Welcome to the November 13, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Creating 3D Models With a Simple Webcam
University of Cambridge (11/11/09)
University of Cambridge researchers have developed a simple and affordable method for constructing virtual three-dimensional (3D) models, which should make 3D modeling more accessible. The new program requires only a basic Web camera in order for users to build 3D models of textured objects in real time. The system collects live video when an object is moved in front of the Webcam, and then reconstructs the object online. The software detects points on the object, uses them to estimate object structure from the motion of the camera or the object, and computes the Delaunay tetrahedralization of the points. The system records the points in a mesh of tetrahedra, which is where the object's surface mesh is embedded. The invalid tetrahedra are removed to obtain the surface mesh based on a probabilistic carving algorithm and the object texture is applied to the 3D mesh in order to clean up the final reconstruction and produce a realistic model. The Cambridge team presented the system at the 20th British Machine Vision Conference in London.
CIO Blast From the Past: 40 Years of Multics, 1969-2009
CIO Australia (11/11/09) Gedda, Rodney
Four decades ago, Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (Multics), widely considered the basis of contemporary time-sharing systems, was first employed for information management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT professor and ACM 1990 A.M. Turing Award winner Fernando J. Corbato led MIT's Multics project. He says the implementation of Multics was driven by the need for "a higher-level language to program the bulk of the system to amplify the effectiveness of each programmer." Corbato says that "Multics was designed to be a general-purpose, time-sharing system so the focus was less on the novelty of the applications and more on the ease of developing and building applications and systems." He counts the Unix programming language to be Multics' most significant legacy, noting that both Multics and Unix exploited their hardware effectively. Among the features used in modern computing that Corbato lists as being first developed or thought up with Multics are hierarchical file systems, file access controls, and dynamic linking on demand. "The real legacy of Multics was the education and inculcation of system engineering principles in over 1,400 people directly associated with operating, maintaining, extending, and managing the system during its lifetime," he says. "Because we made documentation and publications a mainstay of the project, countless others have also been influenced."
Tinkering Makes Comeback Amid Crisis
Wall Street Journal (11/12/09) P. A1; Lahart, Justin
The economic crisis and the reduced costs of high-tech tools and materials are fueling a resurgence in tinkering and experimentation. U.S. engineering schools are reporting a comeback in student interest in hands-on work, while workshops are springing up all over the United States in which people can exchange ideas as well as tools. "A lot of people are pretty disappointed with an image of a career in finance and they're looking for a career that's real," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Michael Cima. Computer numerical-controlled tools, which carve metal and other materials into whatever design is fed into the computer attached to them, are becoming more affordable. Engineering school undergraduates are taking advantage of the increased affordability and accessibility of high-tech tools previously only available to senior researchers. The new tinkerers are creating a wide variety of inventions, from devices that Tweet how much beer is left in a keg to robots that assist doctors. Decreases in U.S. spending on research and development has provoked concerns that innovation will no longer give the economy the jump it used to, but the tinkering craze may offer some hope as the inventions lead to new companies. NYC Resistor co-founder Bre Pettis says he is witnessing a "merging of [do it yourself] with technology. I'm calling it Industrial Revolution 2."
Robots Perform Shakespeare to Learn How to Save People
Texas A&M Engineering News (11/13/09) Schnettler, Tim
A production of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Texas A&M University will feature both human and robotic performers. An AirRobot helicopter and six toy radio helicopters will serve as the production's fairies. The robotic performances are being used by the Texas A&M's Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to learn more about how people react to the flying devices. "It's now possible for these unmanned aerial vehicles to be used for evacuation or for crowd control," says Texas A&M professor Robin Murphy. "But what's missing is understanding what makes a person trust or fear the robot." Over the course of the production's rehearsals and first performances, the researchers have documented several surprises, including that people thought the robots were smarter and tougher than they really are. Initially, people would handle the robots rather roughly, and launch them from different positions, resulting in damage. The actors also showed little fear of the robots, which Murphy says could cause people to become complacent and possible ignore a robot's instruction or walk into the rotor blades and be hurt. "The robots by themselves apparently aren't scary, so we need additional research to make them move like friendly hummingbirds or angry bees to get the desired effect," she says.
Software for Solving Life-Threatening Medical Puzzles
ICT Results (11/11/09)
University of Athens researchers have developed AITION, new software that can integrate medical data from a tumor patient and run an analysis to determine the factors that are stimulating tumor development. AITION combines up to 30 correlated variables--gathered through demographic, environmental, genetic, and clinical data as well as images such as MRIs and CAT scans--to provide an overview of the causal relationship between the various factors. AITION displays its results as a knowledge model, a graphical network of medical factors with links that represent the correlations between the factors. Doctors can use the knowledge model and improve upon it by adding more information about the patient. The model can be used to test the likely affects of different types of medication, surgery, or treatments on the tumor's growth and the patient's health. University of Athens researcher Harry Dimitropoulos says causal-probabilistic algorithms within AITION are well established and reliable. However, because the diseases are rare, there is limited data available. The next step in AITION's development will be to link it to medical data ontologies to provide more context for AITION's probability calculations and predictions. AITION researchers also want to expand the number of variables that can be considered in AITION's calculations of causal probability. "In theory, AITION can be expanded to as many features as you want," Dimitropoulos says. "We are preparing a mechanism that uses partitioning and parallel processing to create sub-graphs that can then be merged. But this is research at an early planning stage."
Breaking the Botnet Code
Technology Review (11/11/09) Lemos, Robert
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed a way to disrupt botnets by automatically reverse engineering the communications between compromised computers and the controlling servers. The researchers say that automatic reverse engineering can decipher the structure and purpose of the communications between the controlling server and the botnet. Their new technique translates both the commands received by a client and the responses it sends. "The communications protocol of the botnet is the core of the botnet," says CMU PhD student Juan Caballero, the lead author of a paper on the research. "That is how the attacker sends commands to the botnet." The researchers ran botnet code on a virtual machine and analyzed the movement of information between a computer's registers before it was encrypted. Watching for changes in the memory registers enabled the researchers to derive the structure of the botnet communications and infer the function of the various components of each command. The researchers have built Dispatcher, a tool that can analyze botnet communications and inject new information into the communications stream. Security researchers say Dispatcher could them help reverse engineer botnets. "It would solve a problem that the world has--having enough people to analyze botnets," says SecureWorks senior security researcher Joe Stewart. "You have a cadre of enthusiasts who could use this to help them."
Secret Math of Fly Eyes Could Overhaul Robot Vision
Wired News (11/12/09) Keim, Brandon
Researchers at Australia's University of Adelaide have created an efficient method for extracting motion patterns from raw visual data by transforming the brain cell activity behind a fly's vision into mathematical equations. They say their system could be used to program the vision systems of miniaturized battlefield drones, search-and-rescue robots, automobile navigation systems, and other computerized vision systems. "We can build a system that works perfectly well, inspired by biology, without having a complete understanding of how the components interact," says Adelaide computational neuroscientist David O'Carroll. "We can get an answer using tens of thousands of times less floating-point computations than in traditional ways." O'Carroll says unlike existing techniques that require lots of processing power, the Adelaide method uses only a fraction of a milliwatt. The algorithm is composed of a series of five equations, through which data from cameras can be processed. Each equation represents tricks used by flies to handle changes in brightness, contrast, and motion. The algorithm does not return a frame-by-frame comparison of every pixel, but instead emphasizes large-scale changes by ignoring like-colored and unshifting areas. "We started with insect vision as an inspiration, and built a model that's feasible for real-world use, but in doing so, we've built a system almost as complicated as the insect's," O'Carroll says.
Google Launches New Programming Language: Go
eWeek (11/10/09) Taft, Daryl K.
Google has unveiled Go, a new programming language the company says offers the speed of working in a dynamic language such as Python and the performance and safety of a compiled language such as C or C++. "Go is a great language for systems programming with support for multi-processing, a fresh and lightweight take on object-oriented design, plus some cool features like true closures and reflection," according to the Google Go team in a blog post. However, Google is not using the experimental language internally for production systems. Instead, Google is conducting experiments with Go as a candidate server environment. "The Go project was conceived to make it easier to write the kind of servers and other software Google uses internally, but the implementation isn't quite mature enough yet for large-scale production use," according to the FAQ on the Go language's Web site. With Go, developers should find builds to be spontaneous. Large binaries will compile in just a few seconds, and the code will run close to the speed of C. Go is the second programming environment Google has released this fall. In September, Google released Noop, a Java-like programming language.
India Prof Tips Fastest Prime Number Detection Algorithm
EE Times India (11/13/09)
Manindra Agrawal, an Indian professor who developed a deterministic polynomial time algorithm for detecting prime numbers, will receive the 2009 G.D. Birla Award for Scientific Research. Agrawal, a professor at IIT Kanpur who also heads its department of computer science and engineering, has conducted pioneering research on theories of computation and algorithms. The award was created to honor significant achievements made by young Indian scientists, and comes with a cash prize. The deterministic polynomial time algorithm enabled Agrawal to solve a problem that has stymied mathematicians for nearly 200 years. "It is faster than other existing solutions and is foolproof," Agrawal says.
Minority Students Earned Greater Number of Academic Degrees in Fiscal Year 2006
National Science Foundation (11/04/09) Mixon, Bobbie
Students in underserved populations earned a greater number of academic diplomas in almost all categories in fiscal year 2006 compared to fiscal year 2004, according to a new report from the National Science Foundation. Asians exhibited the largest rate of increase among U.S. citizens and permanent residents who earned bachelor's degrees at 10.5 percent, while the smallest rate increase was exhibited by American Indian/Alaska Natives at 1.3 percent. Meanwhile, the number of Latinos and blacks receiving master's degrees increased 13.1 percent and 13 percent respectively, while white students exhibited a growth rate of 5.9 percent. The report also estimates a 3.9 percent increase in awarded science and engineering bachelor's degrees, a 1.6 percent climb in master's degrees, and a 13.6 percent rise in doctoral degrees. Computer sciences generally demonstrated the largest increase among doctoral students at 53.2 percent, but also the most precipitous decline among bachelor's and master's degree students. Education suffered the steepest decline among doctoral students at 7.7 percent.
Super-Fast Quantum Computer Gets Ever Closer: Quantum Particles Pinned Down
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (11/09/09)
Scientists at the Delft University of Technology were able to gain control over the environment of a quantum particle, which is a key step in the potential development of a quantum computer. The environment of a quantum particle consists of other quantum particles that push and pull its spin and prevent it from staying in one specific state for any significant length of time. The team at Delft's Kavli Institute for Nanosciences had already used a quantum dot--a quantum-scale box--to direct the spin of an electron. Now, the researchers have applied an electrical current to the nano-box, which enabled them to influence the spins of other quantum particles in the environment. Directing the electrical current to the nano-box resulted in a situation in which the spins in the environment did not occur at random. By stabilizing the environment of a quantum particle, researchers will be able to keep a quantum particle in different states at the same time, or superposition, for a longer period.
NIST Test Proves 'the Eyes Have It' for ID Verification
National Institute of Standards and Technology (11/03/09) Brown, Evelyn
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) computer scientists have released a report that demonstrates the ability of iris recognition algorithms to maintain their accuracy and interoperability with compact images, which means they could be used for large-scale identity management applications. The success of iris recognition largely depends on the ability of recognition algorithms to process standard images from the cameras currently available, which requires images to be captured in a standard format and prepared so they are compact enough for a smart card or for transmission across global networks. The images also must be detailed enough to be identifiable by computer algorithms and be interoperable with any iris-matching product. NIST scientists are working with the international biometrics community to revise iris recognition standards. NIST launched the Iris Exchange IREX program to encourage the development of iris recognition algorithms that use images conforming to the ISO-IEC 19794-6 standard. The international standard, currently under revision, defined three competing image formats and three compression methods. The first IREX test narrowed the field by determining which ones consistently performed at a high level. Two of the image formats that centered and cropped the iris were found to be the most effective, while two compression formats were found to create small enough file sizes for storage and transmission while retaining enough detail.
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