Welcome to the March 25, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Cyber Security Summit Signs UK-US University Deal
BBC News (03/24/11)
A recent conference at the University of Wales resulted in the university joining forces with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Geospatial Data Center to train new experts in fighting cyberterrorism. The conference included delegates from the United Nations, the U.S. Department of Defense, Microsoft, and IBM, as well as professors from Harvard University, the University of Oxford, the University of Memphis, Boston University, and the University of Central Florida. "We now plan to develop a joint training program for taking forward educational developments in the field of cyberphysical security, an area that the summit agreed was the overriding issue for government, business, and universities," says Wales professor Marc Clement. Geospatial Data Center director John Williams notes that cyberphysical security is now considered a more critical security issue than conventional nuclear attacks. "Last year alone, the U.S. logged over 300,000 virus attacks on their networks and noted that organized crime now makes more money from cybercrime than any other activity," Williams says.
ACM President Wendy Hall Looks Back at Tenure and Ahead to Semantic Web
SD Times (03/24/11) Victoria Reitano
University of Southampton professor Dame Wendy Hall says her tenure as ACM president from 2008-2010 enabled her to make a difference on a global level. She counts founding ACM Regional Councils in Europe, China, and India and developing the ACM Women's Council among her achievements. "By sharing ACM's array of valued resources and services with a borderless audience, and by discovering, welcoming, and nurturing talent from all corners of the computing arena, ACM can truly be distinguished as the world's leading computing society," Hall noted in her final report. Hall's current research concentrates on the Semantic Web, and she sees the increasing amount of time that people on the move are online as very important to the migration to the Semantic Web. She notes that this trend is especially important to the developing world, enabling many people to access the Web for the first time on a mobile device. In addition, Hall says the Web is changing how governments engage with their citizens. Hall also observes that education has evolved into an all-electronic delivery mode. "In some ways it has fundamentally changed how we educate students, but we still have a need for a university, of gathering in a way to talk with professors," she says.
Fake Tweets by 'Socialbot' Fool Hundreds of Followers
New Scientist (03/24/11) Jim Giles
Three socialbots recently integrated themselves into a group of Twitter users, gained more than 250 followers, and received more than 240 responses to the tweets they sent over a two-week period as part of Socialbots 2011, a competition designed to test whether bots can be used to change the structure of a social network. The bots were rewarded for the number of followers they obtained and the number of responses their tweets resulted in. The socialbots analyzed tweets sent by members of the network who shared a particular interest and then created a suitable response. The best-peforming bot gained more than 100 followers and generated about 200 responses. Socialbots 2011 organizer Tim Hwang says the bots were "able to heavily shape and distort the structure of the network. We could use these bots in the future to encourage social participation or support for humanitarian causes." Hwang has already planned the next socialbot project. "We're going to survey and identify two sites of 5,000-person unconnected Twitter communities, and over a six- to 12-month period use waves of bots to thread and rivet those clusters together into a directly connected social bridge between those two formerly independent groups," he says.
How China and Others Are Altering Web Traffic
Technology Review (03/24/11) Robert Lemos
China is interfering with Google's Gmail service, blocking email messages and making them appear as technical glitches, according to Google. "There is no technical issue on our side--we have checked extensively," a Google spokesperson says. "This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail." The unrest in the Middle East is believed to have prompted China to tighten communications access. Google says an attack from within China causes the Web application to freeze when users click the send button or take other actions. Gmail is blocked sporadically, halting access to the site for only a few minutes before the user's connection is restored. Security experts say China is likely using invisible intermediary servers to intercept network messages. Such transparent proxies would enable the government to quickly modify the content of communications before relaying the messages.
Big Data to Drive a Surveillance Society
Computerworld (03/24/11) Lucas Mearian
The evolution of real-time and batch analytics, in combination with big data processing engines, makes it possible to track people's habits, activities, and whereabouts with greater accuracy, says IBM engineer Jeff Jonas. He compares big data to puzzle pieces that are integrated by analytics engines such as Hadoop and Cassandra. "It will change our existing notions of privacy," Jonas says. "A surveillance society is not only inevitable, it's worse. It's irresistible." He notes that the ability to analyze big data over a period of time can provide even more insights into a person's behavior. "This is super food [for big data analytics]," Jonas says. "With 87 percent certainty, I can tell you where you'll be next Thursday at 5:35 p.m." Google's Alfred Spector foresees a time when totally transparent processing will be available to Web developers via distributed computer systems, and he says that "we want to make these capabilities available to users through a prediction [application programming interface]. You can provide data sets and train machine algorithms on those data sets." Hadoop's largest contributor so far has been Yahoo!, which has 43,000 servers, many of which are configured in Hadoop clusters, says Yahoo!'s Todd Papaioannou. By year's end he expects his server farms to have 60,000 machines because the site is producing 50 terabytes of data daily and has stored more than 200 petabytes.
Fruit Flies Could Hold Key to Future Internet
Internet Evolution (03/23/11) Michael Kassner
Developing truly effective distributed computing algorithms for parallel processors is a major challenge for computer scientists. Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers are researching this problem by studying fruit flies. Fruit flies are very good at solving Maximal Independent Set problems, which identify a subset of computers that connect to every other node in the network and provide structure, says CMU professor Ziv Bar-Joseph. Fruit flies solve similar problems naturally because during their brain development a process called Sensory Organ Precursor selection occurs. Since the flies can solve the problem without possibly knowing how many neighbors each network node has, determining how they achieve this could lead to robust and efficient computational methods, Bar-Joseph says. Sensor networks also could benefit from the new algorithm, according to Bar-Joseph. He says that "our fruit fly-derived algorithm is more efficient than any known method," and could become the method of choice for sensor-network applications.
20 Petaflops: New Supercomputer for Oak Ridge Facility to Regain Speed Lead Over the Chinese
PhysOrg.com (03/23/11) Bob Yirka
The U.S. Department of Energy has commissioned Titan, a supercomputer that is expected to achieve 20 petaflops per second, which would make it the fastest computer in the world. Last fall China's National University of Defense team unveiled the Tianhe-1A, a machine capable of reaching a speed of 2.5 petaflops and is ranked first on the Top500 list. Cray Computer will build Titan, which will use XT3, 4, and 5 processor boxes and will be configured in a three-dimensional torus topology rather than as an array. Titan will use a Gemini XE interconnect, one of two new pieces of proprietary hardware that will be added to build the computer. The other is a graphics display unit co-processor, which will enable Titan to perform calculations more quickly. The computer also will use globally addressable memory, which will enable data to move through input and output channels without slowing down. Titan will join a collection of some of the fastest computers in the world at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and will be used to calculate complex energy systems. The project will cost approximately $100 million, with the first phase expected by the end of the year and the second phase to be completed in 2012.
Brain Computer Interfaces Benefit From Cloud Advancements
HPC in the Cloud (03/23/11) Kate Ericson
Colorado State University (CSU) researchers are conducting experiments involving brain computer interfaces (BCIs) run in cloud computing environments. The CSU team's approach involves training many smaller neural networks that can work together to classify data and build predictions as a group. The team moved its electroencephalogram (EEG) analysis to the cloud and used the Granules cloud runtime, created by CSU professor Shrideep Pallickara, to process the EEG streams. The technique is a good fit for the MapReduce paradigm that is supported by Granules, which allows computations to be activated as more data is available. The method enabled the CSU team to train neural networks on a set of resources within Granules, and stream the EEG signals to the cloud for classification. In their experiments, the researchers supported EEG streams generated by 150 users on a cloud of 10 computers. The cloud returned classification results in under 250 milliseconds in 99.9 percent of cases. By moving EEG analysis to the cloud, researchers can avoid the limitations that many mobile BCI applications have.
Creating the Internet of Everything
Arizona Engineer Online (03/22/11) Pete Brown
The University of Arizona recently hosted the First Southwest Workshop on Theory and Applications of Cyber-Physical Systems, which included 20 speakers and was attended by nearly 60 researchers from universities, industry, and government. The workshop was designed to "strengthen much-needed collaboration between universities and laboratories within the region by providing a venue where participants exchange ideas and results," says Arizona professor Ricardo Sanfelice. Case Western Reserve University professor Michael Branicky discussed cyberphysical systems, saying they "really exploit the type of world that we live in today, where things are connected by networks, either wireless or wired." Branicky said that an important development in cyberphysical systems is the increased use of actuators that are connected to the networks. For example, he noted that cars, aircraft, medical devices, and robots are all complex cyberphysical systems that use millions of lines of computer code. Branicky also discussed energy grids, smart appliances that could be cyberphysical systems, and smart buildings. He said that eventually you can "have them all connected through a power grid with a systems-level goal of having less blackouts or net zero energy usage in a region."
Software: Microsoft Inspires Young Nigerian Developers
Business Day (Nigeria) (03/22/11) Evelyn Tagbostill
Nigerian computer students are being challenged to develop technologies designed to help address the nation's problems as part of the global Imagine Cup competition. Sponsored by Microsoft and in its ninth year, the event will be held in May in Nigeria. Microsoft Nigeria's Dele Akinsade says the projects must be aligned with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals that directly impact the country. Tertiary institution students between the ages of 17 and 26 are asked to develop software to address hunger and poverty, make primary education available to everyone, and promote gender equality and empowerment, among other issues. Their work will involve software design, embedded development, game design, digital media, and Windows Phone 7. "Even as we sit in this room today leveraging on laptops, on camera and pen, these are some of the things that are technology driven that are helping us solve problems," Akinsade says. The Imagine Cup also consists of regional and online contests, and culminates with worldwide finals.
MIT News (03/22/11) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and McGill University have demonstrated a technique for modeling protein folding that could help understand genes' roles in diseases. Previous protein-folding simulations could take months to produce, using atom-by-atom simulations that run on hundreds or thousands of computers. However, the MIT system can model the same process in minutes on a single laptop. MIT researchers Bonnie Berger, Srini Devadas, and Charles O'Donnell and McGill's Jerome Waldispuhl tested their technique on a class of proteins knows as amyloids, resulting in predictions that match the currently available data with 81 percent accuracy. The researchers used a coarse representation of a protein's chemical properties, which enabled them to generate a huge number of potential shapes. The algorithm looks for features that occur most frequently in all of the options and synthesizes them to create a few candidate structures. The researchers have collaborated with scientists at McGill and Boston College to apply the technique to various problems. "Protein folding continues to be [a] wide-open problem with [a] desperate need of more rigorous mathematical, statistical, and computer science approaches," says Brown University professor Sorin Istrail.
Girls Subtracted From Math Equation
Futurity.org (03/21/11) Bob Roseth
A University of Washington study found that children believe the stereotype that math is for boys and not for girls, which could help explain why so few women pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The study used self-report measures and was able to distinguish between whether girls know about the math gender stereotype but are not affected by it, and whether they applied it to themselves so that it affected their identity, interests, and actions. The researchers used a computer-based categorization test to assess how children link math with gender. The researchers report that as early as the second grade, boys associated math with their own gender while girls associated the subject with boys as well. In the self-concept test, girls identified themselves with math less than boys did. "Our results show that cultural stereotypes about math are absorbed strikingly early in development, prior to ages at which there are gender differences in math achievement," says study co-author Andrew Meltzoff. He says efforts targeting girls' self-concepts for math might be helpful as early as elementary school. "Perhaps if we can depict math as being equally for boys and girls, we can help broaden the interests and aspirations of all our children," Meltzoff says.
Cyberinfrastructure to Meet Peak Demand for Emergency Data in Rural Areas
UCSD News (CA) (03/21/11) Doug Ramsey
University of California, San Diego researchers, working with the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), are developing a scalable computer infrastructure to provide better access to camera feeds monitoring disasters in rural areas. "Until now we have been able to provide that service covering large parts of San Diego's back country, but now we need to ensure that during the next crisis, peak demand for our data will not swamp our ability to keep the camera feeds up and running," says HPWREN director Hans-Werner Braun. About 1,000 users visit HPWREN's Web site each day, but that number can exceed 4,000 hits when a disaster occurs, and HPWREN's servers have trouble managing the extreme spikes in usage. The researchers decided to use server hardware from its GreenLight project to handle the peak loading. "We were able to spend significant GreenLight funds for this because of the opportunity for energy monitoring of at-scale, broad-interest services," says GreenLight's Tom DeFanti. The new system is fully scalable and can handle any foreseeable spikes in Web site traffic. "Scalable servers are much better able to distribute the content, so over time the scalable system will eventually become the main site," Braun says.
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