Welcome to the May 21, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
FCC Chair: An Internet Fast Lane Would Be 'Commercially Unreasonable'
The Washington Post (05/20/14) Brian Fung
U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday told House lawmakers the FCC could take action to block the emergence of Internet fast lanes, or "paid prioritization," noting network equipment manufacturers say fast lanes could weaken service for some Internet users. Wheeler also said the agency recognizes that Internet service providers would be undermining a "virtuous cycle" between the demand for free-flowing data and new investment in network upgrades if they started charging companies for better access to consumers. "If there is something that interferes with that virtuous cycle--which I believe paid prioritization does--then we can move against it," Wheeler said. He also responded to comments that network equipment makers say it is impossible to create fast Internet lanes for some users without also leaving other users in slower lanes. "That's at the heart of what you're talking about here," Wheeler said. "That would be commercially unreasonable under our proposal." Wheeler previously has hinted paid prioritization proposals would be reviewed on a case-by-base basis, but his comments yesterday indicate any such proposals would face significant scrutiny.
Coding Schools Tone Down Rosy Job Script
The Wall Street Journal (05/20/14) Melissa Korn; Lauren Weber
Although coding "boot camps" have become very popular in recent years, there is growing concern about their ability to graduate career-ready programmers in less than one college semester. In response to those concerns, some of the schools are extending their curricula and reducing class sizes in order to maintain their reputations and manage expectations. The schools also are advising their students they will need to go beyond the entry-level instruction to keep up in the fast-paced industry. "I don't think you can be a career-ready programmer in nine or 10 weeks" without prior experience with other aspects of engineering or computer science, says Turing School founder Jeff Casimir. Meanwhile, industry veterans question whether the boot camps can prepare people for the stress involved in working on long-term development projects. However, the schools say they are preparing students for entry-level, junior-development positions. Although many schools release impressive job-placement rates, there are no industry standards, such as whether internships and temp jobs should count in placement rates, making schools' statistics difficult to compare. Still, there is a coding professional shortage and employers as well as code-school instructors are not certain short courses for novices can solve the talent crisis.
Experts to Assess NIST Cryptography Program
GovInfoSecurity.com (05/16/14) Eric Chabrow
The U.S. National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently proposed changes in the way it develops cryptographic standards, following allegations the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) meddled with NIST guidance dealing with the generation of random bits. NIST's Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) named seven individuals to a Committee of Visitors, including ACM president Vint Cerf, to examine the NIST Cryptographic Standards and Guidelines Development Process, which proposes revisions of how NIST develops cryptographic standards. "NIST has played a very valuable role in the international cryptographic community, but NIST has also made a serious error of judgment, in particular when standardizing the Dual_EC_DRBG" random bit generator, says VCAT panel member and KU Leuven professor Bart Preneel. The Federal Information Security Management Act, which governs federal government IT security, requires NIST to collaborate with NSA on cybersecurity guidance. After the publication of the draft of Interagency Report 7977, NIST Cryptographic Standards and Guidelines Development Process, NIST asked for public comment on its guide to developing cryptography. Some recommendations suggested NIST be more transparent about past and future dealings with NSA. The panel review should help NIST ensure it creates the most transparent and effective process for developing cryptography, says NIST director Patrick Gallagher.
IBM and Fujifilm Show Super Dense Storage Tape for Big Data Work
IDG News Service (05/20/14) Joab Jackson
Researchers at IBM and Fujifilm are developing a magnetic tape prototype that can store 85.9 billion bits of data per square inch, which means an industry standard LTO-size cartridge could store up to 154 terabytes of uncompressed data. IBM says magnetic tape is less expensive and more energy efficient than other kinds of storage, making it a natural medium for keeping big data for the long term. The researchers have developed several new methods for fitting more data onto the tape. For example, Fujifilm researchers have developed a way to grind barium ferrite particles used to make the magnetic tape much more finely, without using metal-sputtering or evaporation-coating methods. Meanwhile, IBM researchers refined the control of the tape head servo, so it can be positioned over the tape with nano-scale accuracy, which allows for finer tracks of data to be written and read. The researchers found the tape head produces much stronger magnetic fields, which could lead to reading and writing data on a smaller tape surface. Finally, the researchers developed a set of signal-processing algorithms that would enable tape machines to capture data with more accuracy, allowing a 90-nanometer giant magneto-resistive read head to be used.
Enabling Cutting Edge Future Internet Research
CORDIS News (05/16/14)
The SMARTFIRE project, a two-year effort initiated by the European Union in November 2013, aims to develop large-scale experimental facilities dedicated to cutting-edge Internet research. EU partners are collaborating with South Korea and Australia on the project. To encourage joint experimentation, a shared experimental facility is currently under construction in Europe and South Korea. The facility should provide experts with the opportunity to conceive and implement innovative ideas. Two real-life scenarios will help demonstrate the potential of shared European and South Korean research, with the first scenario involving distributed Internet of Things measurement aggregation and processing; this scenario will show how distributed measurements gathered from distant locations will be stored and processed in a cloud computing system, which users access without any knowledge of location. The second scenario involves video streaming over different technologies, and how to alleviate problems with streaming applications caused by bottlenecks of distant intercontinental links.
Stanford Engineer Invents a Way to Beam Power to Medical Chips Deep Inside the Body
Stanford Report (CA) (05/19/14) Tom Abate
An interdisciplinary team of Stanford University researchers, led by professor Ada Toon, has developed a wireless system that uses the same power as a cell phone to safely transmit energy to chips the size of a grain of rice, technology they say paves the way for new 'electroceutical' devices to treat illness or alleviate pain. The system can wirelessly transfer power deep inside the body, and then use this power to run tiny electronic medical devices such as pacemakers, nerve stimulators, or new sensors. The researchers say the technology could lead to a new type of medicine that enables physicians to treat diseases with electronics rather than drugs. "We need to make these devices as small as possible to more easily implant them deep in the body and create new ways to treat illness and alleviate pain," Poon says. She says the research will result in a new generation of programmable microimplants, based on a new way to control electromagnetic waves inside the body. The researchers combined the safety of near-field waves with the reach of far-field waves by taking advantage of the fact that waves travel differently when they come into contact with different materials such as air, water, or biological tissue.
Visions 2025--Interactions: Our Future With Social, Cognitive and Physical Intelligent Assistants
CCC Blog (05/16/14) Ann Drobnis; Limor Fix
A recent computing workshop in Washington, DC, organized by a steering group of computing leaders drawn from the U.S. National Science Foundation's Computer and Information Science and Engineering Directorate Advisory Committee and the Computing Community Consortium, was the first of several planned for 2014 as part of Computing Visions 2025, an initiative to identify new research goals and spur interest in them in the computing research community, government leaders, and funding agencies. Industry, academic, and governmental leaders convened to discuss such nascent areas as smart devices, including medical devices embedded in the human body; bio-sensors; wearables; mobile devices; robots, and smart cars. The attendees said future computing systems could potentially lead to more affordable and high quality education, better health monitoring, and better aids to overcome physical and mental disabilities. These systems also could enable more affordable and better elderly care, safer transportation, and modification of people's behaviors and habits. Multi-party people-to-machine interaction may result in immersive interaction, where touch, gestures, speech, gaze, bio-data, facial expressions, object interaction, location, and context would be highly interconnected.
Twitter Tool Shows a Real-Time View of Our Emotions
CSIRO (Australia) (05/19/14)
Researchers at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, in partnership with Amazon Web Services, have developed for the Black Dog Institute We Feel, an online tool that analyzes tweets to display a real-time view of human emotion. The tool will help researchers understand how emotions fluctuate over time due to changes in social, economic, and environmental factors. "We Feel looks for up to 600 specific words in a stream of around 27 million tweets per day and maps them to a hierarchy of emotions which includes love, joy, surprise, anger, sadness, and fear," says Cecile Paris, research leader in language and social computing at CSIRO's Digital Productivity and Services Flagship. "You can explore emotional trends on a minute by minute time scale, across locations around the globe, and gender to further refine the results." The researchers say the We Feel system is the first attempt to understand how social media can be used to detect poor mental health and observe shifts according to time and place. "Should the real-time data gained using this incredible tool prove accurate, we will have the unique opportunity to monitor the emotional state of people across different geographical areas and ultimately predict when and where potentially life-saving services are required," says professor Helen Christensen, executive director of CSIRO's Black Dog Institute, which is devoted to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mood disorders.
With Imprecise Chips to the Artificial Brain
Bielefeld University (05/15/14)
Bielefeld University researchers have found that constructions that use digital and analog compact and imprecise circuits are more suitable for building artificial nervous systems, compared to systems with only digital or precise but power-demanding analog electronic circuits. The research is part of a project to develop robots and other electronic systems that are autonomous and capable of independent learning. The artificial brains the researchers are developing are modeled on the biological nervous systems of humans and animals. "Environmental stimuli are processed in the biological nervous systems of humans and animals in a totally different way to modern computers," observes Bielefeld professor Elisabetta Chicca. "Biological nervous systems organize themselves; they adapt and learn. In doing so, they require a relatively small amount of energy in comparison with computers and allow for complex skills such as decision-making, the recognition of associations and of patterns." The researchers have been focusing on which type of circuits can most accurately simulate synapses electronically. They also studied which type of circuits can imitate the plasticity of biological nerves, and have developed software that controls the circuits and chips of an electronic brain.
EPFL Researchers Crack Unassailable Encryption Algorithm in Two Hours
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (05/14/14) Emmanuel Barraud
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have decoded a protocol based on discrete logarithms that was being considered as a future Internet security system. Touted as tamper-proof, the protocol was able to resist EPFL machines' decryption attempts for just two hours. "The danger lies in the fact that these systems are based on principles that we do not fully understand," says Arjen Lenstra with EPFL's Laboratory for Cryptologic Algorithms (LACAL). "If someone were to find out how to solve them all, the entire system would collapse." To see if it were possible to break into industrial algorithm variants, an EPFL team worked with Jens Zumbragel from TU Dresden (Dresden University of Technology) to concentrate on a family of algorithms presented as candidates for the next generation of encryption keys, which use supersingular curves. "We proved that it would only take two hours for EPFL computers to solve a problem of this kind," says LACAL's Thorsten Kleinjung. "Whereas it was believed that it would take 40,000 times the age of the universe for all computers on the planet to do it!" Lenstra says the decoded algorithm has now been removed from the quest for algorithm successors.
Fast and Curious: Electrons Hurtle Into the Interior of a New Class of Quantum Materials
Princeton University (05/16/14) Catherine Zandonella
Princeton University researchers say they have discovered a new quantum effect that enables electrons to move through the interior of a new class of materials with very little resistance. "With this discovery, instead of facing the challenge of how to use only the electrons on the surface of a material, now you can just cut the material open and you have light-like electrons flowing in three dimensions inside the materials," says Princeton professor M. Zahid Hasan. In the new class of materials, the unique properties of the atoms combine to create quantum effects that facilitate the electrons into acting like a light wave instead of individual particles. A new study found the electrons have an average velocity 10,000 times greater than found in previous materials identified by the group. Hasan says this breakthrough "means the electrons can flow quite easily in the material and many more exotic quantum effects can now be studied." He notes the new materials can be applied to a topological quantum computer based on novel electronics that would use an electron's spin to perform calculations and transmit information.
Hitachi Unveils Robot With a Sense of Humor
Agence France-Presse (05/20/14)
Hitachi engineers announced they have created an android robot with a sense of humor. The researchers say EMIEW2, a small robot on roller skates, is capable of short, unscripted conversation with human beings. Using key words, the robot determines the nature of inquiries, which it confirms prior to responding. The robot understands various human responses, including nonverbal signals such as a nod. After telling a joke, the robot watches for nonverbal signals that a person has understood. "The new technology makes it possible for a robot to understand what a human means, even if they only gesture," says Hitachi's Hisashi Ikeda. The company notes EMIEW2, short for "excellent mobility and interactive existence as workmate," is intended to provide company for people in some form, such as a kind of house pet or as a receptionist.
Liberating Devices From Their Power Cords
Vanderbilt University (05/19/14) David Salisbury
Vanderbilt University researchers have developed a method for creating materials that can store and discharge significant amounts of electricity while they are subject to realistic static loads and dynamic forces. The researchers say this type of structural energy storage will change the way in which a wide variety of technologies are developed in the future. "When you can integrate energy into the components used to build systems, it opens the door to a whole new world of technological possibilities," says Vanderbilt professor Cary Pint. The researchers developed a supercapacitor that stores electricity by assembling electrically charged ions on the surface of a porous material, instead of storing it in chemical reactions, which enables the supercapacitors to charge and discharge in minutes, instead of hours, and to operate for millions of cycles, instead of thousands of cycles like batteries. The researchers say the new structural supercapacitor operates flawlessly in storing and releasing electrical charge while subject to stresses or pressures up to 44 psi and vibrational accelerations over 80 g. "In an unpackaged, structurally integrated state, our supercapacitor can store more energy and operate at higher voltages than a packaged, off-the-shelf commercial supercapacitor, even under intense dynamic and static forces," Pint says.
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