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Welcome to the March 30, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Tech Sector Hiring Is Hot Again as Google, Twitter, Etc., Grow
USA Today (03/30/11) Jon Swartz

Technology companies are in the midst of a hiring frenzy that has not been seen since the Internet bubble 10 years ago. Large corporations and startups are recruiting computer engineers, social media experts, data analysts, Web site and product designers, and managers, offering perks such as iPads, shuttle service, and meals. The surge in tech hires could be an indicator of things to come for the U.S. economy as a whole, says Monster.com's Jesse Harriott. Nationally, 148,000 technology jobs are expected to be added by the end of 2011, says Moody's Analytics economist Sophia Koropeckyj. California added nearly 100,000 jobs in February, reducing the state's jobless rate from 12.4 percent to 12.2 percent, according to a recent California Economic Development Department report. Across the United States, tech job listings rose about 30 percent in March and February, according to Craigslist. "It is an incredibly competitive marketplace for (tech) talent," says Square's Keith Rabois.


Kaashoek Wins ACM's Prize for Young Researchers
MIT News (03/29/11) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Frans Kaashoek has won the 2010 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in Computing Sciences, which honors a young scientist who has contributed to an innovation "that exemplifies the greatest recent achievements in the computing field." The award, which comes with a $150,000 prize provided by the Infosys Foundation, highlighted three main areas of Kaashoek's work. Kaashoek, who also is the associate director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, helped develop Exokernel, a new operating system design that enables developers to specify how the hardware should execute their code. Kaashoek also worked on distributed hash tags, which allow decentralized information systems to store and retrieve data much more efficiently. In addition, Kaashoek played a major role in developing software systems for handling sensitive information.


Multicore Coding Standards Aim to Ease Programming
IDG News Service (03/29/11) Agam Shah

The Multicore Association has established specifications for a programming model designed to make it easier to write software for multicore chips, particularly for those used in smartphones, tablets, and embedded systems. The association is developing a set of foundation application programming interfaces (APIs) to standardize communication, resource sharing, and virtualization. The association has completed the multicore communication API (MCAPI) and the multicore resource API (MRAPI), and is working to develop more tools and APIs involving virtualization. "The primary goal for all parties is to establish portability," says Multicore Association president Markus Levy. He says that a consistent programming model will make it easier to reuse applications on different platforms. "By using MCAPI, the embedded applications code does not need to be aware of the inter-core communications method," says Mentor Graphics' Colin Walls. MCAPI allows programmers to enable applications for multicore once and reuse that code on multiple products in a product line and for next-generation devices, says PolyCore Software CEO Sven Brehmer. MCAPI will be used in telecom and data communications infrastructures, in addition to medical devices, high-performance computing, and military and aeronautics equipment, Brehmer says.


Virtual War a Real Threat
Los Angeles Times (03/28/11) Ken Dilanian

Security vulnerabilities uncovered in a study of the computer networks of a Southern California water system are symptomatic of U.S. critical infrastructure in general. Although analysts say terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda currently lack the ability to launch infrastructure-disrupting cyberattacks, they warn that potential foes include organized crime and hacker groups that could sell their services to terrorists or rogue states. Impeding the move toward bolstering U.S. infrastructure is the government's lack of authority to coerce industry to secure its networks and industry's lack of an incentive to implement such protections. In 2008, U.S. military officials learned that classified networks at the U.S. Central Command had been infiltrated by a foreign intelligence service using malware that proliferated through thumb drives. The intrusion led to the establishment of the U.S. Cyber Command, which was tasked with preventing such breaches as well as mounting offensive cyberoperations. However, the threat of massive retaliation against a cyberattack is an ineffective deterrent, given the enormous difficulty of tracing perpetrators. James Lewis with the Center for Strategic and International Studies believes the government needs to mandate cybersecurity standards for critical infrastructure, and some experts argue that major U.S. Internet service providers should be required to monitor patterns in Internet traffic and halt malware as it transits their servers.


Crisis Mapping Meets Check-In
Technology Review (03/28/11) David Talbot

Human rights workers and others have been able to document and extract sense from rapidly developing crises with the help of the Ushahidi Web-based platform, which enables reports from cell phones and Web-linked devices to be collected and displayed on online maps. The platform's efficiency and usefulness in politically charged situations could be upgraded through a new open source check-in feature, which could, for example, permit groups such as aid workers or election monitors to keep track of one another, observe their progress in deploying resources, or enter notes that can be formalized later, without publicizing the information. Such tracking is enabled with a global positioning system-outfitted phone to allow a fast log-in to record location, which is simpler and quicker than a typical Ushahidi crisis report. "Adding check-in to this equation allows me to pull my data apart from the whole," says Harvard University researcher Ethan Zuckerman. "That makes maps usable for multiple purposes--group reporting as well as tracking of my own movements." The check-in option follows initiatives by Ushahidi to simplify deployments by basing it from a remote data center. Users were previously required to download the crisis mapping software prior to launching a new reporting effort, but late last year the group moved to a cloud service so that users could simply set up a Web address and move ahead.


Online 3D Insect Sleuth Tells Friend From Foe
New Scientist (03/29/11) Wendy Zukerman

A new online system could make it easier for Australia to identify invasive fire ants. Accidentally imported into northern Australia two decades ago, fire ants have spread across the country, but exterminating them is problematic because they can be mistaken for native species such as green tree ants and meat ants. "These tiny ants look so similar," says NICTA Queensland Research Laboratory's Xiaozheng Zhang. Zhang and colleagues are working on a system that will model insects in three dimensions. "With [three-dimensional (3D)] insect models, one can rotate and even cast different lights onto the body to have a better comparison," Zhang says. The models will be created with an algorithm that combines several two-dimensional photographs, along with textual information defining coloring and the possible length and size of the creature's body parts. The 3D identification system will enable people in the field to upload a photograph of an insect, and the software will compare it to models in its database and estimate whether the insect is likely native or alien. A prototype for identifying longhorn beetles will be completed this year, but modeling of the fire ant is expected to begin in 2012.


U.S. Develops 'Panic Button' for Democracy Activists
Reuters (03/25/11) Andrew Quinn

The U.S. State Department is funding new technologies designed to help pro-democracy activists combat repressive regimes. One such technology is a panic button application that activists will be able to trigger when their cell phones are seized by police, sending alerts to other activists and erasing the handset's address book. The effort is part of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's push to expand Internet liberties. Since 2008 the United States has allocated about $50 million to promote new technologies for social activists, concentrating on both circumvention technology to help them bypass government-imposed firewalls and on new tactics to shield their own communications and data from government intrusion. "We are looking for the most innovative people who are going to tailor their technology and their expertise to the particular community of people we're trying to protect," says the State Department's Michael Posner. He says the United States has helped underwrite development of about 12 new circumvention technologies now being deployed, and that more would follow as activists play an increasingly intricate cat-and-mouse game with censors. Posner acknowledges that making secure online tools helpful for underground pro-democracy activists also might prove useful for terrorist cells and other criminal organizations. "The goal here is to protect people who are, in a peaceful manner, working for human rights, and working to have a more open debate," he says.


Researchers in Taiwan to Use Volunteer Computing to Visualize Earthquakes
AlphaGalileo (03/28/11)

Researchers in Taiwan have set up Shakemovie@home in an attempt to reduce the amount of time it takes to create animations that simulate the motion of earthquakes. Shake movies take several hours to create because intensive calculations need to be performed on the models of earthquakes as well as the earth's structure. However, with Shakemovie@home, researchers at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Academia Sinica will only use the computers of volunteers to retrieve essential functions that depend on the earth's model. Researchers will compute, save, and store these elements, called Green's functions, in advance, and retrieve them as they are needed. The retrieval process will be farmed out to volunteer computers. Researchers will be able to make a new shake movie in just minutes because they will not have to calculate Green's functions every time. "By distributing this task to volunteers, to computers at home, we can get a better and faster way of making shake movies," says Academia Sinica professor Li Zhao. "Now we have shake movies in a few hours, but with volunteer computing we could have it in minutes."


Researchers Make MEMS-Over-CNT Memory
EE Times (03/28/11) Peter Clarke

A radio frequency-capable metallic micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) cantilever beam combined with a carbon nanotube transistor could serve as a nonvolatile memory. Researchers from Edinburgh, Konkuk, and Seoul universities have developed a device that offers power consumption superior to that of conventional flash memories. Low operational speed and short memory retention times have hindered previous efforts to use carbon nanotube transistors for memory storage, but the latest project offers improvements by using a mechanical arm to charge the floating gate electrode. "This is a novel approach to designing memory storage devices," says Edinburgh professor Eleanor Campbell. "Using a mechanical method combined with the benefits of nanotechnology enables a system with superior energy efficiency compared with existing devices." Data retention is good to 4,000 seconds and cycling endurance of 500 cycles was demonstrated, but the known switching endurance of MEMS switches is superior to flash memory. The memory could be used for multiple bit storage and its operational speed is only limited by the speed of the cantilever switch, which also is much faster than flash memory.


In a New Web World, No Application Is an Island
New York Times (03/26/11) Steve Lohr

The Web is being threatened with fragmentation as investment, innovation, and energy have been mainly focused on shopping, gaming, and news applications for smartphones and tablet computers. The Web's salvation may reside with HTML5, a suite of technologies that is starting to penetrate mainstream computing. HTML5 represents the "next big step in the progress of the Web," says World Wide Web Consortium CEO Jeffrey Jaffe. Computer scientists say the technology will make it possible to craft browser-accessible Web apps that have the same level of visual richness and energy as native applications designed to run on a specific device. The technology could generate new market opportunities for digital media and mobile apps, and Flipboard CEO Mike McCue sees publishers increasingly migrating to HTML5. The technology could theoretically help publishers counter Apple's paid media content juggernaut. Most publishers are so far planning to use HTML5 to simplify digital development and reduce costs, and they say the technology would ideally be the primary tool used for all mobile programs.


Cloud Computing, Data Policy on Track to 'Democratize' Satellite Mapping
South Dakota State University (03/24/11)

New U.S. Geological Survey data policies and advances in cloud computing are leading to the democratization of satellite mapping, which could lead to wider access to information about the earth through platforms such as the Google Earth Engine. "This is an incredible advantage in terms of generating the value-added products that we create for quantifying deforestation, natural hazards, cropland area, urbanization, you name it," says South Dakota State University (SDSU) professor Matt Hansen. He says free satellite images, coupled with the cloud computing capability offered by Google and similar organizations, is making it possible for ordinary users to analyze satellite imagery without costly hardware. Hansen and SDSU postdoctoral researcher Peter Potapov collaborated with Google to help process more than 50,000 images in order to generate a detailed map of Mexico to demonstrate the technology's potential. Enhanced publicly available processing tools will democratize satellite data processing as more people become engaged in working with the data. However, Hansen notes that this will entail greater collaboration between academics, government scientists, and private industry in processing and characterizing the satellite data sets.


Researchers Devise New Method of Detecting Botnets
Texas A&M Engineering News (03/24/11) Deana Totzke

A new method for detecting botnets has been developed by researchers at Texas A&M University. The technique, which is capable of detecting robot networks that use Domain Name System (DNS) domain-fluxing for their command and control infrastructure, examines the pattern and distribution of alphabetic characters in a domain name to determine whether it is malicious or legitimate, and allows for spotting botnets' algorithmically generated domain names. "Our method analyzes only DNS traffic and hence is easily scalable to large networks," says Texas A&M professor Narasimha Reddy. "It can detect previously unknown botnets by analyzing a small fraction of the network traffic." The technique also can be used to detect botnets using both Internet Protocol fast-flux and domain fast-flux. The team has detected two new botnets with the method--one that generates 57 character long random names and another that generates names using concatenation of two dictionary words. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team is building a tool based on the method, and will make it widely available for public use. Reddy says the tool will be useful because it will be fast and simple.


iMobot Rolls, Crawls and Creeps
UC Davis News & Information (03/24/11) Andy Fell

University of California, Davis researchers have developed iMobot, an intelligent, reconfigurable modular robot that could be used in industrial applications and for search-and-rescue operations in rocky terrain. The robot has four controllable degrees of freedom, with two joints in the middle and two wheels. An iMobot can drive on its wheels, crawl like an inchworm, or raise one end of its body and pan around like a camera on a tripod. The researchers say that individual modules could be put together into larger robots for specific functions, such as a snake-like machine that could penetrate confined spaces, or a wheeled robot for smoother ground. "We feel this hardware platform could drastically speed up university and industry research in the field of robotics," says Davis researcher Graham Ryland. The robot also could be used as a testbed tool for engineers studying control systems for individual robots or groups of robots, says Davis professor Harry Cheng.


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