Welcome to the August 6, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Google and Verizon Near Deal on Pay Tiers for Web
New York Times (08/04/10) Wyatt, Edward
Google and Verizon are nearing an agreement that would allow Verizon to get online content to Internet users faster if the content's creators are willing to pay for the service. The agreement could lead to higher charges for Internet users and challenge the policy known as net neutrality, in which no form of content is favored over another. If the deal is completed, Google would agree not to challenge Verizon's ability to manage its broadband Internet network as it wanted. A recent court decision ruled that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the authority to require that an Internet service provider refrain from blocking or slowing down some content or giving favor to others. Since the ruling, the FCC has been seeking a way to enforce net neutrality. Consumers could end up seeing continually rising bills for Internet service, similar to the way cable TV payment plans work. The FCC wants a level playing field for all content providers and consumers, but it cannot impose one as long as its authority over broadband is in legal doubt. A proposed solution would be to reclassify broadband as a "telecommunications service," from its current label as an "information service."
Roadmap for Robot Helpers
ICT Results (08/05/10)
The Coordination Action for Robotics in Europe (CARE) project was set up in 2006 to create a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) to guide the development of robotics. The project is run in association with the European Robotics Technology Platform, which allows European robotics companies to build and maintain internationally-leading positions in all robotics markets. The CARE project came up with a new way to classify robots, by dividing them into six cross-sector "application scenarios," including robotic workers, robotics co-workers, logistics robots, robots for surveillance and intervention, robots for exploration and inspection, and "edutainment" robots. The SRA advises that a European supply chain is needed to reduce the dependence on overseas suppliers. Research should concentrate on robotics-driven technologies, and needs greater cooperation between academia and industry. "You need a number of different specialists, sometimes having knowledge of a numerous disciplines--such as mechatronics engineers--speaking the same language," says CARE coordinator Tim Guhl.
Robot Climbs Walls
University of Utah (08/05/10) Siegel, Lee J.
University of Utah researchers have developed the first robot that can climb efficiently and move like a human rock climber or an ape swinging through trees. Utah's Oscillating Climbing Robot (ROCR) has two claws, a motor, and a tail that swings like a pendulum. "While this robot eventually can be used for inspection, maintenance and surveillance, probably the greatest short-term potential is as a teaching tool or as a really cool toy," says Utah professor William Provancher. The robot's efficiency is defined as the ratio of work performed in the act of climbing to the electrical energy consumed by the robot. The motor that drives the robot's tail and a curved, girder-like stabilizer bar attach to the robot's upper body. The upper body is equipped with two small steel, hook-like claws to sink into a carpeted wall as the robot climbs. "ROCR alternatively grips the wall with one hand at a time and swings its tail, causing a center of gravity shift that raises its free hand, which then grips the climbing surface," according to the researchers. ROCR is self-contained and autonomous, with a microcomputer, sensors, and power electronics to execute desired tail motions to make it climb. "The core innovations of ROCR--its energy-efficient climbing strategy and simple mechanical design--arise from observing mass shifting in human climbers and brachiative [swinging] motion in animals," says a study.
Gaming For a Cure: Computer Gamers Tackle Protein Folding
University of Washington News and Information (08/04/10) Hickey, Hannah
Two years ago, University of Washington researchers launched a project to harness the brainpower of computer gamers to solve medical problems. The game, called Foldit, turns difficult molecular biology problems into a game similar to Tetris. The researchers found that human players did better than computers on problems that required radical moves, risks, and long-term vision, all qualities that computers do not possess. Foldit turns protein-folding into a game and awards points based on the internal energy of the three-dimensional protein structure, which is dictated by the laws of physics. A major challenge in developing the game was making it fun while still producing valid scientific results, says Washington doctoral student Seth Cooper. "We're opening eyes in terms of how people think about human intelligence and group intelligence, and what the possibilities are when you get huge numbers of people together to solve a very hard problem," says Washington professor Zoran Popovic. Foldit also has a blog that lets players know about updates to the game, upcoming competitions, and special events such as online chats with scientists or game developers.
Can You Believe Your Eyes in the Digital World?
BBC News (08/02/10) Kleinman, Zoe
Using modern technology, any picture can now be digitally altered or manipulated to look very different from the original image. A recent magazine cover of Hollywood couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on the beach together was actually a composite of two individual shots taken almost six months apart. Professor Hany Farid and his team use special algorithms to analyze photos such as the Pitt-Jolie magazine cover, looking for statistical anomalies in their composition. A key indicator of an altered image is more than one light source. "Your brain isn't sensitive to noticing it unless they are dramatically different--we are developing forensic tools to identify it," says Farid. The composition trick can also be used to dramatize or even alter the recording of serious or sensitive events. In 2003, Los Angeles Times photographer Brian Walski was fired after he admitted to compositing two photographs of conflict in Barsa. Manipulated images also could be submitted in a court of law, despite the fact that it is considered altering evidence.
U.S. Challenged by Global Cybersecurity
InformationWeek (08/03/10) Montalbano, Elizabeth
A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) urges the U.S. government to concentrate on creating a unified approach to cybersecurity. The report notes that multiple federal organizations are currently involved in creating cybersecurity policy and processes, including the departments of Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State and the National Security Agency. Meanwhile, Congress has yet to pass a comprehensive law to deal with domestic cybersecurity issues. The report says a nationwide cybersecurity strategy needs to be defined with clear objectives, goals, and activities, while performance measurements need to be established to make sure that activities achieve desired outcomes. The GAO also notes that certain U.S. and foreign technical standards related to cybersecurity or policy can impede trade by compelling corporations to either abandon a market or redesign products to meet a particular nation's standards. The GAO also warns that U.S. judicial systems lack the technical capability to deal successfully with cybersecurity issues, and existing laws are inconsistently enforced.
Harvard U. Institute Software That Helps Build Academic Sites
Chronicle of Higher Education (07/30/10) Li, Sophia
A Harvard University team has released the latest version of an open source program that automates most of the process of creating academic Web sites. Researchers, even those who are not tech-savvy, will be able to use OpenScholar to create a personal Web site or build a project Web site. OpenScholar was launched as a Harvard-only project in May 2009, but positive feedback from colleagues prompted the team to make the program open source and available through Drupal. About 200 faculty members at Harvard have tried the software, and now the OpenScholar team has begun to approach other universities about using it. Once a university's information technology staff has installed OpenScholar, researchers can register to create a site, and can select features from a menu of options tailored for professors. For example, professors who want to build personal sites will find plug-ins for pages that display their curriculum vitae, a list of courses they teach, and a list of publications that can be exported in XML or BibTex format.
Japanese Rescue-Bot Can Sniff Out Disaster Survivors
Agence France-Presse (France) (07/30/10)
A crawler rescue robot will be tested by a fire department near Tokyo in August. Developed by roboticists at the Chiba Institute of Technology, QUINCE is designed to find survivors in rubble and deliver crucial items to them after an earthquake or other disasters. QUINCE is about the size of a toddler's play car, and has a robotic arm that can be remotely controlled to turn doorknobs and carry survival items such as water, food, and a cell phone. A computer link enables rescue squads to manipulate the arm and obtain robo-view camera images, and the robot also can create three-dimensional maps of a site as it crawls. Built like a small tank, the robot has four sets of wheels, each driving a rubber track and powered by six electric motors, and can maneuver over bumps and up and down slopes as steep as 82 degrees. QUINCE has infrared and carbon dioxide sensors that enable it to detect the body heat and exhaled breath of survivors, and speakers that would enable people trapped under rubble to hear the voices of human rescuers.
Team Releases Tools for Secure Cloud Computing
UT Dallas News (08/02/10) Moore, David
University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) researchers have released software tools designed to facilitate cloud computing. "In order to use electricity, we do not maintain electricity generators at home, instead we get the electricity on demand from the grid when we need it," says UTD Cyber Security Research Center director Bhavani Thuraisingham. She says the cloud computing model works on a similar principle. Research shows that the biggest hurdle to broad adoption of cloud computing is concern about the security of sensitive data, so security has been one of the UTD team's focal points. "In building a cloud, we are using a number of open source tools, including Apache's Hadoop distributed file system, Google's Mapreduce, and the University of Cambridge's XEN Virtual Machine monitor," Thuraisingham says. She says the tools provide the infrastructure for security features. UTD's tools provide secure query processing capabilities and prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data. The system's framework consists of a network layer, an infrastructure layer, a storage layer, and a data layer.
Research on Poker a Good Deal for Airport Security
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) (08/02/10) Hamill, Sean D.
University of Southern California professor Milind Tambe led the development of an algorithm that can help stop the planning of terror attacks by randomizing where and when security checkpoints are placed in and around airports. The algorithm is based on a Carnegie Mellon University lossless abstraction algorithm developed in 2006 by professor Tuomas Sandholm and then doctoral student Andrew Gilpin for use in poker. A paper based on that algorithm, written by Sandholm and then doctoral student Vincent Conitzer, attracted the attention of Tambe, who used its game theory techniques to develop Assistant for Randomized Monitoring of Routes (ARMOR), an algorithm designed to improve security at Los Angeles International Airport by creating efficient, randomized security patterns. ARMOR was so effective that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration asked him to develop a new version that could be implemented in other airports. The new algorithm--Game-theoretic Unpredictable And Randomly Deployed Security--was tested at Pittsburgh International Airport last fall.
Carnegie Mellon Sparks Interest in Computer Science With Robot Project
Converge (07/30/10) Roscorla, Tanya
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has created a comprehensive program to engage students in computer science in which the participants design robots in virtual worlds and perform other activities with robotics tools. Through the Tech GYRLS program, sixth- through 12th-graders participate in hands-on activities that enable them to be creative and improve their math and science grades. CMU also is developing the Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration (FIRE) project, along with the University of Pittsburgh, the Boy Scouts of America, and FIRST. "If we want to have future innovators, we need to get a larger pool of people who are playing with the toys that lead to innovation," says FIRE director Robin Shoop. The FIRE program features an automated online cognitive tutor and provides customized one-on-one instruction by detecting the strategies that students use. "Part of what makes a cognitive tutor cognitive is to understand those specifics about student thinking or student cognition and be able to build a tutoring system that’s going to react to the informal or alternative strategies that they bring, as well as their possible misconceptions," says CMU professor Ken Koedinger.
European Project Based on ICT to Facilitate Users Creating Applications for Their City or Home
Basque Research (07/30/10) Diez, Victor Gardeazabal
The European DIY Smart Experiences (DiYSE) project plans to use information and communications technology to enable people to transform their surroundings with personalized applications. The goal of the DiYSE project is to combine objects of a space with Internet services, and use both sets of data to create personalized applications. Users would be able to create a personalized experience based on the current need, regardless of their technical skills. People would use electronic devices such as mobile phones or touch screens to interact with a closed environment such as a cafeteria, a space that might have physical devices such as sensors for temperature and noise, as well as Web services such as a menu application. For example, the DiYSE project would enable people to create an application that recommends the best area of the cafeteria to eat, based on the information for temperature and noise, and the best menu options, based on their nutritional needs. Forty companies, universities, and research institutes from seven countries are participating in the project.
Mouse Trail Leads to Online Shoppers
Emory University (07/16/10) Clark, Carol
An online tool developed by Emory University professors Eugene Agichtein and Qi Guo can help predict whether a person plans to buy or browse by tracking cursor movements. Agichtein and Guo developed the tool after conducting research that showed the movements of a computer mouse could serve as a valuable indicator of a user's intent. "We used controlled experiments to develop a model for the way people use a computer mouse when they plan to make a purchase," Agichtein says. "When we apply this shopping model to data from actual Web users in an uncontrolled environment, it correlates to a doubling of the ad click-through rate."
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