Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the June 16, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


European Research Program Targets Energy-Aware Electronics Design
EDN (06/15/10) Deffree, Suzanne

Semiconductor companies are collaborating with European design centers, universities, and research institutions to develop standards and contribute to building a solid energy-aware electronics design base in Europe. The research program, called END--Models, Solutions, Methods, and Tools for Energy-Aware Design--has begun a three-year European Nanoelectronics Initiative Advisory Council project to pursue energy efficiency through a holistic approach. The project also will develop new power supply systems, with an emphasis on energy management aspects. "The ultimate objective of the END project is to bring innovative energy-aware design solutions and [electronic design automation] technologies into the product development of the industrial partners of the consortium," says END project coordinator Salvatore Rinaudo. END's project goals include the development of power models for non-bulk [complementary metal-oxide semiconductor] devices, a unified low-power design methodology for heterogeneous systems and [system-on-a-chip] devices, and demonstrators of solar energy and wireless sensor systems.

Get Smart: Targeting Phone Security Flaws
Wall Street Journal (06/15/10) P. B1; Ante, Spencer E.

As mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers become increasingly popular, computer researchers and hackers are discovering more security holes. Data from the National Vulnerability Database shows that last year security experts identified 30 security flaws in the software and operating systems of smartphones made by Apple, Nokia, and Research in Motion, nearly twice as many as the year before. "Manufacturers are not necessarily thinking of abuses and vulnerabilities," says Purdue University professor Eugene H. Spafford. "Instead, they are thinking of the opportunities and how to push adoption." The National Vulnerability Database also reveals that vulnerabilities in the networks and applications that run on mobile devices are on the rise. For example, the mobile version of Apple's Safari browser had 22 vulnerabilities, up from five in 2008. Smartphone manufacturers try to keep out hackers using sandboxing techniques, which prevent third-party applications from accessing specific data. But Swiss software engineer Nicolas Seriot recently published a paper indicating that such systems can be breached.

10 R&D Cybersecurity Initiatives Congress Seeks (06/15/10) Chabrow, Eric

The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate, lists 10 research and development (R&D) initiatives the government would support to secure information systems and networks. The bill would advance the development and deployment of secure versions of fundamental Internet protocols and architectures. A main goal is to improve technologies for detecting and analyzing attacks as well as improving mitigation and recovery methodologies. The bill also would back the development of infrastructure and tools to support cybersecurity R&D efforts. The government wants to assist the development of technology to reduce vulnerabilities in process control systems, as well as understand human behavioral factors that can affect cybersecurity technology and practices. Public officials also hope to test, evaluate, and facilitate the transfer of technologies associated with the engineering of less vulnerable software. Other research areas include assisting in the development of identity management and of technologies designed to increase the security of telecommunications networks. Finally, the government wants to advance the protection of privacy and civil liberties in cybersecurity technology and practices.

Where Are All the Science Majors?
Fortune (06/09/10) Kaplan, David A.

There is an insufficient number of U.S. students being prepared in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields by high schools and universities. The U.S. National Science Foundation estimates that the number of computer science degrees awarded to U.S. citizens from 2004 to 2007 fell nearly 30 percent, while the Aerospace Industries Association calculates that the United States graduates 50 MBAs and 18 attorneys for every Ph.D. in the physical sciences. Additionally, more than 50 percent of students with bachelor of science degrees enter non-science-related careers. There is a growing urgency to find new STEM teachers, as almost 60 percent of U.S. professionals with STEM degrees two years ago were at least 45 years old. Spiking demand for technologists has fueled universities' worries about the number of STEM grads. To make STEM education more engaging to students, many schools are shifting from passive lectures to more interactive courses. Engineering schools also are attempting to incorporate more interesting real-world problems into the curriculum.

Mobile Baby
University of New South Wales (06/15/10) Hamilton, Susi

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) have developed HealthyMe, an interactive electronic system that enables patients to monitor the progress of their medical conditions using a mobile phone. UNSW, which conducted a HealthyMe trial involving in vitro fertilization (IVF) patients, recently presented its results during an e-health symposium at the university. "The women wanted an e-health system that was more deeply integrated with their care, accessible through their BlackBerries and iPhones," says professor Enrico Coiera, director of the Center for Health Informatics. He says HealthyMe helped them to remember important questions and information when they return to the clinic. HealthyMe allows patients to manage medical records on their own, log test results, and communicate with doctors and fellow patients. The system is interactive in the manner of a social networking site, but users can limit their information to a tight community of people who have the same condition. HealthyMe also enables doctors to see if a patient is taking their medication, undergoing requested tests, and see the results.

Counterinsurgency Training by 'Virtual Human'
Miller-McCune (06/16/10) Mecklin, John

The University of Southern California's (USC's) Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) straddles the cutting edge in the creation of virtual humans that can respond realistically to the actions and speech of real people. Imbuing them with these capabilities is a wealth of integrated technologies that include artificial intelligence algorithms and video graphics. ICT has a plan to make virtual humans less expensive and more ubiquitous. The institute's brief when it was founded by a U.S. Army grant was to meld USC's tech expertise with Hollywood and the videogame industry's creativity to build military training simulations. The various researchers and visionaries ICT enlists are taking the idea of virtual reality to a new level of realism, generating immersive environments that, among other things, help U.S. soldiers acclimate themselves to Iraqi and Afghan culture before they are posted overseas. Among the virtual reality concepts ICT has pioneered is Sgt. Star, a digital character used on the Army's Web recruiting platform to answer questions from potential enlistees in a realistic manner. ICT also has developed Urban Sim, a PC-based game for Army trainees in which participants attempt to manage relations with various factions in a simulated Iraqi city during a counterinsurgency campaign.

Parking on Campus a Snap With Carleton Professor's App
Ottawa Citizen (06/16/10) Pilieci, Vito

Carleton University professor Dwight Deugo has developed, a system that enables users to pay for parking at campus lots with a text message. The system reads the text messages from drivers and catalogs the payment and license plate information. The system also sends text message notifications 10 minutes before the paid parking time has expired, enabling users to pay again without having to repay at a meter. "This works on any phone, you don't need an iPhone or something like it," Deugo says. If the system proves effective in tests over the summer, the university may use it for all of its parking lots next year. Deugo says the idea for the system came to him when he got caught in bad weather and had no way to pay for parking without getting wet. "I was trying to park in the pouring rain and I got fed up," he says. "I just thought, 'Why can't we do this?'"

University of Massachusetts Amherst Researchers Launch iPhone App to Rescue Oiled Gulf Coast Wildlife
University of Massachusetts Amherst (06/14/10) Callahan, Patrick J.

University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMA) researchers have developed Mobile Gulf Observatory (MoGO), an iPhone application that can be used to find oiled-covered wildlife in the Gulf Coast region and transmit their photo and location to animal rescue networks. UMA researchers hope MoGO will draw on the large network of "citizen scientists" who are actively looking for ways to help save wildlife along the 14,000 miles of northern Gulf coastline. "The new app allows anyone who finds an oiled animal to be linked automatically by the phone to the Wildlife Hotline and also to contribute photos of the stranded animal and its [global positioning system] location coordinates to a database here on campus," says UMA's Curt Griffin. Each report will alert wildlife experts to rescue live animals for clean-up and medical treatment. "The MoGO public database will help guide restoration efforts of vital coastal and marine habitats, and be used by scientists worldwide to assess the ecological impacts of the spill on the Gulf," says UMA's Andy Danylchuk.

Nanospheres Stretch Limits of Hard Disk Storage
ICT Results (06/15/10)

The European Union-funded MAFIN project developed a magnetic recording medium based on tiny nanospheres, which could lead to hard disks that can store more than a thousand billion bits of information in a square inch. MAFIN project researchers sought to build regular arrays of cells from tiny magnetized nanospheres. The spheres are made of silica and are commercially available in a range of sizes. After testing many different sizes, the researchers settled on spheres 25 nanometers in diameter, bigger than conventional grains but smaller than normal storage cells. The nanospheres are mixed with an alcohol-based solution that is dropped onto the substrate, and, as the alcohol evaporates, the spheres are left in a regular pattern. "I believe that self-assembly-based approaches have the largest potential because they are not expensive," says Chemnitz University of Technology's Manfred Albrecht, who led the project. MAFIN concluded in May 2009, but its work has carried over into a successor EU project--TERAMAGSTOR. The new project aims to demonstrate a hard disk with a storage density exceeding one terabit per square inch.

Using Computer Visualization to Predict Stem Cell Behavior
U.S. News & World Report (06/14/10) Cimons, Marlene

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) scientists are using computer vision technology to predict what will happen to stem cells once they divide, technology they say could lead to more effective methods of growing stem cells on a large scale for therapeutic use. "If we can have a computer watch over every cell and basically sort them into different categories, it would give you the basis for large-scale stem cell production," says RPI professor Badri Roysam. The system takes pictures of cells every five minutes and uses a process called algorithmic information theoretic prediction (AITP) to analyze the behavior of the cells and determine whether each cell will split into self-replicating or terminal-daughter cells. In the case of specialized cells, the researchers could predict with 87 percent accuracy the type of specialized cell it would become. "In theory, AITP can be used to analyze nearly any type of cell, and could lead to advances in many different fields," Roysam says. "The most exciting aspect of this work is how people across disciplines can collaborate--that we’ve found ways to combine our knowledge to make an advance."

Organic Nanoelectronics a Step Closer
McGill University (06/15/10) Raillant-Clark, William

An international team of researchers has used metal crystal to organize organic materials, moving a step closer to organic nanoelectronics. McGill University's Dmitrii Perepichka and the Institut national de la recherche scientifique's Federico Rosei have ordered the molecules in the PEDOT, the key conducting polymer. Using an inorganic material--a crystal of copper--as a template, the team dropped molecules onto the crystal, which produced a chemical reaction and created a conducting polymer. A scanning probe microscope enabled the team to see surfaces with atomic resolution, and determine that the polymers imitated the order of the crystal surface. The team was able to produce a chemical reaction in one dimension, but it plans to focus on adding a second dimension to make continuous sheets or electronic circuits. "By using molecular materials instead of silicon semiconductor, we could one day build transistors that are 10 times smaller than what currently exists," Perepichka says.

Sandia to Play Major Role in DOE-Funded Simulation of "Virtual" Nuclear Reactor
Sandia National Laboratories (06/14/10) Singer, Neal

Sandia National Laboratories computational scientists are leading a U.S. Department of Energy effort to create a "virtual" nuclear reactor that will be headquartered at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. The virtual reactor will use supercomputers to attempt significant leaps forward in nuclear reactor design, engineering, and operation. The virtual reactor should enable engineers to improve reactor safety, increase reactor power production, and extend reactor life. The Hub, named the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL), includes partners from universities, industry, and other national laboratories. Sandia scientists also will work with researchers from North Carolina State University to incorporate advanced methods for verification and validation of the computational models and for quantification of uncertainties as they are executed within the virtual reactor. "This Hub has the ability to transform the nuclear power industry through the research, development, and application of new mathematical models, advanced computational methods, and leading-edge high performance computing," says CASL's Jim Stewart.

IMEC Set to Take Transistors 'Sub-Threshold'
EE Times (06/11/10) Clarke, Peter

IMEC wants to use silicon transistors in the sub-threshold region as a way to achieve ultra-low power operation, and envisions a future system-on-a-chip (SoC) for biomedical applications having blocks designed at 0.2 or 0.3 volts. IMEC will develop a short range RF transceiver that will be 10 times more power-efficient than today's Bluetooth and Zigbee chips. IMEC also is developing three generations of biomedical processors, which includes last year's work involving the BioDSP. This year IMEC is working on the BioFlux, which offers more programming flexibility, and next year a team will pursue a SoC fully optimized for ambulatory electrocardiogram (ECG) measurements through advanced motion artifact removal. "Because of the very low active time in ECG processing, leakage energy is dominant in our BioDSP and BioFlux designs--both in 90-nm CMOS," says IMEC's Harmke De Groot. "The ultralow power and high dynamic range needed for the analog components was the initial trigger to use 180-nm and the analog components are designed at standard Vdd."
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Computerized Critics Could Find the Music You'll Like
New Scientist (06/14/10) Campbell, MacGregor

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) artificial intelligence researcher Luke Barrington is developing software that can analyze a piece of music and compile information about it that could be useful in making a playlist. The software can assign the music a genre or give it subjective descriptions such as whether or not a track is "funky." Barrington wants to create a system that can distinguish between different styles of music within a single song. For example, if a user chooses a song with a mellow verse and a loud chorus, the system would be able to recommend songs that fit that pattern. However, before software can analyze a piece of music, it must understand what distinguishes one genre of music from another. Early approaches to this problem used speech recognition technology such as the mel-frequency cepstral coefficients approach, which is useful for determining which instruments are being used in a piece. However, the University of Sao Paolo's Luciano da F. Costa is using rhythm to assign a genre to music, which he says is simple to extract and is independent of instruments or vocals. After analyzing a collection of MIDI files, da F. Costa's team was able to establish models of the note transitions characteristic of rock, blues, reggae, and bossa nova songs.
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