Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the March 5, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


IBM Researchers Claim Chip Design Advance
Wall Street Journal (03/04/10) P. B8; Glader, Paul; Clark, Don

IBM researchers say they have developed new semiconductor technology that could change the way computer chips communicate, while boosting speed and lowering energy consumption. The researchers combined silicon and germanium to create an avalanche photodetector, which can convert light into energy. The photodetector uses pulses of light rather than copper wires to transmit information between chips, and is among the fastest and least power-hungry of its kind, according to the researchers. "By 2020, it may be the dominant way Google, governments, banks, and other large users are doing their computing," says analyst Richard Doherty. The system uses thin glass fibers rather than cables, yet creates connections that enable more data to flow at a higher speed. The researchers say their system can detect 40 gigabits of data per second and operates at 1.5 volts. The photodetector can detect weak pulses and amplify them without adding background noise.
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Researchers Find Weakness in Common Digital Security System
University of Michigan News Service (03/03/10) Moore, Nicole Casal

University of Michigan (UM) researchers have found weaknesses in the RSA authentication encryption method, which is used to protect both media copyright and Internet communications. The scientists discovered they could breach the system by varying the voltage supply to the holder of the "private key," which would be the consumer's device in the case of copy protection and the retailer or bank in the case of Internet communications. Private keys contain more than 1,000 digits of binary code and would take longer than the age of the universe to guess, says UM doctoral student Andrea Pellegrini. However, using the voltage disrupting method, the UM researchers were able to obtain the private key in about 100 hours. Changing the electric current confuses the computer and causes it to make small mistakes in its communications with other clients. These faults reveal small pieces of the private key. After enough faults were created, the researchers were able to reconstruct the key offline without damaging the device.

Feds Weigh Expansion of Internet Monitoring
CNet (03/04/10) McCullagh, Declan

A future expansion of Internet communications monitoring to the private sector is being considered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency. DHS cybersecurity official Greg Schaffer says the department is assessing whether its Einstein 3 system for detecting and preventing cyberattacks "makes sense for expansion to critical infrastructure spaces" over time. Although some civil-liberties advocates warn the technology could be used to snoop on private networks, Schaffer dismisses such notions. "As a practical matter, you're looking at data that's relevant to malicious activity, and that's the data that you're focused on," he says. However, Tor anonymity project programmer Jacob Appelbaum says that expanding Einstein 3 to private companies would be tantamount to partly outsourcing security, and warns that "anyone with access to that monitoring system, legitimate or otherwise, would be able to monitor amazing amounts of traffic."

Anita Borg Institute Announces Women of Vision Award Winners
CIO (03/02/10) Levinson, Meridith

The Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology has named Kathleen R. McKeown, Kristina M. Johnson, and Lila Ibrahim the winners of the 2010 Women of Vision Awards. McKeown, a computer science professor at Columbia University, is the winner in the innovation category for her work in natural language processing in artificial intelligence, information extraction, and human-machine interaction. Johnson, the Under Secretary for Energy and the dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, is the winner in the leadership category. At the U.S. Department of Energy, Johnson is working to reduce greenhouse gases, and she led Duke's effort to expand its engineering school. Ibrahim, general manager of Intel's Emerging Markets Platform Group, is the winner in the social impact category for leading Intel's efforts to use technology to support education, health, and e-governance around the world.

Project PEPPHER Announced
HPC Wire (02/26/10)

The European PErformance Portability and Programmability of Heterogeneous many-core aRchitectures (PEPPHER) project is developing a methodology and architecture for applications that can be ported across different types of both homogeneous and hybrid multicore systems while preserving critical aspects of performance. The project features a high-level compositional framework for developing applications from parallelized components, compiler support for efficient translation of components to different target architectures and configurations, algorithms capable of static as well as dynamic adaptation to different architectural parameters, efficient run-time support for scheduling compiled components on available cores of different types, and hardware support mechanisms for programmability and portability. The PEPPHER methodology enables different components to be both expressed and compiled by the methods most relevant to the architectures on which the component may operate. Lasting until the end of 2012, PEPPHER involves four European universities--the Universities of Vienna, Chalmers, Linkoeping, and Karlsruhe--INRIA, European SMEs Code play and Movidius, and one of Intel's European labs.

Speech Study May Help Phone Booking Lines
University of Edinburgh (03/04/10)

Computer scientists at the University of Edinburgh and Stanford University are developing ways to improve automated phone systems by studying phone conversations and how speech recognition systems process the discussions. The research highlights a number of speech recognition errors committed by computer-based systems. For example, the researchers found that "umm" and "err" sounds often cause problems for speech recognition systems, and men tend to use these sounds more frequently than women. Also, computers often fail to identify the first word of a phrase, either because they cannot put the word into context or because people inhale just before they begin to speak. Words that sound similar and can be used in a similar context also often cause problems for speech recognition systems, especially when they are not enunciated properly. The researchers also found that computer systems tend to have problems with variations in pitch, tone, and speed.

New Organisation to Coordinate European Scientific Computing Grids
Science & Technology Facilities Council (03/02/10) Coles, Karen

The European Grid Initiative ( will coordinate a European-wide grid computing infrastructure that will enable scientists to share computers to carry out collaborative research projects. "The creation of and continued development of a European-wide infrastructure for grid computing will enable researchers across the continent to make the next leap in world-leading science," says the Science & Technology Facilities Council's Neil Geddes. will coordinate clusters of computers in more than 50 countries through the National Grid Initiatives (NGIs). and the NGIs will direct the progress, operations, maintenance, and sustainability of the EGI infrastructure. interim director Steven Newhouse says the grid infrastructure's "core software and operational tools have been refined over the last six or more years to become increasingly stable and secure."

Architects and Engineers Bridge the Grid Chasm
ICT Results (03/01/10)

The European Union-funded BEinGRID project aims to convert cloud computing research into technology that can solve real-world problems. For example, BEinGRID researchers created GridforArchitects, an online, on-demand rendering service that creates three-dimensional mockups from blueprints. GridforArchitects, delivered via a Web portal, finds the necessary computing resources in the cloud. "It offers all the necessary computing power, so customers do not need to invest in expensive equipment they only need part of the time," says BEinGRID's Damien Hubaux. The project also developed cloud computing tools for advanced manufacturing and engineering, such as Computational Fluid Dynamics, which provides millions of calculations necessary to analyze fluid flows and other data of importance to the automotive and aeronautics industries.

Body Acoustics Can Turn Your Arm Into a Touchscreen
New Scientist (03/01/10) Marks, Paul

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft have developed Skinput, a skin-based interface that turns the human body into a touchscreen. Skinput merges the ability to detect the ultra-low frequency sound produced by tapping the skin with a finger, and the microchip-sized "pico" projectors found in some cell phones. Skinput projects a keyboard or menu onto the user's forearm and hand from a projector built into an armband. The armband also contains an acoustic detector, which calculates which part of the display should be activated. The researchers have identified various locations on the forearm and hand that make distinctive acoustic patterns when tapped. The acoustic detector contains five piezoelectric cantilevers, each designed to respond to certain bands of sound frequencies. Skinput also could be used to wirelessly transmit commands to electronic devices, such as cell phones and PCs.
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Researchers Develop 3D Graphics Capability for Firefox
IDG News Service (MA) (03/03/10) Kirk, Jeremy

Researchers have incorporated faster software for generating three-dimensional (3D) images into Firefox and plan to release the modified version of the browser within the next two weeks. Saarland University professor Philipp Slusallek helped demonstrate the modified browser at the recent CeBIT trade show, using a Wikipedia entry on Venice with 3D graphics of the city's palaces. "You can stand on the balcony and actually look at Venice from the top floor," Slusallek says. With faster real-time ray tracing technology integrated into the browser, images are described using XML3D, and 3D scenes can be natively rendered. "With the integration of HTML, it means that every Web programmer can directly apply their entire knowledge to 3D," he says. The built-in ability for viewing 3D graphics also should mean the capability will be used by more people. The researchers say that support from the World Wide Web Consortium would lead other software vendors to use the technology in their browsers.

The Power of Plant Clock Computing
Technology Review (03/01/10)

Research into the use of process algebra to model the circadian rhythm in plants might yield computing efficiency that is several orders of magnitude greater than that of silicon-based computation. Conventional computational techniques are ill-suited for modeling a plant's biological processes because the processes do not involve independent sequential steps. However, University of Edinburgh researcher Ozgur Akman and colleagues used Bio-PEPA process algebra to simulate the circadian rhythm of the green alga Ostreococcus tauri. Bio-PEPA was used to produce a model of the various feedback loops in the alga's clock, and to investigate the clock's reaction to factors such as shifts in light patterns and genetic mutations. The plant clock model has been used to make some projections about the behavior of actual Ostreococcus populations. Process algebra features a property that is frequently neglected--the fact that it is not equivalent to a standard sequential Turing machine.

Recommendation Algorithm Wants to Show You Something New
Ars Technica (02/26/10) Johnston, Casey

An international group of researchers have developed a new algorithm for recommender systems designed to address the challenge of diversity when making recommendations to users. The researchers say that people are most interested in recommendations and information originating from users that are somewhat similar but different enough that they can introduce something new. To widen the field of user interest, the authors developed a hybrid of two algorithms. One was based on recommendations from random walks between highly connected users and material. The other mimicked the process of heat diffusion, spreading ratings at a decreasing level of potency as the recommendations came from farther away. By combining the heat diffusion approach with the more accurate random walk, the researchers found that they could establish a body of recommendations that combined novelty items with safer choices. In addition, combining both algorithms allowed for more accurate recommendations than using either alone.

Researchers Engage Communities to Support Women in Information Technology Careers
Virginia Tech News (02/24/10) Elliot, Jean

Virginia Tech's Appalachian Information Technology Extension Service (AITES) is a research-based extension program designed to provide support for young women seeking careers in information technology (IT) in the Appalachian region. The researchers say girls from the targeted regions tend to choose fields and careers not related to technology because of preconceived notions, stereotypes, and lack of support from those around them. The AITES program works to increase community capacity and support economic development in the targeted regions through the development of community cohort teams. The teams focus on training parents, teachers, and school counselors to be good support systems for girls who are interested in technology. The researchers say the "train-the-trainer" model greatly increases the reach of AITES. "With the multiplier effect of the train-the-trainer model, the circle of informed individuals in the community who reach the girls will get wider every day, so that eventually girls will be reaching girls," says Virginia Tech researcher Peggy Meszaros.

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