Welcome to the November 16, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Japan's K Computer Retains TOP500 Crown
HPC Wire (11/14/11)
Japan's K Computer retained its title as the world's most powerful supercomputer, ranking first in the most recent edition of the TOP500 List with a speed of 10.51 petaflops a second, which was four times faster than the second fastest system on the Linpack benchmark. China's Tianhe-1A system ranked second with a speed of 2.57 petaflops per second. The rankings for the top 10 supercomputers on the most recent list remained unchanged from June 2011, when the previous list was released. "This is the first time since we began publishing the list back in 1993 that the top 10 systems showed no turnover," says TOP500 editor Erich Strohmaier. The U.S.'s Jaguar, Cielo, Pleiades, Hopper, and Roadrunner systems, ranked third, sixth, seventh, eighth, and 10th, respectively. China has 75 systems in the TOP500, making it the number two high-performance computer-using country, behind the United States, but ahead of Japan, France, and Germany. In addition, 39 of the TOP500 systems use graphics processing units as accelerators. The 500th spot on the list went to a system running at 50.9 teraflops per second on the Linpack benchmark, up from 39.1 teraflops per second for the final spot on the list six months ago.
Pentagon: Cyber Offense Part of U.S. Strategy
Washington Post (11/15/11) Ellen Nakashima
A new policy document submitted to the U.S. Congress said the Pentagon is prepared to launch cyberattacks as a response to hostilities against the U.S. government, military, or economy, but it did not offer clarification on certain key issues, such as rules of engagement outside designated battle zones and whether neutral nations would be consulted prior to their systems being used to execute cybercounteroffensives. The document was more detailed than the Pentagon's cyberstrategy issued in July, which concentrated on the value of preventing attacks by building defenses that would deny enemies the benefits of success. The report said that when such deterrence fails to stop hostile acts, the Pentagon "maintains, and is further developing, the ability to respond militarily in cyberspace and in other domains." The new document implied a need for automated, preapproved defensive responses to certain cyberhostilities, and also indicated that only the president would order the use of a counterattack. In addition, it said that specific rules of engagement for computer network defense have been passed for battle zones. The report also suggested that standalone cyberoperations that do not entail the use of military staff in a battle zone would probably not trigger the Congressional alert requirement under the War Powers Resolution.
Mimicking the Brain, in Silicon
MIT News (11/15/11) Anne Trafton
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have designed a computer chip that mimics how the brain's neurons adapt in response to new information. The chip uses about 400 transistors to simulate the activity of a single brain synapse, helping neuroscientists learn more about how the brain works, according to MIT researcher Chi-Sang Poon. The researchers designed the chip so that the transistors could emulate the activity of different ion channels. Although most chips operate in a binary system, the new chip functions in an analog fashion. "We now have a way to capture each and every ionic process that's going on in a neuron," Poon says. The new chip represents a "significant advance in the efforts to incorporate what we know about the biology of neurons and synaptic plasticity onto [complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor] chips," says University of California, Los Angeles professor Dean Buonomano. The researchers plan to use the chip to develop systems that model specific neural functions, such as the visual processing system. The chips also could be used to interface with biological systems.
Feds Detail Supercomputing's Future
InformationWeek (11/14/11) J. Nicholas Hoover
The annual SC11 supercomputing conference's agenda will be partly guided by federal agencies and U.S. national labs focusing on cloud computing, exascale computing, power management, and networking. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers will discuss more than 12 topics, including supercomputing for the future smart-power grid, optimizing power management in supercomputers, supercomputing with semantic databases, and new algorithms for understanding complex subatomic processes in solar energy systems. Oak Ridge National Laboratory will demonstrate a wide-area 100 GB Ethernet network, and Brookhaven National Lab will detail a method to better accommodate multiple network reservation requests. Meanwhile, the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will demonstrate a new implementation of InfiniBand. "It used to be, 'Oh, this is the new technology,' but what's impressive to me today is about the breadth," says Sandia National Laboratories' Jim Costa, SC11's technical program co-chair. "There is no one way to build high performance computing, and you've got big integration problems. We're still trying to figure out how to put it all together."
Burns App Could Save Lives at the Touch of a Button
University of Manchester (11/14/11) Daniel Cochlin
Mersey Burns, an iPhone and iPad app created by University of Manchester student Chris Seaton, has the potential to save the lives of soldiers and prevent severe disfigurement from burns. Other researchers at Manchester, plastic surgeons at St. Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, and academics at the University of Liverpool also contributed to the app's creation. Seaton decided to develop a tool to limit errors in treating burn victims after witnessing the horrific injuries caused by burns to fellow soldiers. Doctors normally make a series of pen and paper calculations to assess the ideal amount of fluids for burn injuries, but the margin for error is high and the method is time-consuming. Mersey Burns enables doctors to make exact and quick calculations. On a touchscreen phone, doctors color in the area on a computer model of a torso that corresponds to the burn area, add the person's age and weight, and the app instantly calculates the precise amounts of fluids. Soldiers would be able to launch the application themselves if there are no medics nearby in combat zones, and in tests the app reduced errors made by pen and paper by one third.
Linux Loses its Luster as a Darling Among Developers
Computerworld (11/14/11) Howard Baldwin
Linux as an application development platform has fallen to third place in popularity behind Mac OS and Windows, according to an Evans Data Corp. survey. OS X is currently the primary development platform of 7.9 percent of developers, while 5.6 percent of developers use Linux, according to the survey. However, Linux's status as a server operating system is unchallenged. "Still more than twice as many developers primarily target Linux as do Mac," according to the Evans survey. The two main factors that keep Linux users loyal are cost and capability. If developers want to be able to fix problems themselves before waiting for Apple or Microsoft to handle it, Linux is the best available option. "Linux is still the de facto platform for production environments," says Skookum Digital Works' Josh Oakhurst. In addition, Linux software and hardware is much less expensive than Apple products. However, because of their joint Unix heritage, there is a lot of commonality between Linux and OS X. "Linux is conceptually close enough to the BSD Unix that lies at the foundation of OS X and iOS that Linux programmers can often make a seamless transition into developing iOS frameworks," notes Avatron Software CEO Dave Howell.
Researchers Find New Way to Hide Messages in VoIP
Network World (11/15/11) Tim Greene
Warsaw Institute of Technology researchers have developed TranSteg, a scheme for hiding secret data within Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) packets, making it possible to hold voice conversations while stolen data is sent undetected with the call. Using the TranSteg method, the researchers were able to send 2.2 megabytes of covert data in each direction during a seven-minute phone call. The researchers conducted a proof-of-concept demonstration in which real-time transport protocol (RTP) packets were marked as carrying voice that was encoded using a G.711 codec. The receiving machines must be configured to know to decode using one codec despite the fact that packets are marked to indicate they were generated with a different codec, which means that access to the machines is necessary ahead of time for TranSteg to work. In addition, if two VoIP phones are the sending and receiving nodes and they use secure RTP, it is impossible for network monitoring to detect TranSteg, according to the researchers.
Flinders Phone Software Goes Global
Flinders University (11/11/11)
Flinders University researchers have developed the Serval Project, software that enables mobile phones to communicate without normal phone lines. The Serval Project program creates a virtual network, allowing mobile phones to work where conventional mobile phone coverage does not exist. The Serval system enables users to make calls by bouncing signals off other devices that carry the software in a range of about 100 meters. "We’re starting to build partnerships with overseas entities, universities, not-for-profit groups, and social action groups that can all see the value in what we’re doing and see [that] the Serval Project now represents the leading edge of technology in this area," says Flinders' researcher Paul Gardner-Stephen. The software will be publicly available as a free Android phone application by August 2012, with later versions being made available to Nokia and iPhone users. The researchers say the software could be particularly useful during disaster situations. "If there was an earthquake, for instance, you could use the map to record the location of a collapsed building, food and water supplies, or people who need help, and that information would start appearing on maps of everyone’s phone who is running the software," Gardner-Stephen says.
Georgia Tech Helps to Develop System That Will Detect Insider Threats From Massive Data Sets
Georgia Tech News (11/10/11) Abby Robinson
Researchers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Army Research Office, and Georgia Tech are developing new approaches for identifying insider threats before a data breach occurs. The researchers are developing a suite of algorithms that can detect different types of insider threats by analyzing massive amounts of data for unusual activity. "Our goal is to develop a system that will provide analysts for the first time a very short, ranked list of unexplained events that should be further investigated," says Georgia Tech professor David A. Bader. The researchers also are developing a prototype Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales (ADAMS) system, which they say could revolutionize the capabilities of counterintelligence professions by prioritizing potential malicious insider threats against a background of normal network activity. The ADAMS system will analyze terabytes of data using new algorithms to quickly find anomalies. "We need to bring together high-performance computing, algorithms, and systems on an unprecedented scale because we're collecting a massive amount of information in real time for a long period of time," Bader says.
Accelerating Robotic Innovation
Rice University (11/09/11) David Ruth; Jade Boyd
A holistic system for modeling and simulating the behavior of robots is the focus of a collaboration involving researchers at Rice, Texas A&M, and Halmstad universities. Robotics designers would be able to use the new approach from start to finish, and it would enable researchers to more accurately predict the physical behavior of robots. "One of our goals is to find a way to do virtual testing so that key flaws can be found on a computer before a prototype is ever built," says Halmstad professor Walid Taha. The team will continue to develop a new programming language called Acumen, which will help ensure that different pieces of software used by designers at various points in the design and testing of a new robot remain compatible. The researchers say Acumen will be especially helpful to robotics designers when entire concepts are missing or treated wholly different. The idea is to use the software infrastructure to develop the next generation of walking robots and robotic assistive devices. "We should be able to input into the simulation environment any equation that the mechanical engineers give us," says Rice professor Corky Cartwright.
New Software Tool to Advance Neuroscience
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (11/10/11) Eduardo Martinez
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) researchers have developed ESPINA, a free software tool for studying the brain structure in greater depth. The researchers say ESPINA will help to explore new hypotheses to improve the understanding of the human brain and look for new solutions to fight diseases such as Alzheimer's, epilepsy, and Parkinson's. ESPINA aids in the analysis of three-dimensional (3D) images generated by an electron microscope, focusing on counting synapses in different layers of the cerebral cortex. The main aspects of ESPINA include 3D exploration of the scanned tissue, segmentation of structures relevant to neuroscientists, 3D reconstruction of previously segmented brain structures, and extraction of new parameters to characterize each segmented structure or structure sets. ESPINA is built on the Python programming language and is designed with free distribution tools. It also is a multiplatform tool that operates on computers running Linux or Windows.
Student Hackers and a Dose of Skepticism Secure Vital Hardware
NYU-Poly (11/08/11) Kathleen Hamilton
Collaboration between researchers at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) and the University of Connecticut has yielded new design methods to protect vulnerable electronic hardware from malicious flaws in manufacturing. "The 'design for trust' techniques build on existing design and testing methods," says NYU-Poly professor Ramesh Karri. One strategy that criminals use is implanting Trojans designed to account for changes in ring oscillator frequency that usually alert testers of a compromise. Karri and his team suggest that such tactics could be foiled by designers if they create more variants of ring oscillator configurations than crooks can keep track of. To sample actual Trojans to inform their design-for-trust methods, Karri's team analyzed 58 submissions from NYU-Poly's 2008 Embedded System Challenge, an element of the Cyber Security Awareness Week white-hat hacking contest. The taxonomy resulting from the analysis is helping standardize metrics for assessing Trojans. NYU-Poly's Jeyavijayan Rajendran thinks crowdsourcing Trojans will work to the advantage of the team's research and help guide future researchers and practitioners.
New Tool for Visualizing Sound
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (11/07/11)
Technology developed by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will make it easier for analysts to make sense of large amounts of audio data. A team in the Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction group has developed milliphone, software that creates graphical visualizations of large video files. Users will be able to scan an audio recording at 200 times that of real time and discover unexpected or anomalous events. The researchers say milliphone can turn 1,000 sources of audio into a single visualization and frees up people to focus on making inferences, examine the big picture, and detect anomalies. "The idea is to let the computer do what computers are good at and have the humans do what humans are good at," says researcher Mark Hasegawa-Johnson. "Computers are really good at processing hundreds of hours of data all at once and then compressing it into some format, into some image." Hasegawa-Johnson and Thomas Huang developed an algorithm for simultaneously computing Fast Fournier Transforms, the common computing method, and then tested the approach by applying it to an audio book.
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