Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the August 23, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Dennis Shasha: Nature Can Improve Our Computers
Guardian (United Kingdom) (08/22/10) Smith, Casper Llewellyn

New York University (NYU) computer science professor Dennis Shasha thinks the future of computing lies in a synthesis with nature. Shasha says that as computers become more mobile and autonomous--either by creating their own power from the environment, using long battery life, or wireless signals--the mechanisms that nature uses become more relevant. He believes the next big leap in computing will be machines that are programmed to behave in evolutionary-like ways. Shasha says that supporters of the "synthesis between biology and computing have been around for some time, but it's only now that they are coming together in different fields." For example, he cites Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Rodney Brooks, who developed a team of simple robots that do not use a lot of computing power but can achieve things other robots cannot because they do not have a strict set of guidelines in their programming. Shasha also notes that NYU chemist Ned Seeman has built controllable robots out of DNA that can detect bacteria.

Adaptive Software--A Late Bloomer
ICT Results (08/20/10)

European researchers have developed an adaptive software platform for mobile devices that can reconfigure itself depending on the context. The MUSIC project platform adjusts to the user's location, the device in use, and many other variables, including the strength of the Internet connection, the time of day, light levels, and the condition of the battery. "The MUSIC project wanted to create a platform for adaptive applications that could work on any device and with any software," says MUSIC project coordinator Geir Horn. The MUSIC platform derives its possible settings from the high-level behavior descriptions that are part of many current software programs. The descriptions tell the software what settings can be altered, and then MUSIC uses the most appropriate settings for the context. "The biggest challenge that the MUSIC consortium faced was trying to create software that would install on any device, whether it is a mobile phone, [personal digital assistant], netbook, or server," Horn says. The platform's plug-in paradigm also enables other programs to take advantage of its functionality.

Android Phones Can Substitute for Supercomputers
Wired News (08/20/10) Ganapati, Priya

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) have developed an Android application that can take simulations from supercomputers and solve them further on a mobile phone. "The idea of using a phone is to show we can take a device with one chip and low power to compute a solution so it comes as close to the one solved on a supercomputer," says TACC's John Peterson. The program uses a technique called certified reduced basis approximation, which enables researchers to take a complex problem, define the values that are most relevant to the problem, and set the upper and lower bounds. "The payoff for model reduction is large when you can go from an expensive supercomputer solution to a calculation that takes a couple of seconds on a smartphone," says MIT's David Knezevic.

NSF Announces New Expeditions in Computing Awards
National Science Foundation (08/19/10) Cruikshank, Dana W.

The U.S. National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering has announced three five-year, $10 million Expeditions in Computing Awards. One project will focus on the modeling, analysis, and visualization of social and communicative behavior of children and adults during face-to-face interactions for the purpose of enabling large-scale objective screening and more effective therapy delivery and evaluation to those in need. A second project proposes a new class of adaptive, energy-efficient computing machines to facilitate systems with proactive software-guided elements that routinely monitor, predict, and adjust to the variability of the manufactured systems in which they are incorporated. The third project seeks to tackle key challenges in the discipline of climate change by developing techniques that exploit climate and ecosystem data available from satellite and ground-based sensors; the observational record for atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial processes; and physics-based climate models. These methods will help make the complex nature of the Earth system and the mechanisms contributing to climate change's negative impact more understandable.

The Future of the Web Is a Matter of Semantics
AlphaGalileo (08/20/10)

Researchers at Athens Information Technology and the National Technical University of Athens say there are three main issues to overcome before the semantic Web becomes a reality. The researchers cite a lack of simplicity, integration with existing technologies, and adoption by the Web industry as the key factors holding up the proliferation of the semantic Web. The researchers suggest that Web industry leaders should fully adopt semantic Web technologies, since their adoption could benefit both companies and end users. They say the semantic Web offers the potential to perform tasks automatically based on a user's preference settings, in addition to being able to locate information much more efficiently than an individual searching the Web manually. They also say that ways to automatically add metadata to digital objects are needed to make it possible to publish semantic content without manual intervention.

Tech Hopes to Develop Early Warning Tools, and Treatments, for Autism
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (08/20/10) Tagami, Ty

Georgia Tech researchers are leading a team of universities that are developing an inexpensive, computerized early warning system for young children suffering from autism. The researchers are creating computerized tools that can be used by regular people with minimal training to assess toddlers for autism. "I'm fairly confident that there's a lot you can do to complement what the professionals can do," says Georgia Tech professor Gregory Abowd. The system will feature a smart video camera that analyzes the facial reactions and eye movements of a child who is responding to instructions. It also will include a watch-like device that monitors the child's heart rate and skin electrical conductivity, which are signs that can help establish emotional states. The system works in conjunction with a four-minute protocol developed by Emory University psychologist Opal Ousley. "There actually is substantial research that shows that the earlier the intervention starts, the greater the impact in changing the developmental trajectory of the kid," says Marcus Autism Center's Nathan Call.

Ho-Hum to High Performance: A Boring Material, When 'Stretched,' Could Lead to Electronics Revolution
Cornell Chronicle (08/18/10) Ju, Anne

Cornell University researchers have found that when the oxide compound europium titanate is sliced nanometers thin and stretched on a specially designed template, it takes on properties that could revolutionize the electronics industry. The researchers found that europium titanate becomes electrically polarized and exhibits a permanent magnetic field when it is laid out and stretched across a substrate of dysprosium scandate. This combination of properties could form the basis for low-power, highly sensitive magnetic memory, magnetic sensors, or highly tunable microwave devices. "Our strategy is to use first-principles theory to look among materials that are neither ferromagnetic nor ferroelectric, of which there are many, and to identify candidates that, when squeezed or stretched, will take on these properties," says Cornell professor Craig Fennie.

Cool! Researchers Find Way to Use HVAC Ducts for Wireless Monitoring Technology
NCSU News (08/18/10) Shipman, Matt

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a system based on radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that uses a building's heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts for wireless-monitoring applications. The researchers say their work could lead to significant time and cost savings for building managers, since their system can be implemented without the expense and effort of installing wires. "This would work with anything you can create an electronic sensor for," says NCSU professor Dan Stancil. The new research could lead to RFID-based smoke detectors, carbon-monoxide monitors, or sensors that can detect chemical, biological, or radiological agents. The researchers say that HVAC ductwork is an excellent medium for radio transmissions because the ducts typically consist of hollow metal pipes, which can be used to guide the radio waves, keeping the waves from dispersing and helping to maintain a strong signal over a greater distance.

Location-Based Applications Driving Innovation in Wireless Communications Industry
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (08/18/10) Mell, Eileen Brangan

Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor Kaveh Pahlavan recently hosted the second International Workshop on Opportunistic Radio Frequency Localization for Next Generation Wireless Devices. Fifty experts attended the workshop, which featured discussions on localization requirements for homeland security and emergency responders; combining air interfaces, bands, planes, and technologies; breakthroughs in satellite navigation and wireless spectrum; the role of standardization; and statistical modeling and the ability to forecast human behavior. University of Massachusetts Lowell professor Guanling Chen and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Marta Gonzalez offered presentations about the use of wireless technology to analyze human movement. Chen's research focuses on how users behave in social networks. Chen's "friendship modeling" metrics analyze the shared interests and proximity of subscribers to social networking services. Gonzalez's research provides insight into human movement in urban areas by layering data about commercial, recreational, and professional traffic patterns on transportation patterns derived from wireless signals.

Finding Our Way With Digital Bread Crumbs
Technology Review (08/18/10) Schwartz, Evan I.

Microsoft researchers are developing Menlo, a mobile device that can collect a trail of data while the user walks in spaces where cellular and global positioning system signals are unavailable or weak. Menlo has several sensors, including an accelerometer, a side-mounted compass, and a barometric pressure sensor. It comes with an activity-based navigation application called Greenfield, which counts a user's sequence of steps, gauges direction changes, and can calculate when a user changes floors in a building. The Microsoft researchers say Greenfield offers a navigation method in areas were maps aren't available. Trail data from an app such as Greenfield could help determine whether a murder suspect is truthfully stating an alibi, says SecondWave Information Systems forensic technologist Jeff Fischbach. However, he says the app raises privacy issues because such trail data can be recovered, sent to the Internet, and subpoenaed by the government.

Researcher Cracks ReCAPTCHA
Dark Reading (08/18/10) Higgins, Kelly Jackson

Independent researcher Chad Houck recently released algorithms that can crack Google's reCAPTCHA program, even after the company's recent improvements to the security tool. Houck's method uses a combination of his own algorithms, including one that decodes the ribboning protections reCAPTCHA uses to mask the words from software, optical-character recognition, and a dictionary attack. Houck says the weakness of the reCAPTCHA program is in the way it is designed. "Every time someone types the verification word correctly, [the program] assumes they also typed the digitization word correctly," he says. Google strengthened the verification words in the program both before and after Houck's paper was published, according to a Google spokesperson. "We've found reCAPTCHA to be far more resilient while also striking a good balance with human usability, and we've received very positive feedback from customers," the spokesperson says. However, Houck says he has solved Google's latest tweaks and claims that "all of their security features are flawed."

Five Billionth Device About to Plug Into Internet
Network World (08/16/10) Cox, John

IMS Research estimates that there will be roughly 5 billion devices connected to the Internet by the end of August. That number is expected to grow to 22 billion by 2020, due in large part to increased machine-to-machine communications in applications such as smart electric grids, surveillance and public safety, and traffic and parking control. In addition, IMS estimates that most of the 6 billion cell phones that will be in use by 2020 will be able to connect to the Internet. Growing use of Internet-connected TV sets, automobiles, tablets, cameras, e-book readers, and digital picture frames also will help push up the number of devices connected to the Web, IMS Research says. However, the greatest growth potential is in machine-to-machine communications, says IMS Research's Ian Weightman. "This has the potential to go way beyond industrial applications to encompass increasingly sophisticated smart grids, networked security cameras and sensors, connected home appliances and [heating, ventilating, and air conditioning] equipment, and [intelligent transportation systems] infrastructure for traffic and parking management," Weightman says.

Plan for Fingerprinting Great White Sharks
University of Bristol News (08/13/10)

University of Bristol computer scientists are working with shark researchers to build an international visual biometrics database of great white sharks. The computer identification system will store pictures of the sharks' unique dorsal fin to help international organizations recognize and track certain species. "We are developing the software for a system that will be able to automatically recognize features of white shark dorsal fins using computer-vision technology, and then archive the animal information along with their IDs," says Bristol's Tilo Burghardt. The NGO White Shark Trust currently has more than 1,500 different white sharks in its fin-print database. "An automated software-based identification system is necessary for building an international centralized database for scientists to be able to collaborate and work together efficiently," says White Shark Trust founder Michael Scholl.

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