Welcome to the August 13, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Mars Rover Curiosity Gets Software Update, 'Brain Transplant'
Los Angeles Times (08/13/12) Amina Khan
U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineers recently updated the software for the Mars Curiosity rover as it prepares for its Martian surface operations. The software will add the ability to use the geochemistry lab's sampling system and to drive. The update was needed because the rover's original processor, built years ago to withstand the harsh environment of interplanetary space, is limited compared with the technology available today, says NASA senior software engineer Ben Cichy. "My phone has a processor that is 10 times as fast as the processor that's on Curiosity and has 16 times as much storage as Curiosity has," Cichy says. "And my phone doesn't have to land anything on Mars." The software update took about four days to complete and will be used to help NASA complete the $2.5 billion mission.
The Future of the Internet Is…a la Carte
NCSU News (08/09/12) Matt Shipman
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently asked a team of researchers from North Carolina State University (NCSU), the University of Massachusetts, the University of Kentucky, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop the key components for a networking architecture that could serve as the backbone of a new Internet that gives users more choices about which services they use. "Ultimately, this should make the Internet more flexible and efficient, and will drive innovation among service providers to cater to user needs," says NCSU professor Rudra Dutta. NSF says the new Internet architecture will hinge on users being able to make choices about which features and services they want to use. The architecture should encourage alternatives by providing different types of services, which would enable users to select the service that best meets their needs. The architecture also should enable users to reward service providers that offer superior services, which will encourage innovation. Finally, the architecture must be able to give users and service providers the ability to exchange information about the quality of the service being provided.
Computer Memory Leaks a Turn Off
Researchers at the University of Macedonia and Democritus University of Thrace have found a security loophole that exploits the way computer memory works and could be used to obtain sensitive data from a personal computer (PC) even if it is in standby mode. The method is based on the fact that most computer users assume that switching off a device removes any data held in random access memory (RAM). However, the researchers found that data held in RAM is not lost if the computer is switched off but the man electricity supply is not disconnected. The researchers note that starting a new memory-intensive application will overwrite data in RAM while a computer is being used, but powering off the machine leaves users vulnerable to criminals. "The need to capture and analyze the RAM contents of a suspect PC grows constantly as remote and distributed applications have become popular," the researchers say. They tested their method by following a common usage scenario involving popular Web sites and performing RAM dumps five, 15, and 60 minutes after the computer was powered off. They then used common forensic repair tools to piece together the various fragments of data retrieved from the memory dumps.
Most STEM Degrees to Latinos Granted by Schools in Six States
National Journal (08/08/12) Doris Nhan
A recent Excelencia in Education report featured an analysis of institutions awarding certificates or degrees to Latino students in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields. The report found that of the top higher education institutions that have granted the most STEM degrees to Latino graduates in the 2009-2010 school year, more than half are found in six states: Arizona, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Texas. The schools were analyzed based on the number of degrees of certificates granted, then ranked by academic level. Overall, Latinos earning STEM degrees made up just eight percent of the total, and just 40 percent of those students came from the top 25 institutions listed in the report. "Given the relative youth of the Latino population relative to the aging of the U.S. population overall, supporting the increased growth of Latinos with postsecondary credentials in STEM is critical to meeting the projected workforce needs of the nation by 2020," the report says.
What Makes Paris Look Like Paris? CMU Software Uncovers Stylistic Core
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (08/07/12) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed visual data-mining software that can automatically detect the subtle features that make cities unique, such as street signs, street lamps, and balcony railings. The software analyzed more than 250 million visual elements taken from 40,000 Google Street View images of Paris, London, New York City, Barcelona, and eight other cities around the world to find those features that could be used to distinguish one city from the rest. The software found sets of geo-informative visual elements unique to each city, such as cast-iron balconies in Paris and fire escapes in New York. The researchers presented their findings at the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference. "Our data-mining technique was able to go through millions of image patches automatically--something that no human would be patient enough to do," says CMU professor Alexei Efros. The software had more trouble identifying geo-informative elements in U.S. cities, which the researchers say is due to the relative lack of stylistic coherence in American cities. "In the long run, we wish to automatically build a digital visual atlas of not only architectural but also natural geo-informative features for the entire planet," Efros says.
Microsoft Wants to Send WebRTC Standard to Rehab
PhysOrg.com (08/08/12) Nancy Owano
Microsoft has submitted its own standard for enabling Web-based real-time audio and videoconferencing without requiring plug-ins to the World Wide Web Consortium WebRTC working group. Microsoft has criticized the WebRTC working group's standard, which is still in progress and is undergoing revision, on the issue of interoperability. Microsoft says its Customizable, Ubiquitous Real Time Communication over the Web standard would resolve problems in the existing WebRTC 1.0 proposal. The WebRTC standard has the support of Mozilla, Opera, Ericsson, Cisco, and other companies, and reports indicate that Firefox, Opera, and Chrome have implemented WebRTC on some level for plug-in free Voice over Internet Protocol and Webcam chats. Microsoft says the standard is overly prescriptive and does not give Web developers enough latitude to customize how their real-time communication services respond to changes in network quality. "A successful standard cannot be tied to individual codecs, data formats, or scenarios," says a recent Microsoft blog post. "The right approach is instead to support multiple media formats and to bring the bulk of the logic to the application layer, enabling developers to innovate."
Prototype System Goes After DNS-Based Botnets
Network World (08/07/12) Michael Cooney
Researchers at the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed Pleiades, a prototype system that can better detect Domain Name Generation (DGA)-based botnets without the normal time-intensive reverse engineering required to find and defeat such malware. "To automatically identify DGA domain names, Pleiades searches for relatively large clusters of NXDomains that have similar syntactic features, and are queried by multiple potentially compromised machines during a given epoch," the researchers say. Pleiades can automatically identify and filter out accidental, user-generated NXDomains due to typos or misconfigurations. "When Pleiades finds a cluster of NXDomains, it applies statistical learning techniques to build a model of the DGA," the researchers say. The researchers deployed and evaluated the Pleiades prototype in a large production Internet service provider network for 15 months and found 12 new DGA-based botnets. The researchers also note Pleiades has some constraints. For example, once a new DGA is discovered, Pleiades can build fairly precise statistical models of how the domains generated by the DGA "look like," but it cannot learn or rebuild the exact domain generation algorithm. As a result, Pleiades will generate some false positives and false negatives.
Developer Interview: How Haiku Is Building a Better BeOS
Techworld Australia (08/07/12) Rohan Pearce
BeOS, an operating system that was originally designed for Apple hardware but was passed over for NeXT's OpenStep, has found a new life thanks to Haiku. Haiku is an open source project that re-implements and extends BeOS, adding new features such as internationalization and Wi-Fi that support modern hardware, while maintaining the original system's speed and simplicity. The initial aim of the Haiku project is to create an open source, drop-in replacement for BeOS R5, says Haiku developer Stephan Abmus. "Ideally, you could replace the contents of the system folder of your BeOS installation with the Haiku system and everything just continues to work," Abmus says. The current version of Haiku is R1/Alpha 3, which has added improved file system and hardware support, MediaKit improvements, user interface tweaks, and support for more than four gigabytes of random access memory. Abmus says that although typical end users might not see the advantages of Haiku, there are big differences between it and Linux-based operating systems. "Compiling Haiku on Haiku is more than seven times faster compared to compiling it on BeOS and only about 20 percent slower compared to compiling it on Linux, on a dual-core machine," Abmus says.
Toward a R&D Roadmap for Privacy
CCC Blog (08/06/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation recently released a report calling for a research and development (R&D) roadmap for privacy, as well as a companion Web site to enable researchers to collaborate on creating a privacy research agenda. "Effectively addressing privacy concerns ... will require a mix of new technologies and policies to ensure data is properly safeguarded and consumers are protected," and a roadmap will "help address consumer privacy concerns, better align R&D investments with strategic objectives, and enable more innovation," the report says. The report warns that "if privacy concerns are not adequately addressed, they may stall or disrupt the deployment of new technologies that offer many potential economic and quality-of-life benefits to consumers." In addition, the report notes that "advances in privacy research and technology could strengthen consumer trust and better protect consumer privacy while enabling continued innovation." Research areas identified by the report in which more technology-based R&D could make an impact include data de-identification; privacy-preserving data mining; usability and accessibility of privacy-enhancing technologies; secure, multi-party authentication; interoperable digital credentials; and privacy metrics.
UC San Diego Team Aims to Broaden Researcher Access to Protein Simulation
UCSD News (CA) (08/06/12) Jan Zverina
University of California, San Diego researchers have developed graphics-processing unit (GPU)-accelerated software and demonstrated an approach that can sample biological events that occur on the millisecond timescale. The researchers combined an algorithm, an off-the-shelf GPU, and the Assisted Model Building with Energy Refinement software to run a biological simulation on the Anton supercomputer. "This work shows that using conventional, off-the-shelf GPU hardware combined with an enhanced sampling algorithm, events taking place on the millisecond time scale can be effectively sampled with dynamics simulations orders of magnitude shorter than those timescales," the researchers say. The enhanced sampling algorithm refers to accelerated molecular dynamics (aMD), which improves the conformational space sampling of proteins when compared with conventional molecular dynamics simulations (cMD). The researchers say their process marks the longest aMD simulation of a biomolecule to date, as well as the first direct comparison of an aMD simulation versus a very long cMD simulation. "By combining our experience with conventional MD on GPUs with the enhanced sampling provided by accelerated MD methods, we were able to exploit both providing, for the first time, the ability to routinely simulate events that take place on the millisecond timescale," says San Diego Supercomputing Center professor Ross Walker.
Disney Researchers Add Sense of Touch to Augmented Reality Applications
Science Codex (08/06/12)
Disney researchers have developed REVEL, technology that makes it possible to change the feel of actual surfaces and objects, such as touchscreens, walls, furniture, and plastic objects, without requiring users to wear special gloves or use force-feedback devices. The technology utilizes reverse electrovibration, a physical phenomenon that creates the illusion of changing textures as a user's fingers move across a surface. Reverse electrovibration involves a weak electrical signal, which can be applied imperceptibly anywhere on a user's body, and creates an oscillating electrical field around the user's fingers that is responsible for the tactile feedback. "Sight and sound are important, but we believe the addition of touch can create a really unique and magical experience," says Disney researcher Olivier Bau. By tracking the finger's position using an external sensor, the researchers can manipulate the electrovibration to make users feel bumps, edges, or changes in texture corresponding to particular locations on the surface. The surfaces themselves need no extensive modification, although they require coating with an insulator-covered electrode, which the researchers call REVEL skin.
UC Names Winners for Technology Innovation Awards
UC Newsroom (08/06/12) Katherine Tam
The University of California (UC) honored nine UC teams with the 2012 Larry L. Sautter Award during the recent UC Computing Services Conference. Teams were honored for developing easy-to-use information technology tools that improve operations and efficiency at campuses. Winning projects for the Golden Awards for Innovation in Information Technology included UC Davis Health System's Research Volunteer Registry, which keeps detailed information about research volunteers in a central database, eliminating the need for multiple registries or filing systems in different departments. The Office of the President's DMPTool helps researchers create data management plans, which now are required by most major federal funding programs. And UC San Diego's Delivering an Amazing Web Experience on Every Device: Responsive Design enables campus Web pages to display and function well on multiple electronic devices such as laptops and mobile devices. "A number of these tools will be of interest throughout higher education," says UC system chief information officer David J. Ernst. "It shows how technology coupled with thinking 'outside the box' can improve operations and service across the UC system and beyond."
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