Welcome to the March 12, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
GCHQ-Backed Competition Names Cyber Security Champion
BBC News (03/11/12) Leo Kelion
Nineteen-year-old Jonathan Millican was named the United Kingdom's (UK's) "Cyber Security Champion" by the GCHQ intelligence agency and several leading technology firms. The award marks the completion of a six-month-long challenge designed to attract talented people to the UK's cyberdefense industry. Millican won the competition after participating in a final series of challenges that pitted six five-person teams against each other. The final challenges involved advising an online startup company on how best to protect itself against hackers during a role-playing exercise, and then reconfiguring a computer network during a 15-minute-long simulated attack. "He showed great leadership, strong technical abilities, and also demonstrated that he understood the impact what he was doing would have on a business," says chief judge Adam Thompson. Millican's prize was a scholarship to pursue a master's degree in computer science at Royal Holloway, University of London. "It is through initiatives such as this that organizations, be they in the public or private sector, can continue to develop and maintain our leading edge in cyberspace by being able to recruit the right people with the right skills," says GCHQ's Jonathan Coyle.
Technology That Translates Sign Language Into Text Aims to Empower Sign Language Users
University of Aberdeen (03/12/12) Kelly Potts
University of Aberdeen researchers have developed the Portable Sign Language Translator (PSLT), software that can be used on mobile devices and enables users to customize sign language to their specific needs. "The aim of the technology ... is to empower sign language users by enabling them to overcome the communication challenges they can experience, through portable technology," says Aberdeen's Ernesto Compatangelo. PSLT can be used with a range of sign languages, including British Sign Language (BSL), which is a general-purpose language that possesses limitations for some users. PSLT enables users to personalize sign languages in such a way that these limitations can be overcome. "One of the most innovative and exciting aspects of the technology is that it allows sign language users to actually develop their own signs for concepts and terms they need to have in their vocabulary, but they may not have been able to express easily when using BSL," Compatangelo says. To use the program, a persons signs in front of a standard camera that comes with portable computing devices. The program then translates the signs into text that can be read by others.
Carnegie Mellon Performs First Large-Scale Analysis of "Soft" Censorship of Social Media in China
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (03/07/12) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have analyzed almost 57 million messages posted on Sina Weibo, a domestic Chinese microblog site similar to Twitter, to uncover a set of politically sensitive terms that are likely to be censored by the Chinese government. The researchers say the study is the first large-scale analysis of political content censorship in social media. The researchers found that there were higher rates of censorship in certain provinces, such as Tibet, where up to 53 percent of locally generated microblogs were deleted. "The rise of domestic Chinese microblogging sites has provided a unique opportunity to systematically study content censorship in detail," says CMU professor Noah Smith. The Great Firewall of China, which prevents Chinese citizens from accessing foreign Web sites such as Google and Facebook, is China's best-known censorship tool. However, blocking access to all sites and services is impossible if China wants to harness the Web's commercial and educational potential, says CMU Ph.D. candidate David Bamman. The study gives researchers a method for actively monitoring social media censorship as it changes over time.
New DARPA Challenge Wants Unique Algorithms for Space Applications
Network World (03/06/12) Michael Cooney
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will launch the Zero Robotics Autonomous Space Capture Challenge on March 28, a contest that asks participants to develop unique algorithms to control small satellites on-board the International Space Station (ISS). The algorithm must enable a satellite to capture a space object that is tumbling, spinning, or moving in the opposite direction. Participants can collaborate via the Zero Robotics Web site to create algorithms that will be programmed into Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES). For the challenge, an object, simulating a payload on-orbit delivery system, will be set in motion inside the ISS under varying conditions. The algorithm will need to direct the satellite to approach the moving object and orient itself to contact with the object via Velcro on the SPHERES satellites. In addition, DARPA's Phoenix program aims to develop technologies that could help a new spacecraft harvest and reuse valuable components from nonworking satellites in geosynchronous orbit. "If a programming team can solve this challenge of autonomous space object capture, it could not only benefit the Phoenix program directly but potentially any space-servicing system in the future," says DARPA's Dave Barnhart.
CRA Issues Consensus Paper on Postdoctoral Fellowships
CCC Blog (03/09/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The Computing Research Association (CRA) has released a consensus white paper that provides guidelines on when a postdoctoral computer science position is a positive experience as well as expectations of postdoctoral fellows, their mentors, and their supporting departments. "Unfettered growth in the number of postdoctoral fellow positions in computer science is not healthy for the field," according to the white paper, which warns that "a rapid growth in positions may lead to scenarios in which postdoctoral fellows are used as a holding pattern in career development, while waiting for a permanent position to appear." The white paper says postdoctoral positions should be used to expand the scholar's experience base, and there should be a specific and relevant opportunity for intellectual growth that can take place within two years. "The CRA believes that a broad community consensus on this topic, and thus careful attention by the community as the postdoctoral experience evolves, will ensure a healthy and productive growth for the entire community," the white paper says.
Internet Censorship Revealed Through the Haze of Malware Pollution
UCSD News (CA) (03/07/12) Jan Zverina
To explain how the Egyptian and Libyan governments shut down the Internet in their countries in early 2011, researchers at the University of California, San Diego's Cooperative Association for the Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA) conducted an analysis based on the drop in a specific subset of observable Internet traffic that is a byproduct of malware, which is often referred to as Internet background radiation. The researchers say theirs is the first study to show how malware-generated traffic pollution can be used to analyze Internet censorship and network outages, and they believe this methodology could be adopted on a wider scale to create an automated early warning system to help detect Internet reachability problems in the future. "We actually used something that’s generally regarded as bad--traffic pollution due to malware--for a beneficial purpose, specifically to improve our understanding of geopolitical censorship behavior," says CAIDA’s K.C. Claffy. The researchers used the university's Network Telescope to collect what could be considered “garbage” of the Internet, such as traffic due to mistyped Internet protocol addresses, malicious scanning of address space by hackers looking for vulnerable targets, and the automated spread of malicious software. "Using a combination of this data allowed us to narrow down which forms of Internet access disruption were implemented in a given region over time, but the malware-induced traffic helped us uncover things that the other data did not reveal," says CAIDA's Alberto Dainotti.
Software Translates Your Voice Into Another Language
Technology Review (03/09/12) Tom Simonite
Microsoft researchers have developed speech recognition software that can learn the sound of a user's voice and translate it into a new language. The researchers say the system that could be used to make language learning more personal or make traveling easier. "For a monolingual speaker traveling in a foreign country, we'll do speech recognition followed by translation, followed by the final text to speech output [in] a different language, but still in his own voice," says Microsoft's Frank Soong. The researchers also note that providing sample foreign phrases in a person's own voice can make learning a new language easier for users. The system requires about an hour of training to develop a model able to read out any text in a user's own voice. The model is converted into one that can read text in another language by comparing it with a stock text-to-speech model for the desired language. The software can convert between any pair of 26 supported languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and Italian. University of Southern California professor Shrikanth Narayanan says using a person's own voice for speech translations could make interactions that rely on translations more reassuring for users, particularly in situations such as doctor-patient consultations.
W3C CEO Calls HTML5 as Transformative as Early Web
Computerworld Canada (03/06/12) Shane Schick
World Wide Web Consortium CEO Jeff Jaffe says HTML5 will be among the most disruptive elements to hit organizations since the early days of the Internet. "We’re about to experience a generational change in Web technology, and just as the Web transformed every business, [HTML5] will lead to another transformation," Jaffe says. HTML5 features cross-browser capability, improved data integration, and a better way of handling video. Jaffe says HTML5 makes Web pages "more beautiful [and] intelligent," and also provides for improved accessibility for disabled users. “It won’t really be a standard until 2014, but in the Web ecosystem, nobody waits,” he says. “They’ll make minor adjustments once the standard is done.” For example, TeamLab recently launched the TeamLab Document Editor, an online word processing program. Document Editor uses Canvas, a part of HTML5 that allows for dynamic, scriptable rendering of two-dimensional shapes and bitmap images. Jaffe says HTML5 could benefit a range of industries, including retail, air travel, and the automotive industry.
Building Babel: Lost in Machine Translation
BBC News (03/06/12) Paul Rubens
Automatic language translation is a long way off, given the overwhelming complexity of language. University of Edinburgh's Philipp Koehn says there are so many possible language rules that they cannot all be written down, and there also are too many exceptions to those rules. The statistical approach to translation currently is the chief focus of most machine translation research. "Essentially, we are translating using probabilities to find the best solution," says University of Oxford's Phil Blunsom. "The computer doesn't understand the languages or know any grammar, but might use statistics to determine that 'dog the' is not as likely as 'the dog.'" Vast numbers of source texts are required to improve computers' ability to make such decisions, with Blunsom noting that at least 30 million words or 1 million sentences are typically needed. Automatic spoken language translation is even more challenging than text translation because of a multitude of factors that include false starts, references to things that were said earlier, or the lack of a written form. Possibly the closest thing to a universal language translator is Google's Translate smartphone application, which can currently recognize speech in 17 dialects.
Touch the Future
University of Manitoba (03/06/2012) Sean Moore
Software developed by University of Manitoba computer scientists enables a tablet computer owner and a friend to simultaneously interact with the device. Manitoba researcher Pourang Irani developed See You, See Me with graduate students in the university's Human-Computer Interaction laboratory. The researchers say the software can distinguish between user touches with near-perfect accuracy. When a rare mistake occurs, See You, See Me quickly uses the finger orientation extracted from the user's hand shadow to determine where the users are and to keep track of who is doing what to the screen. "Without knowing 'who' is doing 'what,' a multi-user system may not easily enable its simultaneous use by more than one user at a time," says Manitoba's Hong Zhang. "Until this problem gets resolved, 'true' multi-user collaboration will not take off." The researchers say computer makers working to develop tabletop computers and wall displays that would allow simultaneous interaction by many users will benefit from the technology.
Assistant Professor Explores Lack of Women in Computer Sciences
Daily Texan (03/06/12) Alexa Ura
University of Texas at Austin assistant professor Nathan Ensmenger recently spoke about his research into the history of the declining number of women in computer science. Ensmenger says the U.S.'s perception of computer scientists has shifted from the 1960s computer girl to the modern information technology guy because of a masculinization of the industry and sexist advertising content. "The best way to address the problem is by addressing this culture and redefining what computer science is," he says. Female students often drop out of computer science because of general reasons that affect students of both genders, including lack of preparation in high school, says the University of Texas at Austin's Tiffany Grady. In addition, she says "we have anecdotal evidence that they leave because they think they are doing worse than their male colleagues when it is actually the opposite." Although there is an idea of computer science being a male-dominated field, there is also an extreme stereotype of what women in the field look like, says Women in Computer Sciences president Joanna Smith. However, Smith notes there are more scholarship opportunities for women due to the lack of women pursuing computer science, and she believes that competing with men encourages women to do better.
ECU Students Coin Smartphone Rescue App
ScienceNetwork Western Australia (03/06/12)
Edith Cowan University (ECU) students have developed a smartphone application could provide the Western Australia Police Air Wing with a more effective way for locating people who are lost or injured. The students developed the search and rescue app, which sends a smartphone's global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to emergency services with the touch of a button, in collaboration with the Police Air Wing. "When a person is lost, they often have trouble passing on the information that is needed to locate them--even simple things like reading out a GPS location from their phone becomes challenging due to stress and shock," says ECU's Laurence Da Luz. "The application has the ability to communicate crucial information in an automated way, allowing the user to send accurate data even while suffering from stress or shock." The app also provides a light source for night vision and offers survival tips. In field tests, the app enabled a police helicopter to locate its target in a matter of minutes. The app will soon be made available for free to Android smartphone users.
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