Welcome to the August 27, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Image of a colorful processor New Material Could Improve Efficiency of Computer Processing and Memory
University of Minnesota
August 22, 2018

University of Minnesota researchers have developed a material that can improve the efficiency of computer processing and memory. They created a quantum material in a unique way that resulted in a "topological insulator" with new physical and spin-electronic properties. Topological insulators are usually created using a single crystal growth process. The researchers started with bismuth selenide, and used a thin film deposition technique called sputtering to create new physical properties for the material that changed the behavior of its electrons. During testing, the researchers found the material is 18 times more efficient in computer processing and memory compared to current materials. University of Minnesota's Mahendra DC says, "With the new physics of these materials could come many new applications."

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Tractor on Flint street digging up pipework. Flint Water Crisis: How AI Is Finding Thousands of Hazardous Pipes
New Scientist
Frank Swain
August 22, 2018

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can determine the location of dangerous lead pipes in Flint, MI. A team led by Georgia Tech's Jacob Abernethy designed the AI algorithm to predict which residences are connected to lead pipes by analyzing old city plans and about 140,000 handwritten records of building work rendered digitally. The AI catalogs 71 pieces of information for every property in Flint, including the age, value, and site of the home. The algorithm trained itself on properties where lead levels had been measured, to anticipate other homes that were likely to have lead pipes. The AI system can list properties with lead pipes with a 97% success rate, which is expected to save $10 million and make an additional 2,000 homes safe. Prior to Georgia Tech's algorithm, homes were selected for pipe replacement based on educated guesses, with 20% of pipes dug up turning out not to be lead. The researchers gave their data to Flint's cleanup crew, and they say the model can be applied to other cities.

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Critical Apache Struts Flaw Opens Enterprises to Compromise, Patch ASAP!
Help Net Security
Zeljka Zorz
August 23, 2018

A security researcher found a critical remote code execution vulnerability in the open source Apache Struts framework for developing Java-based Web applications, which remote hackers could exploit to run malware on affected servers. Researchers at cybersecurity firm Tenable say the bug can be exploited only if the alwaysSelectFullNamespace flag is defaulted to true in the Struts configuration and if the application's Struts configuration file contains a specific tag that fails to specify the optional namespace attribute or specifies a wildcard namespace. The Apache Software Foundation says the flaw affects Struts versions 2.3 to 2.3.34 and 2.5 to 2.5.16, while unsupported versions of the framework also may be susceptible. They recommend users immediately upgrade to the corrected Apache Struts version 2.3.35 or 2.5.17.

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Researchers Compile a New Database of Executable Python Code Snippets on GitHub
Tech Xplore
Ingrid Fadelli
August 23, 2018

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have created Gistable, a database of executable Python code snippets on GitHub's gist system, which could be used for reproducible studies in the field of software engineering. Gistable contains 10,259 code snippets, including about 5,000 that come with a Dockerfile to configure and execute them without import error. The researchers found 75.6% of analyzed Python gists required substantial configuration to overcome issues such as missing dependencies, configuration files, reliance on a specific operating system, or other environment configuration challenges. In addition, while developers often make assumptions about resource names when trying to resolve configuration errors, these assumptions were found to be correct less than 50% of the time. NCSU's Eric Horton says, "Our research in the immediate future will focus on techniques for finding and installing these libraries."

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Blurring the Lines Between Virtual and Reality
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne
August 18, 2018

A next-generation virtual reality (VR) headset created by Hugo Hueber at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland (EPFL) enables wearers to manipulate both real and virtual objects with tactile sensations, using hand avatars that replicate even the slightest movements. Hueber says an enhanced VR video game he is designing "combines the latest technology with the [three-dimensional] interactive research we're carrying out at the lab. That will let video gamers interact physically with a virtual environment that can be transferred to any location—a living room, office, or even classroom—instantly." Real-world objects are modeled and calibrated in the game, and then players can use them at the same time they physically touch them. In addition, players can see and precisely move virtual versions of fingers, and wear bodily sensors to see themselves move within the game in real time.

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An illustration of a cityscape connected by nodes. A Great Find
USC Viterbi News
Marc Ballon
August 22, 2018

University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering's Urbashi Mitra and Junting Chen have developed an algorithm for locating objects by leveraging collections of sensors that receive and transmit signals. They say their localization algorithm relies on gathering signal samples over a wide area. The algorithm conducts mathematical computations on radio and acoustic signals to pinpoint a device; only a few signal samples are required to determine the location of the target. Chen says, "By comparing the signal strength with the sensor locations and knowing that energy decreases as distance increases, you'll get a signature vector of the source. The peak of the vector tells you the source location." Applications the researchers foresee for the algorithm include locating the black box recorders of downed aircraft and ensuring reliable cellphone service in areas with congested networks.

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Students conversing and working on laptops. Chicago-Area Schools Look to Shrink the Gender Gap in STEM Classes
Chicago Tribune
Steve Sadin
August 20, 2018

Chicago-area educators are striving to close the gender gap among students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes. Among the strategies they are implementing are extracurricular activities such as the Girls' Coding Club at Deerfield High School, and a Society of Women Engineers Club established at Glenbrook South High School. Mundelein High School's Stacey Gorman says hiring female teachers to teach STEM-related subjects hopefully will help to close the gap. Some students have taken their own initiative by organizing GirlCon, a one-day conference at Northwestern University that paired middle and high school girls with professionals in a broad range of fields to show them how technology plays a vital role in many careers.

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A magnified look at gallium arsenide nanoparticles of varying shapes Connecting the (Nano) Dots: NIST Says Big-Picture Thinking Can Advance Nanoparticle Manufacturing
National Institute of Standards and Technology
Michael E. Newman
August 22, 2018

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) recommend nanoparticle researchers, manufacturers, and administrators "connect the dots" by considering their shared challenges broadly and addressing them collectively instead of individually. This includes transferring knowledge across disciplines, coordinating actions between organizations, and sharing resources to facilitate solutions. The recommendation is the culmination of a study initiated at a workshop organized by NIST that focused on the fundamental challenge of reducing or mitigating heterogeneity, the inadvertent variations in nanoparticle size, shape, and other characteristics that occur during their manufacture. Nanoparticle manufacturing can be prohibitively expensive, and funding often expires before the end product can be commercialized. WTEC's Michael Stopa says, "We outlined several opportunities for improving the odds that new ventures will survive their journeys through this technology transfer 'valley of death.'"

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University of Utah associate professor Rajesh Menon pictured with his optics-less camera. Picture This: Camera With No Lens
UNews (UT)
August 21, 2018

University of Utah engineers have developed a camera that substitutes a regular pane of glass or any see-through window for the lens, in conjunction with a computer running an algorithm to interpret the images. A team led by Utah's Rajesh Menon captured an image of the university's "U" logo and a video of an animated stick figure, both displayed on a light-emitting diode light board. They directed a camera sensor linked to the side of a plexiglass window into the window, while the board was oriented in front of the pane at a 90-degree angle from the front of the sensor. The resulting image from the sensor, assisted by a processor running the algorithm, is in low resolution but clearly identifiable. Menon says the method also can generate full-motion video and color images. Cameras without lenses have many potential applications, such as security cameras, more compact augmented-reality glasses, and car windshields that capture information at multiple points.

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A photo of the android ERICA. Enhanced 'Listening Skill' Makes Robot Better at Talking
Money Control
August 22, 2018

Researchers at Osaka and Kyoto universities in Japan have upgraded a conversational human-like robot, giving it greater ability to have natural dialogue with people by enhancing its listening skills. They say the ERICA robot was specifically designed for natural conversation through the incorporation of human-like facial expressions and gestures. In developing the upgrade, the researchers focused on creating a system for "attentive listening," meaning that a listener asks elaborating questions, or repeats the last word of the speaker's sentence, allowing for more engaging dialogue. The team used a series of distance sensors, facial recognition cameras, and microphone arrays to collect data on parameters necessary for a fluid dialogue between ERICA and a human subject. The robot's responses are generated through machine learning using counseling dialogue texts, resulting in dramatically improved dialogue engagement. Said Kyoto University’s Tatsuya Kawahara, "Making a human-like conversational robot is a major challenge. This project reveals how much complexity there is in listening, which we might consider mundane."

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Mexicans Served With Dark Tequila in Spyware Spree
Charlie Osborne
August 22, 2018

Kaspersky Lab researchers last Tuesday disclosed the existence of Dark Tequila, a threat group that has been clandestinely stealing data from Mexican targets since 2013. The gang has been stealing bank credentials, as well as personal and corporate data, using malware that can move across networks without requiring online access. The malware proliferates via general and spear-phishing campaigns, and it also can spread through infected USB devices. The malicious code contains modules such as keyloggers and screen monitoring systems, and it seeks out any stored credentials that are used to access online services. Kaspersky Lab says after a PC is infiltrated, the malware contacts its command-and-control server for instructions and will only dispatch its data-stealing payload once it appears safe to do so.

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Shared-Memory Parallelism can be Simple, Fast, and Scalable
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