Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 12, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Dark Net Experts Trade Theories on 'De-Cloaking' After Raids
BBC News (11/10/14) Dave Lee

In the wake of police raids that led to 17 arrests and the seizure of several high-profile "dark" websites, experts are studying the possible de-cloaking methods authorities used to unmask individuals running services accessed through anonymization service Tor. "When the time comes to prosecute some of the 17 people who have been arrested, the police would have to explain to the judge how the suspects came to be suspects," notes the Tor Project team. "As a side benefit of the operation of justice, Tor could learn if there are security flaws in hidden services or other critical Internet-facing services." Although Tor has proven popular with malefactors as a tool for conducting criminal activities online, it also is viewed as a vital instrument for helping activists in repressive regimes and others maintain anonymity. Tor conceals users' locations and identities by routing a person's online path via computers in sites all across the globe, and University College London's Steven Murdoch thinks Tor itself was not cracked. Among the techniques Tor theorizes could have been used to compromise the sites are poor operational security, Web app bugs, and bitcoin deanonymization. Murdoch doubts the authorities will explain the methods they used "because they want to do it again."


A Focus on Code Modernization: Observing Year One of the Intel Parallel Computing Centers
Scientific Computing (11/10/14) Doug Black

A year ago Intel established the Parallel Computing Centers (IPCC) program as a means to foster the modernization of public domain programs and prepare them for the coming wave of multi-core and many-core high-performance computing (HPC) environments. Since its establishment, IPCC has grown to a global effort extending to 14 countries with modernization efforts currently underway on nearly 70 public domain programs. One project is an effort at the Georgia Institute of Technology to modernize quantum chemistry code, including the design of a new parallel program called GTFock and its integration into the PS14 quantum chemistry software. IPCC also is helping the Irish Center for High End Computing in Dublin to refactor the DL_POLY_4 molecular dynamics application, which is used in the materials science, solid-state chemistry, biological simulation, and soft condensed-matter communities. Another IPCC-supported effort is Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's modernization of NWChem, the U.S. Department of Energy's flagship quantum chemistry code, with the goal of using it to improve photovoltaics and battery materials. Intel's Bob Burroughs says the company is committed to IPCC and its code modernization efforts, noting they are necessary to take advantage of massively parallel, many-core architectures.


Wireless Devices Used by Casual Pilots Vulnerable to Hacking, Computer Scientists Find
Jacobs School of Engineering (UCSD) (11/10/14) Ioana Patringenaru

Apps and wireless devices used by private pilots during flights may be vulnerable to various hack attacks, according to computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Johns Hopkins University. The researchers examined three combinations of devices and apps used by private pilots. The devices and apps all must be paired with tablet computers to display information. "When you attack these devices, you don't have control over the aircraft, but you have control over the information the pilot sees," says UCSD's Kirill Levchenko, who led the study. The researchers hope exposing the systems' vulnerabilities will raise awareness among users and lead to demands for change. Two of the systems enabled an attacker to replace the firmware, which houses the programs controlling the devices. Researchers recommend cryptographically securing communication between receiver and tablet, pairing the receiver with the tablet, signing firmware updates, and requiring explicit user interaction before updating device firmware. The researchers also say data such as maps and approach procedures should be downloaded to the tablet using HTTPS, or should be digitally signed by the vendor. They presented their findings last week at the 21st ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Scottsdale, AZ.


Next-Gen Social Media Analytics Is Here
Queensland University of Technology (11/11/14) Kate Haggman

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers Katie Prowd and Darryl Woodford have developed a way of monitoring social media content and engagement. Their Web platform uses algorithms developed by QUT's Social Media Research Group, which has widely mapped the global and Australian twitterspheres. "We want to move the analytics discussion beyond counts such as likes, favorites, and retweets into prompting action based on real-time content and metrics placed in national and industry contexts," Woodford says. The system centers on a user-friendly dashboard from which an organization can analyze social media feeds from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Users can examine various statistics based on keywords they identify, keywords the system identifies as relevant, and location. Prowd says the technology enables organizations to make well-informed decisions about interacting with customers, including creating campaigns and advertising that specifically respond to those issues. She says the platform identifies the public's engagement with a brand, then ranks engagement in terms of importance to the brand. "This service gives organizations a much deeper level of insight than the usual hashtag searches and 'like' counts," notes Woodford, a research fellow in QUT's Creative Industries Faculty. "The platform builds on the sophisticated metrics we've already developed and published, but takes those analysis tools to the next level."


Robotics for Ebola Response
CCC Blog (11/10/14) Gregory Hager

Researchers at Texas A&M University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Worcester Polytechnic University are developing technology that could contribute to the detection and treatment of victims of Ebola, and how to prepare for the possibility of future pandemics. The researchers recently conducted a series of workshops in which health-care workers gave presentations on the challenges of providing care while ensuring the safety of the hundreds of volunteers caring for victims of Ebola. As a result of the presentation, the researchers want to develop remote-presence capabilities that would reduce the number of workers that have to spend time in an infected area. The researchers also want to create human augmentation systems by equipping low-skill workers with cameras and microphones so they can perform some of the duties under the instruction of a supervisor, as well as a data collections system that would provide detailed documentation of current activities that can be made available to the research community.


Obama Asks FCC to Adopt Tough Net Neutrality Rules
The New York Times (11/10/14) Edward Wyatt

President Barack Obama on Monday called on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) as public utilities in his strongest show of support for open Internet standards. Obama specifically called on the FCC and chairman Tom Wheeler, an Obama appointee, to reclassify Internet service as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC and regulated telephone and radio communications. The FCC is an independent agency the president has less influence over than does Congress, but Obama's call to action Monday was still lauded by advocates for an open Internet, including streaming content providers such as Netflix, which would benefit from the president's proposal. Meanwhile, major ISPs such as Verizon objected to the proposal, as did their allies in Congress. The FCC has been working to craft new rules regulating Internet service since its previous rules were struck down by the courts earlier this year. New rules proposed by the agency earlier this year would have allowed for the creation of tiered levels of service, with the option for ISPs to charge content providers a higher rate for access to better service. Analysts say the issue likely will depend on whether Internet access is considered a necessity, like electricity, or just another consumer option, like cable TV.
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Next-Generation Robot Needs Your Help
Technology Review (11/11/14) Will Knight

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor Manuela Veloso believes robots can be made fully autonomous by designing them to ask for help when necessary. Veloso's lab has programmed several robots, called Cobots, to ask the nearest human for help, or send out an office-wide email if no one is nearby, whenever they are at a loss. Several Cobots roam CMU's computer science department, ferrying packages between labs and offices, or showing guests around. Veloso says programming robots to ask for help is easier than providing them with sophisticated language comprehension or skills in fine manipulation. "I am 100-percent sure that if people embraced robots with limitations, we would have them in our homes as we speak," she says. Veloso wants the next generation of Cobots to determine for themselves when they might need assistance. She says that approach is a very simple and surprisingly effective way to address the inherent limitations of robots. "It is a very good idea," says University of Wisconsin, Madison professor Bilge Mutlu, a specialist in human-robot interaction. "It's a lot more flexible and adaptable to day-to-day environments."


For CIOs, Universities Can't Train Data Scientists Fast Enough
CIO Journal (11/10/14) Clint Boulton

The desire for qualified data scientists to make sense of the unending reams of data has quickly outstripped the existing supply and is outpacing universities' ability to produce them, despite their best efforts. Michael Rappa, founding director of North Carolina State University's (NCSU) Institute for Advanced Analytics, says this is in part because creating a modern data scientist is a highly involved process that requires grounding them in not just math, statistics, and computer science, but also business and marketing so they can navigate the contexts in which the data they will be analyzing exist. Rappa says students are encouraged to work collaboratively so they don't view themselves as "just programmers or statisticians." NCSU's program, one of the first in the United States, has only turned out 340 graduates in the last seven years, not nearly enough to fill the estimated 140,000 to 180,000 positions McKinsey Global Institute expects to remain unfilled by 2018. Some companies are trying to build to required professionals from within, cross-training their own teams of dedicated analytics and business professionals to see both sides. Meanwhile, software developers are attempting to sidestep the need for data scientists altogether by using natural-language generation and other techniques to develop software that programmatically generates nuanced analytics reporting.


New Research Lights the Way for Super-Fast Computers
University of Surrey (11/07/14)

A glass material integral to data technologies can be manipulated to create a material that can combine different computing functions into one component, according to University of Surrey researchers. The research team, in collaboration with researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton, used an ion-doping technique to change the electronic properties of amorphous chalcogenides. "This should enable the material to act as a light source, a light guide, and a light detector--something that can carry and interpret optical information," says Surrey professor Richard Curry. "In doing so, this could transform the computers of tomorrow, allowing them to effectively process information at much faster speeds." The researchers say the finding could lead to the development of all-optical systems. Data sources such as the Internet use optical systems to transfer information, but the optical signals must be converted to electrical signals once they reach a computer, which still rely on electrons to transfer information and process applications. The researchers say the technology should significantly increase computer processing speeds and power, and the material could be integrated into computers within 10 years.


Researchers, Medical Workers Seek Tech Answers to Ebola Outbreak
Computerworld (11/07/14) Sharon Gaudin

Robotics researchers plan to meet with health care and aid workers as part of Safety Robotics for Ebola Workers, a series of workshops to get ideas on how technology can help fight the Ebola outbreak and other dangerous viruses. The workshops, led by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Texas A&M University researchers, aim to provide a forum for health care workers and technologists to discuss ways to take better care of Ebola patients, help stop the spread of the virus, and protect caregivers from contracting the disease. "There are many diseases in West Africa that are much more common than the Ebola virus," notes Massachusetts Bureau of Infectious Disease veterinarian Catherine Brown. She says health-care scientists are overwhelmed with data and could use automated methods of testing for deadly viruses, as well as telepresence technology, sensors to monitor the sterility of an environment, a robotic method to disinfect equipment in specific areas, and an automated way of handling blood being tested in labs. Massachusetts General Hospital researchers currently are studying remote-monitoring technologies, as well as sensors, tele-operated robots, and camera-based systems that can monitor vital signs without a nurse coming into physical contact with the patient.


UA Professor Developing Wearable Device to Track Diet
UA News (AL) (11/05/14) Adam Jones

University of Alabama (UA) researchers are developing the Automatic Ingestion Monitor (AIM), a sensor that can automatically track diet, giving medical professionals and consumers accurate information that can be missed with self-reporting. "The sensor could provide objective data, helping us better understand patterns of food intake associated with obesity and eating disorders," says UA professor Edward Sazonov. He says the AIM, which is worn around the ear, already has been proven viable, and now it will be updated, further miniaturized, and validated in a more formal, robust experiment. The AIM senses vibrations from movement in the jaw during eating, and it is programmed to filter out jaw motions, such as talking, that do not originate from drinking or eating. The device monitors eating by automatically detecting and capturing imagery of food intake and estimates the mass and the energy content of ingested food. The researchers say the AIM could be used to improve behavioral weight loss strategies or to develop new kinds of weight-loss interventions. The technology also could be used to provide an objective method of assessing the effectiveness of pharmacological and behavioral interventions for eating disorders.


NEBIAS: The World's Most Advanced Bionic Hand
CORDIS News (11/05/14)

The NEBIAS project, a European Union (EU) effort to develop advanced prosthetic hands, already is demonstrating great strides only a year after its creation. NEBIAS researchers, who are drawn from 29 institutions in seven EU-member nations and the U.S., already have developed and successfully tested a neural interface that enables an amputee to feel with a prosthetic hand and control it through thought alone. One test participant, whose hand was amputated 10 years ago, says using the interface enabled him to "feel I was holding something round in my prosthetic hand" for the first time in a decade. The interface uses selective implantable electrodes in coordination with an artificial hand with sensors that relay information about touch to the patient in real time. Moving forward, the project hopes to further test the system and develop it so its elements can be portable and wearable in addition to implantable. Project coordinator Silvestro Micera believes a full prosthesis using NEBIAS technology will be available in 10 years. The NEBIAS project is funded by a $3.4-million grant from the European Commission's 7th Framework Program and is expected to run for another three years.


10 Big Data Projects That Could Help Save the Planet
Tech Republic (11/10/14) Lyndsey Gilpin

New technology is helping conservationists better analyze the data they collect to boost the ways in which they protect wildlife and habitats. For example, Hewlett-Packard (HP) has partnered with Conservation International (CI) to create Earth Insights, a program that uses HP's Vertica analytics platform to analyze CI's millions of photos nine times faster and with much greater accuracy to estimate the species occupancy of a certain area. Meanwhile, IBM is working to integrate PAM, a cloud-based application developed by the Nature Conservancy, which enables land managers to track and meet environmental goals. Conservation.io is a cloud-based mobile app platform created for scientists, conservationists, and resource managers to help inform the public about conservation efforts and dangers, and to crowdsource important information about the natural world. In addition, University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed categorical analysis of neo- and paleoendemism, a new model to leverage the increasing amount of data on biodiversity, especially from recently digitized museum collections. The Nature Conservancy also is using crowdsourced data from birdwatchers who use eBird, satellite imagery, and other data to create BirdReturn, an initiative that determines when to flood fields so birds can nest, drink, bathe, and rest during migration. Another project uses Intel's credit card-sized Galileo circuit board, featuring 3G communications and storage features, to track critically endangered black and white rhinos in Africa.


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