Welcome to the June 27, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
U.S. to Provide Guidelines to Bolster Computer Security
New York Times (06/26/11) Riva Richmond
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will release a new system of guidelines intended to increase security in the software in many Web-based services. The guidelines include a list of the top 25 programming errors that lead to the most serious hacks. DHS says it hopes that the system will make it easier for companies and agencies to secure their parts of cyberspace and contribute to developing safer global networks. The top 25 list was created by the SANS Institute and Mitre, as well as top security experts in the United States and Europe. The number one security risk, according to the list, is a programming error that allows SQL-injection attacks on Web sites. The guidelines also will include vignettes for industries such as electronic commerce, banking, and manufacturing that will highlight which programming mistakes are the biggest risks. Avoiding common programming mistakes is vital to fending off today's worst attacks, says SANS director Alan Paller. "This is the only way to get around [zero-day attacks]," Paller says. "The only possible defense is to stop the error from being in the software in the first place."
Obama Team Pins Manufacturing 'Renaissance' on Technology
Bloomberg (06/24/11) Juliann Francis
The U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recently released a report recommending that the U.S. government spend $1 billion on promoting advanced technologies to boost domestic manufacturing. The report says the federal government should partner with the private sector on fields such as information technology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology. Federal funding of basic research and the "promotion of early commercialization through procurement" has spawned the creation of "entire industries, hundreds of U.S. companies, and millions of high-quality jobs for Americans for decades," according to the report. It says the investment could help the United States compete with Japan and Germany in manufacturing new technologies. In response to the report, President Obama plans to designate $500 million toward technology development by companies and universities. "This new partnership that we've created will make sure tomorrow's breakthroughs are American breakthroughs," Obama says. PCAST also supported Obama's previously announced efforts to reform corporate income taxes to match other countries, permanently extend the research and development tax credit, and promote research, education, and workforce training in high-skill industries.
Report Recommends Ways to Improve K-12 STEM Education
National Academy of Sciences (06/23/11)
The U.S. National Research Council recently released a report that calls on policymakers at all levels of government to elevate science education in grades K-12 to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics. "We need to help all students become scientifically literate because citizens are increasingly facing decisions related to science and technology--whether it's understanding a medical diagnosis or weighing competing claims about the environment," says University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Adam Gamoran. The report identifies key elements of high-quality science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, such as a coherent set of standards and curriculum, teachers with a high capacity to teach their discipline, and a supportive system of assessment. The report also recommends adequate instructional time, equal access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities, and school conditions that support learning. Those districts that want to improve STEM fields also could consider selective STEM schools, inclusive STEM schools, and a STEM-focused career and technical education program, according to the report.
Why Women Have an Advantage in Technology
New York Times (06/24/11) Adriana Gardella
In an interview, Stanford University professor Audrey MacLean discusses the advantages of being a woman in technology and why technical careers offer the best path to changing the world. Although technology is often described as a field that is inhospitable to women, the truth is that technology is a true meritocracy, according to MacLean. She says there is less discrimination in terms of gender, race, color, and creed, and despite data on the lack of women in technology, women who are technically prepared for the field actually have an advantage. Women need to do a better job of taking advantage of technology courses at the university level, instead of focusing on communications and other traditional fields of study for women. "If women don't get the required technical skills, they won't be positioned to move into core, general management roles with technology companies," she says. Girls need to get involved in computing by the first grade, according to McLean, because women who want to pursue computer science in college are competing against men who have been hacking for years, and are therefore way behind, which leads them to pursue other fields.
Google Ideas Think Tank Gathering Former Extremists to Battle Radicalization
Washington Post (06/24/11) Allen McDuffee
The Google Ideas think tank has gathered 80 former radicals, including ex-neo-Nazis, Muslim extremists, and U.S. gang members, to brainstorm ways technology can counter radicalization around the world in collaboration with 120 thinkers, activists, philanthropists, and business leaders. "The hope from the conference is that we will figure out some of the 'best practices' of how you can break youth radicalization," says James M. Lindsay with the Council on Foreign Relations. Efforts to reform radicals have up to now been largely government-administrated and concentrated on specific groups. Google Ideas director Jared Cohen says the strategy is to treat extremism as a universal challenge that spans across cultural, religious, political, ideological, and geographical lines. He theorizes that bringing together former extremists could point to common threads that draw people to violence. "If we compartmentalize different radicalization challenges, that also means we compartmentalize the de-radicalization solutions," which could be a lost opportunity, Cohen says. He notes that in the coming months a campaign could tap YouTube, use advanced mapping methods, or generate alternative Web spaces to compete with radicalizing influences.
Mozilla Eyes Hassle-Free PDFs on the Web
CNet (06/24/11) Stephen Shankland
CERN Experiments Generating One Petabyte of Data Every Second
V3.co.uk (06/23/11) Dan Worth
CERN researchers generate a petabyte of data every second as they work to discover the origins of the universe by smashing particles together at close to the speed of light. However, the researchers, led by Francois Briard, only store about 25 petabytes every year because they use filters to save just the results they are interested in. "To analyze this amount of data you need the equivalent of 100,000 of the world's fastest PC processors," says CERN's Jean-Michel Jouanigot. "CERN provides around 20 percent of this capability in our data centers, but it's not enough to handle this data." The researchers worked with the European Commission to develop the Grid, which provides access to computing resources from around the world. CERN receives data center use from 11 different providers on the Grid, including from companies in the United States, Canada, Italy, France, and Britain. The data comes from four machines on the Large Hadron Collider in which the particle collisions are monitored, which transmit data at 320 Mbps, 100 Mbps, 220 Mbps, and 500 Mbps, respectively, to the CERN computer center.
Smartphone App Helps You Find Friends in a Crowd
OSU News (06/23/11) Pam Frost Gorder
Ohio State University (OSU) researchers have developed eShadow, a smartphone application that helps people locate their friends in a crowd using nearby wireless networks to alert users that a friend is in the area. The software also could help build bridges between strangers who share personal and professional interests, says OSU professor Dong Xuan. EShadow leads to face-to-face meetings and could complement online social networks such as Facebook, Xuan says. "We want eShadow to close social gaps and connect people in meaningful ways, while keeping the technology non-intrusive and protecting privacy," he says. The app works by having users input their interests into the software, and then the smartphone broadcasts that information to other users in the area. The researchers wrote algorithms that enable smartphones to quickly send and receive eShadow signals without overloading the network, says OSU's Jin Teng. The software can connect people in about 30 seconds, depending on the number of users in the area. The researchers also say the software could be used by the military to help locate soldiers on the battlefield. They currently are working on extending the software to support different smartphone platforms.
Nano-Research Opens Way to Everlasting Battery
RMIT News (06/22/11)
The energy generation capability of piezoelectric thin films has been precisely measured at the nanoscale for the first time by a team at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. The research combines the potential of materials capable of converting pressure into electrical energy and thin-film technology. "The concept of energy harvesting using piezoelectric nanomaterials has been demonstrated but the realization of these structures can be complex and they are poorly suited to mass fabrication," says RMIT's Madhu Bhaskaran. "Our study focused on thin-film coatings because we believe they hold the only practical possibility of integrating piezoelectrics into existing electronic technology." The researchers say their discovery represents a key step in the effort to develop self-powering portable electronics. The next challenge for researchers will be to amplify the electrical energy generated by the piezoelectric materials to enable them to be integrated into low-cost, compact structures.
Universities Advance High-Speed Trans-Atlantic Network
Campus Technology (06/21/11) Dian Schaffhauser
The University of Indiana is working on two projects aimed at linking U.S.-based universities with research institutions in Europe and Asia. The American Connects to Europe Project will use Hibernia Atlantic's transatlantic fiber-optic network to connect participating universities and labs with European counterparts. The project will receive funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and GEANT, a multi-domain topology that includes 34 European countries connecting 30 million researchers. The infrastructure is supplied by the Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe. Indiana University also has received funding to develop the TransPAC3 project, which aims to connect with Asian researchers under the International Research Network Connection program. "It facilitates sharing of expensive resources, such as telescopes and microscopes, and also physical locations," says Indiana University's James Williams. "If we're going to study the effect of climate change on the withdrawal of glaciers in the Himalayas, we need some way to figure out how to get our measurement instruments to the Himalayas."
Now, a Robot that Can Draw Your Portrait
Press Trust of India (06/21/11)
A team at the Goldsmiths, University of London, has developed a robot that can draw portraits based on the sketches of humans. The researchers worked with artist Patrick Tresset on the AIKON-II project, and the system is designed to simulate some of the abilities of its trainer. The main research paths of AIKON-II will cover the study of sketches in archives and notes left by artists, as well as contemporary scientific and technological knowledge. "Even if still partial, the accumulated knowledge about our perceptual and other neurobiological systems is advanced enough that, together with recent progress in computational hardware, computer vision, and artificial intelligence, we can now try to build sophisticated computational simulations of at least some of the identifiable perceptual and cognitive processes involved in face sketching by artists," says Goldsmiths professor Frederic Fol Leymarie. Tresset and Fol Leymarie now plan to give the system the ability to think for itself and draw in its own style.
Researchers Share Useful Lessons Learned in Evaluating Emerging Technologies
NIST News (06/21/11) Mark Bello
U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have developed the System, Component, and Operationally Relevant Evaluations (SCORE) framework, which is designed to judge the performance of a system and its components as well as the utility of the technology for the intended user. SCORE is a unified set of criteria and software tools for evaluating emerging technologies from different perspectives and levels of detail. SCORE was developed for assessing intelligent systems. "Intelligent systems can respond to conditions in an uncertain environment--be it a battlefield, a factory floor, or an urban highway system--in ways that help the technology accomplish its intended purpose," says NIST's Craig Schlenoff. SCORE was used to evaluate two U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency projects known as ASSIST and TRANSTAC. ASSIST involves equipping soldiers with wearable sensors, such as video cameras, microphones, and global positioning systems. TRANSTAC involves the development of a two-way speech translation system that enables speakers of different languages to communicate with each other in real time. "The main lesson is that the extra effort devoted to evaluation planning can have a huge effect on how successful the evaluation will be," Schlenoff says.
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