Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 28, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Authenticity of Web Pages Under Attack By Hackers
USA Today (09/28/11) Byron Acohido

The underlying security of the Internet is under attack, and security professionals have become very concerned about their ability to protect users' most sensitive personal information, such as account logons and credit card numbers. One recent attack involved three of the more than 650 digital certificate authorities (CAs), which ensure that Web pages are legitimate when displayed on Web browsers. A hacker gained access to digital certificate supplier DigiNotar and began issuing forged certificates for several companies. "The infrastructure baked into the Internet, which is based on trust, is starting to fall apart," says Zscaler's Michael Sutton. The successful hacks demonstrated that it is possible to impersonate any site on the Web, according to AppSec's Josh Shaul. "No one knows where the next breach will occur," says Venafi CEO Jeff Hudson. F-Secure's Mikko Hypponen notes that hackers currently are targeting personal data from email services, social networks, credit bureaus, and blogging sites. The hacks put pressure on CAs and browser makers to do more to identify and quickly stop counterfeit certificates and faked Web pages. "The security of the Web is our collective responsibility," says Mozilla's Johnathan Nightingale.


A Made-to-Measure Social Network for the Academic World
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (09/22/11) Emmanuel Barraud; Michael David Mitchell

Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers have developed Graaasp, an academic social network that responds to the specific needs of the academic world concerning project management and knowledge sharing. The Graaasp project, which recently went online, is designed to be as simple as possible to use while remaining an extensive tool for scientists and students. The main difference between Graaasp and other social networks is that Graaasp focuses on the activities that bring users together, rather than the users themselves. Graaasp accommodates several different types of elements, including contacts, private and public subspaces, multimedia resources, and Web applications. In addition to applications that can be found anywhere on the Web, Graaasp also provides applications that are specifically developed to fit the needs of teaching. "Our students can thus perform their practical work online, using a small piece of software that can be found in Graaasp," says EPFL scientist Denis Gillet. He notes that "now that the basic platform is functional, we're expecting an organic pattern of adoption, directly involving the users."


Virtual Monkeys Write Shakespeare
BBC News (09/26/11)

U.S.-based programmer Jesse Anderson is conducting a project involving a few million virtual monkeys attempting to recreate the complete works of Shakespeare by randomly punching keys on virtual typewriters. A running total of the project's progress shows that the recreation is 99.99 percent complete. The project coordinates the virtual monkeys on Amazon's EC2 cloud computing systems via a home personal computer. The virtual monkeys are small computer programs uploaded to Amazon servers that regularly produce random sequences of text. Each sequence is nine characters long and each is checked to see if it appears anywhere in Shakespeare's works. The constraints Anderson introduced to the project mean he will complete it in a reasonable amount of time, according to mathematicians. "If he's running an evolutionary approach, holding on to successful guesses, then he'll get there," says Tim Harford, a popular science writer and presenter of the BBC's radio show about numbers More or Less.


Carnegie Mellon, Disney Work to Improve Eye Blink Animation
The Tartan (09/26/11) Benjamin Madueme

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney are developing technology that brings animation closer to reality by modeling accurate eye blinks. The researchers found that during a blink, human eyelids go down quickly, while opening back up more slowly. This small detail is very important for animators trying to make movies look as real as possible. In a recent study, participants were asked to view 300 different types of blink animations and rate them on their realness. All of the participants rated the blinks resembling real data significantly higher than those with simple, symmetric algorithms. "People might not be able to describe what's different about them, but they do recognize them as different," says Carnegie Mellon researcher Liz Carter. The researchers used tracking software to analyze human eye motions, generating a data set that described the motions that could be fed into a matrix. Principal component analysis, a way to highlight the important features of arbitrary input information, was then applied to the old data to generate new types of realistic blinking motions.


Data Mining for Global Change: Furthering Science, Knowledge
CCC Blog (09/26/11) Erwin Gianchandani

University of Minnesota's Vipin Kumar and colleagues want to integrate computer scientists into the effort to address climate change, ecosystem health, and global sustainability. The research team is involved with Understanding Climate Change: A Data Driven Approach, a U.S. National Science Foundation Expeditions in Computing initiative, and the GOPHER project, which is affiliated with the Planetary Skin Institute. The goal of the initiatives is to provide new computational solutions for studying the global climate and ecosystems, and projecting the impact of climate change on natural and human-made systems. Other scientific disciplines have achieved high levels of success in implementing data-driven approaches. The researchers are working to develop methods that take advantage of climate and ecosystem data from satellite and ground-based sensors; the observational record for atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial processes; and physics-based climate model simulations. They currently are focusing on novel methods for analyzing historical climate data, various aspects of modeling tropical cyclone activity, multi-model ensemble approaches for evaluating and combining simulation output from multiple climate models, and change detection in space-time data.


GPS Data on Beijing Cabs Reveals the Cause of Traffic Jams
Technology Review (09/27/11) Erica Naone

Microsoft Research Asia researchers have shown that tracking the location of taxicabs could help to identify the underlying problems with Beijing's transportation network and enable officials to determine how to ease congestion. The researchers used global positioning system data from more than 33,000 Beijing cabs, taken over a two-year period, to uncover traffic patterns. The researchers divided Beijing into regions and analyzed the taxi data to find places where two regions were not properly connected. The researchers' algorithms indicate when the transportation network between two regions cannot support the number of people traveling between those regions. The researchers evaluated their system by studying how Beijing's transportation network changed during the two-year test period. They found that when city planners added new connections between regions that had been flawed in the past, the conditions improved. The researchers say their system could be used for other cities with traffic problems, such as Mexico City, Bangkok, Tokyo, New York, Buenos Aires, and Moscow.


Researchers Develop Optimal Algorithm for Determining Focus Error in Eyes and Cameras
University of Texas at Austin (09/26/11)

Information from an individual image can be extracted and used to determine how far objects are from the focus distance, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Austin. The team has used its research to develop a statistical algorithm that can determine focus error, and how much a lens needs to be refocused to make the image sharp, from a single image without trial and error. The study should help lead to a better understanding of human depth perception. "Our results could also improve auto-focusing in digital cameras," says study author Johannes Burge. "We used basic optical modeling and well-understood statistics to show that there is information lurking in images that cameras have yet to tap." Focus error can be determined by applying the algorithm to any blurry image, and the estimate also makes it possible to determine how far objects are from the focus distance. The content of images differs widely, but the pattern and amount of details in images is constant, making it possible to determine the amount of defocus needed to refocus appropriately.


E-Voting Gets Almost Unanimous Praise, Study Finds
Computerworld Canada (09/26/11) Rafael Ruffolo

A recent Delvinia report could lead to the introduction of Internet voting across all levels of government in Canada. The report, which surveyed online voters after they cast ballots in last year's municipal elections, found that 99 percent of online voters in Markham, Ontario, were satisfied with the voting process and would likely vote online in future municipal elections and would prefer an online voting option for future provincial and federal elections. The Delvinia report also found that most users were not concerned about security or privacy issues. "The significance of Markham's decision to implement Internet voting is more than increasing voter turnout and accessibility, but also about paving the way for other governments to follow," says Delvinia CEO Adam Froman. Since Markham introduced online voting in 2003, more than 50 cities across Canada have implemented similar systems, reaching 1.8 million electors, says Carleton University Ph.D. candidate Nicole Goodman. Although people aged 45 to 54 were the most likely group to make use of online voting, the study also found that 40 percent of voters aged 18 to 24, who identified themselves as occasional or nonvoters, were encouraged to vote because of the online ballot.


Python Bindings Snake Into Global Arrays Toolkit
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (09/27/11) Kathryn Lang; Christine Sharp

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers have expanded the Global Arrays (GA) Toolkit to include full support for the Python computer programming language, making it easier for programmers to write codes and take advantage of GA features. The GA Toolkit enables researchers to efficiently access global data, run larger models, and simulate bigger systems. By combining Python and GA, programmers can more easily customize the GA Toolkit when they need shared memory for distributed memory computers. The researchers combined Python with GA using the Cython language, which they say makes writing C extensions for the Python language as easy as using Python itself. The Python-GA combination gives programmers a more convenient globally-shared view of multi-dimensional arrays while retaining the option to use the message passing interface, and provides a work-alike replacement for Python's NumPy module. The new Python module, Global Arrays in NumPy, allows for the development and debugging of serial NumPy codes, which can later scale on more capable supercomputers.


Uganda: Uphill Struggle for Women Computer Scientists
allAfrica.com (09/21/11) Esther Nakkazi

Women studying computer science in Uganda face several challenges, including a society that considers the subject too difficult for them, families that fear their future independence, and negativity from male student colleagues, according to an Eastern Illinois University study. In addition, families in rural areas are reluctant to let their daughters study far from home. The study, which surveyed students at Makerere University and was led by Eastern Illinois researcher James Ochwa-Echel, found that women studying computer science tended to have highly educated, high-income mothers compared with the men studying computer science. However, about 66 percent of the women who completed the survey said that people have tried to discourage them from pursuing computer science, compared to just 10 percent of male respondents. "There is no career guidance to let potential students know about computer science, the course requirements and career prospects," says Makerere lecturer Dorothy Okello. Policy changes should focus on rewarding women scientists and on funding science projects in low-income primary schools, says Makerere's Julianne Sansa-Otim.


Footstep Recognition Can ID You at 10 Paces
New Scientist (09/21/11) Lisa Grossman

Shinshu University's Todd Pataky and colleagues have developed an algorithm that can identify people by the way they walk with 99.8 percent accuracy. The researchers had 104 people walk across a half-meter-long board that was studded with thousands of pressure sensors. Recording 10 steps per person, the sensors captured how each foot applied pressure to the ground and how that pressure distribution changed as the person walked. The team used the information to train an algorithm to pick out the patterns in people's steps. The algorithm wrongly identified only three of the recorded 1,040 steps. "Even if they have the same foot size, even if they have the same shape, [people] load their feet differently, and they do it consistently," Pataky says. He believes airports could use the technology to identify passengers, who would walk barefoot through security. "For the first time, our results show that it probably is possible to use this in a real-world security application," Pataky says.


New 'FeTRAM' Is Promising Computer Memory Technology
Purdue University News (09/26/11) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers have developed FeTRAM, a type of computer memory that could be faster than conventional commercial memory and use far less power than flash memory devices. FeTRAM technology combines silicon nanowires with a ferroelectric polymer that could lead to a new type of ferroelectric transistor, which has a changing polarity that is read as zero or one and can be used to encode information in a binary system consisting of a sequence of ones and zeroes. "We've developed the theory and done the experiment and also showed how it works in a circuit," says Purdue doctoral student Saptarshi Das. The FeTRAM technology offers nonvolatile storage capability and has the potential to use 99 percent less energy than flash memory. "For future generations of FeTRAM technologies one of the main objectives will be to reduce the power dissipation," Das says. "They might also be much faster than another form of computer memory called [static random-access memory]." In addition, he notes that FeTRAM is compatible with industry manufacturing processes for producing complementary metal oxide semiconductors.


Professor Tracks Sharks Using Underwater Robotics
Daily 49er (09/25/11) Monique Carnes

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) researchers are using underwater robotic systems to track tagged sharks more efficiently in marine-protected areas. The researchers, led by CSULB professor Christopher Lowe and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo professors Christopher Clark and Mark Moline, are testing autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) for use in tracking sharks. First, the researchers used the AUVs to map the seafloor. Until now, the researchers tracked sharks by following them in a boat and listening for signals. Using the AUVs, the researchers can sit on a boat while the robot sends back tracking data. "Instead of boating for thousands of hours, we can get the information 24 hours later," Lowe says. The AUV measures different factors in the water, including temperature, which allows researchers to determine what kind of water the sharks tend to be in. The AUVs save time in collecting data, save money on mapping seafloors, and track animals without disrupting their paths. The researchers say the project demonstrates the benefits of integrating disparate subjects such as marine biology and robotics.


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