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Welcome to the June 7, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Documents: U.S. Mining Data From 9 Leading Internet Firms; Companies Deny Knowledge
Washington Post (06/06/13) Barton Gellman; Laura Poitras

The U.S. National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reportedly are accessing the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting data that enables analysts to track foreign targets. The program, known as PRISM, is focused on foreign communications traffic, which often flows through U.S. servers even when sent from one overseas location to another. "Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats," says Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper. However, several companies claim they had no knowledge of the program, did not allow direct government access to their servers, and asserted that they have responded only to targeted requests for information. "When Facebook is asked for data or information about specific individuals, we carefully scrutinize any such request for compliance with all applicable laws, and provide information only to the extent required by law," says Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan. In a classified report obtained by The Washington Post, the arrangement is described as allowing "collection managers [to send] content tasking instructions directly to equipment installed at company-controlled locations," instead of directly to company servers.


Futuristic UC Berkeley Operating System Uniquely Controls Discrete 'Manycore' Resources
Network World (06/06/13) Ellen Messmer

University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed the Tessellation Operating System, which is designed to take advantage of the emerging Internet of things and existing and future manycore-based computing systems. For example, Tessellation enables surfaces with sensors, such as walls and tables in rooms, to be utilized via touch or audio command to launch multimedia and other applications. Berkeley professor John Kubiatowicz says Tessellation looks to define resources such as bandwidth for cloud storage, latency to response, and requests for database services in a continuous adaptive manner based on its concept of resource containers. Kubiatowicz notes that a key concept in Tessellation is the abstract idea of the cell as "a user-level software component with guaranteed resources." Cells provide guaranteed fractions of system resources and make use of a quality-of-service method and scheduling. If successful, Kubiatowicz says Tessellation could lead to a "swarm of services" that users can invoke either locally or from the cloud. Berkeley professor Edward Lee notes Tessellation is part of the university's TerraSwarm project and could provide an open application development platform, forming the basis for home-based automation innovation and much more in the future.


Wi-Fi Signals Enable Gesture Recognition Throughout Entire Home
UW News (06/04/13) Michelle Ma

University of Washington computer scientists have developed gesture-recognition technology called WiSee that uses existing Wi-Fi signals to detect specific movements without the use of body or camera sensors. The researchers say the technology enables users, for example, to change the song playing in the next room by moving their hand to the right and flipping through songs. Unlike systems that use cameras to recognize gestures, WiSee does not require users to be in the same room as a device. WiSee can pick up all of the wireless transmissions in a home from smartphones, laptops, and tablets, and can use an adapted standard Wi-Fi router as a receiver. The researchers developed an algorithm to detect slight wireless frequency changes, known as the Doppler frequency shift, that occur when a person moves. The technology discerns nine different whole-body gestures, which the researchers tested with five users in a two-bedroom apartment and an office environment. The technology correctly identified 94 percent of 900 gestures performed during the trials. The system uses one receiver with multiple antennas, and each antenna locks into a specific person’s movements when the user performs a repetition gesture sequence to get access to the receiver. This serves as a password to prevent unauthorized users from controlling devices.


EdX Goes Open Source to Woo MOOC Developers
InformationWeek (06/06/13) Michael Fitzgerald

EdX recently released its full source code, a move that backers hope will accelerate advances to the massive open online course consortium (MOOC) started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. "We're in the very early days in the development of the technology to support learning and research about learning," says EdX's Rob Rubin. "Let's all contribute to the open source effort to be able to rapidly evolve that for the benefits of the student." EdX originally planned to release its source code in the fourth quarter of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. However, the release was moved up because Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and other consortium members all wanted to contribute code, according to Rubin. The full release includes code from several EdX members. Stanford contributed code for several features, including real-time chat and some installation scripts, while Berkeley contributed forum software and a software-as-a-service automated grading system. "The goal is to have minimal code drift from the source code," Rubin says.


Thought-Powered Helicopter Takes Off
BBC News (06/04/13)

In an experiment at the University of Minnesota, participants have powered a remote-controlled helicopter through an obstacle course with their thoughts. Wearing a non-invasive cap that captures brain electrical activity, the participants taught a computer the brain patterns corresponding to thoughts of movement, and then the computer was set up to run the helicopter over Wi-Fi. The participants had success rates as high as 90 percent for avoiding obstacles. The development could benefit people with disabilities, says Bin He, director of the university's Institute for Engineering in Medicine. "We want to control a wheelchair, and turn on the TV, and most importantly--this is my personal dream--to develop a technology to use the subject's intention to control an artificial limb in that way, and make it as natural as possible," He says. The researchers also see applications for controlling household robots. "The brain-computer interface technology may ultimately not only help disabled patients but may also help the healthy population...not to restore loss of function but to enhance function beyond what we can accomplish," He notes.


Wearable Computing Pioneer Says Google Glass Offers “Killer Existence”
Technology Review (06/04/13) Rachel Metz

Google's Project Glass technical lead Thad Starner has been building and wearing head-mounted computers since 1993. He showed Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin an early version of a wearable computer in 2003, and in 2010 became the technical lead for Project Glass. His first wearable computer that worked was a head-mounted display with a 12-MHz processor connected to a two-pound car cellphone and powered by a seven-pound motorcycle battery, which was carried in a shoulder bag. Starner has advanced the technology considerably with Glass, which he believes is an invention on par with the automobile for its ability to transform society. Starner says that by reducing the time between intention and action, people can truly integrate Glass into routine activities. For example, he says writers could use an app that would pull up their previous relevant articles as they were typing. "There’s a lot of ways to improve it. A lot of it is going to be in how people use it, how people integrate it into their lifestyles," Starner says. "People always talk about the killer app, but this is more a killer lifestyle. It’s a killer existence."


Photo of Your Face Is All It Takes to Predict Your BMI
New Scientist (06/05/13) Paul Marks

New software can analyze a photo of a person's face and predict their body mass index (BMI). University of West Virginia (WVU) researchers have designed the program to assess seven weight-related components in a facial image, including the ratios of cheekbone width to jaw width, face length to cheekbone width, and the average distance between eyebrow and eye. The researchers then ran the software across images of 14,500 faces of people with known BMIs. The program predicted BMIs mostly within two or three points of the person's actual BMI. The researchers believe they can improve the results by tweaking the software to analyze more facial features. "This could be used in smart health applications, relating face images to BMI and associated health risks," says WVU's Guodong Guo.
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Your Refrigerator Is Safe From Cyberattack...for Now
Federal Computer Week (06/04/13) Frank Konkel

The cybersecurity challenges of the future will dwarf those of the past, according to Randy Garrett with the Information Innovation Office at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Studies have shown that hackers could remotely take over Internet-connected vehicles. The new threat suggests that malicious cyberterrorists also could target appliances in the home that are connected to the Internet, such as microwave ovens, dishwashers, and other kitchen products. Going forward, the Internet of things will grow in importance, and the related datasets will be very important to national security. At the core of the Internet of things is exponentially greater data production by machines, sensors, computer systems, and humans. Garrett says that data soon will be combined with with other datasets to generate high-value insights. The concept will increase capabilities, but many of the new dangers have not been conceptualized, at least not publicly. "There are many things we can do with this increased data," Garrett says. "From DARPA's standpoint, there are dangers we never had before. It makes you wonder what kind of world we'll have."


Hackers Spawn Web Supercomputer on Way to Chess World Record
Wired News (06/03/13) Klint Finley

The Hack Reactor in San Francisco offers crash courses in software development that provide intensive computer programming courses involving several weeks of complete immersion in code. After enrolling in the course in March, Ruan Pethiyagoda, a communications major with little programming experience, together with three other novice programmers is poised to beat the world record for the classic chess puzzle called the N-Queens Problem. The original problem asks how many unique ways eight queens could be positioned on a traditional 8-by-8 chessboard without the possibility of any two queens being able to attack one another, and progressively more difficult versions of the problem have arisen over time. The group started with an algorithm that could calculate 15 queens on a 15-by-15 grid, N=15, and were soon able to solve N=17 by running the problem in parallel on two computers. To further advance their solutions, the team created a program called Smidge that uses distributed computing to harness computing power from many machines through a single website using Javascript. By partnering with the Pivotal Initiative, which provided access to a 1,000-node Hadoop cluster, the team was on the brink of calculating N=27, which would break the world record for the N-Queens Problem.


Research Examines the Structure of Video Games
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (06/03/13)

Carlos III University of Madrid researcher Antonio Jose Planells has analyzed the content of video games and their interaction with the player. The research studied the various aspects of different video games, such as the construction of the characters, the options that modify the virtual world, and the scenarios. Planells says the research explains the existence of some static dimensions in which all of the action develops, and other dynamics that correspond to the psychological world of each of the characters that appear in the story. He also notes the video games are not stories themselves, but they can generate distinct experiences based on the way in which each player understands those fictitious worlds and how they related to them. Planells says his study can help the video game industry find new ways to improve their products and new perspectives to make them more original. "More attractive characters and more coherent worlds can be created, and the impact of controls and screen interface can be tested as well,” he says.


UC, NKU Expand Cybersecurity Programs Amid Growing Threat
Cincinnati.com (OH) (06/03/13) Cliff Peale

Cybersecurity is one of the hottest job markets in the United States and is becoming an increasing focus of universities. Cybersecurity analysts earn a median pay of about $75,000 a year and more than 65,000 new jobs will be created by 2020, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Experts say cybersecurity specialists are needed because the quest for information online is multiplying just as the need for security becomes more important. “This isn’t a fad,” says University of Cincinnati (UC) professor Richard Harknett, a member of Ohio’s Cyber Security Education and Economic Development Council. “We keep doubling down on this. We’re doubling down on an insecure infrastructure for convenience and efficiency.” As the problem grows, universities are developing academic programs to provide the workers needed to combat cyberattacks. For example, Northern Kentucky University (NKU) will debut its data science major in the fall. "Not only do students need to have a skill to defend their systems, they need to have the skills to fight back," says NKU professor Yi Hu. Meanwhile, UC will offer a cybersecurity certificate that includes classes in political science, criminal justice, and information technology.


CORMORAN Project Exploring Ways to Improve Cooperation In and Between Wireless Body Area Networks
FierceBroadbandWireless (06/02/2013) Tammy Parker

The French National Research Agency is funding a project on new forms of cooperation in and between wireless body area networks (WBANs). The CORMORAN project is investigating new mechanisms that enable WBANs to work more efficiently at the body scale, while also interacting and cooperating with other, similar networks. Project partners have overcome severe constraints on power consumption and radiated power, and have integrated in their investigations WBAN-specific constraints such as short transmission ranges. CEA-Leti is coordinating the project, which also involves INSA de Lyon-CITI, ISIC Telecom ParisTech–LINCS, and the University of Rennes 1-IETR. The researchers plan to identify the different layers of a communication protocol suitable for the new cooperative functionalities, and address theoretical aspects, such as modeling radio metrics and physical mobility, and the design of algorithms and protocols. Targeted applications include coordinating the navigation of groups in buildings or large-scale motion capture for gaming, sports, and healthcare. The researchers note that WBANs could become a key component of the Internet of things and serve as the framework of future distributed cooperative communication networks for mobile device users.


Teaching Old Microphones New Tricks
Economist (06/01/13)

Cornell University researchers are developing mobile phone software that can be trained to identify stress in the human voice. The StressSense app listens for certain stress indicators, but also is able to learn the specifics of a particular user's voice. StressSense captures and analyzes speech characteristics such as amplitude and frequency, says Cornell's Tanzeem Choudhury. The researchers hope to develop the app into something that can help users determine the links between irritating situations and subsequent responses. The researchers also have developed BeWell, an app that focuses more on overall health by looking at sleep, physical activity, and social interaction. BeWell's sleep-tracking feature determines whether the user is awake or not by analyzing usage, light, sound levels, and charging habits. Meanwhile, University of Virginia researchers are using earphones modified with accelerometers and other microphones to detect the pulse in arteries in the user's ear, making it possible to collect information about the wearer's physical state, including heart rate and activity level. And University of Washington researchers have developed a method for using a smartphone to measure lung function by blowing into the device's microphone. The app, called SpiroSmart, simulates a digital spirometer, which measures the volume of air a person can expel from their lungs.


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