Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 4, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Regulators Blame Computer Algorithm for Stock Market 'Flash Crash'
Computerworld (10/01/10) Lucas Mearian

A joint investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has issued a report calling the May 6 stock market flash crash the responsibility of an automated trade execution system that inundated the Chicago Mercantile Exchange's Globex electronic trading platform with a major sell order that triggered a nearly 1,000-point plunge in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in a half hour. "[A] large fundamental trader chose to execute this sell program via an automated execution algorithm that was programmed to feed orders into the June 2010 E-Mini market to target an execution rate set to 9 percent of the trading volume calculated over the previous minute, but without regard to price or time," the report says. "The execution of this sell program resulted in the largest net change in daily position of any trader in the E-Mini since the beginning of the year." The study found that under strained market conditions, the automated execution of a big sell order can induce extreme price movements, particularly if price is not factored in by the automated execution algorithm. "Moreover, the interaction between automated execution programs and algorithmic trading strategies can quickly erode liquidity and result in disorderly markets," the report concludes.


EU Seeks to Boost Defenses Against Cyber Attacks
Reuters (09/30/10) Justyna Pawlak

The European Commission has made several proposals designed to counter large-scale cyberattacks that could paralyze the computer networks of European Union (EU) nations. The proposals include criminalizing the use and creation of malicious software and the possession of tools for breaking into computer systems. The EU also wants to increase penalties for cybercrime. Europe needs a unified approach to prevent and prosecute cybercrime, says Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU's commissioner for home affairs. Malmstrom says the EU also needs a long-term strategy to protect its infrastructure from cybercrime. "We are not totally defenseless," she says. "We have some tools ... and we are looking at it in our security strategy but this is something long term where we need bigger capacity. This is not something we can construct overnight."


Professor Wendy Hall Speaks
Inquirer (UK) (10/01/10) Wendy M. Grossman

Wendy Hall, dean of the University of Southampton's new Faculty of Physical and Applied Sciences, helped found the Web Science Research Initiative for the purpose of facilitating a formal understanding of the Web. "Partly what I'm passionate about in Web science ... [is] what makes the Web what it is, how it evolves and will evolve, what are the scenarios that could kill it or change it in ways that would be detrimental to its use," she says. Hall says the need for the initiative was demonstrated when she discussed with Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee why the semantic Web has failed to emerge. Berners-Lee determined that the semantic Web concept was commandeered by the artificial intelligence community for the purpose of solving massive problems, when what was needed was for the data to be freed up so that people's use of it could be observed. "What creates the Web are us who put the content on it, and that's not natural or engineered," Hall says. Among the subjects she says can be explored through Web science is how to construct a better future Web by predicting what people would and would not do with it.


In New Project, Russian Universities Tap American Expertise in Tech Transfer
Chronicle of Higher Education (09/30/10) Goldie Blumenstyk

The Enhancing University Research and Entrepreneurial Capacity initiative to promote stronger linkages between Russian academe and industry could help Russian universities adopt U.S.-style advancements such as business incubators and spinoff companies with an eye toward research commercialization. The project will partner several of Russia's national research universities with teams from four U.S. institutions to learn about technology transfer and other industry collaboration strategies. Over the next two years, teams from the U.S. universities will educate their equivalents at the two Russian campuses on subjects such as assessing the commercial potential of inventions and harnessing the expertise of their business schools and their local business and finance executives. The Russians will consequently train academics at other Russian institutions. The academic teams also will collaborate on the commercialization of technologies from the Russian schools, most likely innovations in disciplines such as computer science and nanotechnology. "It's a way to demonstrate some of the softer skills" that technology transfer entails, says the University of Maryland's Brian Darmody.


From 'Avatar' Playbook, Athletes Use 3-D Imaging
New York Times (10/02/10) James Glanz ; Alan Schwarz

Some Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are using advanced imaging technology to influence the way athletes train, perform, and recover from injuries. The technology is a combination of the systems that capture human gestures for three-dimensional (3D) animations, and orthopedic research on the most powerful and least damaging ways to throw a ball or swing a bat. The motion-capture technique produces a digital, 3D representation that can be viewed from any direction, run forward and backward, and analyzed to calculate precise limb angles and accelerations, stresses on joints, and ball speeds. The technique has become a recognized tool for helping athletes and nonathletes recover from injuries, says New York University professor Chris Bregler. At least three MLB teams are recording their players with the hope of avoiding injuries, adjusting pitchers' and batters' mechanics, and even helping players in slumps. As soon as the programs become more widely known, it could set off a technology race and give younger, more technically savvy coaches an edge over traditionalists, according to some experts. One of the most sophisticated applications of the technology enables football players to practice against a virtual defense, says EA Sports' Rob Moore.


Multicore May Not Be So Scary
MIT News (09/30/10) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers built a system consisting of eight six-core chips that can simulate the performance of a 48-core chip, as a way to test if adding more cores continues to boost computing performance. The researchers tested several applications on their model, activating the 48 cores one by one and observing the results. The researchers found that at a certain point, adding more cores slowed the system down instead of speeding it up. However, slightly rewriting the Linux code so that each core kept a local count greatly improved the system's overall performance. "There's a bunch of interesting research to be done on building better tools to help programmers pinpoint where the problem is," says MIT professor Frans Kaashoek. "The big question in the community is, as the number of cores on a processor goes up, will we have to completely rethink how we build operating systems," says University of Wisconsin professor Remzi Arpaci-Dusseau.


GOOOAAL! Students Scoring With Computer Science
Rowan Today (09/30/10)

Rowan University graduate students have developed Soccer Scoop, software that helps soccer coaches evaluate players. Soccer Scoop, developed as part of a graduate computer science class assignment led by Rowan professor Adrian Rusu, converts statistics into visual representations that reflect players' skill levels. A player's skill is rated from one to four and their skill levels are displayed on a picture of a soccer player. For example, the head on the picture represents the player's head ball skills. A green head represents a skill level four. Another feature of the system displays more details of a player's skill on the image of a soccer field. "In my courses, I am always looking for real-world applications for students to apply what they learn in the classroom," Rusu says. "The students realize their work matters well beyond their grades and become more motivated and creative, which results in improved grasp of course content."


Underwater Robot Swims Free Thanks to York U-Designed Wireless Controller
York University (09/30/10) Melissa Hughes

A team at York University has designed and built a waterproof tablet for wirelessly controlling the underwater robot AQUA, which is designed to collect data from shipwrecks and reefs. Divers can control the AQUATablet using toggle switches and on-screen prompts. They also can program the controller to display tags onscreen, similar to barcodes read by smartphones, and the robot's on-board camera then scans the two-dimensional tags to receive and carry out commands. The researchers say AQUATablet enables divers to command AQUA as if they were using a video-game joystick. AQUA is connected to the tablet by an optical cable in this mode, and the robot can provide feedback from its camera to the operator. In a totally wireless mode, AQUA acknowledges prompts by flashing its on-board light. "This is a huge improvement on [a robot] having to travel to the surface to communicate with its operators," says York professor Michael Jenkin. "We wanted to develop a system where we could create commands on the fly, in response to the environment."


Tackling Insomnia Through Twitter
BBC News (10/02/10) Mark Ward

Lincoln University researchers are studying social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to determine if they can enhance existing treatments for insomnia, depression, and anxiety. The researchers say that continuous access to friends, family, and therapists could prolong the beneficial effects of treatment. However, existing computer-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) systems have not kept up with the changing ways that people use computers, says Lincoln's Shaun Lawson. "The way that people engage with social networks, how many times they do it in a day, it is very similar to the kind of ways that we would really want people to interact with CBT treatment," Lawson says. Initially, the project will study the use of social networks to map out a patient's pattern of activity. The researchers will pay particular attention to social network games and why they trigger such a loyalty from players. "What's interesting on social networks is that people are more likely to self-disclose on them," Lawson says. Social networking channels enable people to report their feelings in ways that might be inappropriate in normal conversations, he says.


'Fabric' Would Tighten the Weave of Online Security
Cornell Chronicle (09/30/10) Bill Steele

Cornell University professors Fred Schneider and Andrew Myers are developing a way to incorporate security in the programming language used to write computer programs, so that the systems are protected from the beginning. Until now, computer security has been reactive, Schneider says. "Our defenses improve only after they have been successfully penetrated," he says. Schneider and Myers developed Fabric, a computer platform that replaces multiple existing layers with a simpler programming interface that makes security reasoning more direct. Fabric is designed to create secure systems for distributed computing, such as systems that move money around or control medical records. Fabric's programming language, which is based on Java, builds in security as the program is written. Myers says most of what Fabric does is transparent to the programmer. "I think we can make life simpler and improve performance," he says.


Middle School STEM Gets $12 Million NSF Infusion
THE Journal (09/28/10) David Nagel

The National Science Foundation's Math and Science Partnership Program recently gave a nearly $12 million, five-year grant to northern California middle schools to implement a program for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education that could serve as a national model for underserved students to pursue STEM subjects in higher education. Researchers at California State University, East Bay (CSUEB) will work with the Alameda County Office of Education to develop the San Francisco Bay-Integrated Middle School Science Project, which will target middle schools serving large populations of low-income and traditionally underrepresented ethnic groups. CSUEB will provide faculty-developed STEM materials and will integrate technology-delivered, real-time data from a range of government agencies. "This is all in the public domain, and can help in making science current, interesting, and relevant to the students," says CSUEB professor Jeffery Seitz. The project also will focus on teacher preparation. CSEUB says the program will reach 68,000 students.


Signing Made Easy
National Science Foundation (09/27/10) Miles O'Brien

Georgia Tech professor Thad Starner is leading the development of interactive tools designed to make sign language easier to learn for both the deaf and hearing communities. Starner and his team have developed a cell phone application called SmartSign that provides videos of different signs to help hearing people who get stuck on a word. "You speak the word you want, it uses voice recognition, and it'll just bring up the video right for you," says Georgia Tech researcher Jeff Wilson. Another system, called CopyCat, is being developed primarily for classrooms. CopyCat involves the user wearing a pair of special gloves equipped with motion sensors. A camera tracks the user's hand motions and when a sign is performed correctly, points are awarded. "We've tested CopyCat in three different schools and each time, we're seeing significant results in just two weeks," Starner says. "The children actually were able to improve their ability to understand sign, be able to generate sign, and to repeat sign phrases."


Tablet, Phone Software Developers Face Multicore Challenge
IDG News Service (09/27/10) Agam Shah

Industry experts at the recent Linley Tech Processor conference said that writing applications for mobile devices could become more challenging as central processing units (CPUs) and hardware accelerators are added to mobile chips. Linley Group's Linley Gwennap says that much software development work is needed to extract better performance out of multicore chips. "What we're seeing on the phone side is applications having to change to use the second CPU," Gwennap says. "It's going to take some time before the software is ready for that." He says the latest mobile operating systems are partly ready for dual CPUs, which will make it easier for programmers, but applications development becomes more problematic as more cores are added to mobile chips. Adjusting for power consumption also is a major issue on mobile systems. "The software is very important in terms of driving power consumption," Gwennap says. "Everybody says 'oh, is my CPU good, is my CPU not good,' but it's what the software does with the CPU that makes a huge difference."


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