Welcome to the January 6, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
E-Voting Machine Freezes, Misreads Votes, U.S. Agency Says
Computerworld (01/06/12) Jaikumar Vijayan
The DS200 precinct count optical scanner in Election Systems & Software's (ES&S') Unity 126.96.36.199 voting system misreads ballots, fails to log both normal and abnormal system events, and has a tendency to freeze and lock up abruptly, according to a U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) report. These issues make the system unsatisfactory for meeting federal e-voting system standards, although EAC did not decertify the product altogether. Instead, the agency dispatched a Notice of Non-Compliance for the system that allows ES&S to correct the problems. The system is scheduled for employment in the upcoming presidential elections, and ES&S says it has cooperated with the EAC in good faith to fix the problems. "All reported issues have been addressed in a new version of software, Unity 188.8.131.52 which, upon certification, will be made available to every jurisdiction that currently uses Unity 184.108.40.206," ES&S says. The company argues that the problems raised in EAC's report do not compromise election results. However, Verified Voting president Pamela Smith says that for the near term, the Unity 220.127.116.11 system should not be used in any jurisdiction that does not have strong auditing practices or easy and expensive recount methods.
Smart Way of Saving Lives in Natural Disasters
University of Manchester (01/04/12) Daniel Cochlin
University of Manchester researchers have developed REUNITE, a mobile and Web platform that features tools designed to quickly and accurately locate missing people, identify those suffering from malnutrition, and point people toward safe zones in the aftermath of a natural disaster. REUNITE enables users to record initial interviews with disaster victims using a smartphone and upload them to a central server. The interviews would be quickly transcribed into a Web searchable format, enabling relief workers on the ground to download them and gain more information from other areas. The researchers, led by Manchester's Gavin Brown, also developed the Where's Safe software that identifies safe areas for people to go to in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Where's Safe is designed to replace a standard emergency radio broadcast system. Brown also developed HeightCatcher, a tool that can calculate infants who are suffering from malnutrition and determine what quantity of fluids they need. "Our results have demonstrated that mobile intelligent systems can be deployed in low-power, high-risk environments, to the benefit of all involved," Brown says.
India Aims to Double R&D Spending for Science
HPC Wire (01/04/12) Michael Feldman
As part of a strategy to strive for substantially greater funding for scientific research and development (R&D) in India, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh recently urged the spending of nearly $1 billion on domestic supercomputing so that India could keep pace with China. Singh reportedly wants to double the R&D budget for science and technology from 1 percent of the [gross domestic product (GDP)] to at least 2 percent. A segment of that funding would be channeled into boosting supercomputing capacity and capability, with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore handling implementation. In contrast, China currently invests 1.4 percent of its GDP in science R&D, while the U.S. and Japan respectively invest 2.7 percent and 3.3 percent. With China and India's economic growth overtaking that of the United States and Europe, the latter two countries' global share of science R&D is shrinking. Neither the U.S. nor Europe have raised R&D spending as a percentage of GDP to counter the flat growth experienced over the past three years, which means Singh's agenda to ramp up R&D spending relative to GDP will put India in a position to expand its science and technology presence much faster.
Internet Access Is Not a Human Right
New York Times (01/04/12) Vinton G. Cerf
The use of the Internet by protest movements around the world last year raises the issue of whether Web access is or should be a human right, but Google chief Internet evangelist Vinton G. Cerf maintains that such technology is a facilitator of rights but not a right in itself. He says the best way to define human rights is to characterize the results that people are trying to guarantee, such as freedom of information access, and which are "not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time." Although Cerf acknowledges that the case for defining Internet access as a civil right is stronger than the case for defining it as a human right, he argues that it still remains an instrument for acquiring something else of greater value. "Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental issue: The responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights," Cerf writes. He says that in the context that the Internet has enabled new avenues for exercising civil and human rights, engineers have a responsibility to both empower and protect online users from threats such as malware. "As we seek to advance the state of the art in technology and its use in society, we must be conscious of our civil responsibilities in addition to our engineering expertise," Cerf concludes.
NASA Promotes Open Source With New Website
InformationWeek (01/04/12) Elizabeth Montalbano
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) open government Web site will feature a new site and public forum for sharing information and tools for its open source activities. The agency will use code.nasa.gov to engage internal and external groups on open development and possible contributions to projects. In the first phase of code.nasa.gov, the site will serve as a home for open source, and will offer points of contact and a directory of current projects. NASA will provide a discussion forum for its open source concepts, policies, and projects during the second phase to build a community atmosphere. In the third phase, the agency will provide tools and mechanisms to help ensure the success of projects, and also will create and host a tool, service, and process chain to help facilitate internal and external open source projects. "Ultimately, our goal is to create a highly visible community hub that will imbue open concepts into the formulation stages of new hardware and software projects, and help existing projects transition to open modes of development and operation," says NASA's William Eshagh. "We believe that tomorrow's space and science systems will be built in the open, and that code.nasa.gov will play a big part in getting us there."
3D Cameras for Cellphones
MIT News (01/05/12) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing a three-dimensional (3D) device that provides more accurate depth information than Microsoft's Kinect, has a greater range, and works under all lighting conditions. The researchers say the device is so small, inexpensive, and powerful that it could be integrated into conventional cell phones at very little extra cost. "In consumer electronics, people are very interested in 3D for immersive communication, but then they’re also interested in 3D for human-computer interaction," says MIT professor Vivek Goyal. The device uses the "time of flight" of light particles to measure depth. To add a third dimension to the depth map, the researchers used parametric signal processing, a technique that converts all the surfaces in a scene to flat planes, which enables the computer's algorithms to run more smoothly. Although the algorithms are simple enough to run on smartphone processors, one obstacle to deployment of the system in a mobile device could be the difficulty of emitting light pulses of adequate intensity without draining the battery, says Harvard University professor Yue M. Lu.
Mogees Project Delivers Haptic Symphony
PhysOrg.com (01/05/12) Nancy Owano
Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, and IRCAM are working on the Mogees project, which is developing methods of gestural interaction that will lead to new ways of making sounds. The researchers are using a contact microphone and audio-processing software to construct a gesture-recognizing touch interface from different surfaces, such as a tree trunk, a balloon, and a glass panel. The Mogees project turns any surface into a gestural musical interface. "When the performer touches the surface, Mogees analyzes the incoming audio signal and continuously looks for its closest segment within the sound database," says Goldsmiths researcher Bruno Zamborlin. He says the segments are played one after another over time, a technique known as concatenative synthesis. The Mogees project utilizes the MuBu environment for MaxMSP, notes Goldsmiths researcher Norbert Schnell. MuBu is a sound description buffer for real-time interactive audio processing, and MaxMSP is a visual programming language for music and multimedia.
Microsoft Researcher: Passwords Aren't Dead But They Need Fixing
Network World (01/04/12) Tim Greene
Password use needs an overhaul that is driven by understanding the damage that can be done when password security is compromised, says Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley. He notes that although there are several methods for beating passwords, including keystroke logging, brute-force attacks, phishing, and session hijacking, it is not known exactly how often each type of attack is used, which is data that needs to be analyzed before password systems can be fixed. In addition, Herley says researchers need to quantify the harm that password compromise causes and differentiate between the worst case and the average case. Security experts also need to offer better user support for passwords so password use is more secure. Passwords could be more effective if researchers identify when passwords are ineffective and create a method for evaluating alternative systems. "No single alternative technology is likely to possess the combination of security, usability, and economic features that meets all goals in all situations," Herley says.
Encrypting Pictures Using Chaotic Cellular Automata
Technology Review (01/04/12)
Marina Jeaneth Machicao and colleagues at the University of San Paul are using chaos to encrypt images. Their approach generates a pseudo-random signal via a cellular automaton, a grid-like array in which each cell can be either black or white at any instant, and in the next step each square would change according to a predetermined rule and the color of the square around it. Using standard statistical tests known as ENT and DIEHARD, the team found that Fredkin B1357/S02468 delivered the most consistent results in making the grid look like noise. The researchers note that the output of this automata is precisely determined by its starting state, which can act as a password. The automata can be freely distributed so that anyone can use it, but only a person with the password can decrypt any given message. The password is entered to produce a starting pattern of cells in the cellular automaton, and a pseudo-random output is generated by running through 20 million iterations. The output is superimposed on the picture intended for encryption. After the picture is sent, the receiver with the correct password can view the image by carrying out the procedure in reverse.
UCLA and KIER Create Network Platform for the Smart Grid
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (01/04/12)
A 10-year partnership between engineers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and the Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER) could result in a more robust smart grid. The researchers will use wireless sensing and control systems to develop smart grid solutions. UCLA is home to a network platform that allows electrically operated machines and appliances to be wirelessly monitored, connected, and controlled through a wireless communications framework. The UCLA WINSmartGrid connects machines and smart meters to the WINSmartGrid Web service, and offers dynamic control of appliances in real time. "We're also working on being able to send a signal for electricity to flow back into the grid, be it energy that has been collected by solar panels or electricity that has been stored in the batteries of [electric vehicles]," says UCLA's Rajit Gadh. UCLA will serve as a experimental lab for observing how wireless sensing and control systems can help create the smart grid. Korea has built a smart grid testbed on Jeju Island.
10 Tech Research Projects to Watch
PC World (01/03/12) Ian Paul
Ten promising research projects that could lead to future consumer products include a solar-powered personal computer (PC), three-dimensional (3D) images that respond to touch, and a robotic dog. Microsoft researchers are working on HoloDesk, a project that enables users to interact with 3D virtual objects. Microsoft researchers also are developing PocketTouch, a system that enables users to manipulate a touch device through clothing and other materials. Another Microsoft Research project, Vermeer, uses two facing parabolic mirrors to create glasses-free 3D images that can be touched. University of British Columbia researchers are developing programmable friction, a type of haptic feedback for touchscreens that could be used for moving folders around a desktop using touch. NASA and General Motors are developing Robonaut2 (R2), a humanoid robot designed to help astronauts complete space missions. R2 can lift up to 20 pounds and its arms have similar mobility to a human's. Intel is developing Claremont, a PC powered by a solar cell the size of a postage stamp. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with Boston Dynamics and the Marine Corps to develop an all-terrain robot dog that can help soldiers carry heavy objects in remote locations.
Wanted: Technical Women
U.S. News & World Report (01/03/12) J. McGrath Cohoon
Women are underused but a vital resource in the information technology industry, writes University of Virginia professor Joanne McGrath Cohoon. "Especially at a time when unemployment is high and our economy is weak, we cannot afford to lose anyone with the technical skills to create a sustainable future, improve health, build our cyber and physical infrastructure, and enhance personal and societal security," Cohoon writes. She notes that Stanford University researchers found that women engineering students perform as well as men, but are more likely than men to switch to a different major. The Stanford study found that stereotypes that link masculinity and technology while disconnecting femininity and technology create false expectations that men are naturally better engineers and computing professionals than women. She says the research helps explain why women feel less confident and end up leaving fields such as computing and engineering. "Improving confidence and attracting more women to technical fields will take effort as long as false stereotypes persist," Cohoon says. However, she notes that the numbers are improving. In the U.S., as many as 20 percent of engineering students are now women, a vast improvement over numbers from 25 years ago.
What Techies Will Be Watching on the Hill
National Journal (01/03/12) Josh Smith; Juliana Gruenwald
This year the U.S. Congress will debate a host of issues of especial interest to the technology community. Both Senate and House leaders have vowed to move ahead with comprehensive cybersecurity legislation, with potential proposals including adding more clarity to the role and power of government agencies to address cyberthreats, characterizing what critical infrastructure may justify additional government safeguards, and ways to boost corporate/federal information exchange. There also will be continued congressional focus on bills to open up more spectrum to accommodate expanding public appetite for wireless technologies, and the legislation is likely to be part of an overarching dialogue concerning passage of a one-year payroll-tax holiday extension. Substantial legislation on the move toward cloud computing has been held up in Congress, with many industry leaders calling for clarification to existing laws and the provision of certainty to foster cloud computing technology investments. Although odds are slim that lawmakers will pass a privacy bill at this juncture, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Commerce, and Trade has passed a bill to establish national standards for corporate response to data breaches.
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