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Welcome to the August 30, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and CSAIL principal investigator Hari Balakrishnan. Balakrishnan Receives 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award From SIGCOMM
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Rachel Gordon
August 26, 2021

ACM's Special Interest Group on Data Communication (SIGCOMM) has awarded its 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientist and ACM fellow Hari Balakrishnan. His current research concerns networking, data management, and mobile sensing and his many contributions include mobile and sensor computing research, Internet transport and routing, overlay networks, person-to-person systems, and data management. Balakrishnan founded the Cambridge Mobile Telematics smartphone telematics platform that reduces risky driving by 40%. MIT's Daniela Rus said, "Hari is truly a prolific and extraordinary scholar, contributing highly influential research to computer networks, networked systems, and mobile computing."

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Bad Solar Storm Could Cause an 'Internet Apocalypse'
Lily Hay Newman
August 29, 2021

A study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on the potential impact of a coronal mass ejection on the global Internet found that continent-connecting undersea cables would be at particular risk from such a massive solar storm. The cables have repeaters fitted in approximately 50- to 150-kilometer (31- to 93-mile) increments, and cumulative failure of those repeaters could render entire cables inoperative. The researchers found that long distances between repeaters increase their potential for exposure to geomagnetically induced currents, while a solar storm also could damage orbiting equipment that enables services like satellite Internet and global positioning. UCI’s Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi also warned of knock-on outages if cable blackouts cause foundational data routing systems to malfunction.

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Bales of plastic waste at a materials recycling facility in the U.K. AI Accurately Identifies Whether Objects Can Be Recycled At a Glance
New Scientist
Chris Stokel-Walker
August 27, 2021

A convolutional neural network trained on a dataset of images employed a standard Webcam to distinguish recyclable objects from non-recyclable objects with greater than 95% accuracy. Ryan Grammenos and Youpeng Yu at the U.K.’s University College London designed the network to establish connections between an object’s appearance and its constituent materials. The researchers applied extra tricks—like interpreting deformed or misshapen objects—to improve the software's classification capability. Serge Belongie at Denmark's University of Copenhagen said, "Computer vision researchers often talk about 'in-the-wild' recognition challenges, and waste classification is an outstanding example of this. This study shows promising results using some state-of-the-art methods, and I can see this kind of technology gaining traction in a variety of public settings."

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Have You Really Deleted Your Personal Data From Your Device When You Dispose of It?
University of Waterloo Cheriton School of Computer Science (Canada)
August 27, 2021

Many users leave sensitive personal information on their electronic devices when discarding them, according to scientists at Canada's University of Guelph (U of G) and University of Waterloo. The researchers polled and interviewed 166 people, and learned that just 62% of those who sold, donated, recycled, or returned their electronics to the manufacturer deleted their data via a secure factory reset. Another 25% used insecure techniques like moving files to the recycle bin or trash can and emptying it, while 8% did not even try to remove their personal data. U of G's Hassan Khan said, "When we manually delete a file, the file is still there. Only the record for how to access the file is deleted." Khan suggested device manufacturers should use artificial intelligence methods to detect when users are disposing of their devices, and guide them through proper erasure procedures.

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Comet Supercomputer Used to Illustrate Methane Storage Applications
UC San Diego News Center
Kimberly Mann Bruch; Cynthia Dillon
August 27, 2021

An international team of researchers used the University of California, San Diego's Comet supercomputer to investigate zeolite-templated carbon (ZTC) for gas storage. The team applied computational modeling of ZTC structural units, or maquettes, to assess methane gas binding energy as a function of chemical composition. Montana State University (MSU)'s Robert Szilagy said, "The theoretically estimated binding energies and the experimentally measured heat of adsorption values are in good agreement, validating the use of computational chemistry as a tool to design new porous carbon materials for methane storage applications—a key bridging technology to reduced-carbon or carbon-free chemical fuels for vehicles."

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Stanford ML Algorithm Predicts Biological Structures More Accurately Than Ever Before
Stanford News
Isabel Swafford
August 26, 2021

Stanford University researchers have developed a machine learning algorithm that accurately predicts the three-dimensional structure of biological molecules, even when training data is limited. The researchers let the algorithm discover molecular structures on its own, rather than specify properties that influence predictive accuracy; the latter approach can bias an algorithm toward certain features while overlooking other insightful structures. Stanford's Raphael Townshend said, "The algorithm has clearly recovered things that we knew were important, but it has also recovered characteristics that we didn't know about before." The algorithm performed well when applied to proteins and RNAs, and Townshend said, "You can start designing new molecules and medicines with this kind of information."

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The ASCENT tool models how nerves respond to electrical stimulation from custom electrodes. 'ASCENT' Makes It Easier to Study Electrical Stimulation of Nerves
Duke Biomedical Engineering
Michaela Kane
August 26, 2021

The open source Automated Simulations to Characterize Electrical Nerve Thresholds (ASCENT) software platform can automatically model electrical nerve stimulation in three dimensions. Devised by Duke University biomedical engineers, ASCENT will enable scientists to predict nerves' response to different types of stimulation, and to accurately simulate new therapies for various diseases. Researchers can use the platform to replicate models from previously published research, generating results in days or weeks that previously would have taken years to produce. Duke's Eric Musselman said, "We hope ASCENT will help push the science forward as more researchers are able to design and interpret therapeutic interventions using computational models."

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Python Dominates as De Facto Platform for Technologies
IEEE Spectrum
Stephen Cass
August 24, 2021

IEEE Spectrum's 2021 interactive rankings of the top programming languages once again lists Python as the platform of choice for new technologies. Meanwhile, the continued dominance of C, C++, Java, and JavaScript on the list's top rankings stems from their advantages, and from the massive corpus of code written in them. The persistent popularity of languages designed to meet specific challenges, like R, SQL, and Matlab, also demonstrates the limits of Python.

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Softbank’s Pepper robot is designed to respond to the needs and preferences of people from different cultures. More Than 50 Robots Work at Singapore High-Tech Hospital
Rebecca Cairns
August 26, 2021

Over 50 robots operate at Singapore's Changi General Hospital (CGH), performing activities ranging from surgery to administrative activities. The Center for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (CHART)'s Selina Seah said the robots being deployed include surgical machines like the da Vinci Surgical System, as well as others that clean, deliver food or linens, assist with hospital maintenance and patient rehabilitation, and lift patients into beds. Seah said CGH also uses a smart telecare system that lets doctors monitor patients remotely, while social robots offer care and companionship for senior patients with dementia. CHART is attempting to boost productivity via assistive technology and robotics amid Singaporean healthcare's vulnerability to an aging populace, workforce shrinkage, and chronic disease.

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A Microsoft logo on a store in New York City. Researchers, Cybersecurity Agency Urge Action by Microsoft Cloud Database Users
Joseph Menn
August 29, 2021

Researchers at cloud security company Wiz have urged all users of Microsoft's Azure cloud platform to change their digital access keys to the Cosmos DB database system. The team reported that attackers could exploit a vulnerability to access the primary digital keys for most database users and steal, change, or delete millions of records. Microsoft patched the flaw and advised some customers to change their keys, although it found no evidence of exploitation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently issued a bulletin urging all Azure Cosmos DB customers to change their certificate key.

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Harnessing the Particle-Tracking Power of the Algorithm
KAUST Discovery (Saudi Arabia)
August 25, 2021

Researchers at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have developed a faster, more accurate three-dimensional (3D) particle-tracking system for monitoring the motion of particles in flow. The researchers developed a numerical algorithm, Holo-Flow, that identifies the location and motion of particles in parallel, and cross-feeds the information in each step. KAUST's Congli Wang said, "Inline holography requires fewer components, has a much simpler setup, can be easily used with microscopes and offers a higher spatial resolution, but is harder to solve numerically. We have shown that we can achieve the same or even better performance than conventional methods by using sophisticated software algorithms.”

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