Welcome to the November 5, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Use of E-Voting Machines Unaltered Despite Power Outages Caused by Hurricane Sandy
Computerworld (11/02/12) Jaikumar Vijayan
Election officials in several Mid-Atlantic states are confident their electronic voting machines will be completely functional on Election Day, despite widespread power outages and other damages related to Hurricane Sandy. However, election watchdog groups such as Verified Voting and Common Cause have expressed concern over the use of paperless direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines because votes cast using those systems are much more difficult to audit compared to ones that use paper ballots. "While most of those states require a small percentage of emergency paper ballots be made available at the precincts, that number is unlikely to be enough in the event that voting machines are unavailable all day at the polls on November 6th," says election blogger Brad Friedman. In addition, battery backups on DREs are unreliable because they can only be counted on for a few hours. Election officials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Delaware are trying to make sure their DREs run smoothly on Election Day. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has been in contact with state utility companies to get power restored to all polling stations as quickly as possible. Virginia election officials anticipate using the electronic-voting machines in all jurisdictions, as most of the state avoided major hurricane damage.
Bonfire of the Cables
University of Oxford (10/31/12) Pete Wilton
University of Oxford researchers have developed technology that enables devices such as mobile phones and cables to charge and transmit data without cables and could eventually eliminate power and data cables altogether. "You could have a truly active, cable-free, batteryless desktop that can power and link your laptop or PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, phone, and camera," says Oxford's Chris Stevens. The researchers already have built cable-free technology into a carpet to power a lamp and can achieve a 3.5 Gbps data transfer rate and generate hundreds of watts of power. Additionally, cable-free technology could help to recycle electronic devices because it is the fact that they are wired and soldered together that makes them so hard to reuse. "If you do away with wires and connect your components by sticking them onto a sealed circuit board, taking them apart becomes easy," Stevens says. He notes the work is based on research into metamaterials that act like magneto-inductive wave guides and magneto-inductive power surfaces. "You can find simple inductive technology in the charging unit of an electric toothbrush but in this case we can transfer data as well, and over a distance," Stevens says.
Computational Medicine Begins to Enhance the Way Doctors Detect and Treat Disease
Johns Hopkins University (11/01/12) Phil Sneiderman
The Johns Hopkins University Institute of Computational Medicine is using powerful computers to analyze and mathematically model disease mechanisms. The technique enables researchers to offer a new perspective to medical diagnosis and treatment, says institute director Raimond Winslow. "Computational medicine can help you see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together to give a more holistic picture," Winslow says. He says the computational models help to understand the complex interactions involved in disease mechanisms, aid in diagnosis, and test the effectiveness of different therapies. For example, advanced mathematical models enable researchers to better understand how networks of molecules are implicated in cancer. Computational physiological medicine involves using computer models to examine how biological systems change over time from a healthy to an unhealthy state. Computational anatomy uses medical images to detect changes in the shape of various structures in the brain. "Computational medicine will continue to grow as a discipline because it is providing a new quantitative approach to understanding, detecting, and treating disease at the level of the individual," Winslow says.
Off to the Future With a New Soccer Robot
University of Bonn (Germany) (10/30/12) Johannes Seiler
University of Bonn researchers have developed NimbRo-OP, a soccer-playing robot with a publicly available source code and design plan. The robot aims to facilitate participation in the TeenSize Class of the RoboCup. NimbRo-OP has 20 drive elements that convert computer commands into mechanical motions. "We have made every effort to keep the design simple to allow other working groups to also use this robot as a basis for their work, modify, and repair it," says Bonn professor Sven Behnke. He says soccer-playing robots such as NimbRo-OP have to process massive amounts of data from a wide range of sensors. They have to perceive environmental conditions via cameras and inclination sensors, detect the goal posts, opponents, and obstacles, and make and implement decisions involving their team members. "Our goal is to stop re-inventing the wheel over and over; by using an open platform together with other researchers, we want to find solutions while saving on effort and expenses," Behnke says.
New Tool Aims to Ensure Software Security Policies Reflect User Needs
NCSU News (10/30/12) Matt Shipman
Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and IBM have developed a natural language-processing tool that businesses can use to ensure that software developers have a firm understanding of the security policies to be incorporated into new software products. The research focuses on access control policies (ACPs), which are the security requirements that software developers need to follow when developing new software. "These ACPs are important, but are often buried amidst a lengthy list of other requirements that customers give to developers," says NCSU professor Tao Xie. However, incomplete or inaccurate ACP requirements can occur if the customer writing the ACP requirements makes a mistake or does not have enough technical knowledge to accurately describe a program’s security needs. The researchers' software includes a natural language-processing program that extracts the ACP requirements from a customer’s overall list of requirements and translates it into machine-readable language that computers can understand and enforce. After the ACPs are extracted, they can be run through the NCSU-developed Access Control Policy Tool, which verifies and tests the ACPs and determines whether the ACP requirements meet the security needs of the program.
Stanford Election Atlas Maps Votes, Polling Place by Polling Place
Stanford Report (CA) (10/30/12) Max McClure
Researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities have developed the Stanford Election Atlas, an online interactive data visualization tool that enables users to inspect the precinct-by-precinct results of the 2008 presidential election. The system includes a zoomable online atlas that explores correlations between income, race, and voting behavior across the United States. A customizable version also enables users to combine the election data with other maps, including topographical and satellite images. "Now you can look at a place like Brooklyn and see, from voting patterns, where you cross from an African-American neighborhood to an Irish one," says Stanford professor Jonathan Rodden. The map also clarifies some long-standing geographic divisions in American politics. "You can see blue veins running through primarily red states, tracing out early 20th-century railroads," Rodden says. Other battleground precincts can be seen by zooming in on states and looking for dots outlined in white, which represent polling places where a candidate garnered less than 55 percent of the vote.
A Rewired Internet Would Speed Up Content Delivery
Technology Review (10/29/12) Tom Simonite
A new networking technique could accelerate video downloads and other forms of Internet content delivery. Content-centric networking, under development at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), involves the computer attempting to retrieve content by requesting the content itself by its unique name, instead of relying on machines' Internet protocol (IP) addresses to pass data along. PARC researcher Glenn Edens says the method could lower the cost for transmitting video or other data to large audiences, which should subsequently reduce many services' costs as well as increase reliability by shortening the distance that content travels. Edens also says the Internet connections of mobile devices could improve significantly through the new networking model, as switching between wireless access points would not require a new IP address. PARC is making its content-centric networking technology available as open source, and is providing a Web site to help coordinate research across an expanding community that includes academic and corporate research labs around the world. "There are now a couple of deployments at a level that aren't quite production and aren't quite research," Edens notes. However, he says an Internet service provider could implement content-centric networking inside its own network and realize substantial cost savings.
A Reboot in Recruiting Women Into Computer Science
Chronicle of Higher Education (10/29/12) Ben Gose
U.S. government agencies, universities, and technology companies have contributed tens of millions of dollars to increase the number of female computer scientists, but their efforts have had limited success. Experts on the gender gap in computer science support a multi-pronged approach to closing it, including encouraging more diverse programming activities, revamped introductory courses, earlier exposure to research projects, and more opportunities for undergraduates to interact with successful female computer scientists. "The biggest challenge is that everyone is doing their own thing, and no one is connecting," says Microsoft's Rane Johnson-Stempson. Some colleges, such as Georgia Tech, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvey Mudd College, have had success in remodeling their first-year computer science courses, or adding new ones, to create a better experience for women. In addition, the U.S. National Science Foundation and the College Board are leading an effort to create an Advanced Placement (AP) course that will provide a broad overview of computer science, with just a small portion involving writing code. During a trial version of the new AP course in 25 public schools in Los Angeles, 41 percent of the 2,000 students were women.
Paste Augmented-Reality Video Graffiti on the Streets
New Scientist (10/27/12) Paul Marks
Graz University of Technology researchers have developed software that can cut a person or an object out of a video and then paste the image as a digital overlay. The goal is to make virtual human guides that could offer city tours or how-to demos, as well as enhancing augmented reality (AR) games. The researchers used a computer-imaging technique known as foreground-background segmentation to identify the required foreground object, usually a person. Using the system, a user would film a video, then point to the object they wanted to extract, with the software completing the task. Although the researchers demonstrated the concept using a PC, they say it could be possible to put the software into a smartphone or a tablet application. The researchers, led by Tobias Langlotz, will present their work at OzCHI, the Australian conference on computer-human interaction in Melbourne next month.
Footwear Forensics: CSI Needs to Tread Carefully
University at Buffalo researchers have developed a computer algorithm that can analyze the footwear marks left at a crime scene based on clusters of footwear types, makes, and tread patterns. The method involves a way to group recurring patterns in a database of footwear marks so the clustered data can be quickly searched and compared to suspect prints. The program focuses on geometric shapes such as line segments, circles, and ellipses, which enables the footwear to be identified using an attributed relational graph. The researchers note the attributes for every shape are defined in a way to supply scaling, rotation, and translation invariance. They also incorporated a measure of how different two marks could be, which enables the researchers to identify a certain boot or shoe even if the recorded print is noisy or degraded. The researchers have successfully tested their approach against conventional methods. "In experimental runs our system has significantly higher accuracy than state-of-the-art footwear print-retrieval systems," says Buffalo researcher Yi Tang.
Study Shows How a Hopping Robot Could Conserve Its Energy
Georgia Tech News (10/26/12) John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers have found that hopping robots could dramatically reduce the amount of energy they use by adopting a two-part "stutter jump." Taking a short hop before a big jump could enable spring-based, pogo-stick robots to reduce their power consumption by as much as ten-fold, according to the researchers. "If we time things right, the robot can jump with a tenth of the power required to jump to the same height under other conditions," says Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman. The research into jumping robots began with the goal of learning how jumping robots would handle complicated surfaces, such as sand, granular materials, or debris from a disaster. Initial testing found that frequencies above and below the resonance provided optimal jumping. "The preparatory hop allows the robot to time things such that it can use a lower power to get to the same jump height," Goldman says. In the future, the researchers plan to study how complicated surfaces affect jumping. The researchers note the jumping robot proved to be a useful system to study because of the interesting behaviors that arose, and because the results were counter to what the researchers had expected.
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