Welcome to the July 7, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Caught Up in the NSA Net
The Washington Post (07/05/14) Barton Gellman; Julie Tate; Ashkan Soltani
The Washington Post has published an analysis of about 22,000 surveillance reports collected by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) between 2009 and 2012 and provided to the paper by former contractor Edward Snowden. The reports are based on emails, chat logs, and other documents obtained by NSA under amendments to the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act through now-familiar programs such as PRISM and Upstream. Intelligence officials, including former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, have repeatedly said Snowden did not have access to such documents. According to the Post, the reports included valuable intelligence that in two specific cases led to the apprehension of a pair of terrorists. However, they also included very personal and private information such as academic and medical records, as well as intimate and family photographs, both of the ostensible targets of the surveillance and non-targets, many of them U.S. citizens and residents. The Post estimates that only one in 10 of the analyzed records belonged to the targets of surveillance, as the NSA casts a very wide net seemingly meant to capture as much data from as many Internet users as possible. Although mentions of and references to U.S. citizens, businesses, and organizations are "minimized" in the reports, they often are easily recognizable through context.
Interview With the Most Influential Woman in UK IT 2014: Wendy Hall
ComputerWeekly.com (07/03/14) Kayleigh Bateman
ComputerWeekly.com has named University of Southampton computer sciences professor Wendy Hall, a former president of ACM and an ACM Fellow, its Most Influential Woman in UK IT 2014. With more than 30 years in the academic side of information technology, Hall has a long list of accomplishments, including being part of the team that invented the Mirocosm hypermedia systems. Hall was the University of Southampton's first female professor of engineering, served as head of its School of Electronics and Computer Science, and was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2009. In an interview, Hall says she feels the underrepresentation of women in IT needs to be treated as an industry issue, rather than simply as a women's issue. She says this means engaging more men with the issue and avoiding female tokenism at conferences and on committees and panels. Hall also says it is important to approach the issue from a broader social perspective, to change the ideas of the families and peer groups most likely to influence the career choices of young people. In addition, although she has seen much progress over the last three decades, Hall worries the tech industry is "stuck in a rut," especially compared to other fields such as medicine and business.
Surveillance, Commercialization Threaten Web Freedom, Pew Study Finds
eWeek (07/05/14) Robert Lemos
A new Pew Research Center study identified four major trends that threaten the future of the Internet and could result in a network restricted by governments, blocked by corporations, and no longer trusted by citizens. The study, which surveyed more than 1,400 Internet experts, identified increasing restrictions to the access of online information by world governments and the productization of various aspects of the Internet as potential threats. In addition, citizens' increasing concern with corporate and government surveillance of their online activities were highlighted as threats that could further limit the sharing of information and collaborative efforts online. "These experts completely understand that the rule of law is necessary and really bad actors ought to be reined in, and that there should be structures and norms and even pieces of the architecture that allows that to happen," says Pew Research Center director Lee Rainie. However, about 67 percent of respondents said in the next 10 years their ability to access information and interact online will not be significantly hindered compared to today. "These things have always been on people's minds...but the environment in the past year has tightened concerns that [the Internet] might be in for some hard times," Rainie says.
IBM Wants to Make its Watson Supercomputer as Small as a Pizza Box
IDG News Service (07/03/14) Agam Shah
IBM researchers are developing handheld computers with the power of today's supercomputers. The researchers recently demonstrated a smartphone-size prototype microcomputer that integrates central-processing units and circuitry typically spread out over large motherboards. In addition, they plan to develop a "datacenter in a box" holding several of these computers, which could lead to even smaller computers, says IBM researcher Ronald Luijten. Eventually, IBM wants to build a version of its Watson supercomputer the size of a pizza box, containing a series of these microcomputers. IBM also is developing a system combining 128 computers into an application-size server that can deliver the same level of performance as servers that are four to 10 times larger. The prototype server consumes 55 to 60 watts of power, which is less than larger servers. The dense server, which consists of 1,536 cores and is capable of simultaneously running 3,072 threads, has been tested with IBM's DB2 software. "I think this technology lends itself well to general-purpose cloud computing," Luijten says. Next year, IBM plans to demonstrate another version of the server that is equally as fast and draws just 30 to 35 watts of power. The new prototype microcomputers, which measure 133 millimeters by 55 millimeters, have the same computing power as standard server motherboards that measure 305 millimeters by 245 millimeters, according to the researchers.
Research Could Lead to Dramatic Data Farm Energy Savings
WSU News (07/01/14) Tina Hilding
Washington State University (WSU) researchers have created a wireless network on a computer chip that could cut energy consumption at huge data farms by up to 20 percent, while accelerating data processing. The multicore architecture uses wireless, single-hop shortcuts to communicate between remote points on the computer chip, circumventing intermediary nodes and directly linking one node to another. Researchers led by WSU professor Partha Pande designed a miniature cell tower system on the chips. The system functions in a way similar to a cell phone, featuring a minuscule low-power transceiver, on-chip antennas, and communication protocols that enable the wireless shortcuts. The researchers say they acquired cutting-edge equipment in 2013 to construct and test the computer chips, which are some of the smallest and most efficient in the world. They can fabricate chips as tiny as 28 nanometers and more than 4 billion minute transistors could fit on a period-sized dot. The researchers also are testing chips that use very high frequencies and can relay data up to 10 times faster than current chips. The research team, which includes professors Deukhyoun Heo and Benjamin Belzer, has a paper on their work in the May issue of the ACM Journal on Emerging Technologies in Computing Systems.
IBM: Commercial Nanotube Transistors Are Coming Soon
Technology Review (07/01/14) Tom Simonite
Transistors built using carbon nanotubes could be ready to take over for silicon transistors soon after 2020, according to IBM. At that point, transistors will need to have features as small as five nanometers to keep up with the continuous miniaturization of computer chips. "That's where silicon runs out of steam, and there really is nothing else," says Wilfried Haensch, who leads the nanotube project at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center. He says nanotubes offer a practical way to make both smaller and faster transistors. IBM has spent more than a decade researching carbon nanotube transistors, and is the first major company to commit to commercializing the technology. The company recently made chips with 10,000 nanotube transistors, and is now working on a design that could be built on silicon wafers used in the industry today. One solution for positioning nanotubes closely enough together is to chemically label the substrate and nanotubes with compounds that would cause them to self-assemble into position. The compounds could then be stripped away, leaving the nanotubes arranged correctly and ready to have electrodes and other circuitry added to finish a chip.
China Still Has the Fastest Supercomputer, but the U.S. Still Rules
Computerworld (07/02/14) Patrick Thibodeau
Although China has the world's most powerful supercomputer, which is capable of speeds of up to 33.86 petaflops per second, the United States produces more supercomputers than any other country, according to the latest Top500 supercomputer list. IDC analyst Steve Conway estimates about 90 percent of the systems on the Top500 ranking are manufactured by U.S. vendors, including 65 of the 76 Chinese systems on the most recent list. Still, U.S. dominance in supercomputer production is by no means assured, given intensifying global competition. The U.S. accounted for 233 systems on the Top500 list last month, slipping below 50 percent for the first time. Conway attributes this decline to the Chinese push. "The U.S. has lost ground mostly due to other nations investing more, not as much from a reduction in U.S. spending as much as a lack of growth," says IDC analyst Earl Joseph. University of Tennessee professor and ACM-IEEE CS Ken Kennedy Award recipient Jack Dongarra, one of the academic leaders of the Top500 initiative, cites aggressive Chinese high-performance computing investment as another factor in the eroding U.S. share of leading supercomputing systems. "Remember, in 2001 China had zero systems on the Top500," Dongarra says.
Linking Television and the Internet
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems are working on the LinkedTV project, a new television concept designed to connect TV offerings with the Internet. "We want to seamlessly combine television and the Internet so that viewers can directly access background information about the current program during the show, without having to spend a lot of time and effort themselves in searching for it," says Fraunhofer project manager Heike Hostmann. As part of the project, the researchers have developed intelligent software that scans the contents of a TV show prior to its broadcast via speech analysis and image processing for topic-related content from the Web. The researchers also have developed methods to narrow down the results according to specific criteria. Users find information sorted according to topic for each chapter of a TV program. The software also can learn and adjust information offerings based on the user's preferences. "If the viewer repeatedly accesses the weather report or information on a particular topic, for instance, this content will be displayed in a prioritized fashion," Horstmann says.
Female Cyber Sleuths Hack Into Silicon Valley's Boys Club
Bloomberg (07/01/14) Jordan Robertson
Women occupied just over 26 percent of computer and mathematical positions in the U.S. last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, one area of the tech world in which women are making great gains is information security, where they outnumber men in certain positions, such as analyst and adviser, according to the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium. Women such as ThreatGrid threat manager Tiffany Rad, for example, have found great success in information security, assuming leadership positions in both industry and academia. Women also are seeking education in the field much more than they previously did. Rad says college classes she teaches on information security law that used to be exclusively male are now almost evenly split between men and women. The success of women in information security also has come relatively quickly. Jeff Moss, founder of the DefCon and Black Hat security conferences, says although almost no women attended the conferences during the late '90s, now there are "too many to mention." Many attribute women's success in the field to its meritocratic nature. Heather Adkins, one of the founding members of Google's security staff, says the field was mired in sexism when she joined it in the late '90s, but it has markedly improved, although she says bias still persists in some areas.
NICTA to Develop Algorithms for Optimizing Joint Gas and Electricity Networks
CIO Australia (06/27/14) Rebecca Merrett
National ICT Australia (NICTA) is collaborating with the U.S.'s Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop new algorithms focused on improving the operation and optimization of Australia's gas and electricity providers. The algorithms attempt to fuse predictive modeling with prescriptive analytics to coordinate the operations of electric grids and gas pipelines to more efficiently and effectively deliver energy. NICTA's Pascal Van Hentenryck says the algorithms are meant to assist in an expected boom in natural gas in Australia, mirroring that seen in the United States. Hentenryck says integrating gas and electricity networks will enable companies to store energy in pipes to more quickly meet demand in times of short supply or peak demand. The algorithms also will focus on renewable energy, which is expected to become an increasingly large part of Australia's power generation mix. The algorithms' use of weather modeling will enable energy companies to better predict how much wind and solar power they can generate by modeling wind patterns and cloud cover in advance, while also enabling them to predict what days and times customers are more likely to be using air conditioning or heating.
Blind Lead the Way in Brave New World of Tactile Technology
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (07/01/14) Yasmin Anwar
People are better and faster at navigating tactile technology when using both hands and several fingers, according to new research from the University of California (UC), Berkeley. "No matter what the task, people perform better using multiple fingers and hands," says UC Berkeley student and lead study author Valerie Morash. Researchers tested 14 blind adults and 14 blindfolded sighted adults on several tasks using a tactile map. Participants faced challenges of using various hand and finger combinations to find a landmark or determine if a road looped around. Overall, the participants performed better when using both hands and several fingers, but the blind adults were on average 50 percent faster at completing the tasks. Researchers at Disney and other media companies are implementing more tactile interfaces, and the technologies need to support the use of both hands and multiple fingers, Morash notes. "This will promote the best tactile performance in applications such as the remote control of robotics used in space and high-risk situations, among other things," she says.
The End of the Internet?
The Atlantic (07/01/14) Gordon M. Goldstein
A global, non-federated Internet may not exist in a short time as experts cite geopolitical volatility over Internet governance and other factors threatening fragmentation of the Web. Critics say the United States has enjoyed most of the benefits of the Internet since it gained first-mover advantage from having developed its ARPANET predecessor. "The Internet is a collection of independent systems operated by mostly private companies" that support its function via private economic agreements controlling the transmission of data among their respective networks, notes American University's Laura DeNardis. Calls by other countries to create their own, closed Internets have increased in urgency with recent events such as Edward Snowden's disclosure of the U.S. National Security Agency's spying on international Web traffic. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation analyst Daniel Castro says this gathering wave of "data nationalism" could fracture the Internet. Meanwhile, there is growing interest in foreign countries to edge out globally dominant Internet companies, which are mostly U.S.-based. DeNardis foresees a cascade of destabilization should direct government regulation of the Internet become a reality. Among the anticipated effects are less reliability and security for ordinary Web users due to the emergence of competing or duplicative domain name systems.
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