Welcome to the August 28, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Moore's Law Dead by 2022, Expert Says
EE Times (08/27/13) Rick Merritt
Moore's Law will come to an end as soon as 2020 at the seven-nanometer node, according to Robert Colwell, director of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) microsystems group. The predictions of Moore's Law's limits are increasing as lithography advances stall and process technology approaches atomic limits. Over 30 years, Moore's Law has guided a 3,500-fold increase in microchip speed. "I don't expect to see another 3,500x increase in electronics--maybe 50x in the next 30 years," Colwell says. DARPA tracks a list of up to 30 possible alternatives to the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology that has been the backbone of Moore's Law. "My personal take is there are two or three promising ones and they are not very promising," Colwell says. One new approach explores approximate computing with a program called Upside, while another looks at the effects of spin-torque oscillators to settle on partial solutions at relatively low power. "When Moore's Law stops it will be economics that stops it, not physics, so keep your eye on the money," Colwell says.
iOS and Android Weaknesses Allow Stealthy Pilfering of Website Credentials
Ars Technica (08/27/13) Dan Goodin
Microsoft and Indiana University researchers have found an architectural weakness in both the iOS and Android mobile operating systems that makes it possible for hackers to steal sensitive user data and login credentials for popular email and storage services. The researchers, in a paper to be presented at the ACM Special Interest Group on Security, Audit and Control's (SIGSAC) Computer and Communications Security Conference in November, found that both operating systems fail to ensure that browser cookies, document files, and other sensitive content from one Internet domain are off-limits to scripts controlled by a second address without explicit permission. The same-origin policy is a basic security mechanism enforced by desktop browsers, but the protection is absent from many iOS and Android apps. The researchers demonstrated the threat by creating several hacks that carry out cross-site scripting and cross-site request forgery attacks. "The problem here is that iOS and Android do not have this origin-based protection to regulate the interactions between those apps and between an app and another app's Web content," says Indiana University professor XiaoFeng Wang. The researchers created a proof-of-concept app called Morbs that provides OS-level protection across all apps on an Android device. Morbs works by labeling each message with information about its origin that could make it easier for developers to specify and enforce security policies based on the sites where sensitive information originates.
Computer Science Teacher Certification 'Deeply Flawed,' Report Says
Education Week (08/21/13) Erik Robelen
State systems for certifying computer science teachers are fundamentally flawed, creating a major obstacle to ensuring that high-quality educators can prepare students for employment in the technology field, according to a report
ystem.pdf) from the Computer Science Teachers Association. "Computer science teacher certification across the nation is typified by confounding processes and illogical procedures--bugs in the system that keep it from functioning as intended," the report says. The situation contributes to students not entering computer science, a field that will offer 4.6 million jobs by 2020. "The information technology and computing industry cannot find the talent it needs to fill lucrative positions across the country," the report notes. "These companies want more young people to discover computer science and study it, and the country's economic fortunes depend on it." Among the report's findings is the fact that only two states, Arizona and Wisconsin, require computer science certification to teach any computer science course; in many states, "teachers with little or no computer science knowledge can teach it," the report says. The report offers several policy recommendations, including the creation of a certification/licensure system that ensures that all computer science teachers have appropriate knowledge, and accounts for teachers coming to the discipline from multiple pathways. In addition, it suggests teacher-preparation institutions and organizations should be required to include programs to prepare computer science teachers.
Linux Foundation Collaboration Gets Biological
eWeek (08/26/13) Sean Michael Kerner
The Linux Foundation has developed the Biological Expression Language (OpenBEL), which offers researchers a collaborative project for clearly expressing scientific findings from the life sciences in a format that can be understood by computing infrastructure. The OpenBEL effort includes the participation of Foundation Medicine, AstraZeneca, the Fraunhofer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Novartis, Pfizer, and the University of California, San Diego. "Companies in the biotech sector want to take advantage of the Linux Foundation's services and knowledge to accelerate development of OpenBEL," says the foundation's Amanda McPherson. She says the Linux Foundation wants to help OpenBEL engage within the life science community, educating companies and organizations on the benefits of this type of collaborative development to facilitate innovation and scientific breakthroughs. OpenBEL is "different from existing collaborative projects in that it represents a new industry taking advantage of this development model and harnessing the experience of how Linux is built," McPherson notes. She says the Linux Foundation will provide open source best-practices guidance, administrative assistance, and back-office services. "We want to extend the collaborative DNA and success of Linux to new industries to solve hard problems and innovate faster than ever before," McPherson says.
Hacked Feature Phone Can Block Other People's Calls
Technology Review (08/26/13) David Talbot
Researchers in Berlin have demonstrated the ability to block calls and text messages intended for nearby users of the same GSM cellular network by making only a few changes to a standard phone. By modifying a phone’s embedded software, the researchers can dupe the network out of delivering incoming calls or SMS messages to the intended recipients. One phone could theoretically block service to all subscribers served by base stations within a location area, says Technical University of Berlin's Jean-Pierre Seifert. The researchers modified the firmware on the baseband processor, which controls how a phone communicates with a network’s transmission towers. Ordinarily, a cellular tower pages nearby devices to locate the one that should receive a call or SMS sent over the network, and the intended recipient's phone replies with a confirmation before the communication proceeds. However, the modified firmware responds to the cellular tower's paging before a victim’s phone can, preventing the intended recipient from receiving the communication. Just 11 modified phones could shut down service of Germany's third-largest cellular network operator in a location area. "All those phones are listening to all the paging requests in that area, and they are answering 'it's me,' and nobody in that cell will get an SMS or a phone call," Seifert says.
Software Arranges Photo Lighting After the Shoot
Cornell Chronicle (08/21/13) Bill Steele
Cornell University researchers have developed software that enables photographers to more easily adjust lighting in a photo after a shoot. Cornell professor Kavita Bala and graduate student Ivaylo Boyadzhiev, together with Adobe Research's Sylvain Paris, created software that offers three lighting views, which they call "basis lights," that the user can combine and modify, including Edge Lighting, Fill Lighting, and Diffuse Color Light. Users can choose how much of each type of lighting to apply to different parts of the image. The results can then be modified to focus light more sharply on a particular area or to simulate the effect of a diffusing filter over the light source. "Our goal was to try to capture the lighting conditions that photographers mostly use, but there are other possibilities," Bala says. The researchers also are working with backlighting as a possibility. In comparing the software to traditional procedures of working with tens of layers, three professional photographers said the researchers' basis lights provided a useful starting point and significantly reduced the time required to achieve the desired result. In addition, the researchers say seven amateur photographers were able to create professional-quality results in an average of 15 minutes.
A Glimpse Into the Future of Robotic Technology
CORDIS News (08/22/13)
Accurate spatial perception and smooth visual-motor coordination have long been a stumbling block in creating human-like robots, and the European Union-funded EYESHOTS project aimed to address these issues. The project's researchers developed a model robot that can acquire awareness of its surroundings and use its memory to reach for objects. Beyond advancing robotic mechanics, the technology also will improve diagnoses and rehabilitation techniques for degenerative disorders. The team's experts in robotics, neuroscience, engineering, and psychology studied neural coordination in monkeys to create computer models. The computer model combines visual images with eye and arm movements, as occurs in the cerebral cortex of the human brain. For people, three-dimensional space is mediated through movements of the eyes, head, and arms, which enables the observing, reaching, and grabbing of objects; this indicates that the perceptual capabilities of a humanoid robot must be closely tied to its motor system. The team's humanoid robot can move its eyes and focus on one point, learn from experience, and use its memory to reach for objects without looking at them first.
Georgia Tech Team Supports Open Architecture Software Standards for Military Avionics
Georgia Tech News (08/22/13) John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers are working on the U.S. Navy's Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) project, which aims to develop a technical standard that governs how avionics software communicates with other avionics software and hardware components. "The FACE standard lets us streamline software production and software upgrades, which are vital for keeping U.S. pilots safe and delivering our military capabilities," says Georgia Tech's Douglas Woods. The FACE project enables developers to connect software and hardware in a uniform way, so that one software application can work with a variety of different hardware, Woods notes. Unlike a personal computer, the application software and operating system of an avionics system are very compact and robust for safety, security, and performance reasons. The FACE architecture specifies that designers use its application programming interfaces. "As long as you adhere to the standard software interfaces specified in the FACE Technical Standard, then changing the embedded application software to add capability to the system becomes straightforward," Woods says. "Any competent software engineer should be able to write an application that can talk to those interfaces, and that makes it possible to add in new capabilities quickly and easily."
TEALS Transforms Computer Science Education in Bellevue
Bellevue Reporter (WA) (08/26/13) Julie Benson
As part of Microsoft's Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, Bellevue high school students now have the opportunity to learn computer science from technology professionals who teach one class period in the morning before going to their day jobs. TEALS volunteers partner with an in-class teacher to share their computer science expertise and real-world perspective with students. The professional teachers help the TEALS volunteers develop their instructional skills, while the volunteers help the teachers understand computer science. In the 2012-13 school year, the TEALS program reached more than 15,000 high school students in 37 schools. Studies demonstrate that many of the fastest-growing jobs are computer-related, but fewer than 3 percent of college students graduate with a computer science degree, even though it is one of the highest paying undergraduate degrees. "I really enjoy seeing how computer science education opens their minds and enables them to get creative in a whole new way," says Microsoft software developer David Broman. In the 2012-13 school year, TEALS volunteers worked more than 1,000 hours and received more than $19,000 in donations. The Bellevue Schools Foundation uses that money to provide students with study materials and opportunities to put their programming into practice.
Mozilla 'Plug-n-Hack' Project Aims for Tighter Security Tool Integration
IDG News Service (08/23/13) Jeremy Kirk
Mozilla is working to improve the integration of security tools and Web browsers. A proposed standard, called Plug-n-Hack (PnH), would define how security extensions can work with a browser in a more usable way, says Mozilla's Simon Bennetts. "PnH allows security tools to declare the functionality that they support which is suitable for invoking directly from the browser," Bennetts says. "A browser that supports PnH can then allow the user to invoke such functionality without having to switch to and from the tool." The project team is designing the PnH protocol to be browser- and tool-independent. The implementation for Firefox has been released under the Mozilla Public License 2.0 and can be incorporated into commercial products for free. Bennetts says the plans for the next phase are likely to allow browsers to advertise their capabilities to security tools, enabling them to obtain information directly from the browser and use the browser as an extension of the tool.
Princeton Researchers Use Mobile Phones to Measure Happiness
Princeton Journal Watch (08/22/13) Tara Thean
Mobile phones can provide an efficient way to capture information that is otherwise difficult to record, according to researchers at Princeton University. The researchers used mobile phones for a study exploring the connection between environment and happiness. Some 270 volunteers in 13 countries downloaded the study's Android app, which the team designed to periodically ask "how happy are you?" The open source app also recorded the participant's location at various intervals based on either global positioning system satellites or cellular tower signals. The researchers say the app was designed to record feelings as they happen, which they say should be more accurate than those written down after the fact. The approach could help overcome the limitations of conducting studies in people's homes. "If we want to get more precise findings of contextual measurements, we need to use techniques like this," says Princeton graduate student John Palmer. He notes that the researchers' concentration at this stage was not on generalizable conclusions about the connection between environment and happiness, but rather on learning more about the mobile phone's capabilities for data collection. "I'd be hesitant to try to extend our substantive findings beyond those people who volunteered," Palmer says.
'Intelligent Agents' Putting the Smart in Artificial Intelligence
ZDNet (08/22/13) Tim Lohman
Although artificial intelligence (AI) has been used for years, an increasing number of application areas now require software components equipped with more sophisticated intelligent agents. "Intelligent-agent technology is a particular way of developing software [that] has been used to develop software systems in a variety of application areas, including logistics, crisis management, holonic [flexible] manufacturing, business process management, and unmanned aerial vehicles," says RMIT research fellow John Thangarajah. He notes that such applications frequently need autonomous software components capable of achieving tasks by making intelligent and rational decisions where necessary without human intervention. An intelligent approach to software development differs from traditional approaches to AI development because systems are designed and structured in terms of variables such as beliefs, goals, intentions, and commitments, instead of object-oriented techniques. "System designs with these concepts are more readily absorbed and understood by industry experts who aren't necessarily software programmers, which makes them even more desirable," Thangarajah says. He notes that a scenario-based platform will use intelligent-agent technology to help model tactical behaviors for Australia's submarine fleet across a range of underwater missions and situations.
Mobile Fire App to Shave Seconds Off Operations
Government Technology (08/21/13) Colin Wood
Princeton University students have created an iPad app called FireStop that provides critical information to firefighters during an emergency. The app gives firefighters information such as building layouts, fire hydrant locations, and hazardous materials warnings. "Our goal is to bring better information to firefighters," says project developer and volunteer firefighter Charlie Jacobson. "And we need to provide this information quickly and intuitively." He says FireStop acquires information from a database and displays it in an easy-to-read format that is useful during active calls. "It's about the interface," Jacobson says. "You click the button and it's right there." In addition, FireStop addresses the issue of lost connectivity during emergencies by encrypting and storing as much information as possible in the user’s device and FireStop cloud servers while there is an active connection, and maintaining access to that data if the connection is lost. The developers have partnered with fire departments in central and northern New Jersey in a pilot program that aims to ensure that the interface is user-friendly and that data can easily be collected from outside agencies.
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