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

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Twitter Tweets Our Emotional States
Washington Post (09/30/11) David Brown

The results of a Cornell University data-mining study of more than 500 million tweets sent in 84 countries over two years offer insights into people's emotional states and the factors that affect them. The messages were analyzed by more than 50 computers over six weeks, using software the researchers wrote to seek words known to indicate positive and negative affects. The software quantified the absolute amounts of positive and negative affects in tweets and the variance in the emotional content by hour of the day, day of the week, and season. The findings exhibited remarkable consistency across time zones, nationalities, and cultures. For instance, both positive and negative tweets are common in the evening hours, implying that that period is the most emotional time of day. Researchers have traditionally used surveys, diaries, and records of daily activity to map people's moods over time, but if tweets and other forms of massive passive data can track the emotions of individuals and populations it might be possible to answer more sophisticated queries.


Argonne Researchers 'Hack' Diebold E-Voting System
Computerworld (09/28/11) Jaikumar Vijayan

Argonne National Laboratory researchers recently demonstrated how the Diebold Accuvote TS machine can be hacked using inexpensive, widely available electronic components. The researchers, led by Roger Johnston, were able to flip votes on the Diebold machine using about $25 worth of equipment and little technical expertise. They inserted a man-in-the-middle electronic component to intercept the vote cast by a voter and change it before it is recorded by the system. Once installed, the component can be controlled remotely from a distance of up to half a mile using a store-bought remote control. Johnston says the Diebold machines are easy to tamper with because all of the crucial electronic components are accessible and can be easily modified. He says the experiment demonstrates that e-voting systems are susceptible to more than just cyberattacks. The man-in-the-middle attacks do not require knowledge of the voting machine's proprietary software or hardware, Johnston notes.


New Software Brings Science to Life for Young People
Economic & Social Research Council (09/30/11) Danielle Moore; Jeanine Woolley

Researchers at the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have developed nQuire, a software toolkit that uses technology to spark young students' interest in science. The software uses mobile devices to enable students to set up their own projects and both find and analyze their data. "The software is a high-tech twist on the traditional lesson plan--guiding pupils through planning scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, and discussing the results," says Open University professor Eileen Scanlon. "After using the program, we found that students were better able to grasp the principles underpinning sound scientific practice." The toolkit has students use portable netbooks with built-in cameras, location sensors, voice recorders, and data probes to measure atmospheric conditions. NQuire expects the students to reason about the natural sciences as a complex system and to explore how others relate to the world around them. "Our study shows that this method of personal enquiry helps children develop the skills needed to understand the impact of science on everyday life and make better personal decisions about their own health, diet, and their impact on the environment," says Nottingham University professor Mike Sharples.


Kinect Project Merges Real and Virtual Worlds
Technology Review (09/30/11) Nic Fleming

Microsoft researchers recently demonstrated KinectFusion, a research project that lets users generate three-dimensional (3D) models in real time using a standard Kinect system. The technology enables objects, people, and entire rooms to be scanned in 3D. "KinectFusion is a platform that allows us to rethink the ways that computers see the world," says Microsoft researcher Shahram Izadi. The Kinect projects a laser dot pattern into a scene and searches for distortions using an infrared camera, which generates a point cloud of distances to the camera that the Kinect uses to identify objects and gestures. As a KinectFusion user waves a Kinect around a scene, an algorithm called iterative closest point (ICP) combines data from snapshots that are taken at 30 frames per second to create a 3D representation. ICP also can track the position and orientation of the camera by comparing new frame data with previous frames. "With KinectFusion, anyone can create 3D content just by picking up a Kinect and scanning something in," says Microsoft researcher Steve Hodges.


Will Advanced Biometrics Automate Future War Machines?
Network World (09/28/11) Ellen Messmer

At the recent Biometric Consortium Conference, researchers unveiled several prototypes of advanced camera-based systems that could be used to remotely capture needed biometrics information on combatants or suspected terrorists. "Gathering biometrics covertly from a distance--there are dozens of technologies that hold promise," says U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Swiatek. "They will be able to be deployed in the next few years." Carnegie Mellon University professor Marios Savvides gave a presentation on a long-range iris-capture prototype, which maintains a database of more than 6 million finger, palm, and iris biometrics on individuals. The camera-based system can automatically tilt and pan to capture iris scans in a crowd. "We're looking at people trying to evade the system," Savvides says. "We have a beard category." University of Notre Dame professor Kevin Bowyer gave a presentation on how iris texture can reveal with about 90 percent accuracy whether someone is Asian or Caucasian. Boyd noted that gender accuracy is only 60 percent, and women "seem to be more complex than males" in determining their gender through iris texture.


Wireless Network Can Watch Your Breathing
New Scientist (09/27/11) Melissae Fellet

University of Utah researchers have found that wireless signals can indicate if people in the area are breathing. The researchers surrounded a volunteer with 20 inexpensive, off-the-shelf wireless units, which sent 2.4 gigahertz radio waves around them. The units measured the signal strength four times a second, fast enough to measure changes caused by individual breaths. Using 30 seconds of data, the system was able to accurately estimate the participant's breathing rate to within 0.4 breaths per minute. The researchers, led by Neal Patwari, concluded that the wireless signals bent around the participant's chest as it rose with each inhalation, causing them to travel a longer distance and decrease slightly in power. The technology could allow participants to rest more easily during sleep studies, as they would not have to be connected to machines by wires and tubes. In addition, a previous study by Patwari found that a wireless network could be set up outside a home to track people as they move from room to room, which could be beneficial for law enforcement surveillance.
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Broadening the Reach of GPS
UCR News (CA) (09/28/11) Sean Nealon

University of California, Riverside professor Anastasios Mourikis recently received a three-year, $447,000 grant to develop techniques to navigate areas where a global positioning system (GPS) does not work, such as indoors, underwater, and in outer space. Mourikis plans to focus his research on cell phones because they are so common and most of them are equipped with a camera, which can be used to find one's location when a GPS is not available. Mourikis plans to develop algorithms that will optimally use the phone's camera, computing power, and battery life to provide accurate position information in areas where GPS is not available. The algorithms will use open source software that will be made available on the Internet for users to install. Mourikis also wants to use crowdsourcing to test the algorithms in a variety of situations. "This is a building block," he says. "It can be used for many, many tasks."


Making Research Careers More Family-Friendly: White House and NSF Announce New Policies
Inside Science (09/26/11) Chris Gorski

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the Career-Life Balance Initiative, which gives researchers more flexibility in the workplace and helps remove some of the hurdles to women's advancement and retention in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. Under the 10-year plan, researchers will be able to delay or suspend their NSF grants for up to one year to take care of young children or fulfill other family responsibilities. Although NSF already had workplace flexibility policies in place, this will be the first time a plan is applied across the foundation to help postdoctoral fellows and early-career faculty members more easily care for dependents while continuing their careers. "Unfortunately too many young women drop out of promising careers in science and engineering and math because of conflicts between their desire to start families and the needs of trying to rapidly ramp up their careers," says White House Office of Science and Technology Policy director John Holdren. He notes that women in STEM fields currently earn 41 percent of Ph.D.s but make up just 28 percent of tenure-track faculty.


NASA Plans High-Speed Space Communications System
InformationWeek (09/26/11) Elizabeth Montalbano

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is developing a laser-based optical communications system that will be able to move data at rates of up to 100 times faster than its existing networks. NASA plans to show off the high-speed communications system through the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) in 2016. Dave Israel, head of the team developing the network, compares the capability of the existing communications systems, which take 90 minutes to transmit high-resolution images from Mars, to dial-up Internet speeds. However, the LCRD, which will allow NASA to stream high-definition video from distances beyond the moon, is more like a land-based optical network. The demonstration is expected to include telescopes, lasers, mirrors, detectors, a pointing and tracking system, control electronics, one modem for communicating with deep space missions or low-power smallsats in low-Earth orbit, and a second modem for handling much higher data rates such as from spacecrafts orbiting the earth. The demonstration will be operational for two to three years, and LCRD will work alongside NASA's radio-based networks.


9 Hot IT Skills for 2012
Computerworld (09/26/11) Rick Saia

Nine information technology (IT) skills will be in high demand over the next two years, according to the most recent Computerworld Forecast survey. Programming and application development skills are in greatest demand, as 61 percent of survey respondents said they plan to hire employees with this skill set in the next year. Forty-four percent of respondents plan to hire employees with project management skills, while 35 percent of respondents will look for technical support and networking skills. Twenty-three percent of respondents plan to hire business intelligence specialists, up from 13 percent in the 2010 survey. The increased demand indicates a shift from focusing on cost savings to investing in technology that provides access to real-time data. Data center skills will be sought by 18 percent of the respondents as organizations move more services to the cloud. Web 2.0, security, and telecommunications skills are needed by 18 percent, 17 percent, and 9 percent of respondents respectively. Although there may be some concerns about the resiliency of the U.S. economy over the next year, the three-year trend in hiring plans highlighted in Computerworld's survey indicates that IT hiring budgets are expanding.


Carnegie Mellon's David Brumley Receives Prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Cybersecurity Research
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (09/26/11) Chriss Swaney

Carnegie Mellon University professor David Brumley has won a U.S. Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for his work on cybersecurity research. PECASE is the highest honor the government bestows on young scientists and engineers and was created to recognize strong leaders at the frontiers of knowledge early in their careers. The government recognized Brumley for his "innovation and vital research on malware [malicious software] analysis and for strong educational and outreach activities." Brumley also is working to neutralize next-generation malware. "David Brumley has already made significant contributions in the area of computer malware and is clearly an emerging leader in the field of cybersecurity, both in terms of his research and educational contributions," says Ed Schlesinger with Carnegie Mellon's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Brumley says his goal is to "make computer software and systems safe." He is focusing on techniques and algorithms that find flaws in software that hackers use. "Our work tries to find these flaws before attackers do, so that they can be fixed," Brumley says.


British Researchers to Study Home Hygiene Habits
RFID Journal (09/23/11) Claire Swedberg

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is using a real-time location system (RTLS) to gain insights on hygiene practices in London households so that the technology may be used in developing nations to aid communicable disease prevention efforts. The researchers are using radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to monitor volunteers' hand-washing and other hygiene-related behaviors, while Washington State University's CASAS Smart Home Project is providing software that functions as an interface between the RTLS and the LSHTM database. The RTLS features active RFID tags affixed to wristbands that transmit a unique identification (ID) number tied to data pertaining to the volunteer wearing a specific band, while low-frequency exciters are attached to walls or other surfaces in close proximity to toothbrushes and other hygiene products. Receivers capture data about each incident where a tag came within range of an exciter, thus showing the tag's whereabouts, by transmitting its own ID along with that of the particular exciter within its range. Next January, the researchers plan to supply the RTLS system to 75 households, and hygiene data monitored over 18 months will be forwarded to LSHTM for interpretation.


GRDI2020 Envisions New Science Paradigms
HPC in the Cloud (09/22/11) Nicole Hemsoth

The GRDI2020 Vision outlined at the EGI Technology Forum in Lyon, France, proposes a decade-long plan to generate global research infrastructures that can address the needs of data-intensive scientific initiatives while maintaining sustainability. The infrastructure would function as an enabler of an open, extensible, and evolvable digital science ecosystem produced and maintained via grid and cloud computing innovations through the use of science gateways and virtual research environments. The concept is that an interoperable science ecosystem that reduces data fragmentation and speeds access and use of data stores will be created by the generation of environments that leverage distributed resources, hardware, software, and knowledge. Among the technical challenges GRDI2020 foresees are those involving the creation of interoperable tools, authentication layers, data movement issues, and more general facets of distributed computing. The group projects that "the future Digital Data Libraries [Science Data Centers] will be based on cloud philosophy and technology," with each community possessing its own cloud. Federation of the clouds will allow GRDI2020 to realize its vision through greater collaboration to facilitate multidisciplinary research.


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