Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the January 4, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Welcome to the Home of the Future
USA Today (01/03/13) Jon Swartz

The increasing use of intelligent devices combined with ongoing breakthroughs in robotics, cloud computing, and other technologies are leading to a new era of digital living spaces. Next-generation entertainment centers will lead to the installation of sound systems and screens within walls to save space. Smart windows will be bigger than traditional windows, and increased use of shared, driverless cars will eliminate the need for garages or dramatically reduce their size, according to architect Tom Kinslow. Smartphones could become the remote controls for smart homes. Sprinklers, kitchen appliances, washers, dryers, lights, windows, and pools all could be controlled from a smartphone or tablet, predicts futurist Paul Saffo. Robots also will be a major component of future smart homes. Within 10 years, general-purpose robots will perform house chores while users are at work, says Bossa Nova Robotics co-founder Sarjoun Skaff. In addition, future homes likely will have networks that connect all of their appliances. Microsoft already has developed HomeOS, an operating system designed to turn homes into live-in computers, and Google recently launched Android@Home, an ecosystem for managing every electric home device. Meanwhile, Apple is developing an energy-management system that uses intelligent power-line networking to measure and control which home devices are consuming power.


Researchers Demonstrate Record-Setting P-Type Transistor
MIT News (01/03/13) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers say they have developed a p-type transistor with the highest carrier mobility ever measured, making it twice as fast as previous experimental p-type transistors and nearly four times as faster as the best commercial p-type transistors. MIT's device derives its speed from the use of germanium instead of silicon. The transistor also features a trigate design, which could solve some of the problems associated with conventional computer circuits at extremely small sizes. In a p-type transistor, the charge carriers are positively charged "holes." Carrier mobility measures how quickly charge carriers move in the presence of an electric field. The researchers were able to develop the record-setting hole mobility by forcing the germanium atoms closer together, which they accomplished by growing the germanium on top of several different layers of silicon and a silicon-germanium composite. "We’re particularly successful at growing these high-strain layers and keeping them strained without defects," says MIT's James T. Teherani. In the trigate design, the channels rise above the surface of the chip. In order to increase its surface area, the gate it wrapped around the channel's three exposed sides.


To Thwart Hackers, Firms Salting Their Servers With Fake Data
Washington Post (01/03/13) Ellen Nakashima

Some companies are increasingly making use of controversial cybersecurity tactics involving the use of fake data on servers and Web sites meant to ensnare hackers. Sometimes referred to as honey pots, deceptive data can take any number of forms and are generally made to look valuable and used to track the activity of hackers who take the bait. For example, Columbia University professor Salvatore Stolfo worked with a major U.S. bank two years ago to create a fake bank account whose login information he then exposed to a widely used piece of malware. By monitoring the fake account, the bank was able to track numerous attempts to shift the money in the account into a real account, the owner of which the bank was able to identify. “The use of deception is a very powerful tool going back to Adam and Eve,” Stolfo says. “If the hackers have to expend a lot of energy and effort figuring out what’s real and what’s not, they’ll go elsewhere.” However, such deceptive network security tactics, which are a type of active defense, are controversial and have been the subject of debate within the industry and on Capitol Hill.


Best Tech Colleges Are Harder Than Ever to Get In
Network World (01/03/13) Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Early admission statistics indicate that 2013 will be another difficult year for high school seniors to get accepted into the leading undergraduate computer science and engineering programs. The U.S.'s most highly ranked tech colleges reported a sharp rise in early applications, prompting them to be more selective in choosing prospective freshmen. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology received 6,541 early applications, an increase of 9 percent over 2011, and accepted 650 students for an acceptance rate of 10 percent. Stanford University received 6,103 early applications and accepted 725 students for an acceptance rate of 12 percent. The California Institute of Technology received 1,713 early applications, a 17 percent increase over 2011, and accepted 250 students for an acceptance rate of 15 percent. Harvard University received 4,856 early applications, an increase of 14 percent over 2011, and accepted 895 students for an acceptance rate of 18 percent. Carnegie Mellon University received 1,064 early applications, a 12 percent increase over 2011, and accepted 264 students for an acceptance rate of 23 percent. And Georgia Tech received 9,000 early applications, a six percent increase over 2011, and accepted 4,950 students for an acceptance rate of 55 percent.


Software Detects and Extracts Text From Within Video Frames, Makes It Searchable
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) (01/02/13)

National University of Singapore researchers have developed a method that automates the process of detecting text within video frames and extracting it from the background of each recording. The researchers note that their method for extracting text from video files would aid the effort to catalog large video databases and offer more effective search capability. The researchers developed an automated text recognition method that first processes video frames using masks that enhance the contrast between text and background. Then they developed a process to combine the output of two known masks to enhance text pixels without generating image noise. From the contrast-enhanced image, their method then searches for characters of text using a Bayesian classifier, which employs probabilistic models to detect the edges of each text character. The software detects how each character in an image relates to its neighbors to form lines of text by scanning its surroundings for nearby characters, growing the text box until the end of the line of text is found, and then eliminating false-positive results by checking that identified text boxes conform to certain geometric rules.


C# Named Top Programming Language of 2012
eWeek (01/02/13) Darryl K. Taft

Microsoft's C# programing language was ranked as the number one programming language of 2012, according to the PYPL PopularitY of Programming Language index. C# had the biggest growth in 2012, rising more than 2.3 percent and surpassing Java, PHP, and C++, according to the PYPL index. However, "over a five-year period, Python is the language whose popularity is growing the fastest; it is already the second most popular in the U.S," according to the index. The PYPL index is based on data from Google Trends, which measures search volume, and the results are based on the relative number of searches for programming tutorials in the given language. Although the popularity of Java and JavaScript have remained stable over the past year, the growth of C# has come at the expense of C and Basic, while Python's growth has come at Perl's expense. Xaramin CEO Nat Friedman offers several reasons why C# is the best language for mobile development. "The launch of Windows 8 has probably played a role--C# remains the dominant language of third-party application development on Windows devices," Friedman notes.


Computer Scientists Measure How Much of the Web Is Archived
Technology Review (01/02/13)

Old Dominion University (ODU) researchers are attempting to determine how much of the Internet is archived. The researchers note that the actual amount of archived data depends on what criteria is used because online sources are archived in very different ways. The ODU researchers, led by Scott Ainsworth collected a sample of online addresses and then determined what percentage of them had archived copies. The researchers co-sampled 1,000 Web addresses from the Open Directory Project, the Delicious Recent Bookmark List, Bitly, Google, Bing, and Yahoo!. They then looked for archived versions of all of the addresses using Memento, an aggregator of Internet archive sources developed by Ainsworth. The researchers then counted the percentage of addresses that have been archived, the number of times each had been archived, and how far back the archives went. The results show that the proportion of the Web that has at least one archived copy varies between 35 percent and 90 percent depending on the source. The researchers note that some parts of the Web are being preserved at a very high rate, while other parts are being lost forever.


Smart Search Engines for News Videos
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (01/02/13)

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT) are developing NewsHistory, software designed to make searching for a video clip smarter. NewsHistory provides users with search algorithms, a data model, and a Web-based user interface so that they can locate identical sequences within various news videos, says Fraunhofer IDMT's Patrick Aichroth. "The search engine learns from each individual user, allowing it to keep improving search results," Aichroth says. "Not only does this improve the quality of results, but the resources needed to undertake the analysis are also cut down." Users also can add information to the results generated by the search engine, including production and broadcast date, sources, and keywords for videos, and rate the results. The user's search also serves as a source of information, providing data that is incorporated into the search engine. The metadata of a newly uploaded video, for example, passes into the database. The researchers say archivists, journalists, media, and market researchers are potential users, and in the future the software potentially could be used to compare the multimedia content on online media portals.


Project Login Aims to Double State's Computer Science Graduation Rate
Kennebec Journal (ME) (12/30/12) Susan McMillan

Maine is expected to see a shortage of 977 computer and information technology (IT) professionals by 2018, according to a Southern Maine Community College report. The University of Maine and Educate Maine recently launched Project Login, which aims to double the number of computer science and information technology graduates from the university system, from 80 in 2011 to 160 in 2016. "The University of Maine System has the capacity and the training, the courses, but we don't have enough students entering and staying in these degree programs," says Project Login program director Andrea Maker. The three main areas Project Login will address are increased enrollment, improved retention of students, and internships for students to gain real-world experience before graduating, according to the University of Maine at Augusta's Diana Kokoska. She says Project Login will launch a Web site with video testimonials and social media outreach to target middle and high school students, military veterans, and the more than 200,000 Maine residents with college credits but no degree. University of Maine at Augusta also plans to interest high school students in computer science by offering free introductory programming courses through the High School Aspirations program.


Can Your Phone Double Up as Your Life-Coach?
University of Cambridge (12/29/12)

University of Cambridge researchers have developed the Android Remote Sensing app (AIRS), which gathers environmental data such as location, weather, and noise levels and combines it with information on the user's social events and communication spikes to provide an overview of the user's day. The automatic recording is combined with the ability to add emotional data by updating the user's mood through a series of emoticons with text annotations. "By steering people to become self-aware of stress and activity management, systems such as AIRS may be able to help people before they develop health problems in later life, when costly treatments are required with limited success," says Cambridge's Dirk Trossen. AIRS also provides essential data for the desktop-based MyRoR platform for lifestyle management, part of the wider PAL project, which is studying personal and social communication services for health and lifestyle monitoring. "The platform gives people the opportunity to step outside their lives and analyze in-depth contextual data from their day to day existence--an important chance for serious reflection on aspects of daily life that are impacting perhaps without even realizing," Trossen says.


Advanced Humanoid Roboy to Be 'Born' in Nine Months
KurzweilAI.net (12/26/12)

Researchers at the University of Zurich's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have set a goal of building an advanced humanoid robot called Roboy in just nine months. The project began five months ago, and involves constructing a tendon-driven robot modeled on human beings to enable it to move as elegantly as humans. The researchers are designing Roboy as a service robot, and they note that user-friendliness and safety are critical for robots that share their living space with humans. Soft robotics will be key to the project, and the team will cover Roboy with soft skin, which will make interaction with the robot safer and more pleasant. The researchers plan to unveil Roboy at the Robots on Tour event in Zurich on March 8-9, 2013. Crowdfunding has enabled the team to chart the ambitious schedule, and they say their initiative is the first grassroots robotics project financed via crowdfunding.


"Neuristor": Memristors Used to Create a Neuron-Like Behavior
Ars Technica (12/24/12) John Timmer

Hewlett-Packard researchers have found that a combination of memristors and capacitors can create a spiking output pattern that is more regular than the spiking patterns produced by actual neurons. However, the researchers say it might be possible to create versions of the device that have slightly more variation and make them in large numbers directly on silicon chips. The key to the device is a Mott insulator, which is a material that normally would be able to conduct electricity, but is unable to because of interactions among its electrons. The interactions are weakened by elevated temperatures, so heating a Mott insulator turns it into a conductor. There are two units in the new circuit, one representing a sodium channel and the other representing a potassium channel. Each unit consists of a capacitor in parallel to a memristor. In the correct arrangement, the combination produces spikes of activity as soon as a given voltage threshold is exceeded, creating a neuristor. Although the researchers say neuristors currently use too much power to put in large numbers on a chip, it should be possible to create one that is both low power and compatible with current chip-making techniques.


Computers: It's Time to Start Over
IEEE Spectrum (12/26/12) Steven Cherry

The University of Cambridge's Robert Watson wants to solve the computer security crisis through research known as Clean Slate, a U.S. Defense Department effort focusing on a rethinking of computer security goals through a fundamental reorganization of computing design. Watson visualizes an arms race between computing system makers and attackers, and observes "every time you get a critical security update from your vendor or a new antivirus update ... they reflect the discovery and exploitation of vulnerabilities in the software that we rely on to do our jobs. So we’re clearly, as the defenders, at something of a disadvantage." Watson advocates compartmentalization as a mitigation strategy, in which a large piece of software is broken down into fragments, with each fragment placed within a compartment or sandbox. His goal is to align these sandboxes with each individual task the user is trying to achieve, and the specific rights that are required. Watson cites the principle of least privilege, which dictates that every individual piece of software should operate with only the rights that it needs to execute. "If we now think security is important to us ... there’s a strong argument for pulling that into hardware if it provides us with dramatic improvement in scalability," he says.


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