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Welcome to the March 17, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


U.S. to Cede Its Oversight of Addresses on Internet
The New York Times (03/14/14) Edward Wyatt

Government officials on Friday said the United States will give up its role overseeing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), turning it over to an international group whose structure and administration will be determined over the next year. Although other countries have been urging the U.S. to relinquish control over ICANN, many businesses are concerned about what form the new organization will take. "We want to carefully transition to something that doesn't just give the power to one stakeholder, but that takes into account the interests of private industry, of large users of the Internet, of the purchasers of domain names, of governments, and of civil society," says American University professor Laura DeNardis. The U.S. Commerce Department has laid out principles that must govern any new body, including maintaining the openness of the Internet and maintaining its security and stability. Starting March 23, ICANN will conduct a meeting that will be the first step in the transition process. "We are inviting governments, the private sector, civil society, and other Internet organizations from the whole world to join us in developing this transition process," says ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade. DeNardis says a new governance structure should keep in place the expertise that currently enables the Internet to function smoothly.
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Storage-Happy Petabyte Capacity Supercomputers Due in 2015
IDG News Service (03/13/14) Agam Shah

The Wrangler supercomputer at Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the Comet supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego are currently being re-engineered with a new design that includes high levels of storage relative to the number of processors in the system. The new supercomputers will provide better throughput, in-memory, and caching features, which could offer a faster and more efficient way to solve complex problems, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF wants more sophisticated supercomputing designs so data travels faster between processing elements, says consultant Dan Olds. "It has to do with the changing nature of high-performance computing," Olds says. "They want to control massive data streams instead of handling batch [jobs]." The Comet supercomputer is more suitable for both high throughput and data-intensive computing because its heterogeneous configuration will support not only complex simulations, but also advanced analytics and visualization of output. Meanwhile, Wrangler will have 3,000 processing cores dedicated to data analysis, and flash storage layers for analytics.


Stanford Students Show That Phone Record Surveillance Can Yield Vast Amounts of Information
Stanford Report (CA) (03/12/14) Clifton B. Parker

The U.S. National Security Agency's telephone metadata program can yield details about the familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations of callers, according to Stanford University researchers. Metadata is extremely sensitive and can reveal the phone number of the caller and recipient, the particular serial number of the phones involved, the time and duration of calls, and possibly the location of each person. Stanford Ph.D. students Jonathan Mayer and Patrick Mutchler worked with the phone records of 546 volunteers, matching phone numbers against the public Yelp and Google Places directories to see who was being called. The volunteers called 33,688 unique numbers, and 6,107 (18 percent) were isolated to a particular identity. The researchers crowdsourced the data using an Android application and conducted an analysis of individual calls made by the volunteers to sensitive numbers, connecting the patterns of calls to emphasize the detail available in metadata. They were able to determine that 57 percent of volunteers made at least one medical call and 40 percent made calls related to financial services. "Phone metadata is unambiguously sensitive, even over a small sample and short time window," Mayer says.


IBM Nurtures Mainframe Workforce With World Championship
Government Computer News (03/14/14)

IBM recently announced its first-ever "Master the Mainframe" world championship, in which university students who are winners of regional qualifiers will spend March entrenched in what IBM calls the "Systems of Engagement" concept. Systems of Engagement are decentralized technologies that encourage collaboration across a variety of hardware and software platforms and often use cloud technologies to enable those interactions. IBM says modern enterprise systems are largely "Systems of Record," unconnected systems designed around discrete bits of data designed to passively provide information to a set of workers. IBM says contestants will deploy Systems of Record mainframe business applications and demonstrate how the Systems of Engagement concept utilizes the platform's capabilities. The competition is designed to highlight the modern capabilities of the mainframe in handling complex big data, cloud, security, and mobile computing workloads. "Our ongoing collaboration with governments and academia in more than 70 countries to extend mainframe skills through our System z Academic Initiative helps ensure continuous mainframe innovations in areas such as cloud, mobile, and big data for decades to come," says IBM's Pat Toole.


New Wireless Network to Revolutionize Soil Testing
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (03/12/14)

A new sensor-based approach to soil testing promises to offer a more suitable method for measuring changes over time, says the University of Southampton's Nick Harris. He says about seven sensors can be simultaneously connected to a single transmitter, which would allow for the taking of multi-point measurements of chloride in soil moisture. Planted in the ground, the sensors would create a wireless network that can collate and relay measurement readings as well as control the time intervals at which they are taken. The battery-powered unit can transmit data and information by short-range radio, Bluetooth, satellite, or a mobile phone network, as well as allow data to be logged to a memory card to be collected later. The sensors can last for more than a year. Harris notes the traditional method for testing is to remove a soil sample from its natural environment and transport it to a laboratory for analysis, which is labor- and cost-intensive, and it would not differentiate between chloride in crystallized form and chloride in dissolved form. Moreover, the sample can only be measured once.


Researchers Write Languages to Design Synthetic Living Systems Useful for New Products, Health Care
Virginia Tech News (03/13/14) Emily Kale

Researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech developed the GenoCAD open source program to create genetic languages that help design biological systems. GenoCAD will help synthetic biologists use biological rules to create organisms that produce useful products or health-care solutions from low-cost, renewable materials. Merging engineering approaches with biology, GenoCAD can assist researchers in designing protein expression vectors, artificial gene networks, and other genetic constructs. A growing number of naturally derived and synthetic parts are available to design and build living systems, which serve as the words of a DNA language. The design rules are analogous to the grammar that brings order to these words, offering enough expression to generate a broad range of constructs, while providing adequate structure to limit the possibilities of designing faulty constructs. Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers created a language that describes how to design a broad range of synthetic transcription factors for animals, plants, and other organisms with cells that contain a nucleus. The Virginia Tech researchers developed a language that describes design rules for expressing genes in the chloroplast of microalgae. The researchers say defining standards will grow more important as the number and complexity of components engineered by synthetic biologists rises.


New Model Reduces Data Access Delay, Could Increase Speed by Up to 100x
II Today (03/11/14)

Illinois Institute of Technology professor Xian-He Sun has developed Concurrent Average Memory Access Time (C-AMAT), a new mathematical model for reducing data access delay that promises to cut the penalty associated with accessing data and increase speed by up to 100 times through parallel memory access. "There's no question the primary limits on computing performance--from mobile phones to supercomputers--are the costs associated with data movement," says University of Chicago professor Andrew A. Chien. "Dr. Sun's work attacks the critical problem of understanding and modeling data movement costs and systems performance and, thus, may enable better performing software [today] and improved hardware designs in the future." C-AMAT is the first formal mathematical model to promote and evaluate the concept of parallel memory for reducing data access delay via explicit parallel data access. In addition, C-AMAT can mitigate the memory-wall effect and improve memory system performance. "The most profound research is not the design of the fastest algorithm for a given problem; it is revealing a fundamental computing property so hundreds or even thousands of algorithms can be developed upon it," says Sun, creator of Sun-Ni's law--one of three scalable computing laws along with Amdahl's law and Gustafson's law.


Soft Robotic Fish Moves Like the Real Thing
MIT News (03/13/14) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers say they have created a robotic fish that is the first self-contained autonomous soft robot capable of rapid body motion. Soft robots are an emerging area of interest in the robotics field, which MIT views as critical for further study. "As robots penetrate the physical world and start interacting with people more and more, it's much easier to make robots safe if their bodies are so wonderfully soft that there's no danger if they whack you," says Daniela Rus, director of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Soft robots alter traditional robotic motion-planning systems, in which collision avoidance is a top priority, often resulting in inefficient motion as the robot seeks collision-free trajectories. With soft robots, Rus says collision is not a significant threat and can actually be beneficial if robots use these points of contact to reach a destination more quickly. Another advantage of soft robots is their wide range of configurations, which hinged robots cannot provide. The robotic fish, created by MIT graduate student Andrew Marchese, has a long, tightly undulating channel on each side of its tail. The fish can change direction almost as quickly as a real fish, with the angle determined largely by how long the channel is inflated.


Google Helps Launch Women-Tech Incubator at 1871
Crain's Chicago Business (03/11/14) John Pletz

As part of a broader effort to increase the number of women participating in technology, Google is funding Chicago-based technology startup center 1871's launch of the 1871FEMtech incubator for female technology entrepreneurs. Under its #40Forward initiative, Google this year intends to help launch 40 incubators worldwide that will increase women's participation in technology by 25 percent. The new incubator will mentor 10 to 15 women-owned technology startups annually. "We know the percentage of women in tech hasn't improved, that it's hovered around 7 to 8 percent," says 1871 CEO Howard Tullman. "There are a massive number of companies who want to make this sort of commitment, but we didn't have the mechanism to do anything." The program will begin in the fall, offering mentoring, resources, and specific programming. With additional funding from the Motorola Mobility Foundation and the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, FEMtech will launch with $500,000 to $1 million in support. Entrepreneurs can apply for FEMtech over the next 30 to 60 days.
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Making Sense of Big Data
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (03/11/14) Wallace Ravven

University of California, Berkeley professor Ben Recht's work concentrates on simplifying data analysis, with particular emphasis on the incorporation of expert knowledge within data analysis. He is especially eager to create ways to address problems common to many investigations, and he already has demonstrated that the same mathematical model can surmount computational challenges of determining a molecule's structure, predicting traffic flow, or forecasting an online shopper's habits. "We're trying to understand if there's a single tool that all can use in data analysis," Recht says. "Is there a way of looking at analysis of huge amounts of data in which you don't have to build a giant new factory from scratch each time?" Recht is known for developing a way to manage noisy or incomplete data with an algorithm that lets researchers solve a spectrum of different complex computational problems with less data. Recht says he greatly favors the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Algorithms, Machines, and People Lab as the testbed for his work, as it consists of a collaboration of professors and grad students in different disciplines. "We work at the intersection of algorithms, machine learning, and collaborative crowdsourcing," Recht says. "We're reaching into lots of different research areas on campus, and way beyond Berkeley."


Researchers Attack Secured Internet Activity to Mine Personal Data
CSO Online (03/11/14) Antone Gonsalves

University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed an "analysis attack" for HTTPS traffic and report an 89-percent accuracy rate in determining the Web pages a person visited. Governments and Internet service providers could use the technique to bypass secured Internet connections and gather valuable personal information on Web users. Snoops who visit the same Web pages as victims are able to identify packet patterns in encrypted traffic that would be indicative of different Web pages. "Because we watch each of the parts be delivered individually, there ends up being so much information, which you can observe without decrypting the packets, that you can quite likely figure out the exact web page," says Brad Miller, co-author of the study that examined more than 463,000 page loads on 10 leading websites. Attackers also must observe victim traffic in order to match those packet patterns with ones going to particular Web pages. The team developed a defense that limited the amount of packet information an attacker could gather, and it lowered the accuracy of Web page identification to 27 percent.


W3C Boss Jeff Jaffe Explains How the Web Will Beat Smartphone Apps and Keep Growing
ZDNet (03/12/14) Jack Schofield

In an interview, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) CEO Jeff Jaffe discusses how the Web will evolve to meet the challenge of smartphone users moving to closed apps, instead of developers writing apps for the open Web. Jaffe says as the Web moves to a range of new devices, it's a challenge to maintain the "write once, read everywhere, implement everywhere" capability. W3C has a project called Closing the Gap with Native that focuses on providing smartphone apps with capabilities that are needed for the open Web. To build monetization capabilities into the open Web platform, the W3C is holding a Web Payments Workshop in Paris to determine an effective way to create a standard payments infrastructure for the Web that can handle payments and royalty programs. "Three or four years ago, there wasn't the motivation to create a Web payments ecosystem because apps were just getting started, so that's one of the areas where we are behind," Jaffe says. Over the next few years, Jaffe says the Web will expand as industries move online, creating new business areas, for example, in the mobile app ecosystem, the movement of entertainment to the Web, digital publishing, and automotive infotainment systems.


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