Welcome to the April 25, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Microsoft, Google, Other Tech Giants Unite to Prevent Next Heartbleed
The Wall Street Journal (04/24/14) Steven Norton; Michael Hickins; Rachael King; et al.
Microsoft, Google, and other tech giants have committed to contribute more than $3 million to the Core Infrastructure Initiative, which was launched to improve open source software. The disclosure of the Heartbleed bug in the OpenSSL encryption tool stimulated recruitment for the initiative, which Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin says should reduce the risk of similar bugs cropping up. "We have to provide resources in a way that allows [open source developers] to operate the way they have been operating, in a way that allows them to do it full time without having to worry about their next meal," he notes. The initiative will study a wide swath of open source efforts and determine which ones could receive significant funding, with OpenSSL being the first project under consideration, according to the Linux Foundation. Zemlin says project proposals would be presented to a steering committee that would then hold a vote on funding apportionment. Shortly following Heartbleed's disclosure, some companies suggested professionally testing open source software projects. Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth views the initiative as a first step in establishing institutions that can police open source software, and points to the need to create other institutions designed to ensure access to such resources for cybersecurity stakeholders.
Web Conference in Brazil Calls for Multistakeholder Approach
Agence France-Presse (04/25/14) Natalia Ramos
Delegates to the Net Mundial international conference on Internet governance urged a transparent, multi-stakeholder scheme, while also cautioning against what they see as massive and arbitrary Internet surveillance. Attendees agreed the Internet has to be "inclusive, transparent, and accountable, and its structures and operations must follow an approach that enables the participation of all stakeholders." Internet pioneer and ACM president Vint Cerf says the idea the United States controls the Internet is a myth, and notes although the U.S. still plays a dominant role in the domain name system, it is prepared to give it up. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who hosted the conference, says her country is committed to multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and believes the U.S. government's preparedness to replace its institutional ties to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is an encouraging sign. However, countries such as China and Russia want either a group of governments or an intergovernmental organization to oversee the Internet's technical operations. The conference's final statement says "mass and arbitrary surveillance undermines trust in the Internet and trust in the Internet governance ecosystem," while the accumulation and processing of personal information by state and non-state actors ought to be performed in compliance with international human rights law.
High School Students Are All About Computers but Get Little Instruction in Computer Science
The Washington Post (04/24/14) Donna St. George
There is a significant gap between U.S. high school students' exposure to computer science and their use of computers and technology, and this gap is leading to a dearth of qualified professionals in technology and other fields. "People are realizing these are the skill sets that are going to lead to 21st-century jobs," says Microsoft executive Dan Kasun. Factors in the lack of computer science study in many schools include a shortfall of computer science teachers and students' perception of the subject as dull or intimidating. Some Washington, D.C.-area school districts are taking the initiative to address this disparity by urging more students, especially girls and minorities, to enroll in computer science courses. "We really believe the skills they will get from coding will help them in whatever career they choose," says Charles County superintendent Kimberly Hill. Meanwhile, Montgomery County, MD, school leaders have signed on with Code.org to make courses more engaging by focusing on topics outside of programming, such as human-computer interaction and the Internet. Smaller efforts to nurture students' interest include Falls Church High School's Robotics Club and Girls in Technology Club.
A Key to Enjoying Massive Online Photo Files May Be Giving Up Some Control, Researchers Say
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (04/23/14) Byron Spice
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Microsoft Research Cambridge recently conducted a study showing people reflected more on past events and developed a renewed interest in their online photos when a device called Photobox would randomly print four or five of those photos at varying intervals each month. The findings suggest users might find value in slowing the pace of technology. "Rather than allowing these large collections of images to stay hidden away, this device explores the use of serendipity as one approach to delighting people, while also making their images a regular part of their everyday life," says Microsoft researcher Richard Banks. The CMU researchers installed Photoboxes in three households of varying sizes and composition. They found Photobox led the users to reconsider their relationships with other technology. For example, one user decided to take a break from Facebook after the slower pace of Photobox demonstrated that clicking through life was not necessarily the best way to live. "By subverting people's control over technology and designing it to 'behave' in a much slower way, we opened them up to thinking about technology in their lives and what it might be doing to their relationships," says CMU's Will Odom. The researchers will present their findings next week at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.
ASPIRE Project to Bring Strong Software Protection to Mobile Devices
CORDIS News (04/17/14)
The ASPIRE project aims to develop strong software protection solutions that can be applied to a wide range of application domains and can provide security in environments where no hardware-based security is available or as a complement to existing hardware-based security solutions. The ASPIRE project also will create a software security framework that will develop, combine, and integrate five different types of software protection techniques into one framework, as well as provide comprehensive, effective security metrics and a decision-support system to assist the software developer. In the near future, the industry will be challenged to increase the security level of software solutions to allow for both cost effective deployment and long-term renewability, either standalone or in combination with a hardware root of trust. To meet that need, more research is needed to devise a solution that is strong enough to be viable for an increasing number of applications in which privacy and security are essential. "The integrated tool chain will allow service providers to automatically protect the assets in their mobile applications with the best local and network-based protection techniques," says ASPIRE coordinator Bjorn De Sutter.
FCC to Propose New 'Net Neutrality' Rules
The Wall Street Journal (04/24/14) Gautham Nagesh; Shalini Ramachandran; Shira Ovide; et al.
Under new net neutrality rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), broadband providers would be permitted to charge companies a premium for access to their fastest channels, provided arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all interested content providers. The FCC would determine whether such terms are commercially reasonable on a case-by-case basis. Although users' Internet experience would likely be unaffected at first, over the long term the plan could give rise to new products that use broadband links in various ways for an additional charge. The proposal follows two failed attempts by the FCC to implement net neutrality rules, which were challenged by broadband providers and struck down in court. The rules' adoption would be advantageous for broadband providers that could charge both consumers and content suppliers for network access, while net neutrality advocates say smaller companies unable to pay for preferential treatment would likely suffer, as would content providers that might be assessed a fee to guarantee optimal service. "The FCC should be very cautious about adopting proscriptive rules that could be unnecessary and harmful," says a Verizon representative. The proposal also fails to address the separate issue of back-end interconnections between content providers and broadband networks.
Smart Components That Assemble Themselves
MIT News (04/24/14) Leda Zimmerman
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Self-Assembly Lab was founded by Skylar Tibbits to pursue his vision of programming commonplace materials to assemble into structures. The lab's researchers use methods such as four-dimensional printing to experiment with new products and processes whose size ranges from nanoscale to human scale. Building and construction may be significantly affected by work done at Tibbits' lab. For example, the Logic Matter project encodes simple decision-making into a material, using only its properties, configuration, and geometry. "We don't have to change what we build with," Tibbits notes. "We take seemingly dumb materials and make them more responsive by combining them in elegant ways with geometry and activation energy." Another project to program water pipes to contract and expand like muscles in response to changes in water volume might help boost the resilience and efficiency of infrastructure. The project's goal is to create a self-regulating system in which pipes could repair themselves in the event of a rupture. Tibbits thinks self-assembling technologies may ultimately help construct structures in zero-gravity environments without human intervention, as well as enabling buildings that are more resistant to "noisy and potentially dangerous energies."
More Women in IT Would Generate 2.6bn Pounds for UK Economy
Computerworld UK (04/24/14) Antony Savvas
A recent Nominet report found that increasing the number of women working in the United Kingdom's information technology (IT) sector could generate an extra 2.6 billion British pounds a year for the economy. Women currently make up less than 20 percent of the IT workforce, and based on current trends, the IT gender gap is set to widen over the coming years. The report, which polled IT decision makers in UK-based businesses, found that 76 percent believe they lack suitably skilled staff in IT, and of these, 58 percent say this negatively affects productivity levels, estimating on average that productivity levels are 33 percent lower as a result. The imbalance remains at the university level, with women accounting for just 19 percent of students taking computer science degrees. However, if the same number of women studied computer science degrees as men, and the same proportion of women as men went on to work in the IT industry, the overall net benefit for the UK economy would be 103 million British pounds a year, according to the report. "Given the extent of the IT skills shortage, we can't afford to only recruit from half the talent pool," says Nominet's Gill Crowther.
It's Now Possible to Wirelessly Charge 40 Smartphones From 16 Feet Away
Computerworld (04/23/14) Lucas Mearian
Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers have broken a record by transmitting enough power wirelessly over a distance of about 16 feet to simultaneously charge up to 40 smartphones. The researchers created a Dipole Coil Resonant System made specifically for an extended range of inductive power transfer between transmitter and receiver coils. The system involves a 10-foot-long, pole-like transmitter and receiver that was able to create a magnetic field large enough to transmit 209 watts of power over a distance of five meters, a distance at which the wireless transmitter still emitted enough power to charge up to 40 smartphones, if plugged into an outlet powered by the wireless transmitter. After conducting several experiments, the researchers found that at 20 kHz, the maximum output power was 1,403 watts at a three-meter distance, 471 watts at four meters, and 209 watts at five meters. "A large [light-emitting diode] TV as well as three 40 [-watt] fans can be powered from a five-meter distance," says KAIST professor Chun Rim. The researchers say wireless charging could eventually be as common as Wi-Fi technology.
Using Light for Faster Data Transmission
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (04/20/14) Nik Papageorgiou
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have shown that optical frequency combs can achieve a 1.44 Terabit/second data transmission rate across a distance of up to 300 kilometers. The researchers incorporated a data transmission system with an optical microresonator, while waveguides made of silicon nitride were used to couple the light and guide it in a circle where it is stored for an extended period of time. Their method results in a high intensity laser that produces a frequency comb called a Kerr comb, which has a large optical bandwidth. The Kerr comb light frequencies have large spaces between them that match the spacing of data channels required for communications, which can be used as carriers for data channels. The researchers showed that a Kerr comb can be used to improve wavelength multiplexing, because it requires only a single laser for transmitting multiple data signals, which would make better use of available bandwidths. The researchers note their method also fulfills the criteria for the optical carrier's amplitude and phase stability, which are required by the advanced modulation formats used in modern state-of-the-art communication systems.
When the Internet Dies, Meet the Meshnet That Survives
New Scientist (04/19/14) Hal Hodson
The art and technology nonprofit center Eyebeam recently staged a small-scale scenario that mimicked the outage that affected New York after Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012. As part of the drill in Manhattan, a group of New Yorkers scrambled to set up a local network and get vital information as the situation unfolded. The goal was to test whether communications networks built mostly on battery power and mobile devices can be created rapidly when disaster strikes. The Wi-Fi routers used and the ChatSecure software that bound them into a mesh were part of a networking toolkit called Commotion, developed by the Open Technology Institute (OTI), which established an experimental meshnet in Red Hook when Sandy hit the Brooklyn neighborhood. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency plugged its high-bandwidth satellite uplink into the Red Hook meshnet and instantly provided connectivity to the community and the Red Cross relief organization. "Immediately after the storm, people came to the Red Hook initiative because they knew it was a place where they could get online and reach out to their families," notes OTI's Georgia Bullen. The Red Hook meshnet was stronger than the version being tested in Manhattan, where tall buildings interfere with Wi-Fi signals, making connectivity problematic.
Why App Design Is Replacing Computer Science in Public Schools
Crosscut.com (04/21/14) Drew Atkins
Washington state has launched the Youth Apps Challenge, which rallies teams of students to submit either a detailed pitch for an app idea or a functional tablet or smartphone app. Each entry will be reviewed by tech industry experts, and winners will be selected in both technical and general categories. The contest is organized by the Technology Alliance, a state nonprofit that aims to boost science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The Technology Alliance also has developed a curriculum, called Apps for Good, which puts a youth-friendly spin on the basics of inventing, building, and launching a smartphone or tablet app. "Apps have this stronger appeal, particularly to students who wouldn't usually think of programming," says Garfield High School computer science teacher Earl Bergquist. "There are creative and entrepreneurial aspects to it. That can bring in students who don't have a technical inkling yet." The Technology Alliance plans to expand the number of schools using its curriculum, working in partnership with Washington MESA, a program advancing STEM education among students underrepresented in the field. Bergquist notes the strategy of using apps as a hook for traditional coding skills is gaining in popularity among computer science teachers.
Google Names Participants for 2014 Summer of Code Program
eWeek (04/22/14) Todd R. Weiss
The 10th Annual Google Summer of Code program will involve 1,307 students working with 190 mentoring organizations to create open source code that will be shared with the world. To date, the program has included more than 8,500 college and university students from more than 100 countries who have created more than 50 million lines of code. The participating students will now enter the community bonding period during which they will become familiar with their mentors and prepare for the program, says the Google Open Source Programs Office's Carol Smith. "While the majority of past student participants were enrolled in university or college computer science and computer engineering programs, Google Summer of Coders come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds and degree programs, from computational biology to mining engineering," according to the program's website. The mentoring organizations that will work with the students this summer include the Apache Software Foundation, the 52°North Initiative for Geospatial Open Source Software, CERN SFT, Blender Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, Wikimedia, GNU Project, Drupal, Debian Project, and Copyleft Games. The program starts May 19 and the final results will be announced on Aug. 25.
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