Welcome to the December 20, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
UN Mulls Internet Regulation Options
iTnews Australia (12/17/10) John Hilvert
Several countries, including Brazil, China, and India, are expressing their support for a proposal currently being considered by United Nations to create an intergovernmental working group that would integrate efforts by policymakers around the world to regulate the Internet. Such a group would consist of representatives of governments who would work to create worldwide standards for regulating the Internet, though it would not take over the Internet. However, the proposal was met with concern from representatives from the United States, Canada, Britain, and several other countries, as well as business and community representatives. Those who expressed concern about the plan said they thought it would be risky to create yet another working group that could end up being isolated from the industry, community users, and the public. Such an isolated group could send the signal to civil society that their contributions are not needed when it comes to regulating the Internet, an Australian representative said. The debate over whether or not to create an intergovernmental working group that would regulate the Internet comes in the wake of a UN resolution in July that calls on the UN Secretary-General to hold talks with member states and other stakeholders about working together to help governments perform their responsibilities with regard to international public policy issues related to the Internet.
Computers Help Social Animals to See Beyond Their Tribes
New York Times (12/19/10) Noam Cohen
IBM's Center for Social Software is employing increasingly sophisticated computers to function as information advisers for users of social media. "I do think of computers as augmenting people, not replacing them," says center director Irene Greif. "We need help with the limits of the brain." The lab's scientists produce programs that spot patterns in the information flood, making it easier to choose which data or people are worth a user's full attention. For example, the researchers created the Many Bills Web site, which summarizes and displays congressional bills as they go through the legislative process via textual analysis, highlighting certain material of interest. Another tool designed for IBM employees, SaNDVis, can help search for expertise by displaying a web of relationships surrounding a search term to show who within IBM is an expert on a certain subject, mapping these links using writings, meetings attended, personal profile information, and previous work experience. IBM also performs data mining on its own workforce, with access to the full spectrum of internal social networking tools connected to an employee ID number. For business purposes, IBM is trying to escape the standard mode of social network use for navigating the data flood, which is interaction with like-minded friends that reinforces bias.
Open Source Parallel Filesystem Group Launched in Europe
HPC Wire (12/16/10)
The European Open Filesystem (OSF) was recently initiated at the ParTec Cluster Competence Center GmbH, with the Societas Cooperativa Eurpaea (SCE) acting as the legal form. The OSF SCE initiative was launched to establish an open source parallel file system to ensure that European organizations' specific needs are considered. "Having an open source file system is a necessity for high-end supercomputers producing massive amounts of data," says CEA/DAM's Jean Gonnord. The not-for-profit organization also wants to facilitate the growth of business operations to non-members and ensure that intellectual property rights are not violated by inter-organizational engagements. This is the first time that a European-wide consortium is engaged in the open source development of high-speed file systems, says Julich Supercomputer Center's Thomas Lippert. "I believe this cooperative provides a crucial platform for the development of a European-centric exascale file system whilst maintaining an important bridge to similar development efforts in the United States," says ParTec's Hugo R. Falter.
Social Media for Social Change: Stanford Professor Uses Facebook, Twitter and Personal Stories to Promote Bone Marrow Donations
Stanford Report (CA) (12/16/10) Adam Gorlick
Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker is leading One Hundred Thousand Cheeks, a campaign to encourage a sweeping search for bone marrow donors through social media. The campaign correlates with Aaker's belief that social media can be used as a vehicle for augmenting altruism and facilitating positive social change. The goal is to use social media to concentrate attention on a cause, such as finding potential marrow donors for leukemia patients, and spurring large numbers of people to participate. "When you learn about something from your friends or people you trust through email or Facebook, it's much more persuasive than a message coming from a corporation or someone you don't know," Aaker says. "When a request comes from an area of deep personal meaning by someone you trust, you are more likely to take action." One Thousand Cheeks' aim is to get 100,000 people signed up with a national bone marrow registry through cheek swab drives. "Our hope is to harness research on social persuasion, happiness, and emotional contagion to create infectious action," Aaker says.
University Gives Java Parallelism a Boost
InfoWorld (12/17/10) Paul Krill
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) computer scientists recently released DPJizer, an interactive tool designed to simplify the writing process in Deterministic Parallel Java (DPJ), a Java-based type-and-effect system developed by the university earlier this year. The developers say the DPJizer Eclipse plug-in is the first interactive, practical type-and-effect inference tool for a modern object-oriented system. DPJizer can save time by automatically analyzing a whole program with DPJ annotations. "DPJizer increases the productivity of programmers in writing safe and deterministic-by-default parallel programs for multi-core systems," says UIUC's Mohsen Vakilian. The goal of the DPJ project is to provide deterministic-by-default semantics for an object-oriented, imperative parallel language using mostly compile-time checking. The system also features a compiler, runtime, and other components of open source software.
Road to a Safer Future
EUREKA is sponsoring a collaborative research effort called E! 4160 VICATS, which is developing a traffic surveillance system that needs minimal human intervention. The researchers say the software system could lead to a new type of road traffic monitoring. The project is led by University of Novi Sad's Vladimir Crnojevic, with collaborative efforts from researchers at University College Ghent, Fitis-JU, and Traficon. The VICATS software produces intelligent and reliable traffic readings based on the trajectories of moving vehicles. The completely autonomous system collects information 24 hours a day and can automatically anticipate potential hazards and traffic jams. "The system can operate successfully in all weather conditions and is capable of deducing a wealth of high-level knowledge," says Crnojevic. The software could be optimized and linked to current traffic monitoring systems using open architecture. The system also works well in difficult lighting conditions, such as in tunnels, as well as on bridges and at crossroads. "Our software can be considered an upgrade to the surveillance system previously offered by our industrial partner," Crnojevic says.
Machine Infers Person's Interests From His Eye-Movement
Aalto University (12/16/10)
Researchers at Aalto University have developed technology that retrieves information from data glasses about people and objects the viewer is looking at. The system makes use of an eye tracker and machine-learning methods to enable it to infer from the context and gaze direction what the viewer may be interested in. The technology can display additional information on the viewer's data glasses and infers when to display additional information by following eye movements. The machine retrieves information from a database developed by the researchers, but it also can be set to display information from the Internet and social media. However, such searches can only be made by looking through the data glasses. Also, the system can only recognize people whose images have been entered into the database. "Our basic research on machine-learning methods has made it possible to create new advanced user interfaces in which the machine infers without direct human commands what the viewer is interested in," says Aalto professor Samuel Kaski.
Raising a Botnet in Captivity
Technology Review (12/17/10) Tom Simonite
An international team of computer scientists are using a high-powered computing cluster to build botnets with the goal of learning how to defend against real botnets used by cybercriminals. The researchers, led by Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal scientists, installed more than 3,000 copies of Windows XP onto a cluster of 98 servers connected in a network. Each system was infected with the Waledac worm, which sent out an estimated 1.5 billion spam messages per day in the beginning of 2010 but has since been eradicated. "We set up what we thought would be the closest to a botnet in the wild," says ESET researcher Pierre-Marc Bureau. Building a complete botnet in an experimental environment allows for much more freedom to conduct tests. The cluster was physically disconnected from the greater network, and all the programs were loaded onto it using DVDs instead of connecting to another computer. "We found our command-and-control server quickly overwhelmed by the load of the cryptography," Bureau says. The researchers also tested a Sybil attack, which adds fake bots to the network to influence its behavior, and proved the ability to stop the botnet from sending out spam altogether.
Jumping Beats Moonwalking--For a Virtual Robot
New Scientist (12/18/10) Duncan Graham-Rowe
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is using software simulation to research how bipedal robots could be used to explore the moon. Since gravity on the moon is one-sixth of that on Earth, lunar robots would have more time to regain their balance if they start to fall over. However, there are other difficulties that lunar robots must overcome, says JAXA's Atsuo Takanishi. Human astronauts have found that walking on the moon is more difficult than running, due to the low gravity, so the JAXA team developed simulation software for the WABIAN-2R, a bipedal running robot. The researchers speculate that jumping with two feet together, instead of leaping from foot to foot in a running motion, could be the most efficient way for lunar robots to get around. The robot can jump to a maximum height of 1.5 meters, but with insufficient stability on the landings. The simulation program found that leaping 0.8 meters improved the robot's stability, but reduced the maximum traveling speed. The researchers want to conduct more tests to find the optimal ratio of speed and stability.
Computer Memory Takes a Spin
University of Utah News (12/16/10) Lee J. Siegel
University of Utah scientists have demonstrated a method to store data in the nuclei of atoms. The researchers were able to retrieve and read the information electronically, which they say is a big step toward developing a new kind of memory for both conventional and quantum computers. However, there are still some obstacles to overcome, including the fact that the new system only works at 3.2 degrees Kelvin and it must be surrounded by strong magnetic fields that are about 20,000 more powerful than Earth's. "The length of spin memory we observed is more than adequate to create memories for computers," says Utah professor Christoph Boehme. However, he says the researchers "want to learn how to do it at higher temperatures, which are more practical for a device, and without these strong magnetic fields to align the spins." The method combines nuclear data storage with an electrical data output, which is a novel breakthrough, according to Boehme. The Utah researchers were able to store the information for 112 seconds, surpassing the old record of just two seconds for quantum data storage. The researchers were able to read the data stored as spin by reading the collective spins of a large number of nuclei and electrons.
For Software Developers, More Speed and Mobility
Northeastern University News (12/14/10) Greg St. Martin
Northeastern University researchers have developed a program that enables software developers to save their work and relaunch the project instantly from another computer. The software, called distributed multi-threaded checkpointing (DMTCP), allows developers working in the Linux operating system to save their work on a USB drive and take that drive to a different computer and instantly resume working. The researchers say DMTCP also could be adapted for use with Web browsers. "Wouldn't it be great if you could take Firefox, save your tabs, put it all on a USB key, carry it all to another computer, bring Firefox all up again, and see all the same tabs?" says Northeastern professor Gene Cooperman. DMTCP only saves the programs that are crucial for the current project, instead of the whole operating system, which leads to the quick saving and loading process. The software also emphasizes the technology industry's aggressive push to make programs readily available to users in every medium, Cooperman says.
JASON: Science of Cyber Security Needs More Work
Secrecy News (12/14/10) Steven Aftergood
The JASON independent scientific advisory panel has produced a report on cybersecurity for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) that says a fundamental understanding of the science of cybersecurity is needed to improve the country's security approaches. The advisory says the science of cybersecurity "seems underdeveloped in reporting experimental results, and consequently in the ability to use them." The report notes that the science of cybersecurity is unique in that the background for events is almost completely created by humans and is digital, and there are good actors as well as adversaries who are purposeful and intelligent. The JASON report also addresses the importance of definitions, the need for a standard vocabulary to discuss the subject, and the need to devise experimental protocols for developing a reproducible experimental science of cybersecurity. "At the most abstract level, studying the immune system suggests that cybersecurity solutions will need to be adaptive, incorporating learning algorithms and flexible memory mechanisms," the report says. It also says the DoD should support a network of cybersecurity research centers in universities and elsewhere.
Program Makes Gadget Control User-Friendly
Daily Targum (NJ) (12/13/10) Rashmee Kumar
Rutgers University professor Michael Littman and his student researchers are developing a method for people to program common devices using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Scratch programming language. "The project is about allowing people who have little or no programming experience to use basic programming available through a colorful and simple interface, [Scratch], to customize their home appliances," says principal graduate researcher Monica Babes. Scratch works by enabling users to click together blocks that represent the functions of an appliance. "Our goal is to show that this new way of controlling devices not only empowers the user with added functionality, but is also more intuitive and straightforward than what is currently available," says student researcher Jordan Ash. Scratch was originally designed to teach programming to children, but it has gained popularity with a large online community, says student researcher Gal Cohen. Due to its simplicity and rising popularity, Scratch was chosen as the program to control household appliances, Cohen says. The Rutgers team is researching how to program more appliances and support a network of programmable devices. "We strive to educate and introduce people to the concepts and world of computer science while at the same time making their lives easier by letting them use their appliances in a way they could never before," Cohen says.
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