Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 12, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Supercomputing Fest Will Spotlight World's Fastest Computers, High-Performance Issues
Network World (11/11/10) Jon Brodkin

SC10, the annual supercomputing conference, will highlight high-performance computing (HPC) advances in computation, networking, storage, and analysis. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen will lead a discussion focused on the challenges that the HPC industry faces "as it seeks new paradigms to frame its emerging enabling technologies for continued performance growth." Researchers from the University of California, San Diego will present a paper that studies the effects of flash memory and the role that other nonvolatile storage types play in supercomputing. The paper says that nonvolatile solid-state storage promises to address slow performance issues and facilitate "faster, cheaper, and more agile" high-performance systems. Meanwhile, researchers from NASA, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of Southern California will present a joint paper that examines data-sharing options for data workflows on the Amazon EC2 cloud computing service. The paper says that "one of the advantages of cloud computing and virtualization is that the user has control over what software is deployed, and how it is configured. However, this flexibility also imposes a burden on the user to determine what system software is appropriate for their application."

Watchdog Planned for Online Privacy
Wall Street Journal (11/11/10) Julia Angwin

The Obama administration is seeking new Internet privacy safeguards and a policy office to supervise the effort, according to sources. The U.S. Commerce Department is expected to issue recommendations for this strategy, and the White House has organized a taskforce to help realize the recommendations as policy. Sources say the growing prominence of personal information in the online economy has spurred the government to action. The core issue in crafting federal privacy legislation is whether the Internet industry's own regulatory initiatives are sufficiently effective. Commerce assistant secretary Lawrence E. Strickling says the department's draft report does not constitute a final position statement, but is the start of a dialogue that would lead to an official administration information privacy policy. However, Republican congressional aides say the Republicans in charge of the House are unlikely to back any legislation to broaden the enforcement authority of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), while privacy proponents will be hesitant to support a bill that lacks enforcement and is viewed as ineffective. An FTC report on Internet privacy expected to be issued by year's end and is expected to urge industry development of a do-not-track tool that consumers could use to remove themselves from online surveillance by various parties.

Algorithm Pioneer Wins Kyoto Prize
EE Times (11/12/10) R. Colin Johnson

Eotvos Lorand University professor Laszlo Lovasz, who has solved several information technology (IT) problems using graph theory, has been awarded the Kyoto Prize. "Graph theory represents a different approach to optimization problems that uses geometry to compute results instead of differential equations," says Lovasz. "It turns out that very large networks in many different fields can be described by graphs, from cryptography to physical systems." His work has led to breakthroughs in RSA encryption technology, 4G channel capacity, extending the point-to-point IT of Claude Shannon, and the weak perfect graph conjecture. Lovasz may be best known for the breakthrough principles called the "Lovasz local lemma" and the "LLL-algorithm," which are widely used in cryptography, and for the multiple-input and multiple-output wireless communications scheme. The Kyoto Prize was founded by Kyocera chairman Kazuo Inamori in 1984 and comes with a $550,000 award.

IBM, 15 European Partners to Develop 'Smart' Cloud
Computerworld (11/12/10) Lucas Mearian

IBM is leading VISION Cloud--Virtualized Storage Services for the Future Internet, a joint research effort with 15 European partners to develop an object-based standardized smart cloud storage architecture. The project's goal is to improve the delivery of rich data and storage services to a variety of international vendors. The initiative will address the major issues facing storage clouds, including cost effectiveness, data mobility across cloud providers, security guarantees, and the computing demands that affect quality of service. "With VISION Cloud, our aim is develop the infrastructure to support this prominence of data and data-intensive services," says IBM's Hillil Kolodner. IBM says VISION Cloud will enable future providers of storage services to offer a digital safe service, where users could store information securely in the cloud. IBM's research partners include several technology, software, and service providers, as well as the Storage Networking Industry Association of Europe, the National Technical University of Athens, Umea University, the Swedish Institute of Computer Science, and the University of Messina.

In the STEM Fields, How Hispanic Students Pay for Their Education Affects Success
Chronicle of Higher Education (11/09/10) Elyse Ashburn

A recent Center for Urban Education report recommends changes that could lead to more Hispanic students pursuing and receiving degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The report argues that Hispanic achievement gaps at the baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral levels exist in large part due to finances. Hispanic students, who are more likely to come from low-income families than their peers, disproportionately start their college careers at low-cost community colleges or Hispanic-serving four-year colleges. The report recommends that colleges, particularly those with large Hispanic populations, work harder to inform students of their full range of financial-aid options. The report notes that four-year and community colleges that receive a federal designation based on Hispanic students comprising at least 25 percent of their undergraduate student body are eligible to compete for grants from a $100 million annual pool to improve STEM students' experiences. The report says the grants could be used to increase support for junior- and senior-year STEM research experiences as well as support programs that provide opportunities for faculty to work professionals in the private sector.

European Cyber Defenses 'Must Improve,' Tests Show
BBC News (11/10/10)

European Union (EU) member states need to do more to prepare for cyberattacks, concludes a report of Cyber Europe 2010, a simulation of how EU countries would react to a sustained attack on their networks. The simulation examined how countries would respond if international network connections failed to work, leaving citizens, businesses, and the public sector unable to access online services. The test aimed to give member states a better understanding of how to handle cyberattacks and to establish future best practices. "Member states need to do more with their national security exercises," says the European Network Security Agency's Ulf Bergstrom. "Countries need proper policies about what to do if channels break down, how communications will function, and what the roles and responsibilities are." The report also says that future tests should include the private sector. "The networks are largely owned by the private sector and they should be involved," Bergstrom says. "All systems are interconnected and cross national boundaries."

Web Developers Tackle Advanced Font Controls
CNet (11/10/10) Stephen Shankland

The Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) Web formatting standard is benefiting from new font technology, which is enabling developers to increasingly use it for advanced digital publishing applications. The standard's support for the Web Open Font Format and the @font-face technology is allowing Web developers to specify downloadable fonts and use online font repositories such as TypeKit for a more polished look. Meanwhile, Mozilla has begun working on CSS features that will permit higher-end font controls, says Mozilla developer John Daggett. He says some of the new features include support for specifying the use of small caps and typeset fraction characters, ligatures, monospaced numbers, and kearning. Daggett also says Mozilla is working to build better support for bidirectional and vertical text into CSS, which accommodates languages with characters written top to bottom or right to left. In addition, Adobe is developing new Web publishing tools, such as a standard for adaptive layouts that allows text to flow around objects such as photos or pull-out quotations.

Part Moth, Part Machine: Cyborgs Are on the Move
New Scientist (11/08/10) Duncan Graham-Rowe

Researchers are developing methods to produce complex behavior from robots by tapping into the nervous system of living organisms and using algorithms that already exist in nature. For example, Tokyo Institute of Technology researchers have developed a cyborg moth that uses chemical plume tracking to locate the source of certain pheromones. The researchers immobilized a moth on a small wheeled robot and placed two recording electrodes into nerves running down its neck to monitor commands the moth uses to steer. By rerouting these signals to motors in the robot, the researchers found that they could emulate the moth's plume-tracking behavior. Researchers also hope to recreate biological circuits in silicon, says Northwestern University's Ferdinando Mussa-Ivaldi. Scientists have made progress toward this goal with central pattern generators (CPGs), which are a type of behavioral circuit in the human brain and spine that carry out routine tasks with little or no conscious input, such as walking or grasping an object. Johns Hopkins University's Ralph Etienne-Cummings has used recordings of CPGs taken from a lamprey to generate walking motions in a pair of robotic legs.
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A Northeastern Undergraduate Turns Timekeeping Into Music
Northeastern University News (11/09/10)

A wristwatch that translates the wearer's movements into music has been developed by Northeastern University's Robby Grodin and software developer Lindsey Mysse. The free application, dubbed the Toscanini Gestural Interface, uses the music programming language Max/MSP. Accelerometers in a watch communicate the movements to a computer using Musical Instrument Digital Interface data signals, and Toscanini translates the signals into music that plays on a computer. Currently, users have to determine what motions create which notes as they go along, but Grodin sees the creation as a gateway into the niche industry of music software development, and hopes to develop it further. Grodin and Mysse say a chip could be used on the end of violin bow or a pianist's hand, or integrated into performance art or even the motions people make while driving a car.

The Ethical Robot
University of Connecticut (11/08/10) Christine Buckley; Bret Eckhardt

University of Connecticut professor Susan Anderson and University of Hartford computer scientist Michael Anderson have programmed a robot to behave ethically. Their work is part of a relatively new field of research known as machine ethics. "There are machines out there that are already doing things that have ethical import, such as automatic cash withdrawal machines, and many others in the development stages, such as cars that can drive themselves and eldercare robots," says Susan Anderson. Machine ethics combines artificial intelligence with ethical theory to determine how to program machines to behave ethically. The robot, called Nao, is programmed with an ethical principle that determines how often to remind people to take their medicine and when to notify a doctor when they do not comply. "We should think about the things that robots could do for us if they had ethics inside them," says Michael Anderson. Interacting with robots that have been programmed to behave ethically could inspire humans to behave more ethically, says Susan Anderson.

Electronic Voting Machines Continue to Cause Problems for Election Day
Government Technology (11/08/10) Sarah Rich

There were myriad electronic voting machine glitches and confusion about emergency backup procedures during the U.S.'s recent election day. For example, Republican voters in North Carolina said they tried to choose the Republican candidate, but the direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines selected the Democratic choice, while malfunctioning machines in Utah were said to be the result of a programming error with voter cards. Verified Voting president Pam Smith says many of the glitches stemmed from calibration problems, which some poll workers may not know how to fix. Also, recalibration takes time, she says. Votes moving silently from one candidate to another is scary, says Verified Voting founder David L. Dill. "And as a computer scientist, I know it's completely possible--either by accident or because of tampering with the machines," he says. For the next election, Smith says more jurisdictions will have optical scanning voting systems, which allow for handwritten candidate selections and recounting of votes if the system fails.

Quantum Memory for Communication Networks of the Future
University of Copenhagen (11/07/10) Gertie Skaarup

Researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen have used two entangled light beams to store quantum information. Professor Eugene Polzik's team conducted the research by setting up a labyrinth of mirrors and optical elements on a large table and sending the light on a more than 10-meter-long journey. The team used the optical elements to control the light and regulate the size and intensity to get the right wavelength and polarization, and created the two entangled light beams by sending a blue light beam through a crystal, where it was split into two red light beams. The red light beams are entangled and have a common quantum state, which is information. For the experiment, the two light beams were sent through the mirrors and optical elements and into two quantum memories, which are two glass containers filled with a gas of cesium atoms. The atoms' quantum state contains information in the form of a spin, which can be either up or down, and when the light beams pass through the atoms, the quantum state is transferred from the two light beams to the two memories, storing the information as the new quantum state in the atoms.

Energy Harvesting: Nanogenerators Grow Strong Enough to Power Small Conventional Electronic Devices
Georgia Tech Research News (11/08/10) John Toon

Georgia Tech researcher Zhong Lin Wang led a five-year effort to power electronic devices with nanoscale generators that harvest mechanical energy from the environment using nanowires. The mechanical energy could come from compressing a nanogenerator between two fingers, a heartbeat, the pounding of a hiker's shoe, the rustling of a shirt, or the vibration of a heavy machine. The nanogenerator uses the piezoelectric effect to produce as much as three volts of electricity. "By simplifying our design, making it more robust, and integrating the contributions from many more nanowires, we have successfully boosted the output of our nanogenerator enough to drive devices such as commercial liquid-crystal displays, light-emitting diodes, and laser diodes," Wang says. The new design is close to producing enough current for a self-powered system. The researchers also developed a technique for fabricating piezoelectric nanowires from lead zirconate titanate (PZT). "This allows us the flexibility of choosing the best material and process for the given need, although the performance of PZT is not as good as zinc oxide for power generation," Wang says.

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