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Welcome to the April 25, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


With Friends Like These
University of Cambridge (04/22/11)

University of Cambridge researchers have developed LikeAudience.com, a Web site that combines the information people share about themselves on Facebook with profile testing and psychological research data. The site enables any Facebook user to develop a profile of their average follower's personality, intelligence quotient, and satisfaction with life. "We think this will revolutionize marketing, because it introduces a completely new dimension by adding scientifically robust personality tests to other demographic information," says Cambridge's Michal Kosinski, who created LikeAudience with David Stillwell. LikeAudience profiles are based on personality and demographic data gathered from MyPersonality, a Facebook application created by Kosinski and Stillwell. MyPersonality assesses each individual according to five personality traits, and that information is combined with data collected from other Facebook apps as well as the participant's Facebook profile information. Using that data "we can accurately estimate the average personality type that constitutes a typical fan of a person, company, or thing," Kosinski says.


Security Lessons Still Lacking for Computer Science Grads
InfoWorld (04/22/11) Robert Lemos

The number of software development and engineering jobs has grown significantly over the last five years, with social media software engineers, mobile applications engineers, and cloud infrastructure experts in the highest demand, according to Indeed.com. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job market for software engineers to grow by a third over the next seven years. However, top computer science programs do not require students to learn the fundamentals of secure programming, which could hurt application security in the future, says Mykonos Software CEO David Koretz. He recently started working with the Rochester Institute of Technology to improve the security readiness of computer science graduates. Other companies, including Microsoft and Solera Networks, also have launched efforts to boost security training and reduce the number of vulnerabilities found in applications. Recent breaches of major online service providers, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have highlighted the need for more secure programming. "To me, not only is it not surprising [that we are seeing these incidents], it seems exactly what we set ourselves up for," Koretz says.


Artificial Intelligence a Long Way Off From Skynet: Expert
CBC News (Canada) (04/21/11)

University of Toronto professor Geoffrey Hinton says that although artificial intelligence (AI) technology has made great strides in recent years, it is still a long way from becoming self-aware. Hinton says that although machines cannot yet function effectively on their own in the real world, ever-improving robotics and computer-vision technologies will lead to real world-ready machines in the next 10 to 50 years. AI machines already have conquered certain domains, such as playing chess and Jeopardy!, but they are still much worse than humans at perception, motor control, understanding natural language, learning, and common sense reasoning, according to Hinton. Understanding how the human brain learns and computes information will be the key to developing computer systems that can outperform humans in a wide variety of tasks, he says.


Designs With a Deeper Purpose
Technology Review (04/21/11) Jessica Mintz

Microsoft software design specialist Bill Buxton wants developers to focus on innovations that can improve humans' quality of life. "I think he's been probably one of the most influential people in the field of human-computer interaction, period," says Stanford University professor Scott Klemmer. Buxton's research on graspable interfaces inspired Klemmer's graduate work, and now his students are drawing on Buxton's research demonstrating that users will give more critical feedback when they are shown more than one design. Klemmer and his students are using that research to build better software tools based on the psychological and social understanding of design. Some of Buxton's most recent Microsoft projects are the newest generation of Windows smartphone software, Kinect technology, and Microsoft Surface. "Microsoft, along with any other company that wants to survive in this world, has to start saying the technology of the human--the technology of culture, if you want to use that bizarre terminology--is as important as the technology of silicon," Buxton says.


Covert Hard Drive Fragmentation Embeds a Spy's Secrets
New Scientist (04/21/11) Paul Marks

University of Southern California researcher Hassan Khan, in collaboration with researchers from the National University of Science and Technology have developed a way to hide data on a hard drive that involves manipulating the location of data fragments. The method makes it possible to encode a 20 MB message on a 160 GB portable hard drive. The steganography-based technique utilizes the way hard drives store data in clusters. The researchers' software organizes the clusters according to a code, which the receiver needs in order to unscramble the message. The code depends on whether sequential clusters in a file are situated adjacent to each other on the hard disk or not. "An investigator can't tell the cluster fragmentation pattern is intentional--it looks like what you'd get after addition and deletion of files over time," Khan says. In testing, the system works as long as none of the files on the hard disk are modified before the files are recovered. "The real strength of this technique is that even a completely full drive can still have secret data added to it--simply by rearranging the clusters," Khan says.


Innovator: Bruce Thomas's Projection Technology
Bloomberg Businessweek (04/21/11) Ashlee Vance

University of South Australia professor Bruce Thomas and Intel researchers are using the school's Wearable Computer Lab to develop a system that can project and bend text, images, and videos onto objects. Thomas' software creates a three-dimensional model of an object and analyzes its shape to determine where the projection will fit in. He says the software could be used in manufacturing controls systems, highlighting which button a worker needs to press. Intel is investigating the technology for use in its chip manufacturing plants to help remind workers how to perform complex, hazardous tasks. The defense industry has shown interest in using the technology to test the design of new machines before putting them into combat. "We want to ... let people see and touch a design before they have to commit to some of those more expensive, permanent decisions," Thomas says.


First White Spaces Access Point Gives Grandma the Internet
Network World (04/19/11) John Cox

Rice University researchers have developed a prototype wireless access point using low frequency signals in the so-called white spaces between unused UHF digital TV signals. The lower frequencies can reach further and more easily penetrate buildings than standard Wi-Fi signals. The U.S. National Science Foundation, which funded the Rice research, wants to develop white spaces radio capability as part of an open source project to bring affordable wireless broadband to under-serviced areas, says Rice professor Edward Knightly. The access point can automatically shift from conventional Wi-Fi to the white spaces in unused UHF TV signals to create the best connection. Meanwhile, the IEEE PP802.11 Task Group AF has begun modifying the Wi-Fi 802.11 standard's physical and media access control layers to meet the legal requirements for operating in the white spaces spectrum.


Cyber-Security System Mimics Human Immune Response
Discovery News (04/21/11) Eric Niiler

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Bruce McConnell recently released a white paper that describes a healthy ecosystem of computers that work together to fight cyberthreats. McConnell says the first step to developing the ecosystem is creating a computer system that can automatically recognize and react to threats. However, a major obstacle to such a system is developing computers that can authenticate interactions, says Science Applications International Corp.'s Ross Hartman. He says researchers currently are studying new models of nature-inspired defenses as a way to protect computers from new threats. Hartman says that McConnell's paper, "Enabling Distributed Security in Cyberspace: Building a Healthy and Resilient Cyber Ecosystem with Automated Collective Action," is a positive response to rising threats and will lead to new innovations from cybersecurity experts.


Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University Partner to Promote Student Success
University of Texas at Austin (04/20/11) Robert D. Meckel

The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and Harvard University have entered into a partnership to help improve teaching and learning through educational innovation and technology. The institutions will lead the implementation and dissemination of cutting-edge, evidence-based, interactive strategies of instruction that leverage educational technology to improve student learning and success. The project will use UT's Course Transformation Program, an effort to advance pedagogical innovation, effective teaching, and student success. "Universities around the country are increasingly aware that the Internet has significantly changed the way our students learn," says program director Gretchen Ritter. Innovative, technology-enhanced approaches to teaching and learning "will help us better connect to all of our students, better support their academic and professional development, and better prepare them for tomorrow's workplace," says Texas provost Steven W. Leslie.


'3-D Towers' of Information Double Data Storage Areal Density
American Institute of Physics (04/19/11) Charles E. Blue

SPINTEC researchers have developed a method for doubling the areal density of information by building three-dimensional towers out of magnetic media. The researchers say the technique greatly enhances the amount of data that can be stored in magnetic storage devices. "To further extend the storage density, it's possible to increase the number of bits per dots by stacking several magnetic layers to obtain a multilevel magnetic recording device," says SPINTEC's Jerome Moritz. The researchers found that the best way to achieve two-bit-per-dot media is to stack magnetic media on top of each dot. The perpendicularly magnetized layer can read the dot below it, enabling the areal density to double for a given dot size by taking advantage of the whole patterned media area.


How Google Is Teaching Computers to See
CNN (04/14/11) Mark Milian

Increasingly sophisticated algorithms has enabled visual search to make great strides, but the technology still has a long way to go to be practical for everyday use. However, Google's Harmut Neven predicts that near-perfection could come soon. "Within 10 years, we can pretty much recognize, in principle, pretty much any object we're interested in," Neven says. "Scientific and technical progress is accelerating in an exponential (pace)." His team has developed Goggles, an experimental application for Android phones that can identify objects taken in photos. "Our ambition is nothing less than being able to recognize any object on the planet," Neven says. "But today, computer vision is not in that state yet. There are many things that, unfortunately, we cannot properly recognize." For example, objects without a strong visual texture and with few distinct markings currently are a major obstacle for the technology. Computer-vision systems also have difficulty recognizing people, but Neven's team is developing a system that can recognize faces in photographs.


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