Welcome to the August 26, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Build Music With Blocks: Audio D-Touch
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (08/24/11)
University of Southampton researchers have developed audio d-touch, a new way to produce music and control computers. The new system is based on tangible user interfaces (TUIs), which give users physical control of computers. The audio d-touch system uses simple computer vision techniques to track physical blocks on a printed board. The position of the blocks determines how the computer samples and reproduces sound. "Grab a block and add a base beat, turn a block to speed up the high hat and we have a new way to generate music through controlling the computer," says Southampton researcher Enrico Costanza. Human-computer interaction researchers are studying ways to move away from the online, purely digital world. "Our Audio d-touch system allows people to set up and use tangible interfaces in their own home, office or recording studio, or wherever else they like," Costanza says. The researchers hope to advance the field by gaining insight into how TUIs can be used in the real world.
Simple Security for Wireless
MIT News (08/22/11) Larry Hardesty
A new wireless security scheme that protects against man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks does not require password protection or some additional communications mechanism. A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently demonstrated the scheme on a Wi-Fi network at the 20th Usenix Security Symposium. In an MITM attack, the attacker tries to interpose himself between two other wireless devices when they establish a secure connection. When the devices swap cryptographic keys, the attacker tries to broadcast his own key at the exact same moment, in an attempt to get one or both to mistake him for the other. If successful, the attacker will be able to intercept their transmissions. However, the new system ensures that attempts to drown out the signal from the legitimate sender will be detected. After transmitting its encryption key, the legitimate sender transmits a second string of numbers related to the key by a known mathematical operation. The key is converted into a wireless signal in the ordinary way, but the second string of numbers is encoded as alternative bursts of radiation and silences, which means an attacker's substitute key would result in an overlapping sequence that would look to the receiver like a new sequence, that would not match up with the transmitted key, and would indicate an MITM attack.
Etch-a-Sketch With Superconductors
University College London (08/22/11) Dave Weston
London Center for Nanotechnology and the Physics Department of Sapienza University of Rome researchers have developed a technique for drawing superconducting shapes using an x-ray beam, which could lead to a completely new generation of electronic devices. The researchers have shown that they can manipulate regions of high temperature superconductivity in a certain material that is made up of oxygen, copper, and lanthanum. In addition to being able to write superconductors at smaller dimensions than ever before, the researchers also can erase those structures by applying heat treatments, an ability that has wider applications to similar compounds containing metal atoms and oxygen, such as fuel cells and catalysts. "Our validation of a one-step, chemical-free technique to generate superconductors opens up exciting new possibilities for electronic devices, particularly in rewriting superconducting logic circuits," says University College London professor Gabriel Aeppli. Sapienza University professor Antonio Bianconi notes that "it is amazing that in a few simple steps, we can now add superconducting 'intelligence' directly to a material consisting mainly of the common elements copper and oxygen."
Locating the Elusive
Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (08/22/11)
A new multiferroic material has the potential to be used for cheap and quick data storage. Scientists at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) engineered the material in collaboration with researchers in France and the United Kingdom. The unique properties of the material enable it to be both ferroelectric and also ferromagnetic, with its magnetism controlled by electricity. The research was based on barium titanate (BaTiO3), a ferroelectric crystal that could be used in multi-state data storage and is cost-effective. "The idea is that you can apply a voltage to the ferroelectric reversing the ferroelectric polarization which in turn affects the magnetization of your film," says HXB researcher Sergio Valencia. "You can use this for example to write bits of information in memories of computers by only applying voltages, which is much cheaper in terms of power than traditionally applying magnetic fields." The team witnessed the rare and versatile behavior by investigating magnetic moments of titanium and oxygen atoms in BaTiO3 by using HZB's BESSY II synchrotron radiation source. The team used the research method known as soft x-ray resonant magnetic scattering.
Researchers: Target Cancer Cell Metabolism
IsraelNationalNews.com (08/22/11) Gil Ronen
Tel Aviv University professor Eytan Ruppin and colleagues have developed the first computerized genome-scale model of cancer cell metabolism. The computer model, a reconstruction of thousands of metabolic reactions that characterize cancer cells, could be used to determine how the metabolism of a normal cell differs, and then to identify drug targets that would specifically affect cancer cell metabolism. The team tested their predictions by targeting cells from a specific type of renal cancer. "In this type of renal cancer, we predicted that using a drug that would specifically inhibit the enzyme HMOX, involved in Hememetabolism, would selectively and efficiently kill cancer cells, leaving normal cells intact," Ruppin says. The computer model led the team to hypothesize that the Heme pathway was essential for the cancer cell's metabolism, and an experimental study led by Eyal Gottlieb of the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, U.K., helped verify the prediction in both mouse and human cell models, as well as provide in-depth research of these metabolic alterations. The approach has the potential to lead to the faster development of more effective cancer treatments.
Linux Foundation Releases Specification to Ease Licensing Headaches
Network World (08/18/11) Julie Bort
The Linux Foundation and FOSSBazaar recently released the Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX), a data exchange specification that tracks license information in a standardized way, allowing it to travel across the software supply chain and easing the hassle of license compliance for open source software. Currently, each license carries within it the developer's definition of how the software can be used and distributed. Permissive licenses allow software to be redistributed and developers can modify code without being required to make those changes publicly available--however, reciprocal licenses have restrictions on reuse and redistribution. Many companies have tools or services to audit the code and find its license to make sure the organization is in compliance. But even with such an audit, there is no standard way to document the data so it could be transferred to other users. SPDX uses a specific format to collect data about each project, including version number and license. Eventually, tools will be developed that allow SPDX files to be transferred from other file formats. Now that version 1.0 of the specification is available, the SPDX working group hopes that commercial software vendors will support the SPDX specification in the future.
Google Highlights Trouble in Detecting Web-Based Malware
IDG News (2011) Jeremy Kirk
Face Recognition Technology Fails to Find UK Rioters
New Scientist (08/18/11) Niall Firth
One of the most common methods for identifying an individual from camera footage is photoanthropometry, which uses proportionality indices to compare a picture of a suspect with a closed circuit TV (CCTV) image. Key points on the suspect's face, such as the chin, nose, and lips, are marked and the distance between them measured. However, this technique often produces inconsistent results, according to the London Metropolitan Police's Reuben Moreton. Imperfect CCTV and poor-quality images can easily trip up advanced techniques, says University of West England researcher Lyndon Smith. Smith and his colleagues are developing Photoface, a new system that take several two-dimensional images of a person's face and then stitches them together into a three-dimensional model that can be manipulated and viewed from different angles. "This is a system that could help with the identification of people in unusual situations or low light," Smith says.
Argonne Nanoscientists Invent Better Etching Technique
Argonne National Laboratory (08/18/11) Jared Sagoff; Louise Lerner
Argonne National Laboratory researchers have developed an improved etching method that involves shooting beams of electrons at computer chips, which could lead to new advanced technologies. The method could potentially revolutionize how patterns are transferred onto different materials, leading to a new approach for the next generation of energy, electronics, and memory technologies, says Argonne researcher Seth Darling. The researchers developed sequential infiltration synthesis (SIS), which involves the controlled growth of inorganic materials within polymer films. The technique allows scientists to construct materials with unique properties and three-dimensional geometries. "With SIS, we can take that thin, delicate resist film and make it robust by infiltrating it with inorganic material," Darling says. By combining SIS with block copolymers, this method can be extended to generate even smaller features than are possible using e-beam lithography. "Hopefully, our discovery gives scientists an extra advantage when it comes to creating deeper patterns with higher resolution," Darling says.
How Intelligent CCTV Technology Could Help Catch and Bring Rioters to Justice in the Future
Kingston University London (United Kingdom) (08/18/11)
Kingston University, London researchers are developing technology to help police and security staff analyze closed circuit TV footage of incidents quicker. The research team will develop technology to identify when a potential incident occurs such as a riot, fight, loitering, suspicious behavior around a shop or cash machine, or left luggage in a public place, known as a trigger. "We plan to develop components to automatically analyze multi-camera networks and footage before and after a trigger incident, such as a riot or fight, to produce a set of video segments relevant to a potential police investigation," says Kingston researcher James Orwell. The technology also could trace where a suspect has gone after leaving the scene. The researchers hope to develop a system that helps protect human rights of equality, freedom, and privacy, traits that conventional surveillance systems are often criticized for ignoring. The new methods will allow data to be indexed, stored, and managed based on relevance, which will prevent agents and security staff having to view irrelevant data, in turn reducing privacy infringement.
NSF Launches Sustainability Research Networks Competition
Computing Community Consortium (08/18/11) Erwin Gianchandani
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced a competition for Sustainability Research Networks (SRNs) as part of the organization's broader focus on Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability, which aims to facilitate collaborative, multidisciplinary approaches for pursuing the fundamental science and engineering necessary to understand and overcome barriers to sustainable human well-being. SRNs will engage and explore fundamental theoretical issues and empirical questions in sustainability science, engineering, and education that will increase our understanding of the ultimate sustainability challenge--maintaining and improving the quality of life for the nation within a healthy Earth system. Additionally, the SRNs will lead to new knowledge and tools in a type of research that significantly crosses the boundaries of different fields, creating the integrated science and engineering disciplines of the future. The sustainability goals rely heavily on computing, which can play a key role in resolving many sustainability problems. The NSF plans to use three or four SRNs, each of which will be awarded up to $12 million over four or five years to conduct computing sustainability research, based on their proposals.
Quantum Optical Link Sets New Time Records
University of Copenhagen (08/17/11) Gertie Skaarup
University of Copenhagen Niels Bohr Institute researchers recently set new world records by maintaining quantum entanglement for an hour. The researchers were able to entangle two gas clouds of cesium atoms using light. When the researchers shined a laser beam on the atoms, the photons were absorbed and subsequently re-emitted spontaneously. "Now we have managed to control this 'spontaneous' process and use it," says Copenhagen professor Eugene Polzik. The researchers illuminated both clouds with laser light, manipulating the collective spins of the atoms, and allowing the two atomic clouds to become entangled. "What we have done is that we have developed a technique where we renew the entanglement as fast as it disappears," says Copenhagen researcher Hanna Krauter. "In this way we have been able to maintain the entanglement between the two atomic clouds as long as the experiment lasted, that is to say up to an hour."
Running Robot Breaks Speed Records (Now All It Needs Is a Head)
Wired (08/17/11) Katie Scott
University of Michigan researchers have developed MABEL, a running robot that recently set the world record by running 6.8 miles per hour. The researchers have developed special feedback algorithms that allow MABEL to balance even when running over uneven terrain. MABEL is designed to have almost human physiology, with a heavier torso and light, flexible legs with springs that act like tendons, according to Michigan professor Jessy Grizzle. "We envision some extraordinary potential applications for legged robot research: Exoskeletons that enable wheelchair-bound people to walk again or that give rescuers super-human abilities, and powered prosthetic limbs that behave like their biological counterparts," says Oregon State University professor Jonathan Hurst, who worked with the MABEL team as a doctoral student. However, MABEL could have a more immediate application as a robot rescuer. "If you would like to send in robots to search for people when a house is on fire, it probably needs to be able to go up and down stairs, step over the baby's toys on the floor, and maneuver in an environment where wheels and tracks may not be appropriate," Grizzle says. Running robots such as MABEL also could be a new type of human transportation system, according to Michigan researcher Koushil Sreenath.
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