Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 14, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Visionary Software Combines Different Database Systems
Saarland University (10/13/11)

Saarland University researchers have developed a concept for a database system that automatically adapts to various requirements, combining features of previously different systems. "Our vision is to develop a database system that combines all different systems used simultaneously on today's market," says Saarland professor Jens Dittrich. The system could be useful to large enterprises that acquire many different systems in a short period of time. In addition, systems that control airports or rail traffic could benefit from the research because they have to synchronize data permanently and react within milliseconds to prevent crashes. Dittrich named the project Octopus because it is an extremely versatile animal that adapts its appearance to match its environment. "Like the octopus, our software should find out independently what kind of requirements the environment demands and what adjustments are necessary in return," Dittrich says. He says the program's approach is advantageous for companies because the data within their systems wouldn't have to be synchronized.

Dennis Ritchie, Founder of Unix and C, Dies at 70
Washington Post (10/14/11) Emily Langer

Bell Laboratories computer scientist Dennis Ritchie, who passed away last weekend at 70, has left behind a legacy that includes inventing the seminal programming language C, as well as co-creating the Unix operating system. Developing a programming language that was refined yet simple to use was the impetus behind the invention of C, which became the most popular language and enabled users to achieve in a few months what would have taken about a year or more with other languages. C became the platform for Unix, an antecedent for operating systems on which Microsoft Windows-based PCs and many Apple products currently run. For their innovations, Ritchie and Unix co-inventor Kenneth Thompson received the 1983 A.M. Turing Award from ACM. In 1998, both Ritchie and Thompson were awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Bill Clinton for creating Unix and C, "which together have led to enormous growth of an entire industry, thereby enhancing American leadership in the Information Age." In early 2011, the two men were given the Japan Prize for science and technology. "His name was not a household name at all," says Smithsonian historian Paul Ceruzzi. "But if you had a microscope and could look in a computer, you'd see his work everywhere inside."

Founding Father Wants Secure 'Internet 2'
Financial Times (10/11/11) Joseph Menn

A new version of the Internet might be the best way to defend against cyberattacks, says Internet co-founder Vint Cerf. In hindsight, he and co-founder Bob Kahn should have focused more on security when they built the framework for the Web, Cerf says. "I would have put a much stronger focus on authenticity or authentication--where did this email come from, what device I am talking to... those things are elements that would make a big difference," he says. A growing number of experts are considering starting all over again, and Cerf says he is very interested in the clean-slate ideas. For example, 41st Parameter founder Ori Eisen has plans for an Internet 2 called Project Phoenix, which would make use of biometric identification, encryption for all keystrokes, and virtual machines created for every transaction. Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is backing research aimed at redesigning the Internet. However, analysts say that a government mandate, or support from the banking or telecommunications industries, would be needed to move any plans into the action phase. Cerf says the ubiquity of the current Internet should not be used as an excuse to do nothing.
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Computational Model of Peace Predicts Social Violence, Harmony
Wired News (10/11/11) Brandon Keim

New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) researchers have developed a computational model that analyzes census data to identify potential areas of civil violence, based on the premise that community-level violence is a function of geography modulated by the overlap of political, topographical, and ethnic borders. The researchers, led by NECSI president Yaneer Bar-Yam, found that violence is unlikely when either diverse communities are so integrated that it prevents one group from dominating, or so segregated that political and geographic boundaries match demographic borders. "Violence arises due to the structure of boundaries between groups rather than as a result of inherent conflicts between the groups themselves," Bar-Yam says. The researchers tested the model on data from Switzerland, which is known for its social stability and prosperity, but contains a diverse cultural mix consisting of many languages and religions. The researchers' model found that one area with an increased propensity for violence was the northwest region of the country, where the Jura mountains form a boundary between French and German-speaking communities. This region is exactly where violence erupted in the 1970s.

Cops on the Trail of Crimes That Haven't Happened
New Scientist (10/12/11) Mellisae Fellet

The Santa Cruz, Calif., police department recently started field-testing Santa Clara University-developed software that analyzes where crime is likely to be committed. The software uses the locations of past incidents to highlight likely future crime scenes, enabling police to target and patrol those areas with the hope that their presence might stop the crimes from happening in the first place. The program, developed by Santa Clara researcher George Mohler, predicted the location and time of 25 percent of burglaries that occurred on any particular day in an area of Los Angeles in 2004 and 2005, using just the data on burglaries that had occurred before that day. The Santa Cruz police department is using the software to monitor 10 areas for residential burglaries, auto burglaries, and auto theft. If the program proves to be effective in thwarting crime in areas that are known for their high crime rates, it can be applied to other cities, says University of California, Los Angeles researcher Jeffrey Brantingham, who collaborated on the algorithm's development.

A New Scheme for Photonic Quantum Computing
Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology (10/12/11)

An international team of researchers led by scientists at the Vienna Center for Quantum Science and Technology has introduced a photonic quantum computing scheme that could potentially address all of the currently unresolved issues for optical implementations of quantum computing. Coherent photon conversion is founded on augmenting the nonlinearity of a medium by a strong laser field so that coherent conversion between different photon states is enabled. In the initial series of experiments the researchers use photons and highly non-linear glass fibers for a demonstration of a process suitable for deploying the scheme. They say the technique clears a path to solving all of the open challenges for optical quantum computation. For example, deterministically doubling single photons addresses the preparation and measuring issues, and a unique type of photon-photon interaction yields efficient quantum gates. This new quantum optics toolbox facilitated by coherent photon conversion promises to lead to a nonlinear optical quantum computer.

Women, Minorities Scarce in IT Security Field (10/11/11) Eric Chabrow

The information technology (IT) security profession in the United States is dominated by white and Asian men, according to an Information Security Media Group analysis of U.S. Labor Department employment figures. About seven percent of those categorized as information security analysts are African Americans, who make up about 12 percent of the overall workforce. Latinos make up about five percent of the IT security labor force compared to 15 percent of the overall workforce. Women show the biggest disparity, making up just eight percent of the IT workforce, compared to 48 percent of the overall workforce. Women in Technology International founder Carolyn Leighton says there are several reasons why more women are not interested in IT security. She notes that many young girls are pushed away from interest in computers by teachers, while most of the IT hiring is done by men. The U.S. Cyber Challenge is trying to find the right type of IT security challenges to attract more underrepresented populations to the field. "In our case, this means going to back to the high school/middle-school levels where many of these decisions are made and/or taught about what a child can or can't do," says U.S. Cyber Challenge national director Karen Evans.

"Ghostwriting" the Torah?
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (10/11/11)

Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have developed a computer algorithm that could help identify the different sources that contributed to the individual books of the Bible. The algorithm, developed by TAU professor Nachum Dershowitz, recognizes linguistic cues, such as word preference, to divide texts into probable author groupings. The researchers focused on writing style instead of subject or genre to avoid some of the problems that have vexed Bible scholars in the past, such as a lack of objectivity and complications caused by the multiple genres and literary forms found in the Bible. The software searches for and compares details that human scholars might have difficulty detecting, such as the frequency of the use of function words and synonyms, according to Dershowitz. The researchers tested the software by randomly mixing passages from the Hebrew books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and instructing the computer to separate them. The program was able to separate the passages with 99 percent accuracy, in addition to separating "priestly" materials from "non-priestly" materials. "If the computer can find features that Bible scholars haven't noticed before, it adds new dimensions to their scholarship," Dershowitz says.

Father of SSL Says Despite Attacks, the Security Linchpin Has Lots of Life Left
Network World (10/11/11) Tim Greene

Despite high-profile exploits, secure sockets layer/transport layer security (SSL/TLS), the protocol that safeguards e-commerce security, can remain viable through proper upgrades as it becomes necessary, says SSL co-creator Taher Elgamal in an interview. He says the problem is not rooted in SSL/TLS itself, but rather in the surrounding trust framework and the problems it causes when it comes time to patch the protocol to correct vulnerabilities. "If there is a way that we can separate who we trust from the vendor of the browsers, then that would be the best thing to do," Elgamal notes. "And the root of the trust should be the Internet with its built-in reputation ecosystem." Elgamal says that in such a scenario, if people were to notice that a specific certificate authority is issuing bad certificates, then the reputation would jettison it immediately with no need to issue patches. What is needed is the construction of an automatic update mechanism, and Elgamal believes the technology to facilitate self-updating exists. "I hope people look for these things because honestly, every protocol will have roles for self-updating things," he notes. "Nothing will remain secure forever."

Building a New Cadre of Science Faculty, Center Makes Next Big Leap
University of Wisconsin-Madison (10/10/11) Terry Devitt

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) plans to expand to include 25 of the U.S.'s top universities as part of the CIRTL Network. CIRTL, which is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM), aims to develop a national faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) that goes beyond the graduate student model. CIRTL also focuses on the challenges and opportunities posed by the increasing diversity of science and higher education. UWM professor Robert Mathieu says CIRTL provides a new philosophical and strategic springboard for individual campuses to develop programs aimed at giving STEM graduate students the skills and tools to be creative and rigorous in the classroom. As part of the CIRTL project, more than 100 future faculty take graduate classes each semester that develop skills in teaching-as-research in many contexts. "What unites the CIRTL Network universities is a commitment to developing a national STEM faculty better prepared to teach, through three core ideas: teaching-as-research, learning communities, and learning-through-diversity," Mathieu says.

Google Launches Dart as a JavaScript Killer
IDG News Service (10/10/11) Joab Jackson

Google announced the launch of a preview version of Dart, an object-oriented Web programming language that has capabilities that resemble those of JavaScript but also addresses some of its scalability and organizational shortcomings. Google software engineer Lars Bak describes Dart as "a structured yet flexible language for Web programming." Dart is designed to be used for both quickly cobbling together small projects as well as for developing larger-scale Web applications. Programmers will be able to add variables without defining their data type or to define their data types. A compiler and a virtual machine, along with a set of basic libraries, are part of the preview version. Initially, programmers will have to compile their Dart creations to JavaScript, using a tool included in the Dart package, to get them to run on browsers. However, Google would like future Web browser to include a native Dart virtual machine for running Dart programs.

Stanford Summer Course Yields Touchscreen Braille Writer
Stanford Report (CA) (10/07/11) Andrew Myers

Stanford University's Army High-Performance Computing Research Center (AHPCRC) has developed a Braille writer that is simpler and less expensive than previous models. AHPCRC's model, designed by New Mexico State University undergraduate student Adam Duran, Stanford doctoral candidate Sohan Dharmaraja, and Stanford professor Adrian Lew, features a touchscreen with keys that orient themselves to the user's fingertips. The model accommodates "users whose fingers are small or large, those who type with fingers close together or far apart, even to allow a user to type on a tablet hanging around the neck with hands opposed as if playing a clarinet," Dharmaraja says. The Braille writer, which was developed during a two-month summer course at Stanford on high-performance computing, could replace devices that cost 10 times as much. "AHPCRC is an excellent model for outreach, which not only trains undergraduate students in computational sciences but also exposes students to real-world research applications," says AHPCRC's Raju Namburu.

Mine-Hunting Software Helping Doctors to Identify Rare Cells in Human Cancer
Office of Naval Research (10/06/11) Grace Jean

Doctors are using software developed at the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), which was originally developed for finding and recognizing underwater mines, to enhance the Fluorescence Association Rules for Quantitative Insight (FARSIGHT) program to help identify and classify cancer-related cells. FARSIGHT identifies cells based upon a subset of examples initially labeled by a physician, but the resulting classifications can be erroneous because the computer applies tags based on the small sampling. ONR's active-learning algorithms help FARSIGHT be more accurate and more consistent, according to the researchers. "There is a real chance this may save lives in the future," says Duke University professor Larry Carin. University of Pennsylvania researchers are using the ONR algorithms embedded in FARSIGHT to study tumors from kidney cancer patients. "We can begin to study the endothelial cells of human cancer--something that is not being done because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to do," says Pennsylvania professor William Lee. The researchers say the enhanced FARSIGHT toolkit can accomplish tasks in a few hours that normally take weeks to complete.

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