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Welcome to the January 14, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Drivers With Hands Full Get a Backup: The Car
New York Times (01/12/13) John Markoff; Somini Sengupta

Car makers increasingly are adopting technologies for use in autonomous vehicles that take advantage of the array of optical and radar sensors being added to new cars. The sensors can offer auditory, visual, and mechanical warnings if a collision is imminent. "If the driver is not doing the right thing, the technology takes over," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Ragunathan Rajkumar. Volvo, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes have announced that as soon as this year they will begin offering models that are equipped with sensors and software that enable the car to drive itself in heavy traffic. The systems will follow the car ahead and automatically slow down and speed up as needed, handling both braking and steering. The automobile industry has been motivated to innovate by growing evidence that existing technologies such as anti-locking braking systems and electronic stability control have saved thousands of lives. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently recommended that all new cars be equipped with collision-avoidance technologies. Analysts note that Google's program to design self-driving cars gave the technology a significant boost. "In time, as society becomes more comfortable and legal concerns are ironed out, full autonomy will become practical, inevitable, and necessary," Rajkumar says.

Internet2 Eyes Cloud Boost From Silicon Valley Office
Investor's Business Daily (01/11/13) Sheila Riley

The Internet2 technology consortium recently opened its first Silicon Valley office. "It will serve as a hub for our West Coast campuses and our Asian partners," says Internet2's Shelton Waggener. Internet2 aims to provide a network fast enough to accommodate the supercomputers and unique needs of top research institutions. The consortium also wants to act as a broker for academic institutions to get cloud services, and provide a community for members to collaboratively develop technology to benefit research and higher education. Waggener says Internet2 has the U.S.'s fastest growing research and education network, and uses its high-speed connectivity to link academic institutions to the Internet cloud. For example, the University of Washington uses Internet2 as the main network for instructors and students, as well as for cloud services, says school CIO Kelli Trosvig. She says the consortium acts as a broker for cloud services, which makes the process easier for the university and lowers the cost. Internet2 also helps researchers at universities by enabling real-time collaboration among faculty worldwide, notes Berkeley Research Group's Ramin Sedehi. "This is the age of data," Sedehi says. "These very large data sets have to be stored and accessible for academic research."

Surgeons May Use Hand Gestures to Manipulate MRI Images in OR
Purdue University News (01/10/13) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers are developing a system that recognizes hand gestures as commands to tell a computer to browse and display medical images of a patient during surgery. The system uses depth-sensing cameras and algorithms to recognize hand gestures as commands to manipulate MRI images on a large display. The system recognizes 10 gestures, including rotate clockwise and counterclockwise, browse left and right, browse up and down, increase and decrease brightness, and zoom in and out. The researchers note the system's accuracy relies on the use of contextual information in the operating room, which is achieved through cameras that observe the surgeon's torso and head to determine what the surgeon wants to do. "Based on the direction of the gaze and the torso position we can assess whether the surgeon wants to access medical images," says Purdue professor Pablo Wachs. The gesture-recognition system uses a Microsoft Kinect camera that can sense 3D space. The researchers found that integrating context enables the algorithms to accurately distinguish image-browsing commands from unrelated gestures, reducing false positives from 20.8 percent to 2.3 percent. The system also has an average accuracy of 93 percent in translating gestures into specific commands.

Why We Roll the Dice on Flu Shots
Wake Forest University (01/11/13) Kim McGrath

Wake Forest University (WFU) researchers have developed an online computer game that simulates the spread of an infectious disease among its players. The game is designed to help researchers learn more about what motivates people to protect themselves from infection. The researchers note the study, which was conducted by three economists and a computer scientist, was the first to investigate the economics of disease control using virtual diseases. "Our research shows that to prevent an epidemic, there is a need to tailor a menu of options for different kinds of people," says WFU's Fred Chen. The virtual epidemic study showed how people really behave when faced with choices about whether or not to self-protect during a widespread occurrence of infection in a community. As part of the game, healthy players have a choice, at a cost, to take protective action that reduces the likelihood of getting infected. Since self-protecting involves a cost, players earned the highest number of points by staying healthy and not choosing the preventative measures. In one game, the cost for players to self-protect was low, while in another game the cost was higher. Players in the low-cost game were significantly more likely to choose to protect themselves from infection.

Cyber Security in 2013: How Vulnerable to Attack Is U.S. Now?
Christian Science Monitor (01/09/13) Mark Clayton

Last year offered many unsettling revelations for businesses, individuals, and U.S. government officials concerned about their vulnerability to cyberattack. Hackers launched offensives that took aim at a wide range of targets, including ordinary citizens' financial information, bank Web sites, critical infrastructure, and important federal agencies. "The cyberthreat facing the nation has finally been brought to public attention," says the Center for Strategic and International Studies' James Lewis. However, he noted there is more befuddlement than clarity on the subject of cybersecurity, and cultivation of the skills to discuss cybersecurity is progressing at a slower pace than hoped. Although there are many cyberthreat sources, the U.S. Pentagon is chiefly concentrating on the growing cyberwarfare capabilities of China, Russia, and Iran. Adding to the challenge of shoring up defenses is the multitude of cyberattackers with diverse motivations and targets. Meanwhile, the U.S. Cyber Consequences Unit reports that at a corporate level, cyberattacks could potentially generate liabilities and losses of sufficient size to bankrupt most companies. Meanwhile, awareness of cyberthreats is on the rise, with a Central Intelligence Agency cybersecurity index estimating that corporate chief information security officers reported a 50 percent increase in the "measure of perceived risk" since March 2011.

Warsaw Team on Skype Can Send Silent Message (01/08/13) Nancy Owano

Polish researchers have sent secret messages in phone calls on Skype at a rate of almost 1 kilobit per second. Professor Wojciech Mazurczyk at Warsaw University of Technology's Institute of Telecommunication and colleagues communicated privately after conducting an analysis of Skype data traffic. The team discovered that Skype sends 70-bit-long data packets between spoken words, instead of the 130-bit ones that carry speech. Mazurczyk and colleagues hid their data in the 70-bit packets during silent periods, and could transmit text, audio, or video alongside the calls. "The secret data is indistinguishable from silence-period traffic, so detection of SkypeHide is very difficult," Mazurczyk says. The team plans to present SkypeHide at the 1st ACM Information Hiding and Multimedia Security Workshop, which takes place June 17-19 at the University of Montpellier. "There are concerns that Skype calls can be intercepted and analyzed," Mazurczyk notes.

Game Not Over for Retro Games
CORDIS News (01/08/13)

The European Union's Keeping Emulation Environments Portable (KEEP) project uses emulators to keep classic video games such as Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong alive. Since emulators are software, they could also become obsolete, and the KEEP researchers tried to make the emulators future-proof so they would be able to run on future machines. The researchers used the KEEP Virtual Machine as a platform because it can run emulation software and be easily adapted to future unknown computer architecture specifications. "We realized that you cannot rely on obsolete hardware to run the software--the hardware is a historical artifact itself," says KEEP project coordinator Elisabeth Freyre. KEEP has developed a set of tools that will help archivists extract data from different types of carriers and convert the data into a usable, common coding format, which means the game is no longer bound to the device it was made to run on. The KEEP Media Transfer Tool Framework can create an image of a software carrier and store it on current digital media so it can be used by emulation services.

IEEE Approves WiGig, Clearing Way for Faster Wireless Networking
PCWorld (01/10/2013) John P. Mello Jr.

The IEEE Standards Association has approved WiGig, a very fast, short-range networking technology that operates in the 60 GHz band. WiGig, also known as 802.11ad, has the potential to eliminate the tangled bundle of wires at the back of PCs, and could start appearing in routers as early as the second or third quarter this year. The technology would transfer data at 7 Gbps, compared to current routers using 802.11g technology that transfer data at 50 Mbps and 802.11n at 100 Mbps. The 60 GHz band shortens the range of WiGig to about 40 feet, but it also makes its signal more robust. IEEE says improvements in spectral reuse and beam forming for WiGig now make it possible for users in denser deployment environments to maintain top-speed performance, without interfering with one another or having to share bandwidth. WiGig's transmission speeds also should enable many home networking applications. The approved version includes a feature called Fast Session Transfer, which enables seamless and quick switching between WiGig and legacy technologies working in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.

GM and Ford Open Up Their Vehicles to App Developers
Technology Review (01/09/13) Tom Simonite

Both Ford and General Motors (GM) used the 2013 International CES show to announce that they want software developers to create apps for their cars, and that they will open up their vehicles' computer systems to engineers. The Ford program is an expansion of the company's Sync software platform, developed in collaboration with Microsoft. The new initiative allows anyone to access the tools needed to create a Ford app and submit it for approval and distribution through Ford's store. GM's program will make apps created by third-party developers available in a catalog for its cars beginning next year. Both companies will allow apps to interface with cars' audio and display systems and to access some data from the engine. "There will be a category of apps that will be unique to our cars and very different from what people use today on their smartphones or tablets," says GM's Phil Abram. However, carmakers will have to find a balance between marketing cars because of the apps they offer and increasing the risk of distracted driving. "Seventy-five percent of smartphone owners believe it’s important to connect their smartphone to their vehicles, but smartphone users are twice as likely to use their phone while driving," says Ford's Hau Thai-Tang.

Work Begins on Hardware to Aid Edsac Replica Recreation
BBC News (01/09/13) Mark Ward

The project to rebuild the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (Edsac), which began in 2011, passed another milestone with the manufacture of the parts that will form its metal chassis. Edsac ran its first program in 1949 and was created to help scientists at Cambridge University. The pioneering computer consisted of more than 3,000 valves spread across a chassis made up of more than 100 steel shelves bolted to tall equipment racks. However, the engineers working to replicate Edsac had almost no original design documents, so they have been forced to scrutinize photographs to determine which parts go where. "Edsac let scientists tackle problems that could never have been solved with mechanical calculators," says Edsac project researcher Hermann Hauser. "It revolutionized the way a lot of Cambridge scientists thought about what they could do." The rebuild of Edsac, which will be done in public at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park, is expected to be completed by 2015.

Solving Genome Puzzles Without a Picture
UC Davis News & Information (01/09/13) Andy Fell

Researchers at the University of California, Davis and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIC) have developed reference-assisted chromosome assembly (RACA), an algorithm that can quickly create "virtual chromosomes" with no prior information about how the genome is organized. The DNA sequencing technique known as next-generation sequencing (NGS) creates thousands of short DNA fragments. In species whose genetics has already been extensively studied, this can be an effective method for organizing the NGS fragments. However, this process becomes more difficult as scientists start to examine less-studied species. RACA uses the chromosome organization of one or more known species and NGS information from a newly sequenced genome to create virtual chromosomes. "We show for the first time that chromosomes can be assembled from NGS data without the aid of a preexisting genetic or physical map of the genome," says UC Davis professor Harris Lewin. RACA will perform even better as developing NGS technologies produce longer reads of DNA sequence, notes UIC professor Jian Ma. Lewin says the algorithm also could be useful for large-scale sequencing projects such as G10K, which is an effort to sequence 10,000 vertebrate genomes of which very few have a map.

The Rise and Fall of Languages in 2012
Dr. Dobb's Journal (01/08/13) Andrew Binstock

The most recent processor phenomenon, the transition from the multicore to the many-core era, was expected to set the stage for the emergence of functional computer languages, which fit well with concurrent programming. Although 2012 did not produce a major breakthrough in functional languages, the leading candidates are Scala and Clojure. Java has been in decline in traditional settings, but the popularity of the Android platform has made up for the shortfall. Objective-C also has continued to do well as a mobile programming language, while Python continues to grow slowly, and JavaScript and Ruby are holding steady. Meanwhile, Perl continues the decline it has experienced in recent years. The number of searches for Perl is 19 percent of what it was in 2004. The popularity of the primary native languages, C and C++, remained about the same in 2012, rising or falling slightly in various surveys. Finally, D, Go, and Dart all emerged in 2012, and although they have not yet entered the premier tier, they are slowly working their way forward and gaining users.

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