Welcome to the April 30, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Fla. University Writing New Computer Science Plan, Cites 'Overwhelming' Backlash
Computerworld (04/27/12) Patrick Thibodeau
The University of Florida's recent plan to cut $1.7 million from the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) department has been put on hold after students protested against it. The move would have cut all teaching assistant positions, which help finance education costs for Ph.D. students; increased the teaching responsibilities for faculty who now conduct research; and eliminate staff, including technical support. The university now is developing a new plan "in consultation with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and industry partners," says CISE president Bernie Machen. However, the plan for a new proposal has not alleviated students' concerns about the future of CISE, says Ph.D. student Nuri Yeralan, leader of the student opposition. "This is a threat to our department; this is a threat to our department's autonomy, and to every student and to the value of their degree," Yeralan says. The students dispute the need for cuts and believe the university has sufficient money in its reserves to handle a non-recurring cut by the state.
National Science Fair Aims to Breathe New Life Into Science and Math for Kids
Washington Post (04/27/12) Stephanie Dazio
The second USA Science & Engineering Festival, which attracted more than 13,000 students, is a three-day event designed to revive students' interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The event is the only national U.S. science festival with the primary goal of promoting science and math careers to children. “Investment in science and technology is the key to our future,” says Bill Nye, who attended the festival. “It’s the best investment our society can make.” President Obama has hosted two science fairs at the White House since 2010 and launched the "Educate to Innovate" campaign, which encourages students to study math and science. In addition, Obama's 2013 budget includes a $150 million request for the U.S. National Science Foundation to advance undergraduate STEM education procedures. The festival included more than 3,000 hands-on activities and about 150 performances and demonstrations, including several geared toward younger girls. "I think there’s a struggle to get into the field" for women, says fourth grade teacher Kristin Luley, who helps run an after-school club for third- and fourth-grade girls, in which they perform experiments and talk about jobs in science and engineering.
‘Bullet Time' Signals to Stop Cyber Attacks on Grid
New Scientist (04/30/12) Paul Marks
University of Tulsa researchers have developed a method to handle cyberattacks on crucial infrastructure, such as electricity grids, water utilities, and banking networks. The method involves an algorithm that sends hyper-speed signals ahead of a malicious attack in order to mobilize defenses. "Slowing the malicious traffic by just a few milliseconds will let the hyper-speed commands activate sophisticated network-defense mechanisms," says Tulsa researcher Sujeet Shenoi. However, hyper-speed signaling is only as effective as its threat sensors. Dartmouth College researcher Jason Reeves has developed a way for infrastructure to effectively monitor itself. The software monitors a program that mediates between the software on one side and the processor and memory on the other. "We detect changes in the sequence of code the program runs, ones often introduced by malicious programs," Reeves says. The Dartmouth system could trigger the Tulsa hyper-speed algorithm. "Our system detects the presence of untrustworthy behavior and leaves the response up to the administrator," Reeves says.
ESnet Launches Architecture to Help Researchers Deliver on Data-Intensive Science
HPC Wire (04/26/12) Jon Bashor
Key to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network's (ESnet's) effort to supply reliable high-bandwidth network services to thousands of scientists to manage their swelling data sets is a network design model, the Science DMZ, that functions as a local networking infrastructure geared toward accelerating the delivery of scientific data. ESnet's Science DMZ initiative is led by Eli Dart, who says the model is fundamentally "an element of the overall network architecture, typically a dedicated portion of a site or campus network, located as close to the network perimeter as possible, that serves only high-performance science applications." Dart notes the Science DMZ must be constructed with capable equipment that accommodates high-rate flows without dropping packets, while data transfer is performed on dedicated servers. The model also requires a test-and-measurement infrastructure, enabling the identification of any problems that may be disrupting performance. The final Science DMZ component is a security policy customized to scientific applications rather than to general-purpose business computing. Dart says ESnet is expected to carry more than 100 petabytes of data per month within three years, and "the challenge is to figure out how to get the science done without spending the bulk of your time doing data management."
IT Engineers Ponder Fix to Dangerous Internet Routing Problem
IDG News Service (04/27/12) Jeremy Kirk
Information technology engineers have been studying methods for fixing a weakness in the Internet's routing system known as the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which can cause networks to become unavailable if mistakes are made in entering information or if there is a malicious attack. BGP weaknesses also can cause a company's Internet traffic to be circuitously routed through another network it does not need to go through, a process known as route hijacking. The solution is to have routers verify that the Internet Protocol (IP) address blocks announced by other routers actually belong to their networks. The Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) method uses a system of cryptographic certificates that verify if an IP address block belongs to a certain network. However, RPKI is complex, and deployment has been slow. An alternate system, known as Route Origin Verification (Rover), could be easier. Rover's advantages are that it needs no changes in the existing routers, and it can work alongside RPKI. "The whole infrastructure of securing the answer [of whether the route is legitimate] already exists," says Secure64's Joe Gersch.
TED Blends Animation With Education at New Website
Agence France-Presse (04/26/12)
A beta version of the TED-Ed Web site recently went live, inviting teachers to use video clips from its library or YouTube for assignments. "It allows any teacher to take a video of their choice and make it the heart of a 'lesson' that can easily be assigned in class or as homework, complete with context, follow-up questions, and further resources," says TED curator Chris Anderson. The Web site enables teachers to develop real-world lessons around educational videos. "This new platform allows them to take any useful educational video, not just TED's, and easily create a customized lesson plan around it," Anderson says. He says the videos are captivating and short, lasting no longer than 10 minutes, so teachers could easily show them to students in real-world classrooms. The Web site is the second phase of the TED-Ed project, which began last month with the debut of a YouTube education channel. "Great teaching skills are never displaced by technology," Anderson says. "On the contrary, they're amplified by it."
Descriptive Camera Developed by Student Matt Richardson
BBC News (04/26/12) Dave Lee
A New York University graduate student Matt Richardson has designed a camera that produces written descriptions of scenes. Cameras capture a lot of metadata when a picture is taken, such as the location, date, camera make, and model, but much of it is not useful, Richardson says. "I was picturing a time in which cameras could possibly capture more useful information that can then be searched, cross-referenced, and sorted," he says. His device uploads a picture to the Web, users on Amazon's Mechanical Turk service describe it within minutes, and then the short description is sent back to the camera and printed. Richardson also has added a setting that would send the picture to any available online friends to describe for free. The device uses a BeagleBone, a tiny computer used to power prototypes and other experimental computers. The practical technology for such a task does not exist, but Richardson believes descriptions would be a useful application. "While the technology isn't really here yet, I thought it would be interesting to make a camera that would explore that 'what if?'" he says.
Bridging the Gender Gap: Why More Women Aren't Computer Scientists, Engineers
PBS NewsHour (04/26/12) Judy Woodruff
Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe is seeking to close the gender gap in the hard sciences, which she attributes to young women's perception of such fields as uninteresting, beyond their capabilities, and being conducive to unappealing people. The concept of computing and other hard sciences as a strictly male-oriented domain is a major impediment, Klawe notes. However, she says hard science careers are actually very appealing to women for a number of reasons, including the incredible opportunities for jobs that pay very well, and with the flexibility to balance work and family. Klawe also notes that products and innovations stand to benefit from a feminine perspective. One key to attracting more women into science and engineering careers is changing the image of such careers as promoted and entrenched by the popular media, according to Klawe. She recommends that young women's interest in hard sciences should be nurtured when they enter college. "You get them into an intro computer science course that is absolutely fascinating and fun and creative," Klawe suggests. "And you have them have so much fun, that they just can't believe that this is really computer science."
How Do You Know an Autonomous Vehicle Has Seen You?
Technology Review (04/26/12) Kevin Bullis
The possibility of autonomous vehicles driving themselves has gone from remote to more plausible in just a few years. Google is testing driverless cars, and next year BMW plans to sell a car that can drive itself at speeds under 25 miles per hour. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab is developing a system that seems to solve the problem of communicating with pedestrians. A group led by Kent Larsen has demonstrated a prototype electric vehicle that features lights that look like eyes and incorporate the sensors from an Xbox 360 Kinect. The lights swivel to look at a pedestrian when the sensor detects a pedestrian, and blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) flash to indicate the car has seen the pedestrian. Directional speakers swivel toward the pedestrian, and the car tells you it is safe to cross, while the system also can flash bright white LEDs to get the attention of a pedestrian. The car uses sonar sensors to detect when a pedestrian gets too close. LEDs in the wheels turn from green to orange and red--getting redder as the pedestrian gets closer--to let the pedestrian know that the car knows where he or she is.
UCLA Researchers Combat Global Disease With a Cell Phone, Google Maps and a Lot of Ingenuity
UCLA Newsroom (04/26/12) Jennifer Marcus
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers say they have developed a compact and cost-effective rapid diagnostic test (RDT)-reading device that works with standard cell phones. RDTs can be used for disease management and more efficient surveillance of outbreaks in high-risk areas. It also can be used by minimally trained technicians. "What we have created is a digital 'universal' reader for all RDTs, without any manual decision-making," says UCLA professor Aydogan Ozcan. The RDT-reader attachment includes an inexpensive lens, three light-emitting diode arrays, and two AAA batteries. The platform can read almost any type of RDT. The system reads the digitized RDT image to determine if the test is valid and if the results are positive or negative. The platform then wirelessly transmits the results to a global server, which processes them, stores them, and uses Google Maps to create maps that chart the spread of various diseases and conditions. "This platform would be quite useful for global health professionals, as well as for policymakers, to understand cause–effect relationships at a much larger scale for combating infectious diseases," Ozcan says.
Scholars to Apply Facial Recognition Software to Unidentified Portrait Subjects
UCR Today (04/25/12) Bettye Miller
University of California, Riverside (UCR) researchers are using facial-recognition software to help identify the unknown subjects of portrait art. The "FACES: Faces, Art, and Computerized Evaluation Systems" project will apply facial-recognition technology to solve historical art problems, says UCR professor Conrad Rudolph. "Almost every portrait painted before the 19th century was of a person of some importance," Rudolph says. Altering established facial-recognition technology to recognize human faces in two- (2D) or three-dimensional (3D) art introduces new challenges because the image is not a photographic likeness but a visual interpretation from the artist. Initial subjects for FACES will be selected by comparing the death or life mask of a known individual to an identified sculptural portrait of the same individual. "If this 3D-to-3D test is encouraging, the project would systematically expand to 3D-to-2D, and eventually test portraits of known subjects against unidentified portraits," Rudolph says. He says museums and art conservation laboratories could eventually use the technology as a standard part of curatorial and preservation practice. The researchers also plan to develop a Web site and a museum exhibition to demonstrate the use of facial-recognition technology to identify portrait subjects.
Bringing Open Education to the Mainstream
Campus Technology (04/24/12) Jennifer Demski
Large-scale open education initiatives have the potential to transform the environment of higher education by creating a learning landscape that spreads beyond the walls of the university. However, wide-scale adoption of open education resources remains slow. "There are all of these open ed depositories, but you can't easily mix and match across platforms, let alone search across them," says Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk. He notes that faculty bandwidth is another issue. Rice's OpenStax College initiative was created to help streamline access to open education resources. "We're trying to address the highest impact community college courses, as defined by the total number of students enrolled in a particular course multiplied by the average cost of that course's materials for the student," Baraniuk says. The Web versions of the OpenStax textbooks were built on the Connections XML platform, which enables instructors to add new material to the book, or edit the material in the book. Baraniuk says the platform also is highly accessible for students with disabilities, and all of the content in the books is semantically marked up. "Ultimately we'll be moving from a world of better access and cheaper materials to a world of vastly improved learning outcomes," he says.
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