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

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Reassess Web-Address Expansion Plan, Senator Urges
Bloomberg (12/29/11) Tom Shields

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) recently wrote U.S. Department of Commerce secretary John Bryson and National Telecommunications and Information Administration administrator Larry Strickling, asking them to review plans by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to add potentially hundreds of Web suffixes beyond .com and .org because it could cost companies millions of dollars. "It is prudent for you to ask ICANN to re-evaluate its current plan," Rockefeller wrote. "You should consider asking ICANN to either delay the opening of the application period or to drastically limit the number" of new domain names. Corporations such as General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and Coca-Cola have joined with the Association of National Advertisers to oppose the expansion, claiming it will increase costs for companies, confuse customers, and create new risks of Internet fraud. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently recommended that ICANN introduce the expansion as a pilot program and reduce the number of domains created. ICANN's Kurt Pritz says the changes are designed to "benefit the billions of Internet users through increased competition, choice, and innovation."


Hackers Could Shut Down Train Lines: Expert
Reuters (12/28/11) Tarmo Virki

Hackers who have shut down Web sites by overwhelming them with Web traffic could use the same approach to shut down the computers that control train-switching systems, says Technische Universitat Darmstadt professor Stefan Katzenbeisser. "Trains could not crash, but service could be disrupted for quite some time," he says. Although GSM-R, a mobile technology used for trains, is more secure than conventional GSM, which is used in phones, security experts recently showcased a new attack for GSM-R at the recent Chaos Communication conference in Berlin. The software encryption keys, which are needed for securing the communication between trains and switching systems, are downloaded to physical media such as USB sticks and then sent around for installing, which raises the risk of them ending up in the wrong hands. "This will be a big issue in the future, how to manage these keys safely," Katzenbeisser says.


Carmakers, U.S. Worry About Hacking of Cars
San Jose Mercury News (12/28/11) Steve Johnson

Recent studies indicate that cars' increasing reliance on computer systems that control everything from airbags to crash-avoidance systems has left them vulnerable to cyberattacks. "I can definitely imagine organized crime or potentially even nation-states leveraging weaknesses in these functions to cause different kinds of havoc," says Intel's Ryan Permeh. Car manufacturers are taking the threat of cyberattacks very seriously. For example, Ford's Rich Strader says the company is "working to ensure that we've developed a product that is as resistant to attack as possible." The threat also is being addressed by the U.S. government. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is aware of the potential for 'hackers' and is working with automakers to better understand what steps can and are being taken to address the problem," according to an agency statement. University of South Carolina researchers recently hacked a vehicle, causing the tire-pressure warning system to send fake alerts to the vehicle's dashboard. University of California, San Diego professor Stefan Savage says it will be difficult to anticipate all of the schemes that could come about in the future. "I would be quite surprised if there are not additional vulnerabilities," Savage says.


Five Open Source Technologies for 2012
IDG News Service (12/28/11) Joab Jackson

Five open source projects could become the basis for new businesses and industries in 2012. Nginx, a Web server program, could become popular due to its ability to easily handle high-volume traffic. Nginx already is used on highly trafficked Web sites, and the next release, due in 2012, will be more pliable for shared hosting environments. The OpenStack cloud computing platform has gained support from several technology firms due to its scalability. "We're not talking about [using OpenStack to run a] cloud of 100 servers or even 1,000 servers, but tens of thousands of servers," says OpenStack Project Policy Board's Jonathan Bryce. Stig was designed for the unique workloads of social networking sites, according to its developers. The data store's architecture allows for inferential searching, enabling users and applications to look for connections between disparate pieces of information. Linux Mint was designed specifically for users who want a desktop operating system and do not want to learn more about how Linux works. The Linux Mint project is now the fourth most popular desktop operating system in the world. GlusterFS is one of the fastest growing storage software systems on the market, as downloads have increased by 300 percent in the last year.


The U.S. Is Busy Building Supercomputers, but Needs Someone to Run Them
Daily Beast (12/28/11) Dan Lyons

The United States is rapidly adding to its collection of supercomputers, with new high-performance computing (HPC) systems under development at various labs. However, there are not enough people who know how to make use of all the new supercomputing power, say HPC industry experts. This talent shortage is the "missing middle," meaning there are enough specialists to run the handful of world-beating supercomputers that cost a few hundred million dollars, and plenty of people who can manage ordinary personal computers and servers, but there are not nearly enough people who know how to use the small and midsized HPC machines that cost between $1 million to $10 million. "We need people who can build the applications and algorithms needed to effectively use the equipment," says the University of Tennessee's Jack Dongarra. The Virtual School for Computational Science and Engineering is a program that offers online courses for graduate students who want to learn how to use HPCs. This year, 1,000 students participated, up from 40 in 2008 when the program began, according to National Center for Supercomputing Applications director Thom Dunning.


Powerful Pixels: Mapping the 'Apollo Zone'
NASA News (12/28/11) Jessica Culler

Researchers at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center are using the Apollo Zone Digital Image Mosaic and Digital Terrain Model, as well as new image-processing algorithms, to map the lunar surface in the closest detail ever. The maps cover about 18 percent of the lunar surface at a resolution of 98 feet per pixel. "The main challenge of the Apollo Zone project was that we had very old data--scans, not captured in digital format, [which] were taken with the technology we had over 40 years ago with imprecise camera positions, orientations, and exposure time by today’s standards," says Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley's Ara Nefian. The researchers created computer vision algorithms that automatically generate the two- and three-dimensional maps. "The key innovation that we made was to create a fully automatic image mosaicking and terrain modeling software system for orbital imagery," says NASA Intelligent Robotics Group’s Terry Fong. In the future, the researchers plan to expand the use of the algorithms to include imagery taken at angles, instead of just straight down at the surface.


Robot Videojournalist Uses Cuteness to Get Vox Pops
New Scientist (12/28/11) Paul Marks

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Boxie, a documentary-making robot designed to wander the streets shooting video and asking random people to tell an interesting story. "The idea was to create a robot that was interesting enough for people to engage with it and offer to help it, carrying it around and up and down stairs to show it things," says MIT researcher Alexander Reben. Boxie uses ultrasound sonar to detect walls and obstacles, and is equipped with a body heat sensor that alerts the robot when it has found a person. "Boxie has a script in which it asks people questions and asks them to pick it up and show it around an area like a lab or mall," Reben says. Over a few days, Boxie conducted about 50 interviews, which the MIT researchers edited down to a five-minute documentary. "A coherent movie was easily produced from the video clips captured, proving that their content and organization were viable for story-making," according to the MIT team. Bristol University's Robotics Laboratory director Chris Melhuish says that "future smart machines will need such social intelligence to interact naturally--utilizing appropriate gestures, body pose, and nonverbal communication, for instance."


The Touchy-Feely Future of Technology
NPR Online (12/26/11)

Microsoft Research's Bill Buxton believes the recent touch technology explosion is part of a theory called the Long Nose of Innovation, which states that much of the innovation behind any technological breakthrough actually takes place over a long period of time. Buxton says the Long Nose theory has led to touch technology such as iPads, which are being used for a variety of practical applications. In Arlington County, Va., for example, elementary school students use the tablet computers for writing, math, and reading graphic novels. The county also provides enough iPads for every student in a special education program. Apple says that more than 2,300 U.S. school districts have iPad programs for students or teachers. Hospitals are also exploring the usefulness of iPads. For example, doctors are using the tablets to inform patients and other care takers of changes in a patient's health status. Meanwhile, Samsung and Microsoft recently released Microsoft's Surface, which looks like a table, but is actually a multi-touch computer. "Not only is it a display that can present graphical information to you, each pixel can be thought of as like a camera element in a digital camera, or scanner," Buxton says.


M'sia Needs to Produce Own Cyber Security Software
New Straits Times (Malaysia) (12/28/11)

Malaysia must produce its own cyberinformation security software, because relying on foreign software could risk information leaks and intelligence breaches, according to Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) computer science and information technology dean Ramlan Mahmod. "For the realization of this information technology, the country needs to acquire 'technical knowhow' in information security and expertise in various fields such as computer science, mathematics and engineering," Mahmod says. The country needs to execute the foundation work, such as training more experts in information technology and by bringing more foreign technologies into Malaysia. The information leaks could happen when the data is in transmission or it could be hacked out of existing data storage, according to Mahmod. The Malaysian government needs to be heavily involved in the development of a cyberdefense system, which needs financial commitment, expertise, legislation, and continuous monitoring. "Cybersecurity is the same as national security involving many operational aspects such as prevention, defense, detecting, intelligence and attack," Mahmod says.


Engineers Unleash Car-Seat Identifier That Reads Your Rear End
PhysOrg.com (12/25/11) Nancy Owano

Pressure sensors in car seats could be used to identify drivers and could help provide anti-theft protection. Researchers at the Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology have developed a system that uses sensors to take precise measurements of a driver's posterior, its contours, and the way the person applies pressure on the seat. The researchers say a car seat identifier could serve as an alternative to biometrics techniques such as iris scanners and fingerprint readers. They note that pressure sensors would not carry the same level of stress and psychological baggage as other biometric techniques. The team has lined a bucket seat's lower section with sensors that measure pressure on a scale of 0 to 256. The seat's 360 sensors send information to a laptop, which aggregates the information, generates the key data, and produces a precise map of the seated person. The device recognized people with 98 percent accuracy in lab tests, and potentially could be used in office settings when people log onto their computers as they sit down.


Human Gets Immersed In Remote Robot's Actions
Discovery News (12/28/11) Alyssa Danigelis

Toyohashi University researchers are developing a telepresence robot that will give humans more physical immersion in remote locations. "We have to provide tactile feedback to make him or her more involved, and also motion feedback so we can feel more like we are human on the robot side," says Toyohashi professor Dzmitry Tsetserukou. The Toyohashi researchers have developed NAVIgold, a robot that allows a human controller to guide it remotely using torso movements, and receive physical feedback from the robot. The system is programmed to detect the shape and speed of obstacles on all sides of the robot to make navigation easier and safer. The researchers found that using the torso gave almost the same precision of navigation as using one's hands. The team is currently working on refining the system. The researchers want to give the robot more human-like features, such as an expressive face that reflects the user's emotions, and arms covered in warm, touch-sensitive material. "This kind of robot can enhance our ability to live and to spend our time more a more useful way," Tsetserukou says.


ORNL Technology Could Mean Improved Prosthesis Fitting, Design
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (12/28/11) Emma Macmillan

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers are developing a portable, wearable system to measure walking patterns that can be applied to real-world activities in a variety of settings, and could be used to help injured soldiers lead a more active lifestyle. "For example, if an amputee soldier wants to train and return to active duty, we need to understand how he or she would fare on a military training course, which you can't measure in a laboratory setting," says ORNL researcher Boyd Evans. The researchers' ultimate goal is to improve prosthesis performance for young adults. The ORNL team also wants to develop a gait analysis system that can be utilized outside of a confined laboratory setting. "This will allow advanced rehabilitation techniques to both be used in smaller clinics and to be taken outside the clinic," Evans says. The data collected from the system is transferred to a computer, and algorithms calculate the motions and forces associated with specific joints. The researchers think this system "will improve the prosthetic fitting and aligning process and help lower the risk of chronic joint disease in this group of wounded warriors," says ORNL researcher John Mueller.


Data to Be a Defining Tech Trend in 2012
Agence France-Presse (12/24/11) Glenn Chapman

The latest data analytics research is concentrating on searching for trends, patterns, and other useful insights about people's preferences and behaviors that might be hiding in massive amounts of data. "Big analytics toward the end of the year became the big term and into next year it will be the big term," says analyst Rob Enderle. "Analytics is really the core of what will be happening in everything from medical research to advertising." At this year's Web 2.0 Summit, the theme was unlocking the power of big data, and the topic was explored by top Internet company executives. "Analyzing data can tell you want resonates and what doesn't," Enderle says. "Applied to elections it could be the difference between winners and losers." He notes that IBM's Watson computer demonstrated the technology's power by beating people on the Jeopardy! TV show, and he predicts that data analytics will lead to many breakthroughs. "You can do some amazing things by drawing conclusions from information you already have but couldn't make heads or tails of before now," Enderle says.


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