Welcome to the October 5, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
With Big Data Comes Big Responsibilities
Technology Review (10/05/11) Erica Naone
Researchers at the University of New South Wales and Microsoft presented a paper at the Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society that illustrates the ways in which big data sets can fail scientists, especially when they are used to make claims about people's behavior. "There's been the emergence of a philosophy that big data is all you need," says New South Wales associate professor Katie Crawford. "We would suggest that, actually, numbers don't speak for themselves." For example, researchers often use Facebook to analyze people's social relationships. However, Facebook can show a distorted picture of people's closest social relationships, such as with parents, live-in romantic partners, or friends seen daily. The researchers' work shows that studying large data still requires finesse. For example, Twitter can lead to problems for researchers because about 40 percent of Twitter's active users sign in to listen, not to post, which suggests that posts could come from a certain type of person, instead of a random sample, according to Crawford. Studying data from different sources also can lead to unexpected results for the people involved, she notes.
U.S., China Collaborations in Computing and Sustainability
CCC Blog (10/03/11) Erwin Gianchandani
Computer science (CS) has a vital role to play in addressing sustainability challenges, and a workshop held at Rutgers University in late September concentrated on possible collaborative CS and sustainability projects between U.S. and Chinese researchers. Keynote speakers detailed core ideas that enable CS to support and further the sustainability discipline. The Chinese Academy of Science's Zhiwei Xu, for example, discussed industrialization, urbanization, and informatization as the three primary drivers of CS and sustainability. General themes that the workshop touched on included the acquisition and analysis of immense data sets and the privacy and security issues they raise. The meeting also discussed the need for interdisciplinary CS research, as well as the development of new algorithms or new types of algorithms. Another theme at the workshop was the fact that many sustainability questions will probably involve decisions by policy makers with limited technical backgrounds, which calls for progress in the correct communication of complex ideas and analyses.
Internet Risks Will Drive Users Offline, Researcher Predicts
Government Computer News (10/03/11) William Jackson
The untrustworthy environment that has developed due to researchers' focus on securing legacy information technology architectures instead of developing secure technology will drive users offline, warns Purdue University professor Eugene Spafford. "We will reach a tipping point where we won't do online business because it isn't trustworthy enough," Spafford says. Security research is being held back by the need to keep virus-infected systems operating, which diverts resources from the vital task of discovering and developing better ways to do hardware and software, according to Spafford. There should be a system that would do for computer users what the U.S. Agriculture Department's Cooperative Extension System does for farmers, he says. Researchers are devoting all of their energy to finding and exploiting vulnerabilities, instead of fixing them or replacing infected devices, which puts security at a disadvantage. "As a field, we have become an arm of industry rather than of research," Spafford says. "There is no funding in any serious quantity to do the kind of research we would like to do. It is very difficult to take the next step because there are not resources available."
Low-Cost Electronic Tablet Proves Worth in Indian Classroom
Rice University (10/03/11) David Ruth; Jade Boyd; Wang Meng Meng
Researchers at Rice and Nanyang Technological universities, working at the Institute for Sustainable and Applied Infodynamics (ISAID), are preparing for full-scale production of the low-cost I-slate electronic tablet. The I-slate, an electronic version of the handheld blackboard slates used by millions of Indian children, will eventually be solar-powered for use in classrooms that lack electricity. It is expected to cost less than $50. "Our study clearly shows the I-slate is an effective learning tool for all students, regardless of their learning ability," says ISAID director Krishna Palem. "The first production I-slates will be pre-loaded with lessons for mathematics, science, and social studies." The researchers worked with India's Villages for Development and Learning Foundation to test the I-slate last summer. The ISAID analyzed each student's performance and improvement, and tests and surveys confirmed the I-slate was effective and provided the researchers with valuable information needed to finalize the I-slate's design, according to Palem. The hardware and graphic content will rely on a new low-power computer chip, which will cut the power requirements for the I-slate in half and allow the device to run on solar power from panels similar to those found on handheld calculators.
Are African Americans Surging in Computer Science?
Science Careers (09/30/11) Michael Price
Between the fall semesters of 2009 and 2010, the number of black and African-American students entering math and computer science graduate programs increased 33.6 percent, according to a recent Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) report. That large a percentage change is unlikely to be random, according to CGS' Nathan Bell. "It is a big jump among a small number of students," he says. Most of the new students are likely enrolled in master's degree or certificate programs, because about 80 percent of all graduate students in computer science are enrolled at the master's level, Bell notes. In addition, the most recent Taulbee Survey found no increase in Ph.D.-seeking blacks and African Americans in computer science. "I could see there being certain kinds of master's program that may attract more people," says Ohio State University professor Stuart Zweben. "The programs that are more information technology-oriented rather than the more highly technical computer science-type programs tend to attract a greater fraction of African Americans."
Students Building Satellite That's Seen as Future of Space Research
UC Berkeley News Center (10/03/11) Carol Ness
University of California, Berkeley students and researchers are developing CubeSat for Ions, Neutrals, Electrons & MAgnetic fields (CINEMA), a small satellite that could be launched into space next June. CINEMA is being designed to spend a year in orbit, using new miniature instruments to measure ions, electrons, and neutral particles, and a magnetometer to measure currents generated during electrical storms. "This is probably the most complicated CubeSat anyone has ever fabricated," says Berkeley researcher Thomas Immel. CubeSat technology is based on miniaturization and standardization, and represents a breakthrough in affordable space science. CubeSats can be loaded in large groups onto rockets, and their open source design has enabled universities to use the CubeSat concept to teach students how to conduct research in space. Berkeley professor Robert Lin says CINEMA "will provide cutting-edge magnetospheric science and critical space-weather measurements." CINEMA is one of eight CubeSats expected to ride on a U.S. National Reconnaissance Office rocket next June. "With the continued miniaturization of instruments, more cutting-edge science will become possible," Lin says.
What It Takes to Make Every Vote Count
MIT News (10/04/11) Lori Shridhare
The California Institute of Technology/Massachusetts Institute of Technology Voting Technology Project (VTP) recently held the Election Integrity: Past, Present, and Future conference, bringing together election administrators, academics, and technology professionals from across the United States. The main theme of the conference was election integrity and ensuring that votes are both recorded and counted as they are cast. Panelists said election officials need some technical understanding to analyze voting solutions, while vendors often do not fully appreciate the extent of security needed in the software and hardware they develop. "In the end, election technology will only be improved--made more convenient and secure--by the close cooperation of computer professionals and election administrators," says VTP director Charles Stewart III. Optical scanning of paper ballots is one technology that works notably well and is the most secure way to verify a vote, says VerifiedVoting.org president Pamela Smith. She notes that it also costs less than direct-recording electronic systems. Steward says post-election auditing is essential to verifying that procedures were followed and that the counting processes were error free.
Russia Plans to Build Exascale Supercomputer in 2020
Russia plans to build an exascale-class supercomputer by 2020, according to experts attending a meeting of Russia's National HPC Technology Platform. The project is expected to have a budget of nearly $1.5 billion, and the supercomputer would be used for specific jobs in strategically key sectors such as defense and the oil and gas industries. The project also includes plans to build a special processor for the supercomputer, as well as a high-performance computing platform, systems, and applied software. Russia's Federal Nuclear Center announced the launch of the country's first petascale system this year. Development would begin in 2012, and the system would reach up to 10 to 15 Pflops in 2014-2015, and up to 100 Pflops in 2017-2018. Academic organizations will carry out the fundamental research, while the state nuclear corporation Rosatom and T-Platforms will develop the hardware. T-Platforms also could help develop the system architecture and the microelectronics. The supercomputer at Lomonosov Moscow State University, which has a performance of 1.3 Pflops, is currently Russia's most powerful machine.
Rendering Engine Built to Generate High-Quality Images of Brain Simulations
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (10/03/11) Eduardo Martinez
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid researchers have developed a cerebral cortex image-rendering engine that can create three-dimensional videos and movies to promote the scientific understanding of the Blue Brain Project (BBP). BBP is an attempt to reverse engineer the mammalian brain using computer simulations to study brain function and dysfunction. The new image-rendering engine, which can produce BBP neuron models and simulations, uses a ray tracing-based rendering technique to generate high-quality images. The researchers used a new algorithm to imitate how rays of light interact with surfaces to simulate a range of optical phenomena, such as reflection, refraction, and dispersion. The ray tracing software is integrated into the BBP software architecture. The project also used a technique that can display simulation information by assigning color and transparency to the neuron depending on the magnitude being represented.
Wales' Rugby World Cup Team Using Swansea Uni App
BBC News (09/29/11)
The Wales national rugby team is using MatchPad, a Swansea University-developed iPad application, to simplify match information and help understand the team's performance at the Rugby World Cup. The Welsh team has three analysts who collect data about all aspects of each game, including set pieces, restarts, and tackles made or missed. MatchPad produces a visual timeline during the game so analysts and coaches can review video and additional information on the events of the match. "They collect so much information--that's the basic problem and the app just tries to simplify the task for them," says Swansea researcher Philip Legg. The Welsh team tested the system during friendly matches before traveling to New Zealand for the World Cup. "It has been a very good tool in terms of looking at key instances of the game and how they interact with each other," says the Welsh Rugby Union's Rhys Long.
Decoding Our Chatter
Wall Street Journal (10/02/11) Robert Lee Hotz
The stream of Twitter feeds offers a bounty of real-time data on which researchers can base predictions and draw insights on subjects as varied as a person's political leanings, disease outbreaks, stock market performance, and movies' box-office grosses. For example, University of Chile scientists analyzed how survivors of last year's Chilean earthquake used Twitter to reflexively separate truth from falsehoods, and they discovered enough quantifiable differences in language, citations, and posting patterns to develop a way to automatically evaluate Twitter text credibility with about 70 percent accuracy. Meanwhile, the U.S.'s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is considering an initiative to identify "persuasion campaigns" and "influence operations" to spread ideas via Twitter and other social media, as well as devising technology for automatically "counter-messaging" enemies. Yahoo Research scientists have determined that a group of 20,000 Twitter users commands the most attention, because they recommend Web site links that are more often retweeted and shared by others. Indiana University researchers analyzed 250,000 tweets on political topics shared by 45,000 people during the 2010 midterms and found that although left-leaning users outnumbered right-leaning users, the right-leaning users demonstrated denser connections.
Facial Analysis Method Heralds Era of Ultra-Realistic Animations
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (09/28/11) Stephen Harris
More realistic animations of human faces can be created with a dynamic facial capture technique developed by engineers at Bath University. Their method uses algorithms to track individual pixels in each frame of video footage captured with a three-dimensional (3D) depth camera by treating them as two-dimensional (2D) images. As a result, the computer is able to build a model of the person's moving face without actors wearing physical markers. The dynamic facial capture technique could have applications in the film and computer game industries, as well as in the security industry. The method can track very subtle facial movements and can be used as an identity-identification component in security systems. Treated as a 2D image, the 3D image is projected onto a cylinder, then is unwrapped similarly to the way world maps are drawn. Different pixels correspond to vertices on a triangular mesh placed across the face in each frame, and the algorithm, which is based on a method used by psychologists called the Facial Action Coding System, can model how the mesh moves and identify facial expression by following the pixels.
Secure Updates for Navigation Systems & Co
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Applied and Integrated Security (AISEC) have developed a way to enable a vehicle navigation system to automatically download updates of map material after receiving instructions from the driver. Manufacturers currently store cryptographic keys on each device, which is used to download updates or communicate with other control units, and when a request is made a device must first use the right key to prove that it is entitled to receive one. "We have developed a trust anchor--a device that securely stores cryptographic keys," says AISEC researcher Alexander Kiening. "Control units can use these keys, whether to request manufacturer updates or to communicate with one another." To demonstrate that the request is really coming from the navigation system and prove that it has not been manipulated, the trust anchor checks whether the software in the device matches the valid version. When a query is successful, the navigation system will receive the key and can then use it to establish a secure virtual private network data channel to the manufacturer.
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