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Welcome to the June 10, 2019 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The spiral pattern of an Aloe polyphylla plant Decoding Mathematical Secrets of Plants' Stunning Leaf Patterns
Maddie Burakoff
June 6, 2019

Researchers at the University of Tokyo in Japan rethought a popular mathematical plant-growth model in order to replicate a native plant's unusual leaf configurations, which stumped the earlier version of the long-used Douady and Couder equations. The researchers tested the equations using different parameters, enabling the simulation of patterns that more closely resembled the leaf arrangement, but which did not precisely match real-world vegetation samples. The researchers then updated the equations to factor in leaf age, building models that used computerized growth to successfully reproduce the plant's unique leaf arrangements. The updated equations also replicated other common foliage patterns, and predicted the natural frequencies of these variants with greater accuracy than previous models. The authors do not yet know what causes leaf age to affect these growth patterns, but Ciera Martinez, a computational biologist not involved in the study, said such mysteries could be solved by the “push and pull” between computational models and lab experiments.

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Driverless Congestion
ETH Zurich
Samuel Schlaefli
June 7, 2019

A simulation of the city of Zurich, Switzerland, demonstrated that driverless taxis would not replace personal transportation in cities, as long as private autonomous vehicles also are available. Researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland simulated how the city's traffic volume might change if automated taxis were introduced at some point over the next 20 years. The team found that offering a ridesharing service would not decrease the number of private vehicles on the city’s streets, while automated transportation could increase the total number of kilometers driven in the city. The simulation was created with MATSim, a simulation platform that researchers at ETH Zurich and TU Berlin in German have been refining for more than 10 years.

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Words/symbols on black background The Day Computers Can Break All Encryption Is Coming
The Wall Street Journal
Christopher Mims
June 4, 2019

With quantum computing advancements in other countries threatening to expose all encrypted data, IBM and other major companies and security agencies are pursuing their own projects to preserve information safety. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said, "Whoever gets to true quantum computing first will be able to negate all the encryption that we've ever done to date." Experts warned that a foreign power with a sufficiently powerful quantum system could hack the Internet's core nodes, and intercept and decrypt Web traffic in transit. Scientists, companies, and federal agencies are working on new safeguards, like quantum-safe encryption algorithms; one strategy, lattice encryption, would encode data in a multidimensional "lattice." Central to this is widespread agreement on a quantum-safe encryption standard, with IBM's Arvind Krishna forecasting a five- to 10-year window for its launch after such an agreement is reached.

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A hyphen A Single Punctuation Mark Has Been Skewing Our Entire System of Scientific Ranking
Peter Dockrill
June 9, 2019

A study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Wollongong in Australia determined academic papers with hyphens in titles are counted less frequently in citation-tallying datasets, which has been distorting the estimated impact of published academic research. The researchers analyzed the Scopus and Web of Science databases using metamorphic testing to detect defects in the databases' software robustness. Based on the results of the research, the researchers wrote, "A plausible reason for the erroneous inputs is that when authors cite a paper with hyphens in the title, they may overlook some of the hyphens. As a result, citation databases may not be able to match it with the original paper and, hence, the original's citation count is not increased."

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How Tech Created Teaching Corps for Rural Schools
Fast Company
Kate Stringer
June 8, 2019

A dearth of experienced educators is a key obstacle for rural educators in teaching computer science (CS). Technology companies are filling this void through philanthropic programs like Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS), a free program from Microsoft Philanthropies that trains people in the technology industry to teach CS lessons in partnership with classroom teachers. Volunteers from hundreds of technology firms participate in TEALS, co-instructing with classroom teachers, until those teachers are sufficiently confident to conduct CS classes on their own. Said TEALS founder Kevin Wang, "We want to make sure that kids in rural areas, just because they're born in a different zip code, get the same opportunities as kids in other areas."

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Bryan Chiang talking about his application Student Creates Award-Winning Glucose Monitoring App
Daily Bruin
Phoebe Miller
May 31, 2019

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) first-year computer science student Bryan Chiang has developed a mobile app to monitor diabetic patients' glucose levels using a photo of their eyes taken on a smartphone. Changes in blood glucose level lead to changes in the glucose concentration in the fluid of the eye, which results in very subtle changes in the appearance of the iris. The EasyGlucose app analyzes these changes and measures blood glucose from a simple photograph. The algorithm was trained on about 15,000 images of eyes along with each person's glucose levels at the time the images were taken. Chiang’s app won first place in the recent Microsoft Imagine Cup international competition for computer science students.

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A black-tailed gull at Kabushima Shrine in Japan AI Camera Worn by Gulls Captures Video Highlights of Their Lives
New Scientist
Michael Le Page
June 5, 2019

Biologgers—devices equipped with cameras, accelerometers, and GPS systems—can be used to capture detailed footage of animals in the wild. Researchers at Osaka University in Japan have added artificial intelligence (AI) to a biologger device, allowing it to recognize when animals are doing something interesting and switching on the high-power systems like videos only during those moments. This allows an AI-enhanced biologger to keep working for much longer periods of time before running out of power. The researchers used AI-equipped biologgers to study black-tailed gulls from a breeding colony on Kabushima Island. The team trained the AI to recognize when the birds were feeding by analyzing the movements recorded by the low-power accelerometer. Of 27 videos taken without the AI, none showed feeding, and the birds were stationary in 24. However, of 185 videos taken with the AI, the birds appeared to be foraging in 58 and were stationary in 41, marking a success rate of about 30%.

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Computer Attack Mimics User's Keystrokes, Evades Detection
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel)
June 5, 2019

Researchers at the Malware Laboratory of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel have identified a malware technique designed to evade detection via individualized keystroke characteristics. The Malboard hack involves compromising a Universal Serial Bus keyboard to automatically produce and transmit malicious keystrokes that emulate a targeted user's typing style. BGU's Nir Nissim said tests showed Malboard successfully evaded three existing detection mechanisms, in 83% to 100% of cases. The researchers also developed modules to detect such attacks, which BGU's Nitzan Farhi said were "capable of detecting the Malboard attack in 100% of the cases, with no false positives. Using them together as an ensemble detection framework will ensure that an organization is immune to the Malboard attack, as well as other keystroke attacks.”

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Supercomputing Dynamic Earthquake Rupture Models
Texas Advanced Computing Center
Jorge Salazar
June 3, 2019

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have developed physics-based dynamic rupture models that can simulate complex earthquake ruptures using supercomputers. The researchers used this method to run dozens of numerical simulations, and documented a large number of interactions that were then analyzed using advanced visualization software. The team performed this research on the Stampede supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, and the Comet supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. Said National Science Foundation Earth Sciences Program Director Eva Zanzerkia, "This research has provided us with a new understanding of a complex set of faults in Southern California that have the potential to impact the lives of millions of people in the U.S. and Mexico."

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Hacking Diabetes: People Break Into Insulin Pumps as an Alternative to Delayed Innovations
USA Today
Dalvin Brown
June 5, 2019

As some people invest in the latest advancements to help them cope with diabetes, others have found unconventional ways to manage blood sugar conditions, like hacking into insulin pumps to give them the ability to adjust themselves. Three separate technologies—a continuous blood glucose monitor, an insulin pump, and a computerized control system—have been used for decades to help people with diabetes manually manage their health. In recent years, a loose network of "aggressive patients" has been exploiting a security flaw in some of the pumps to make them automatically estimate blood glucose levels and adjust insulin levels accordingly. Endocrinologist Irl Hirsch at the University of Washington Medical Center said thousands of people with diabetes are hacking insulin pumps because they "don't want to wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve something from the usual stream of regulation." The FDA has warned against building an artificial pancreas system to help control one’s blood sugar levels after a patient using such a system suffered an accidental insulin overdose.

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A Foldit computer design of a protein molecule displayed on a laptop Video Gamers Design Brand-New Proteins
UW News
June 4, 2019

A multi-institutional initiative led by University of Washington School of Medicine researchers encoded specialized knowledge into the Foldit computer game to facilitate synthetic protein design. Foldit gamers previously were limited to interacting with known proteins. The researchers added biochemical knowledge by modifying the game's operating code, so designer molecules that scored well in the game would be more likely to fold up as desired in the real world. The researchers tested 146 Foldit-player-designed proteins in a laboratory, of which 56 exhibited stability; the team compiled sufficient data on four of the new molecules to demonstrate the designs adopted their intended configurations. The University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth's Firas Khatib suggests the Foldit milestone could aid research into the design of new drugs.

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