Welcome to the April 11, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Researchers See If Google Glass Can Help Parkinson's Patients
ABC News (04/11/14) Gillian Mohney
Newcastle University researchers are experimenting with Google Glass to see if it can assist Parkinson's disease patients in monitoring their symptoms and increasing their mobility. One participant, Parkinson's sufferer Lynn Terse, says the voice-activated device is especially helpful in situations in which handling a phone manually is impossible. "[Google Glass] was something I was genuinely interested in," she reports. "You can take a photograph and take a video and search the Internet. You can make a call and send a text." Tearse also finds Google Glass' monitoring functions appealing. "If you can sync your Google Glass with your computer at home, it can be streamed through to a loved one at home," she notes. "Keep an eye on and make you feel reassured." Newcastle researcher Roisin McNaney says many users liked the vocal operation feature, because it could enable them to call for assistance in case their symptoms render them immobile. Study co-author John Vines says small sensors in Google Glass' computer could measure eye and head motion and notify users if their symptoms become exacerbated so they can either take more medication or go to a safe place before their symptoms get worse. The researchers will detail their findings this month at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.
'Heartbleed' Computer Bug Threat Spreads to Firewalls and Beyond
Reuters (04/10/14) Jim Finkle
Security experts on Thursday warned the "Heartbleed" computer virus can attack email systems, security firewalls, and possibly mobile phones, as well as Web servers. Companies and government agencies are scrambling to determine which devices are vulnerable amid reports that researchers this week have observed sophisticated hackers scanning the Internet for vulnerable servers. This week's revelations about the widespread Heartbleed bug has shaken the Internet community, and new concerns have arisen over reports that pieces of vulnerable OpenSSL code can be found in many other devices beyond Web servers. "Every security person is talking about this," says NSS Labs' Chris Morales. Cisco Systems reports finding the vulnerability in about a dozen of its products so far, while Intel says McAfee products that use affected versions of OpenSSL are vulnerable and need to be updated. Security experts say the vulnerable code also is found in the Tor browser anonymizing tool, OpenVPN, some online games, and software that runs Internet-connected devices such as webcams and mobile phones.
Automated Age-Progression Software Lets You See How a Child Will Age
UW News (04/09/14) Michelle Ma
University of Washington (UW) researchers have developed software that automatically generates images of a child's face as it ages through a lifetime. The researchers say their software is the first fully automated approach for aging babies to adults that works with variable lighting, expressions, and poses. "We took photos of children in completely unrestrained conditions and found that our method works remarkably well," says UW professor Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman. The technique leverages the average of thousands of faces of the same age and gender before calculating the visual changes between groups as they age to apply those changes to a new person's face. The software determines the average pixel arrangement from thousands of random Internet photos of faces in different age and gender brackets. An algorithm then finds similarities between the averages from each bracket and calculates the average change in facial shape and appearance between ages. "Our extensive user studies demonstrated age progression results that are so convincing that people can't distinguish them from reality," says UW professor Steven Seitz. He notes the automatic age-progression software runs on a standard computer and takes about 30 seconds to generate results for one face.
Users' Stark Reminder: As Web Grows, It Grows Less Secure
The New York Times (04/10/14) Farhad Manjoo
The Heartbleed bug that gives hackers entry into the main system for encrypting consumers' online data demonstrates the Web is still in its infancy, and that "we don't have our house in order when it comes to Internet security," says Princeton University professor Edward Felten. The interdependency of the Internet's elements--hardware, software, and information--increases the ecosystem's vulnerability. He says the situation is compounded by security's frequent relegation as an afterthought by technology providers, with Felten noting "we don't have the kind of safety culture that is common in fields such as aviation." Adding to the problem is a lack of industry-wide security coordination due to the volatility of the tech sector, as Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Green points out that neither tech firms nor consumers are willing to tolerate delays in new product releases while they are more rigorously tested for flaws. Green suggests programmers might have more incentive to test harder if Internet companies provide more funding. Still, the intelligence and growing sophistication of hackers means security advances are often matched by new forms of attack. Moreover, "as devices get more memory or power, people add more complexity to a product--until it becomes so complicated that it's too difficult to understand," Felten says.
MIT News (04/07/14) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Scott Aaronson's research centers on the relationship between the classification of algorithms based on their computing time--known as complexity--and quantum physics. Aaronson thinks his most significant research includes his first paper on quantum complexity theory, which furnished the minimum theoretically provable execution time for the collision problem. The collision problem presents the question of whether every input produces a unique output, or every output can be produced by either of two inputs, in a given mathematical function. Together with Princeton Institute for Advanced Study researcher Avi Wigderson, Aaronson also demonstrated that attempts to answer the P=NP question must first overcome the "algebrization" barrier. More recently, Aaronson and his student Alex Arkhipov characterized an optical experiment whose successful performance could, for the first time, employ quantum mechanics to carry out a calculation that conventional computers are incapable of executing. "Often, even when I'm working on a purely classical question, it's a classical question inspired by something I'm trying to do in the quantum world," Aaronson observes. "But then, with quite a few of the quantum computing problems that I've worked on, it's ended up that the core of the difficulty was something in classical complexity theory. They're very, very linked."
Stanford Engineers Design Video Game Controller That Can Sense Players' Emotions
Stanford Report (CA) (04/07/14) Bjorn Carey
Stanford University researchers have developed a prototype video game controller that gauges the player's brain activity in real time. The researchers removed the back panel of an Xbox 360 controller and replaced it with a three-dimensional printed plastic module containing multiple sensors. The controller also is equipped with small metal pads that measure the user's heart rate, blood flow, and both the rate of breath and how deeply the user is breathing. In addition, a light-operated sensor provides a second heart rate measurement, and accelerometers measure how violently the user is shaking the controller. The Stanford researchers also developed software to gauge the intensity of the game. Finally, the researchers compared all of the data to produce an overall picture of the player's level of mental engagement. "We can also control the game for children," says Stanford's Corey McCall. "If parents are concerned that their children are getting too wrapped up in the game, we can tone it down or remind them that it's time for a healthy break."
Cryptography Could Add Privacy Protections to NSA Phone Surveillance
Technology Review (04/09/14) Tom Simonite
Microsoft researcher Seny Kamara has outlined the design for MetaCrypt, a system that would enable intelligence analysts to search phone records while protecting those records against leaks or unnecessary trawling. MetaCrypt is a set of cryptographic protocols that could keep the information in a database encrypted at all times. The protocols would enforce various controls on how the information in the database was used. As part of the MetaCrypt system, phone records would be stored in a strongly encrypted form that also supplies query numbers to the data store in an encrypted state, preventing anyone else from finding out what was being looked at. The records that come back also would be encrypted, making them meaningless to anyone who intercepted them on their way back to the user who made the query. The MetaCrypt design also includes a way to ensure that only approved searches are performed.
As Fast as Their Tiny 'Bot' Legs Will Carry Them!
National Science Foundation (04/07/14) Miles O'Brien
A research team at the University of Maryland is looking to insects for inspiration for building millimeter-scale robots that can move around for a variety of purposes. The objective of the project is to build legs that will enable micro-robots to traverse rough terrain at high speeds. The team also wants to give the micro-robots the capability to jump to clear objects. Engineer Sarah Bergbreiter envisions the micro-robots serving as mobile sensor platforms that can move through real-world environments. For example, they could be used to search through small cracks in rubble after natural disasters, to provide low-cost sensor deployment, or to engage in stealthy surveillance. Bergbreiter's team has received support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). "This is a very worthwhile effort and is just the beginning of what we hope will be achieved in the future when these micro-robots are equipped with video sensors and wireless communications," says NSF's George Haddad.
Black Girls Code Founder Kimberly Bryant: Engineer. Entrepreneur. Mother.
Tech Republic (04/07/14) Lyndsey Gilpin
Appalled by the low number of minorities she encountered in the tech startup world after moving to San Francisco as well as her daughter's experience in a middle school computer science summer camp, former biotechnology electrical engineer Kimberly Bryant started Black Girls Code to introduce computer programming to girls from underrepresented communities. The nonprofit organization, launched in 2011, teaches programming languages such as Scratch and Ruby on Rails to girls ages seven through 16. The organization includes a six-week after-school course that enables girls to explore technology concepts with trained instructors and teaching assistants, as well as a summer enrichment program that offers week-long intensive classes in robotics and programming. Although the organization focuses on girls of color, Bryant emphasizes that all children should learn to code. "It's important to make sure all of our young people are exposed to tech from the creative side and they use it as a tool," she says. "And mentorship, I talk about that all the time. Having mentors, women or men, to help guide your path and answer questions and be there as you are going on this path."
As Moore’s Law Slows, Open Hardware Rises
EE Times (04/06/14) Jessica MacNeil
Moore's Law says technology doubles every 18 months, meaning that someone working on a linear improvement could be getting 80 percent performance improvement per year, and Moore's Law would be shipping something better by the second year. "The problem has been that sitting and waiting has actually been a viable strategy versus innovation," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Andrew Huang. For software, the innovation cycle to innovate, distribute, and adopt a new product can occur in a matter of days, but hardware takes longer. Huang says this means the software cycle is well within a generation of Moore's Law, but for hardware the cycle can take longer than a single generation, so the system has favored big businesses. He says eventually Moore's Law will slow down, and soon consumers will not be able to buy a faster computer every year. A slower Moore's Law also will put a higher value on craftsmanship and design, and users will be more inclined to fix broken devices because there will not always be an upgrade available. Open hardware is gaining momentum as users become more interested in do-it-yourself and repair as the availability of new technology slows down. "I think we're just at the point where open hardware might have an impact opportunity," Huang says.
Is TSUBAME-KFC a Game-changer?
Scientific Computing (04/04/14) Kirck W. Cameron
Japanese researchers have developed the TSUBAME-KFC supercomputer, a system that combines two Intel Xeon ES-2620 processors with four NVIDIA Tesla K20X graphics processing engines per node. The system is capable of more than 150 trillion floating point operations per second (TFLOPS), making it the 311th fastest supercomputer in the world. Virginia Tech professor Kirk W. Cameron, co-founder of the Green500 List, says TSUBAME-KFC is unique because instead of using air-cooling systems to keep the supercomputer from overheating, all 2,620 cores are submerged in dielectric mineral oil, which can absorb heat up to 1,200 times more efficiently than air. The oil enables the system to achieve densities previously difficult without highly efficient, expensive air-cooling systems. In November 2013, TSUBAME-KFC became the first supercomputer to surpass 4,000 MFLOPS per watt efficiency, claiming the top spot on the Green500 list of energy-efficient supercomputers. The TSUBAME-KFC system is a prototype to test the feasibility of larger liquid-cooled systems. Cameron says TSUBAME-KFC marks a significant increase in infrastructure and system efficiencies. He says an industry-wide shift from building the biggest systems to building the biggest systems possible within a power limit could make liquid cooling a more reasonable option for operators to make better use of the available watts.
Groundbreaking Optical Device Could Enhance Optical Information Processing, Computers
Washington University in St. Louis (04/06/14) Jo Seltzer
Washington University in St. Louis researchers have developed an optical device that could lead to new and more powerful computers that run faster and cooler. The researchers created an optical diode by coupling tiny doughnut-shaped optical resonators on a silicon chip. "This diode is capable of completely eliminating light transmission in one direction and greatly enhancing light transmission in the other nonreciprocal light transmission," says Washington University researcher Bo Peng. An electrical diode prevents electricity from backflow along a wire, providing protection to crucial parts of an electronic circuit or processor, while an optical diode provides the same function for light. "We believe that our discovery will benefit many other fields involving electronics, acoustics, plasmonics, and meta-materials," Peng says. To make the optical diode, the researchers used two micro-resonators positioned so light can flow from one to the other. "At present, we built our optical diodes from silica, which has very little material loss at the telecommunication wavelength," Peng says. The researchers believe their method can be extended to electronics, acoustics, and other fields to create one-way channels, and photonic devices with advanced functionalities.
At Berkeley, Experts Mine Questions of Big Data, Power and Privacy
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (04/03/14) Barry Bergman
A recent University of California, Berkeley workshop convened representatives of government, business, the law, and academia for what Berkeley professor Deirdre Mulligan described as "a frank and honest conversation about our values" and how to reconcile those values with data collection about every aspect of our lives. The session concentrated on the stresses between technological innovation and societal values such as privacy, fairness, and the right of citizens to be kept apprised of what corporations and government entities know about them. Although individuals may be willing to cede a certain level of privacy provided there are sufficient checks over how that information is shared and used, the issue of big data collection complicates the situation. "Big data requires us to ask ourselves, how do we embrace new technologies and the progress they bring to our society, while at the same time protecting our fundamental freedoms and values, like privacy, fairness and self-determination?" said White House counselor John Podesta. Berkeley professor Kenneth Bamberger suggested there are different levels of transparency, and said individual choices cannot surmount questions of power in the big data era, when no one knows precisely how the data is being used. Finding a definition for privacy is even more fundamentally important than how to protect it, said some panelists.
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