Welcome to the September 15, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tim Berners-Lee Calls for Free Internet Worldwide
BBC News (09/15/10) Jonathan Fildes
World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee is calling for universal Web access, arguing that every person should be granted a free low-bandwidth connection "by default." Only 20 percent of the global population currently has Web access, and Berners-Lee sees a growing opportunity for universal access with the advent of mobile networks worldwide. He says the Web could be vital to giving people access to health care and other essential services, and notes that through Web access people could "create their own communities and share their own information" about health, business, and agriculture. Berners-Lee suggests that network providers could offer free Web links on the basis that people would become richer in the future and be willing to pay for high-bandwidth mobile services. His comments resonate with similar observations by International Telecommunications Union secretary general Hamadoun Toure, who recently said that information access ought to be a "universal human right."
Anticensorship Tool Proves Too Good to Be True
Technology Review (09/15/10) Erica Naone
Security experts led by Jacob Appelbaum have uncovered serious vulnerabilities in the Censorship Research Center's Haystack software program, which is designed to help dissidents bypass government Internet censorship. Appelbaum warns that Haystack's privacy safeguards could be easily broken by government authorities, who could use the tool to track down users and identify the content they have accessed. It took Appelbaum and colleagues less than six hours to penetrate Haystack's privacy protections. University of Cambridge professor Ross Anderson says it is extremely tough to design censorship circumvention tools that function properly. He notes that such tools not only must provide access to restricted Web sites, but also shield users' anonymity and avoid generating clues that government officials could use to identify users. Ross finds it distressing that Haystack's creators did not accept more assistance from established censorship circumvention experts.
E-voting Machine Woes Stop Some Voters N.Y.
Computerworld (09/14/10) Jaikumar Vijayan
New Yorkers experienced problems with electronic voting machines at several polling stations across the state during the primary election. Some polling sites in Brooklyn opened up to three-and-half hours late because election officials could not get new optical-scan systems to work properly, according to the New York Times. In Westchester County, some optical-scan machines could not be used for hours because of a glitch involving paper feeds, according to the Associated Press. In Nassau County, two of four new optical-scan machines started generating error messages after voters had cast their ballots. The primary election is the first time the state has used e-voting systems that are compliant with the Help America Vote Act, which requires that all mechanical voting systems be replaced with systems that can maintain a paper record of all votes cast. New Yorkers for Verified Voting founder Bo Lipari says the organization received several reports of problems associated with the new voting machines. He says most of the problems are not technical, but related to training and bureaucratic issues.
11 Hot Skills for 2011
Computerworld (09/13/10) Stacy Collett
Computerworld recently conducted a survey and found 11 skills that information technology (IT) managers are looking for when hiring new employees. About 45 percent of the survey respondents said they are looking for people with programming or application development skills. People with project management skills are sought by 43 percent of survey respondents, and by more than half of those polled in a separate study by Monster.com. Networking skills are in demand among 38 percent of survey respondents. Survey respondents also are seeking people with security skills, including expertise in identity and access management, threat and vulnerability assessment, encryption, and data loss prevention. About 20 percent of respondents said that data center skills will be in top demand. IT workers with next-generation Web skills were sought after by 17 percent of the survey respondents. Business intelligence skills also will be highly sought after in 2011, according to 13 percent of the respondents, as will expertise in collaboration architecture and communications.
New Gadgets to Solve Fat Finger Fumbles
Jakarta Globe (09/13/10) Peter Zschunke
Scientists such as Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) professor Patrick Baudisch are developing new gadgets that may eliminate small keyboards and other problems that make accessing services from handhelds difficult. Baudisch believes enabling phones to perform essential computer functions is the way forward. He notes that keyboard-screen combinations have increased rather than decreased the size of mobile devices, and HPI's research agenda is to circumvent the inherent smallness of handheld displays. HPI's Nanotouch project is focused on devices with touchscreens that are operated from the back, while Baudisch's Imaginary Interfaces project does away with the touchscreen. Users wear a camera-equipped device that is directed by hand gestures. The users' camera-monitored hands are bathed in infrared light, and a sensor measures the time it takes for the rays to leave the light source, bounce off the hands, and return to the camera.
EGI-InSPIRE Project Brings Together European e-Infrastructure Community
The European Grid Infrastructure (EGI) Technical Forum recently brought together the European e-Infrastructure community and partners of the EGI-Integrated Sustainable Pan-European Infrastructure for Research in Europe (InSPIRE) project to discuss the development of a sustainable grid infrastructure in Europe. The EGI-InSPIRE project is a collaboration between national grid initiatives and European international research organizations and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. The project's goal is to support the development of sustainable, pan-European e-Infrastructure. "The establishment of EGI marks a new phase in the provision of a Europe-wide e-Infrastructure to support the capacity for transnational, large-scale, data analysis demanded by researchers in Europe," says EGI-InSPIRE project director Steven Newhouse. The EGI Technical Forum is the first gathering of all the participants of the EGI-InSPIRE project.
Navigation App Gives You Freedom to Explore
New Scientist (09/12/10)
Swansea University's Simon Robinson and colleagues have developed a smartphone navigation application that gives pedestrians the opportunity to explore unfamiliar cities without getting lost. The app is designed to provide general directions for reaching a geographical target, but leaves the precise route open to the user. The smartphone will vibrate when it is pointed toward the destination. The system uses location information and mapping software to constantly analyze the available routes, widen or shrink the field of possible routes, and provide vibrational feedback. "We're not trying to replace turn-by-turn navigation," Robinson says. "But sometimes it's nice not to know exactly where you are."
Wheelchair Makes the Most of Brain Control
Technology Review (09/13/10) Duncan Graham-Rowe
Researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne used an artificial intelligence (AI) approach known as shared control to make it easier for paralyzed people to maneuver a robotic wheelchair with their thoughts. The wheelchair uses AI software that is capable of taking a simple command such as "go left" and assessing the immediate area to determine how to follow the instructions without hitting anything. The software also is capable of understanding when the driver wants to navigate around an object such as a table. Shared control requires the user to think a command only once, rather than continuously as with electroencephalography, and then the software handles the rest. "The wheelchair can take on the low-level details, so it's more natural," says project leader Jose del Millan. The wheelchair uses two Webcams for detecting and avoiding objects, and drivers can give an override command if they want to approach rather than navigate around an object. The prototype system is equipped with 16 electrodes for monitoring the user's brain activity.
European Partnership Funds Research Toward Robot Aides for the Elderly
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (09/13/10)
A team of researchers from 20 European states, the European Union, and several private enterprises recently launched a project aimed at developing robots capable of serving as adaptable, interactive, and safe assistants for older adults. The Adaptable Ambient Living ASsistant (ALIAS) project focuses on maintaining social networks, warding off feelings of loneliness and isolation, and increasing activities that could protect cognitive capabilities. ALIAS, led by the Technische Universitaet Muenchen professor Frank Wallhoff, helps build social contacts by creating connections to people and events in the wider world. The ALIAS mobile robots will facilitate daily life for older adults in a variety of ways, including proactive communication with speech recognition, video calls, Internet chat between users, online gaming, reading aloud from newspapers, and assisted mobility.
Computers--and People--Work in Parallel at New Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison (09/13/10) Sandra Knisely
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) have launched the Modeling, Simulation and Visualization Center, a new high-performance computing center that will leverage the capabilities of a computer cluster and expand access to supercomputing resources. The heart of the center is a computer cluster consisting of 5,760 scalar processors spread across 24 graphics-processing units (GPUs). The researchers plan to develop a protocol that will enable all 24 GPUs to work together, which would significantly boost the cluster's computing power. Similar clusters exist at financial institutions, and GPU computing is common in the oil industry and elsewhere, but the UW-Madison center is unique in its breadth of applications. The Modeling, Simulation and Visualization Center has already attracted several industrial and federal research partners, including the U.S. National Science Foundation, Microsoft, the U.S. Army, NASA, and the Argonne National Laboratory. "We're leveraging this hardware asset and trying to team up and combine our knowledge to answer challenging problems that people in industry might have," says UWM professor Dan Negrut.
DARPA Wants to Create Brainiac Bot Tots
Wired News (09/10/10) Katie Drummond
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding scientist Shane Mueller's efforts to expand upon the Turing test as part of an attempt to determine the level of artificial intelligence in bot tots. DARPA is interested in developing robots with the capabilities of an average toddler. "There were many motivations for this target, but one central notion is that if one could design a system with the capabilities of a two-year-old, it might be possible to essentially grow a three-year-old, given realistic experiences in a simulated environment," Mueller says. DARPA's goal is for tot bots to become super smart by learning like a human. Mueller uses a testing schema that has categories for visual recognition, search abilities, manual control, knowledge learning, language and concept learning, and simple motor control. The artificial intelligence agents would initially operate much like a toddler, but they would gradually learn from their surroundings and an instructor, and eventually gain advanced cognitive capabilities.
Quantum Crypto Products Cracked By Researchers
Government Computer News (09/10/10) William Jackson
A European research team has shown that commercial implementations of quantum key distribution (QKD) are subject to eavesdropping with off-the-shelf materials. "Here we demonstrate experimentally that the detectors in two commercially available QKD systems can be fully remote-controlled using specially tailored bright illumination," the researchers write. However, U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology scientist Xiao Tang disputes their conclusion, saying the attack technique can be prevented. "This type of attack is not new and is based on the idea of the intercept-resend attack," in which the eavesdropper intercepts information and then passes it along to the intended recipient, he says. Although the European researchers demonstrated a practical implementation of the attack, Tang says it can be easily prevented. The European demonstration is not meant to discredit QKD, but to strengthen an emerging technology. "Rather than demonstrating that practical QKD cannot become provably secure, our findings clearly show the necessity of investigating the practical security of QKD," write the researchers.
Computer Scientist Puts NSF Funding to Work for More Reliable Computing
California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (09/09/10) Tiffany Fox
University of California, San Diego professor Yuanyuan Zhou recently received several grants for research projects aimed at making computer systems more reliable by detecting software bugs, creating automated logs to diagnose software issues, and using software components to adapt to system variability. "Fundamentally, my research is about making computer systems less vulnerable to attacks so they crash less," Zhou says. She is studying ways that software and hardware can be used to detect bugs, especially those in parallel and distributed programs. "Right now, cell phones, laptops, and desktops have multicore processors, but to take advantage of this kind of processing, programs need to be concurrent," Zhou says. She wants to use data-flow invariance to detect various types of software bugs and make software more secure. To deal with computer crashes, Zhou proposes diagnosing the problem at the source using automatic log inference and informative logging. Zhou also is part of a multi-university research effort that is studying the role that software can play in new, energy-efficient computers.
US Stimulus Funding Is Boosting Innovation
Science Business (09/09/10) Lori Valigra
The White House recently published its first analysis of the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus package on advances in science and health, claiming successes in funding innovation in fields such as solar power, electronic health records, high-speed rail, and new battery technologies. The report focused on the $100 billion invested in four research areas to develop "game-changing breakthroughs"--modernizing transport, jumpstarting the renewable energy sector, building a platform for private-sector innovation through various investments, and investing in ground-breaking medical research. The report says ARRA provided $4.4 billion to the U.S. Department of Commerce and $2.5 billion to the Department of Agriculture to increase broadband access in rural areas as well as $20 billion in health information technology to boost advances in electronic health records, electronic prescribing, electronic care, and community health initiatives.
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