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Welcome to the April 20, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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European E-Science Group Extends Cloud Focus
HPC in the Cloud (04/20/11) Nicole Hemsoth

The e-Infrastructure Reflection Group (e-IRG), which consists of more than 100 members from European institutions, has issued a draft report illustrating how cloud computing options are figuring into existing grid and distributed resource-sharing paradigms and extending the use of Internet-delivered tools for scientists. A key point in the group's evaluation of e-science is that research infrastructures will require a migration toward a user-driven strategy. "Different technical, political, and commercial development, such as the virtualization of services, the emergence of cloud computing, the ambition of establishing an ERA, and the ever increasing need of leading edge user communities for services far beyond what the commercial market can offer, will drive the process," the report says. The study authors note that this year e-IRG will stress the leverage of e-infrastructure such as high-performance computing and clouds, along with more focus on Internet-delivered applications.

India Plans Paper Trail for Electronic Voting Machines
IDG News Service (04/19/11) John Ribeiro

India's Election Commission is considering providing a printed record of ballots cast using the country's electronic voting machines. Opposition politicians, social activists, and researchers have criticized the Indian government for not offering a verifiable paper trail during elections. India started widely using electronic voting machines during its 2004 general election. Researchers say the machines are vulnerable to tampering the moment the software that runs them is burned onto their chips, while the machines are stored before an election, as well as during the time between the casting of ballots and the counting of votes. Hari Prasad, a security researcher who released a video in 2010 demonstrating the vulnerabilities, says a paper trail would fulfill the machines' transparency requirement. A candidate who is suspicious of tampering would be able to ask for a recount based on a verifiable record of the voting. The Indian government has asked Bharat Electronics and Electronics Corporation of India for details on its plans to introduce paper trails.

Strong Protection for Weak Passwords
Max Planck Gessellschaft (04/19/11) Tetyana V. Laptyeva

Max Planck Institute researchers have developed a password protection system based on a combination of characters and a Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (CAPTCHA). The researchers also used mathematical techniques from the physics of critical phenomena to make the CAPTCHA safer. "We thus make the password protection both more effective and simpler," says Max Planck researcher Konstantin Kladko. The researchers used the CAPTCHA in the image, which can only be solved by humans, as the actual password. They further encrypted the password using a combination of characters. The team then let the system develop chaotically for a period of time, resulting in an image that no longer contains a recognizable word. Although the new system only requires relatively weak passwords, the real strength is in the CAPTCHA's encrypted password, according to the researchers.

To PROTECT and Serve
USC News (04/19/11) Eric Mankin

TEAMCORE, a University of Southern California research group directed by professor Milind Tambe, has developed the Port Resilience Operational/Tactical Enforcement to Combat Terrorism (PROTECT) system, which will schedule the operations of Coast Guard response vessels in a new way, making it impossible for observers to predict their activities while maintaining the same degree of security. PROTECT is based on earlier TEAMCORE systems that were designed for airport security patrol. The system uses computer applications of game theory algorithms to create schedules that keep observers from predicting when or where security personnel will be at a given time, while keeping the same level of law enforcement presence. "The Coast Guard has given us the opportunity to take our ideas in a new direction, solving problems that are related, but with much different parameters," Tambe says.

IU, University of Illinois Launch HathiTrust Research Center for Computational Access to Archives
IU News Room (04/18/11) Steve Chaplin

Enabling computational access to the expanding digital archive of human knowledge is the goal of the HathiTrust Research Center (HTRC), a joint venture between the HathiTrust Digital Repository, Indiana University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The center will facilitate open access to published public domain works stored in HathiTrust for nonprofits and educational users, while also providing limited access to copyrighted works. HTRC will supply a secure computational and data environment for scholars to carry out research using the HathiTrust archive by leveraging Indiana University's data storage infrastructure and the University of Illinois' computational resources. "HTRC promises to ease computational analysis of the texts and promote new algorithmic development and discovery," says HathiTrust executive director John Wilkin. HTRC will make new strides in text mining and non-consumptive research so that scholars can fully employ HathiTrust content without misusing intellectual property.

New Kid on the Plasmonic Block: Berkeley Lab Researchers Find Plasmonic Resonances in Semiconductor Nanocrystals
Berkeley Lab News Center (04/18/11) Lynn Yarris

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have demonstrated that plasmonic properties can be achieved in semiconductor nanocrystals called quantum dots, a breakthrough that could lead to superfast computers. "We have demonstrated well-defined localized surface plasmon resonances arising from p-type carriers in vacancy-doped semiconductor quantum dots that should allow for plasmonic sensing and manipulation of solid-state processes in single nanocrystals," says LBNL director Paul Alivisatos. The key to plasmonic properties is when the oscillation frequency between the plasmons and the incident photons matches, a phenomenon known as localized surface plasmon resonance occurs. The development of quantum dot plasmonics could lead to quantum communication and computation devices. "The use of single photons, in the form of quantized plasmons, would allow quantum systems to send information at nearly the speed of light, compared with the electron speed and resistance in classical systems," says LBNL researcher Prashant Jain.

Acoustic Touchscreens Could Enable Cheaper Smartphones
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (04/18/11) Stephen Harris

Cambridge University Ph.D. student Jens Christensen has developed TouchDevice, a software-based acoustic recognition system that could provide mobile phones with touch-sensitive screens without using expensive, rare materials. TouchDevice uses the existing microphone of a mobile phone and a set of algorithms to determine where the user has touched the screen. The software can be retrofitted to existing mobile phones that have a microprocessor, but is not sophisticated enough to match all the functions of modern touchscreen smartphones, such as dragging items or double clicking. "Our aim is to implement an icon-based navigation system," Christensen says. "One of the big benefits is that you're able to make the entire surface of the phone touch sensitive rather than just the screen." The technology also could be applied to tables, walls, and other objects to turn them into switches. Christensen also is developing an app for existing high-specification devices using Google's Android operating system.

Research: STEM Efforts for Females Poorly Measured
THE Journal (04/14/11) Dian Schaffhauser

The National Alliance for Partnership in Equity (NAPE) recently conducted a study that examined how well U.S. states were using federal funds to promote the Race to the Top initiative, which prepares underrepresented students for work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The NAPE report found that states had a poor understanding of how to develop a high-quality STEM program for girls. "Reviewers differed in their interpretation of the degree to which a state had to prove its capacity to increase the access and success of underrepresented students in STEM," according to the NAPE report. The report says the Department of Education should provide clear instructions for reviewers about how to score applications and remind them that the applicant must satisfy all criteria to earn points. "There are fantastic programs all around this country that have proven to be effective in engaging women and girls in STEM education and careers," says NAPE's Mimi Lufkin. "States need to take advantage of this expertise and include them in their Race to the Top implementation efforts."

Hunting for Gaps
ETH Life (04/19/11)

ETH Zurich researchers have developed a cognitive model that explains how pedestrians move in a crowd. The model could be used to prevent crowd disasters as well as to develop new navigation approaches for robotics and better architectural designs. The model assumes that pedestrians want to minimize the coverage of their vision field while trying to keep away from other pedestrians. It also assumes that pedestrians are seeking gaps and perceive groups as a whole. The model enables researchers to simulate the behavior of individuals and crowds, and demonstrates that crowds self-organize. The project is part of a larger FuturICT EU flagship project, led by ETH Zurich's Dirk Helbing. "One of the goals of the project is to prevent disasters through the use of new computer technologies and by learning to better understand the complexity of social systems," Helbing says.

New Site to Use Crowd-Sourcing as Means to Translate the Internet (04/15/11) Bob Yirka

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) crowdsourcing researchers are setting up a Web site that will enable people who are learning foreign languages to translate Web content. Duolingo will be accessible for free, and CMU professor Luis von Ahn and Ph.D. student Severin Hacker hope to attract millions of Web users worldwide to contribute toward translating the Internet into every language. Similar to Wikipedia, the process would rely on other people learning a new language to refine the texts until they reach some point of maturity, and the results would be released to the Web. The results of the crowdsourced translation process would create texts that are as good as those produced by a professional service, according to von Ahn. As a result, when Google's translation feature on a foreign language site is used in the future, Web users could find pages that are superior to the translations currently provided by a machine.

Cyber Identity Strategy Would Eliminate the Need for Multiple Passwords (04/15/11) Aliya Sternstein

The White House recently introduced the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC), which provides industry guidelines for developing identity credentials that make it unnecessary for ID holders to enter multiple passwords or personal information in order to gain entry to virtually any Web site. The strategy represents the beginning of a public-private partnership to make online commerce easier without downgrading privacy protection. "I'm optimistic that NSTIC will jump-start a range of private-sector initiatives to enhance the security of online transactions," says U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The strategy sets a 10-year milestone of making the identity ecosystem's benefits available to all individuals, having all policies and technologies installed, and having most online organizations part of the enterprise to support the emergence of a sustainable market for credential providers.

Students Develop Mobile Application for Beekeepers
Appalachian State University News (04/14/11)

Appalachian State University professor Jay Fenwick and several of his students are developing an Android smartphone application that will help beekeepers maintain their beehives. Fenwick and his students are working with Hive Tracks, a free online application that provides an electronic means to record data and keep track of maintenance on different hives. They say the new application will provide an easier way for beekeepers to manage their hives and reduce the incidence of beehive loss and colony collapse disorder, which has plagued beehives in North America since 2006. "The Android application provides a mobile, stable way for beekeepers to store their records," says Appalachian State computer science major John Saris, who helped developed the Android application. The program also will alert beekeepers when maintenance is needed. "Our piece of the project provides user alerts on the phone as reminders of important hive health activities such as medications and inspections," Fenwick says.

Dutch Support for Disaster Zone Phone Software
Flinders University (04/13/11)

Flinders University's Paul Gardner-Stephen is leading the development of open source software that enables mobile phones to communicate during a disaster. The Serval BatPhone software is designed to create an alternative "network" for compatible mobile phone handsets in situations where conventional mobile phone coverage has been destroyed or does not exist. "We currently have seven Flinders and INSA Telecommunications exchange students developing the Serval BatPhone software," says Gardner-Stephen. "They are getting valuable, real-world experience as they work on this integrated and substantial humanitarian software engineering project." The Serval system relays calls from one mobile phone to another as either a closed network or to connect to a temporary mobile phone tower. "One may call the Serval system 'an operator-less mobile network,' which can take over when operators' networks fail for one reason or another," says Valer Mischenko, director of the NLnet Foundation, which has provided funding for the project.

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