Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 30, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Highly Skilled May Wait Less for Visas
New York Times (11/29/11) Julia Preston

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that alters the visa system to allow more highly skilled immigrants from India and China to become legal permanent residents in the United States. The bill's main impact will be to reduce visa backlogs that used to force some Indians with science or technology skills to wait up to 70 years to receive documents stating that they had received green cards. The bill eliminates limits on the number of green cards based on employment that is available annually to each country, although it does not raise the overall number of visas available. As part of the new legislation, all employment-based green cards will be issued on a first-come first-served basis, with no country limits. Indian and Chinese immigrants would likely be the main beneficiaries of the bill, especially those with master's degrees and doctorates in science and engineering. The legislation also will enable Indians and Chinese who have been working in the United States for years on temporary visas to more quickly receive permanent green cards. The bipartisan bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and is expected to easily pass in the Senate.

Linking Supercomputers to Simulate the Sun, the Climate and the Human Body
CORDIS News (11/30/11)

The European Union funded research that developed a European infrastructure for supercomputing, enabling researchers to simulate the fusion of the sun, create new climate models, and build a biologically accurate virtual human, among other applications. The results were made possible by the Distributed European infrastructure for supercomputing applications (DEISA), which has completed two phases spanning seven years. The first phase of the project involved linking Europe's 11 most advanced supercomputing centers in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, and the United Kingdom. "DEISA harmonized the infrastructure and made it much easier for scientists to get the most out of their computing time," says the Max Planck Society's Hermann Lederer. The DEISA project also established the DEISA extreme computing initiative, which aims to provide huge computing resources in all areas of science and technology. DEISA acquires the best supercomputer for each specific research project, supplying scientists and technical support to optimize the applications for the research goals. However, the technology is advancing so fast that a research gap is developing. "We could really use research funding focused on new, highly parallelizable algorithms to attract the brightest mathematicians, computer and computational science specialists to attack this challenge," Lederer says.

Making Collective Wisdom Wiser
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (11/29/11)

Tel Aviv University researchers have developed database technology that can automatically evaluate information submitted by the crowd. The technology reviews the incoming information and identifies possibly inaccurate data, which enables the program to moderate input with little human intervention. The framework, developed Tel Aviv professor Tova Milo, can flag incoming information that seems questionable and send out automatic alerts to moderators. Milo says the program also can determine the staff members who are best available to evaluate the information. She says the system makes sure that the crowd is being used efficiently. "It's about knowing to ask the right people the right questions," Milo says. Since human input will be more selective, the program will result in higher quality sites, saving money and time on monitoring content. Milo notes that many Web sites now have a crowdsourcing component, but their dynamic nature makes managing that data problematic. "Every day old information is updated and new information comes in," she says. "It's very difficult to maintain."

Lord Reid Calls for Innovation to Boost Cyber Security (11/29/11) Phil Muncaster

Lord Reid, the United Kingdom's former defense and home secretary, recently urged the government to form a group consisting of public- and private-sector professionals, as well as academic leaders, to drive innovation for cybersecurity and economic growth. The group will aim to establish clear lines of leadership in government, appointing a single cybersecurity minister who will be directly responsible to the National Security Council. The group also will establish doctrines for cyberspace that could lead to the development of a conceptual framework to work within. Reid also called for the formation of transnational networks to facilitate greater international collaboration, as well as the establishment of cyberzones that will serve as Silicon Valley-like areas to foster tech innovation. Reid's suggestions are a response to the government's recently launched Cyber Security Strategy. However, he says more money should be allocated to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to encourage technological innovation. "Cyber investment is not an unnecessary or defensive budget, it's an essential element of any growth strategy," Reid says.

Photoshopped or Not? A Tool to Tell
New York Times (11/28/11) Steve Lohr

Dartmouth College researchers have developed software that measures how much fashion and beauty photographs have been altered. The researchers, led by Dartmouth professor Hany Farid and Ph.D. student Eric Kee, say the new tool could be a technological step to address concerns about the prevalence of digitally edited images in advertising and fashion magazines. The researchers say that highly altered images contribute to eating disorders and anxiety about body types, especially among young women. The Dartmouth research could be hugely important as a tool for objectively measuring the degree to which photos have been altered, says Off Our Chests co-founder Seth Matlins, who recently proposed the Self-Esteem Act, which would require photos that have been meaningfully changed to be labeled. The Dartmouth tool statistically measures how much the image has been altered. Farid and Kee developed the algorithm by recruiting online volunteers to compare sets of before-and-after images, ranking them on a scale of one to five as minimally altered to drastically changed. The rankings were used to train the software.

Robots in Reality
MIT News (11/28/11) Jennifer Chu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing robotics technologies that could be a normal part of disaster response in the near future. Robots are ideal for dangerous and covert missions, such as navigating nuclear disasters or spying on enemy camps, says MIT professor Nicholas Roy, who is developing machine-learning systems that can navigate the noise and unpredictability of the real world. Roy and his colleagues are developing micro-aerial vehicles that can navigate independently without the help of a global positioning system. The researchers also are modeling the way humans speak to each other, using the models to develop robots that people can easily interact with. Roy is currently studying three-dimensional (3D) sensing, equipping quadrotors with stereo cameras to sense and build 3D maps of an environment, as well as designing intelligent fixed-wing vehicles that can fly long distances.

Five Reasons the U.S. Tech Lead Is in Danger
Computerworld (11/23/11) Patrick Thibodeau

The United States is falling behind other countries in the race to build the next generation of supercomputers. The development of exascale platforms requires new processor, storage, and networking technologies, and while other countries are making strides in these areas, the U.S. has yet to see similar breakthroughs. The U.S. does not have a plan in place for exascale computing, mostly due to the huge costs involved. For example, the European plan will cost an estimated 3.5 billion Euros over 10 years. Although the U.S. continues to fund petaflop projects, the government has yet to set a budget for exascale development. "The bottom line is that the U.S. appears stalled and the [European Union], China, and Japan are gearing up for the next generation," says University of Tennessee professor Jack Dongarra. The White House has said that it does not want to be in an arms race in computer speed, claiming that a focus on speed "could divert resources away from basic research aimed at developing the fundamentally new approaches to [high-performance computing] that could ultimately allow us to 'leapfrog' other nations." However, the U.S. will need sustained basic research funding, including the development of an exascale system, to keep pace with other nations.

11 Programming Trends to Watch
InfoWorld (11/28/11) Peter Wayner

Eleven recent trends demonstrate how the programming industry is changing. For example, many new Java virtual machine-dependent languages are being developed, such as JRuby, Scala, Cloture, and Groovy, each of which is designed for specific syntactic and structural purposes. In addition, there are several new languages that cross-compile to run on JavaScript engines, such as Google Web Toolkit and CoffeeScript. Meanwhile, programmers increasingly are experiencing walled gardens, such as Apple and Facebook, which have complete control over what applications are made available on their systems. The openness of many programs also is decreasing, as cars integrate on-board computer systems with phones. Energy consumption also is a major issue, as more users are using mobile devices and do not want applications that drain the battery. Meanwhile, the programming industry as a whole is trying to find an easy way to store and analyze the seemingly insignificant minutia of everyone's personality. Another trend is that tools such as Hadoop and NoSQL have made it much easier to run machines in parallel to solve a single complex problem. Finally, graphics processing units have overtaken central processing units as the chip of choice among high-level programmers.

Researchers Reduce Smart Phones Power Consumption by More Than 70 Percent
Aalto University (11/25/11)

Aalto University researchers have developed new ways to significantly reduce power consumption for smartphones, particularly in locations that do not have reliable sources of electricity. The researchers created a network proxy that can be deployed across a mobile network and reduce the power consumption of 3G smartphones by up to 74 percent. The device is designed to enhance performance and limit power usage by acting as a middleman for mobile devices to connect to the Internet and handling the majority of the data transfer for smartphones. "This new solution is particularly valuable in developing countries because it provides significantly more effective Internet access to a much larger number of people," says Aalto University professor Jukka Manner. "Mobile phone usage is increasing rapidly; however, the use of mobile Internet services is hindered by users not having access to the power grid to recharge their phones." The researchers also found that mobile optimized Web sites, HTTP compression, and more efficient use of data caching could serve as energy-saving solutions.

Japan Collab Transmits Record Data Speeds on Terahertz Waves (11/25/11) Nancy Owano

Researchers at Osaka University and Rohm have developed a chip that uses terahertz waves to reach wireless transmission speeds of 1.5 Gbps. The researchers say that even higher transmission speeds of up to 30 Gbps could be possible in the future. The chip features a micro-antenna that integrates the oscillation device and the detection element onto the semiconductor baseplate. The researchers say the chip represents the first time that terahertz frequency has been used in such a small semiconductor device for data transmission. Chip production could come at the extremely low price of about $1.30 per module, reports estimate. "Research into terahertz technology utilizing terahertz frequency (100 GHz-10 THz) is now receiving increasing attention around the world," according to an Osaka University publication, which notes that the technology is now being used in many applications.

Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) (11/24/11) Jens Wylkop

Ruhr-Universitat Bochum researchers have cracked Intel's widely used HDCP copy protection specification using a man-in-the-middle attack. HDCP passes digital content from a protected source media to the screen by way of a fully encrypted channel. "We were able to tap the HDCP encrypted data streams, decipher them, and send the digital content to an unprotected screen via a corresponding HDMI 1.3-compatible receiver," says Ruhr-Universitat Bochum professor Tim Guneysu. "Our intention was to fundamentally investigate the safety of the HDCP system and to financially assess the actual cost for the complete knockout." The man-in-the-middle attack involves manipulating the entire communication between the media source and the screen without being detected. Although Intel is currently offering a new security system, HDCP 2.0, the weak point will be a problem in coming years due to backward compatibility, according to Guneysu.

Web Crawler Takes Aim at Child Exploitation
Simon Fraser University (11/23/11) Marianne Meadahl

Simon Fraser University researchers have developed a Web crawling tool for tracking Web sites that exploit children, which could aid police in their investigations. The tool enables users to collect more than 200,000 Web pages at a time, and without having to view the content. Researchers in the university's International Cybercrime Research Center studied how networks are structured and applied attack strategies to determine which would cause the most disruption. Simon Fraser Ph.D. student Richard Frank says the attack strategies target sites that combine two important characteristics. "One is exposure to the public, measured as the number of incoming Web links to a given site, and the other, content severity, measured by a scale of the gravity of the images or simply the text found on a Web site," Frank says. "Eventually we hope to understand the life cycle of a Web site hosting this type of content; when it is created, what content is put on it, how content shifts from one Web site to another, and how it 'dies.'"

Province Backs Online Voting Trials
Vancouver Sun (Canada) (11/21/11) Rob Shaw

British Columbia (B.C.) premier Christy Clark and attorney general Shirley Bond have expressed support for testing Internet voting. The endorsements come after Elections B.C. made a formal request to run pilot projects on online voting and other new technologies. In a report tabled in the legislature, Keith Archer, chief electoral officer, says Elections B.C. wants to try new technologies and consider security issues. The independent elections agency released a discussion paper in September that concluded the Internet could make voting more convenient but it presented additional security risks. "I'm currently working on how we will put in place an expert panel that will look at online voting in British Columbia," says Bond, who notes that the Elections Act would need to be amended to allow for Internet voting. Although Elections B.C.'s online voting proposal applies to only provincial elections, several municipalities have asked the B.C. government for permission to roll out Internet-based voting locally.

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