Welcome to the August 27, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. Military Wants to Exert Influence Over Private Cyber Infrastructure
Network World (08/26/10) Greene, Tim
The U.S. military wants more authority to protect the nation's cyberinfrastructure, says Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn. He says the military depends on power grids, transportation networks, and financial network systems to manage suppliers and that these networks could become military targets. "The best-laid plans for defending military networks will matter little if civilian infrastructure--which could be directly targeted in a military conflict or held hostage and used as a bargaining chip against the U.S. government--is not secure," Lynn says. "The Pentagon is therefore working with the Department of Homeland Security and the private sector to look for innovative ways to use the military's cyberdefense capabilities to protect the defense industry." The National Security Agency is developing some of these safeguards, which include combining U.S. intelligence capabilities with network security so that networks can respond to threats identified by other means than network intrusion detection tools. The Pentagon also is relying on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to devise the means to make Pentagon network infrastructure less prone to cyberattacks.
Getting More Indian Women to Study Science
Wall Street Journal (08/26/10) Agarwal, Vibhuti
The U.S. embassy in New Delhi recently organized a workshop on women in science with the support of the Indo-U.S. Science and Technology Forum, which hopes to facilitate cooperation between the two countries and help send Indian students to the United States to study and work. India needs the active participation of women in institutes of scientific learning in order to grow, says Biocon's Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. Just 39 percent of women pursued science-related degrees in 2004, according to an Indian National Science Academy report, and many female college graduates leave the workforce after getting married and starting a family. "We need to make young women more interested in these fields, making them aware that science is a social endeavor that involves working with and helping people," says U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Keri-Ann Jones.
Searching for Fun
Technology Review (08/27/10) Naone, Erica
Many people use search engines as a way to discover something new or amusing, instead of strictly as an information gathering tool, say researchers at Swansea University and the University of Erlangen. The researchers found that about 90 percent of Internet search studies focus on improving goal-directed searches, while more users are searching the Web for quick entertainment due to the widespread use of mobile devices. Companies and researchers should look for more ways to provide simple searching for those users, says Swansea's Max Wilson. The researchers conducted two studies, one asking users to keep track of how they searched while they watched TV, the other mining Twitter for tweets containing words such as "browse" or "explore" and narrowed in on those related to "casual searching." They found that when searching casually, users were less interested in getting away from search results, says Erlangen's David Elsweiler. Sites such as YouTube and Amazon already help users find content based on what other users like, and traditional search engines could build on this strategy for casual searching, says Google's Daniel Tunkelang.
MIT Builds Swimming, Oil-Eating Robots
Computerworld (08/26/10) Gaudin, Sharon
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a robot using nanotechnology that can autonomously navigate across an ocean's surface and clean up an oil spill. The researchers say that a fleet of 5,000 robots, called a Seaswarm, could clean up a spill the size of the recent one in the Gulf of Mexico in about a month. "Unlike traditional skimmers, Seaswarm is based on a system of small, autonomous units that behave like a swarm and 'digest' the oil locally while working around the clock without human intervention," says MIT's Carlo Ratti. Seaswarm is designed to use a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh that absorbs oil. The nanomesh repels water while absorbing 20 times its own weight in oil. A team of robots would use wireless communications and global positioning systems to move across the ocean without bunching up or leaving some parts uncleaned.
EU Cyber Assault Would Cost 86 Million Pounds, Expert Says
EU Observer (Belgium) (08/25/10) Rettman, Andrew
With two years to prepare, 750 people, and 86 million pounds, a malicious foreign power could launch a devastating cyberattack on the European Union (EU), says Charlie Miller, a former U.S. National Security Agency security expert. Miller says the assault would begin with a staff member opening a PDF attachment in an email that looks like it was sent from a colleague. The PDF would contain software that allows a hacker to take over the computer, leaving it open to denial of service attacks (DOS), and to install remote administration tools, which control the hardware. Miller calculated the EU scenario based on a more detailed study of U.S. vulnerability. "It's really hard to defend against an attack that's well equipped and carried out by smart people," he says. In 2007, hackers crashed Estonian online news agencies with DOS attacks in the midst of an Estonia-Russia political dispute. "If these cyberattacks were used to test the Estonian cyberdefense capabilities, much more sophisticated attacks could possibly follow, based on the knowledge acquired during the attacks," according to a Estonian Computer Response Team report. The EU's European Network and Information Security Agency will carry out the first pan-EU cyber security exercise later this year.
'Biofuel Cells' Could Power Gadgets With Energy Drinks
BBC News (08/25/10)
Saint Louis University researcher Shelley Minteer has led the development of battery-like biofuel cells that could eventually be used to power electronic devices. The fuel cells use mitochondria to convert fuel molecules into a form that cells can directly use. "In order to be able to completely consume a fuel ... you need a whole series of enzymes, anywhere from three, for something simple, to 22 for something like glucose, and you need to get these enzymes to work together," Minteer says. "The mitochondria channel the fuel from enzyme one directly to enzyme two and so on; they do this metabolism far more efficiently than we do by putting a soup of enzymes down on the electrode." The researchers used a demonstration device with simple fuels made of a single type of molecule, but future devices will be able to run on a wide variety of fuels, including familiar sources of energy such as energy drinks and protein shakes, Minteer says. Plamen Atanassov, director of the Center for Emerging Energy Technologies at the University of New Mexico, says the research helps lay the foundation for bridging biotechnology and nanotechnology.
LSU Expert Teams With Ohio State Researcher to Track Species Affected by Gulf Oil Spill
Louisiana State University (08/25/10) Berthelot, Ashley
Researchers at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Ohio State University (OSU) are developing systems to help map data on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and chemicals and the distribution of various fish species. "Through our efforts and by making the informatics tools available over the Web, our aim is to map baseline data about nearly every northern Gulf of Mexico species that may be impacted," says LSU's Prosanta Chakrabarty. The researchers are using software originally designed to track infectious diseases to collect and analyze data for oil, dispersants, and fish. "We have developed DEPTHMAP, a Web-accessible mapping application for historical species collection records, to combine baseline information about the range of these species with respect to data on the extent of the spill," says OSU professor Daniel Janies. The species being tracked will include grouper, snapper, and croaker, as well as ecologically important species near the bottom or top of the food chain, such as batfishes and sharks.
Thought-Controlled Computers on the Way: Intel
PhysOrg.com (08/25/10) Edwards, Lin
Intel is developing a computer that can directly read the thoughts of its user by mapping out brain activity produced when people think of particular words. Intel scientists are measuring activity in about 20,000 locations in the brain. Words produce activity in parts of the brain associated with what they represent, says Intel researcher Dean Pomerlau. Thinking of a word results in activity in certain areas of the brain and would enable the computer to infer attributes of the word, narrow it down, and identify it quickly. A working prototype can already detect words such as house, screwdriver, and barn, but its ability to understand thoughts will improve as brain scanning becomes more advanced. If successful, Intel's computer could be used to surf the Internet, write emails, and perform other activities, and people with disabilities that prevent them from using a keyboard or mouse could find the computer to be very helpful.
Secrets of the Gecko Foot Help Robot Climb
Stanford University (08/24/10) Blackman, Christine
Stanford University engineer Mark Cutkosky has led the development of Stickybot, a robot that can climb up smooth surfaces with feet modeled on the design of gecko toes. "Unless you use suction cups, which are kind of slow and inefficient, the other solution out there is to use dry adhesion, which is the technique the gecko uses," Cutkosky says. A dry adhesive is key because it requires little effort to attach and detach the robot's feet. "Other adhesives are sort of like walking around with chewing gum on your feet: You have to press it into the surface and then you have to work to pull it off," he says. "But with directional adhesion, it's almost like you can sort of hook and unhook yourself from the surface." The researchers used a rubber-like material with tiny polymer hairs made from a micro-scale mold to simulate a gecko's foot. The researchers new project involves developing the material for humans. In addition, the team is working on a new Stickybot with rotating ankles, which geckos also have, and will enable it to turn in the middle of a climb.
Shake to Adjust Your Smartphone's Privacy Settings
New Scientist (08/25/10) Morgan, Gareth
Open University's Lukasz Jedrzejczyk led the development of Privacy Shake, an application that enables users with global positioning system-enabled smartphones to adjust their privacy levels for their location services. Rather than navigate settings menus, users shake their smartphone to adjust their privacy levels. Privacy Shake hides the user's location when it is shaken sideways, and broadcasts their location when it is shaken vertically. "People often turn on location services for geotagging photos or Twitter updates, or for looking for nearby products and services, but it is all too easy to forget to turn it off," says John Breslin, a Web researcher at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
Smallest U-M Logo Demonstrates Advanced Display Technology
University of Michigan News Service (08/24/10) Moore, Nicole Casal
University of Michigan professor Jay Guo has developed a type of color filter made of nano-thin sheets of metal that could lead to smaller and higher-definition display screens. Guo says the metal sheets have precisely spaced gratings, which act as resonators and trap and transmit light of a particular color. "Simply by changing the space between the slits, we can generate different colors," he says. Guo and his research team used the method to make a Michigan logo that measures 12-by-9 microns, or about one sixth the width of a human hair. In Guo's displays, reflected light could be recycled to save a lot of the light that would otherwise be wasted. The new color filters use two metal sheets on either side of a dielectric. "Amazingly, we found that even a few slits can already produce well-defined color, which shows its potential for extremely high-resolution display and spectral imaging," Guo. The pixels in the displays are about eight times smaller than those used in the iPhone 4.
Not Enough Students Take STEM A Levels, Warns IET
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (08/24/10) Harris, Stephen
More students are taking science, technology and math (STEM) A Levels in the United Kingdom, but the number is not enough to fill a skills shortage in time to prevent damage to the economy, according to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). The number of students studying math is relatively high, but the number of students studying physics and technology is particularly low, says IET's Gareth James. More than 30,000 students completed a physics A Level this year and more than 18,000 took a technology-related subject, but the number for math is more than 77,000, in addition to nearly 12,000 more studying further levels of math. However, Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, is more optimistic about the take-up for STEM subjects. "Given that we've also got similar increases in the pipeline with AS Levels also going up in science and math, I think we're finally heading in the right direction," Khan says. Some observers estimate that employers will need half a million more STEM graduates by 2017.
5 Indispensable IT Skills of the Future
Computerworld (08/23/10) Collett, Stacy
In the future, the most sought-after information technology (IT)-related skills will be those that involve the ability to mine large amounts of data, protect systems from security threats, manage the risks of growing complexity in new systems, and communicate how technology can increase productivity. By 2020, IDC predicts that the amount of data generated every year will reach 35 zettabytes, which will stimulate a high demand for IT workers that can analyze the data, as well as work with business units to define what data is needed and where to find it. Risk management skills also will be in high demand through 2020, especially at a time when business is working with growing IT complexity, says futurist David Pearce Snyder. Meanwhile, robots will have taken over more jobs by 2020, says futurist Joseph Coates. Protecting users' privacy also will be very important in 2020, because fewer interactions will be face-to-face, more personal information will be available online, and new technologies could make it easier to impersonate people, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report. In addition, network systems and data communications management will be a top priority in 2020, Snyder says.
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