are working to develop tools that do not require as much data. The imaging system uses basic hardware, including a camera, projector, and personal computer. The projector sends coded patterns over a subject such as a smiling face. The camera, positioned at a different angle than the projector, records the resulting images. Zhang's software then uses that data to produce 3D images.
New Mental-Health Apps for iPhones Like a 'Therapist in Your Pocket'
The Providence (06/15/10) Webb, Kate
Researchers are developing iPhone apps designed to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. The apps enable users to track their moods and experiences, and provide advice on how to change negative affective states or ways to assist mental-healthcare providers with making psychological assessments. For example, Mobile Therapy, developed by Intel clinical psychologist Margaret Morris, activates a "mood map" on the user's cell phone. Users can chart their energy levels, sleep patterns, activities, and diet, and the application will generate suggestions on ways to manage stress, improve mental health, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Another app, Mobile Mood Diary, developed by Trinity College in Dublin researchers Gavin Doherty and Mark Matthews, is geared toward teenagers who suffer from clinical depression and are undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy. And University of Pittsburgh researcher Judy Callan, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University researchers, developed CBT MobilWork, an app designed for adults with severe depression. The app provides steps, such as making the bed, to help patients get through the day.
In Debate, Audience Finds that the Cyberwar Threat Is Not Exaggerated
DarkReading (06/10/10) Wilson, Tim
A panel of four leading security experts recently held a debate about the threat of cyberwarfare. The discussion emphasized that the threat is indeed very serious. Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Mark Rotenberg and BT security technologist Bruce Schneier both presented the argument that the cyberwar threat has been grossly distorted, while former U.S. Director of National Intelligence John McConnell stressed that the threat is real despite the hype. "I'm talking about real destruction of data on an order that we have not seen," he said. The fourth panelist, Harvard Law professor Jonathan Zittrain, cited the potential of a cyberwar directed against the United States, and noted examples such as GhostNet, which infiltrated 1,300 computers in more than 100 nations in 2009. "I am concerned that if the responses to these threats are too corporate or too military, they won't be effective," he said. The panelists concurred that a core issue of the cyberwar debate is the question surrounding the term's definition. "You have to believe that one country is trying to destabilize another" in order to have a cyberwar, Rotenberg said.
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