Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 13, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


How Energy-Efficient Is Cloud Computing?
PhysOrg.com (10/08/10) Lisa Zyga

University of Melbourne researchers have found that cloud computing is not always the most energy-efficient option. Although previous studies on energy consumption in cloud computing have focused only on the energy used in the data center, the Melbourne team found that transporting data between data centers and home computers can consume larger amounts of energy than storing it. "The most important conclusion in our analysis is that, when comparing the energy consumption of cloud-based services with that of a typical desktop PC, we must include the energy consumption required to transport the data from the user into the cloud resources and back," says Melbourne researcher Rod Tucker. "Without careful consideration of the power consumption of cloud services, their growing popularity will become a significant contributor to greenhouse gas production." The researchers found that power for transport can be as low as 10 percent and 25 percent at low usage levels for private and public storage services, respectively, and nearly 60 percent and 90 percent, respectively, at high usage levels. However, the researchers predict that cloud computing technology will continue to become more energy efficient.


UCLA Receives $12.5 Million Grant to Increase Computer Science Instruction in Urban Schools
UCLA Newsroom (10/07/10) Shaena Engle; Wileen Wong Kromhout

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded a $12.5 million grant to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to fund MOBILIZE: Mobilizing for Innovative Computer Science Teaching and Learning, a new project designed to advance new and innovative computer science instruction in urban high schools. MOBILIZE will develop and implement hands-on projects for high school computer science courses. High school teachers will work with UCLA education faculty to develop new computer science materials that use mobile phone-based technologies to involve students in studying environmental and social processes. "Through MOBILIZE, students will learn about collecting, analyzing, and representing data, enabling them to communicate their stories about issues that are of concern to them, their families, and their communities," says UCLA's Jane Margolis. The project also will help develop teachers with expertise in both computer science content and pedagogy. The software, curricula, and research developed through MOBILIZE will be disseminated across the United States for use by other school districts.


When Glass Touch Screens Feel Like Sandpaper
CNN.com (10/08/10) John D. Sutter

Disney Research has developed a new type of touchscreen called TeslaTouch, which uses a small static force to control friction between a user's finger and the touchscreen. TeslaTouch uses electrical impulses to create a pull and push between a person's fingertip and the device's screen. "If you carefully tune the frequency and the vibration of the panel, you can actually create things that feel like sandpaper or rubber on a wall," says Disney researcher Chris Harrison, who is a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University and editor in chief of ACM's student publication XRDS. Unlike other touchscreen technologies that are based on haptic feedback, TeslaTouch has no moving parts. The touchscreen consists of a glass plate, a transparent electrode, and an insulator. The electrode creates a small electrical field in the insulation layer, which simulates friction and texture.


How to Hack the Power Grid for Fun and Profit
Technology Review (10/07/10) Kevin Bullis

Texas A&M University researchers have found that attackers could game power-grid data by breaking into substations and intercepting communications between grid operators and electricity providers. This data could be used to artificially establish electricity prices and upset the balance of supply and demand. If someone wanted to cause a power outage, spurious data about how much power is streaming could be employed to trick operators into overloading parts of the grid, triggering cascading failures. The threat is becoming more pronounced as more substations are automated. As utilities move to open communications standards as part of the migration to the smart grid, it could get even easier to intercept communications or hack into systems remotely, says Texas A&M professor Le Xie. Fixing the vulnerability will not be easy, as it could take 20 years for utilities to replace old infrastructure with equipment offering improved security measures. The researchers note that a recent move to add more sensors to the grid, as part of a smart grid project that received $4.5 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, could help.


Google on New Path, Developing Self-Driving Cars
Computerworld (10/11/10) Sharon Gaudin

Google announced that its engineers are developing technology for self-driving cars. Google's system uses video cameras, radar sensors, laser-range finders, and mapping technology to determine the location of other cars and the basic traffic flow to navigate the road. "We've always been optimistic about technology's ability to advance society, which is why we have pushed so hard to improve the capabilities of self-driving cars beyond where they are today," says Google's Sebastian Thrun. "While this project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science. And that future is very exciting." Although Gartner analyst Ray Valdes says the field of autonomous transportation could be larger than the search engine business in the next 10 to 15 years, analyst Rob Enderle says the project takes away from Google's focus and is "likely to be more distracting than successful."


New Science to Enable Humans and Computers to Interact More Effectively
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (10/07/10) Joyce Lewis

Orchid is a new University of Southampton-led project that will bring together more than 60 researchers to take on the challenge of understanding, designing, building, and deploying systems that consist of human-agent collectives (HACs). The researchers say that HACs will become an increasing feature of daily life as mobile devices, satellite-navigation systems, and sensing systems become more powerful and more common. "We are fast approaching an 'era of ubiquity' where each of us will become increasingly dependent on multiple smart and proactive computers that we carry with us, access at home and at work, and that are embedded into the world around us," says Southampton professor Nick Jennings, who will lead the five-year project. Orchid project researchers plan to analyze the entire lifecycle of systems composed of HACs. "The breadth of our multidisciplinary approach, coupled with our focus on industrial applications, means that this research can be expected to be truly transformational," Jennings says.


Cybersecurity as a Catalyst for Economic Growth
GovInfoSecurity.com (10/06/10) Eric Chabrow

Patrick Gorman, former associate director of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, says the United States should apply the lessons of the space race to the investment of resources into educating and training a cohort of cybersecurity professionals. "If we put more emphasis into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics [STEM] ... we're going to get benefits that are not related to cybersecurity," Gorman says. "This is a larger opportunity. Not only solve the cybersecurity issue, but I think we build up a foundation that is really going to provide the economic growth force into the 2020's." He says the first step is determining how many STEM graduates are needed to facilitate cybersecurity, and then provide federal funding for a scholarship program while adding to existing programs through the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense's Information Assurance Scholarship program. Gorman speculates that developing the cadre of professionals needed to secure cyberspace will probably take five or 10 years. He emphasizes that reaching out to high-schoolers to get them interested in the skills that the cybersecurity workforce will require is one of the most pressing issues.


China's Leap in Supercomputer Rankings
Bloomberg Businessweek (10/05/10) Rachael King

When a list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers is released on Nov. 15, some industry experts believe that China will be ranked first. "There's a great belief that the Chinese will be No. 1," says University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra. However, the U.S. still dominates the Top 500, having more than 50 percent of the world's supercomputers, including the fastest, as of June 2010. China is currently ranked third in supercomputing, behind the U.S. and the European Union (EU), but the country is poised to overtake the EU countries, Dongarra says. "It means that China is taking computing seriously," he says. "China gets it. These machines are useful for industry and it will help them maintain and continue on the current track of industrial growth." China has moved quickly to become a supercomputing power. Ten years ago it had few, if any, supercomputers, but in June it passed Japan in supercomputing power. "They're building gigantic research facilities in Shanghai and in other places, spreading them all around the country," says IDC analyst Earl Joseph.


Monitoring Your Health With Your Mobile Phone
IMEC (10/05/10)

Researchers at IMEC, Holst Center, and TASS software have developed a mobile heart-monitoring system that enables people to view their electrocardiogram (ECG) on an Android mobile phone. The researchers used a low-power interface that sends signals from a wireless ECG-sensor system to connect a complete Body Area Network (BAN) to a mobile phone. The BAN consists of lightweight, ultra-low power, wireless sensor nodes that continuously monitor physical and vital parameters. The interface wirelessly transmits bio-signals retrieved from the BAN sensor nodes to an Android mobile phone, where the data is collected, stored, processed, and sent over the Internet to authorized recipients, such as a physician. The interface is based on a standard Secure Digital Input Output interface on Android mobile phones, which allows for the integration of all Google operating system features. The mobile phone's hardware can operate with low-power communication protocols and low-power radios, which allows for long-term medical telemonitoring. In addition, the Linux-based interface provides for portability to other Linux-based devices.


D.C. Web Voting Flaw Could Have Led to Compromised Ballots
Computerworld (10/06/10) Jaikumar Vijayan

University of Michigan researchers recently found a major security flaw in Washington, D.C.'s new Digital Vote by Mail system, which enabled them to access, modify, and replace marked ballots in the system. The shell injection flaw in the ballot upload function allowed the researchers to access usernames, passwords, and the public key used to encrypt ballots, according to Michigan professor Alex Halderman. He also says the researchers were able to install a backdoor on the server, which enabled them to view the recorded votes and the names of the voters. "If this particular problem had not existed, I'm confident that we would have found another way to attack the system," Halderman says. The Digital Vote by Mail system is designed to let military personnel and overseas U.S. civilians receive and cast ballots over the Internet using a pre-provided PIN to authenticate themselves. In response to the discovery of the security flaws, D.C.'s Board of Election and Ethics announced that voters will not be allowed to use Digital Vote by Mail to send back ballots.


PRACE Research Infrastructure Strengthened
PRACE (10/06/10)

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) announced the availability of the second Tier-0 system of the European research infrastructure. The Curie petaflopic supercomputer will be located near Paris and operated in a new computing center. "The French Tier-0 system strengthens the distributed research infrastructure PRACE is implementing in Europe," says PRACE chairman Achim Bachem. Curie will offer 1.6 petaflops of peak performance using more than 90,000 cores, primarily the latest Intel Xeon processors. Curie is expected to offer supercomputing capabilities to sectors that would not be normally reached, such as in the field of climatology. "With Curie, we will be able to consider ensemble climatic simulations, multisets, multi-models, with a resolution about 10 kilometers on the whole planet and on several hundred years," says Jean Jouzel of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "That will also enable us to increase the European participation in the next international exercises of simulation of the climate."


New Advances in ICT Research for Autonomy and Social Inclusion
Barcelona Digital Technology Center (10/04/10)

The Barcelona Digital Technology Center has developed an information and communication technologies (ICT)-based human computer interface, made with brain-computer interface sensors, for use with affective computing and virtual environments. The ICT-based human-computer interface is designed to help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. The technology will enable disabled people to manage accessible networks of devices in their home, and have access to computer-based social networks for social activities. The BrainAble project is developing tools that enable people to control environments such as a smart home. The researchers also are developing a complementary intelligent virtual reality-based user interface that offers avatars and scenarios. The researchers say that people with disabilities could use the interface to interact with avatars, communicate online and offline with other people, play games, and receive training in new functionalities and tasks.


Research Project Aims to Simplify Large-Scale Network Control
Network World (10/05/10) Michael Cooney

Researchers at Google, Nicira Networks, and NEC presented a research project designed to simplify network control and management implementations at the recent USENIX Symposium. "In recent years, as new control requirements have arisen such as increased security and the migration of lots of virtual machines, the inadequacies of our current network control mechanisms have become especially problematic," the researchers write. They created a distributed management system called Onix to address some of these issues. The system runs on the Onix Network Information Base, which contains all the elements of a particular networked environment. "In order to scale to very large networks and to provide the requisite resilience for production deployments, an Onix instance is also responsible for disseminating network state to other instances within the cluster," according to the researchers. They also developed a network management application to enforce network security policies. The Onix system includes a distributed virtual switch that provides a logical switch abstraction over which policies are declared over the logical switch ports.


W3C: Hold Off on Deploying HTML5 in Websites
InfoWorld (10/06/10) Paul Krill

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) says that HTML5, which has gained the support of Microsoft, Apple, and Google, is still not ready for deployment to Web sites. "The problem we're facing right now is there is already a lot of excitement for HTML5, but it's a little too early to deploy it because we're running into interoperability issues," including differences between video on devices, says W3C's Philippe Le Hegaret. Companies can now deploy HTML5 in their applications or in intranets, where a rendering engine can be controlled, but it is not feasible on the open Web right now, Le Hegaret says. When finished, HTML5 will support a variety of modern Web applications, and Le Hegaret notes it is now being viewed as a "game changer." "What's happening is the industry is realizing that HTML5 is going to be real," he says. However, Le Hegaret says W3C still plans to make some API changes, and notes that HTML5 also does not yet work across all browsers. "We basically want to be feature-complete by mid-2011," he says.


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