Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 11, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 Ranked Association Conference of the Year
Asia Image (11/09/09)

The ACM SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 conference, held in Singapore, overcame logistical and economic obstacles to become an unqualified success, earning the Association Conference of the Year Award from the Singapore Excellence Awards. "SIGGRAPH Asia 2008 enriched Singapore's conference landscape and provided a unique visitor experience in its combination of art, technology, science, and industry programs," says conference chair Lee Yong Tsui. "It was an event that brought in different communities in the computer graphics industry all in one location in Singapore." Lee says the award the conference earned constitutes "a great honor and an endorsement of [ACM SIGGRAPH's] successful conference format and the incredible dedication of its volunteer members, chapters, and contributors globally. It will also encourage the association to further its efforts in Singapore and Asia, to help bolster the art, technology, and talents in the region."

Inventing Language
MIT News (11/10/09) Hardesty, Larry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Barbara Liskov, winner of ACM's 2008 A.M. Turing Award, recently delivered the first lecture of MIT's 2009 Dertouzos Lecture Series. Liskov, who received the Turing Award in part for the work she did in the 1970s establishing the principles for the organization of programming languages, began her talk by describing the environment in which she performed her pioneering work. Liskov explained that in the fall of 1972, after reviewing the literature in the field, she developed the idea for what is known now as abstract data types. After developing that idea, Liskov says she and some collaborators created a programming language, CLU, which put most of her ideas into practice. The remainder of Liskov's lecture focused on a demonstration that CLU prefigured many of the ideas common in modern programming languages, such as polymorphism, type hierarchy, and exception handling. During a question and answer session, Liskov said the secret to her success was not working that many hours a day, going home at night, and not working in the evening. "I always found that downtime to be really useful," she said. Liskov also stressed the importance of working on interesting research, instead of research that is most likely to get published.

China Plans for Humanoid Olympics
BBC News (11/06/09)

China has announced plans to hold a robot Olympics in 2010, in which humanoid robots will compete in 16 different events ranging from athletics to machine-related tasks such as cleaning. The organizers expect more than 100 universities from around the world to participate in the competition, which they believe will drive innovation and lead to the development of robots that are more flexible and helpful. The event will take place at the Harbin Institute of Technology, home of a robot research group that has built a successful team of soccer-playing humanoids. However, a specific date for the robot Olympics has not been set. China faces a crowded calendar for robot sports and other competitive events. The 2010 RoboGames are scheduled for April in California, and there is an annual competition for robots that can mix cocktails, light cigarettes, and chat with bar patrons called Roboexotica. The world cup for robots, which drew entries from 400 teams in 35 nations last year, will take place June 2010 in Singapore, and the Federation of International Robot-Soccer Associations runs a similar event.

Rutgers Computer Scientists Work to Strengthen Online Security
Rutgers University (11/09/09) Blesch, Carl

Rutgers University computer scientists are developing an alternative to online security questions that is designed to be easier for legitimate users and more secure. "We call them activity-based personal questions," says Rutgers professor Danfeng Yao. "Sites could ask you, 'When was the last time you sent an email?' Or, 'What did you do yesterday at noon?' " Initial studies suggest that questions about recent activities are easy for legitimate users to answer but harder for attackers to guess or learn. "We want the question to be dynamic," Yao says. "The questions you get today will be different from the ones you would get tomorrow." Initial results from the system will be presented at ACM's Conference on Computer and Communications Security, which takes place Nov. 9-13 in Chicago, Ill. Rutgers researchers found that questions related to time were more robust than other questions. Yao says online service providers can create security questions using data from a user's email, calendar, or transactions, though computers would need to use natural language processing tools to synthesize understandable questions and analyze answers for accuracy. Yao has proposed additional studies to determine the practicality of the new approach and how it could best be implemented.

NASA Showcases 'Green' Missions at SC09 Conference (11/04/09)

Milestones by five NASA research centers in the fields of science, engineering, and technology will be showcased at the ACM-sponsored SC09 supercomputing conference, which takes place Nov. 14-20, in Portland, Oregon. More than 45 demonstrations will be exhibited, including how NASA is tapping supercomputing resources to better model and comprehend how regional weather events are shaped by global forces. To accommodate the growing need for computational power and Earth science research, the high-end computing systems at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division and the NASA Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS) have recently been enhanced. NAS added 9,216 cores to its Pleiades supercomputing cluster, while NCCS expanded its Discover system with another 8,192 cores. "Discover's faster processors enable more accurate and timely projections of changes in the Earth's environment," says NCCS project manager Phil Webster. "In support of climate science, Discover has been used to complete a re-analysis of 30 years of satellite observing system data to reconstruct a more accurate picture of the Earth's climate and weather--NASA's most ambitious re-analysis to date." NAS' Rupak Biswas says the simulations generated on the supercomputers, when coupled with satellite observations and experimental data, support NASA's science, aeronautics, exploration, and space operations missions. The environment and sustainability are the themes of SC09, and NASA's Greenspace Initiative supports environmental efforts in the fields of aviation, global prediction monitoring and response, clean energy, and sustainable systems.

University of Basque Country Research Proposes Improvements for Electronic Voting by Internet
Basque Research (11/09/09) Bulegoa, Prentsa

The democratic process can be augmented by information and communications technologies that increase public engagement, says University of Basque Country researcher Maider Huarte Arrayago, who did her doctoral work on systems for electronic voting via the Internet. Arrayago's study of online electronic voting systems revealed that such systems fulfill the requirements of equality and secrecy very well, while universal suffrage and liberty are not as well represented. To comply with the requirements of liberty, Arrayago proposed the enhancement of the voting system's reliability and flexibility. Facilitating universal suffrage, meanwhile, would involve both defining a human-machine interface that accounts for the heterogeneity of the voters' capacities and boosting the mobility of electors without impairing communication protocols. Arrayago's proposed system improves reliability by only maintaining the secrecy of the passwords to be used in the protocols, which reinforces robustness, transparency, and the lodging of complaints in private. To promote more flexibility, Arrayago defined systems and protocols that do not impact the digital paper-vote format and the count methodology, while permitting the reader to interrupt the vote-casting process at any time and start over. To achieve compliance with the universal suffrage precept, Arrayago suggested the augmentation of both existing and future interfaces. She concluded that the cryptographic methods used to satisfy the equality and secrecy requirements restricted certain characteristics of the liberty principle, while existing security techniques and tools or their use are insufficient if the software is not properly crafted.

The Green500 Expands its Coverage of Energy-Efficient Supercomputers
Virginia Tech News (11/02/09) MacKay, Steven

The Green500 list, Virginia Tech's ranking of the 500 fastest supercomputers according to their energy efficiency, is expanding the definition of a supercomputer to include a wider range of high-end computing, which will be ranked on the Little Green500 list. Virginia Tech also is exploring energy efficiency in more innovative computing with the Open Green500 and the HPCC Green500 lists. The primary TOP Green500 list will continue to rank the world's fastest supercomputers to counter the trend of achieving computing performance at any cost. "While institutions may require more and more supercomputing resources each year, we cannot afford to continue building new power stations to support such resources," says Green500 co-founder and Virginia Tech professor Wu Feng. "We need to be more efficient at all scales of supercomputing." The Little Green500 list will expand the definition of a supercomputer to include any machine used for commodity supercomputing that could have been on the Top500 list within the past 18 months. The Open Green500 list will allow supercomputers to use a combination of single-precision and double-precision to generate a correct double-precision result for LINPACK, which Feng hopes will stimulate innovation. The HPCC Green500 list will use the High Performance Computing Challenge benchmark for its performance results.

Web Security Tool Copies Apps' Moves
Technology Review (11/09/09) Mims, Christopher

Microsoft researchers have developed Ripley, a way to secure Web applications by cloning the user's browser and running the application remotely. Ripley, announced at ACM's Computer and Communications Security Conference, which takes place Nov. 9-13 in Chicago, prevents a remote hacker or malicious user from changing the behavior of code running inside a Web browser by creating an exact copy of the computational environment and running that copy on the server. Ripley also relays all of the user's actions, including mouse clicks, keystrokes, and other inputs, from the client to the server as a compressed event stream. The behavior of the clone code is compared to the behavior of the application running on the user's browser. If any discrepancies occur, Ripley disconnects the client. "You cannot trust anything that happens in the client," says Ripley lead developer Ben Livshits. "It's basically the devil in the browser from the developer's point of view." Livshits says Ripley is completely invisible to the end user and will not affect the normal function of a Web application. Ripley can even enhance the performance of Web applications, because the clone program is written in .Net, which is 10 to 100 times faster than the JavaScript used on the client side. University of California, Berkeley researcher Adam Barth says Ripley is part of a larger trend to protect the integrity of client-side programs. "The work suggests that security would benefit if we validated more than we're validating today," Barth says.

Social Tags Complement the Learning Resource Metadata, a Finnish Researcher Finds Out
Open University of the Netherlands (11/05/09)

Social tagging can help people find educational resources in digital repositories that are filled with millions of learning materials, says Open University of the Netherlands PhD candidate Riina Vuorikari. She says that adding free, non-hierarchical keywords to the digital learning materials would bring self organization, flexibility, and robustness to learning resources portals. The user, item, and tag allow for more cross references between content from heterogeneous repositories, which can enable users to discover more learning resources across language, country, curriculum, repository, and other contexts. Moreover, future applications for learning resources should make better use of social recommendation systems that work in multiple languages, which is especially relevant to Europe, Vuorikari says.

Theme-Park Dummy Trick Becomes Teleconference Tool
New Scientist (11/02/09) Simonite, Tom

A trick used in theme-park animatronics could help people act more naturally during videoconferences. Shader lamps is a technique that projects an animated face that looks three dimensional (3D) onto a blank dummy face, and the trick could be used to project a person's face onto an animatronic double at a meeting. Before the dummy's blank face can be animated, the real person must have still photographs taken from the front and side to create a 3D model of their head, which allows the output from a single camera to be distorted to make the image look correct when projected onto the dummy. The user wears a headband to track head movements that can be matched by the dummy, and the person can see the dummy's surroundings using a panoramic camera in the dummy's head. University of North Carolina computer scientist Greg Welch says the shader lamps system has several advantages over conventional videoconferencing. "In existing [two-dimensional] videoconferencing systems, the remote person is kind of a second-class citizen: they're in this box sitting in one place, they look different," Welch says. The camera position on conventional videoconferencing also can make it difficult for viewers to determine where an on-screen person is looking. Future versions of the system may use multiple projectors to portray the sides of the users face. Making the system more mobile could allow doctors to visit patients who are unable to leave their house or in remote locations.

Metagenomics and the Computing Challenges of Microbial Communities
Computing Community Consortium (11/06/09) Feiereisen, Bill; Libeskind-Hadas, Ran

New technologies are enabling researchers to sequence samples of microorganisms taken from their environment, but the relatively new field of metagenomics still has to deal with considerable science and computing challenges. Understanding large microbial communities is likely to improve human health, and researchers now have complete DNA sequences of thousands of organisms in databases. However, a single gram of soil can have about 1 trillion base pairs of DNA, which makes analyzing the gene sequencing data a challenge. Metagenomics researchers will need programs that are capable of asking the right biological questions, and current high-performance computers still cannot handle the enormous amount of data. The design of new algorithms and cloud-computing technologies are needed. According to the National Academies of Science publication "The New Science of Metagenomics: Revealing the Secrets of Our Microbial Planet," there should be significant technical, computational, and biological development, as well as specific applications, during the next 20 years.

What Happens When Good Robots Go 'Bad'?
MSNBC (11/05/09) Mapes, Diane

A study by University of Washington researchers led by doctoral student Tamara Denning calls attention to the possibility of household robots being hacked by malevolent parties and reprogrammed for nefarious purposes. Such purposes could include psychological attacks, spying, and vandalism. Denning and colleagues examined three commercially available household robots, and discovered that all three had the potential of being hijacked. "The main concern was in terms of threats to the owners' privacy, such as spying and eavesdropping," Denning notes. "Someone could log into the robot remotely and then they could drive the robot around the home and look and listen." The researchers also determined that remotely controlled robots could be used to damage or destroy fragile objects, or cause psychological distress by placing objects on the floor in such a manner as to communicate a threat or an insult, to name one example. Robotics developer Emilie Kopp says it is more likely that hackers would compromise household robots out of a desire for bragging rights rather than out of criminal intent. "It's very similar to computer security, the way that users of desktop computers have to worry about spam and malware," Denning says. "One possible trajectory is that people will have to think about security with their home robots, as well."

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