Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Energy Boost from Spacesuits
  2. Hologram (In)Security
  3. Who's Behaving Badly?
  4. Wearable Robots
  5. Top Hits in IT Job Migration
  6. Texting Fails Road Tests
  7. Author

All space missions wrestle with producing enough power to complete their projects while restricting the weight of generators, batteries, and solar arrays onboard. Now, new research conducted by IntAct Labs, Cambridge, MA, is exploring the futuristic concept of covering spacesuits in motion-sensitive proteins that could generate power from astronauts’ movements, reports New Scientist. Biological organisms are ultra-efficient power generators, explain the researchers, who are focusing on a protein called prestin found in the outer hair cells of the human ear. Prestin, known for converting electrical voltage into motion, can also work in reverse, thus, producing an electrical charge in response to mechanical stress. While each protein is capable of making only nanowatts of electricity, IntAct researchers believe many proteins used together may be able to power small devices or charge a battery. The team first aims to prove the concept by using prestin to create a small vibration sensor capable of generating a detectable charge. Ultimately, however, the goal is to design "power skins" that would coat spacesuits or possibly space stations.

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Hologram (In)Security

The security hologram, once touted as the answer to authenticating everything from driver’s licenses to credit cards and software purchases, is now easier to duplicate than ever before. Wired News reports the number of counterfeit holograms affixed to equally counterfeit merchandise has tripled in the last three years as the technology for crafting a convincing fake has spread. However, experts say that law enforcement has not shown much interest in going after the counterfeiters. The U.S. Secret Service recognizes counterfeit holograms more regularly but usually finds it can do little to prosecute because a significant portion of the forgeries come from overseas, mainly China, Korea, India, and Russia. While the process for advanced holograms amounts to damaging the surface of a polymer film and adding elements like numbers and microprinting to the film, the end result is still a surface that can be copied. Says holography pioneer Jeff Allen: "People put a lot of comfort and faith in [holograms], but it’s really the emperor’s new clothes. They are dual purpose, for display and for security, and people forget the display end of it."

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Who’s Behaving Badly?

A new study confirms workers who sabotage corporate systems are almost always IT workers who exhibit negative office behavior before any damaging acts occur, reports Researchers from the U.S. military teamed up with Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) program to analyze insider cybercrimes across a variety of critical industry sectors. The research suggests that potential troublemakers should be easy to recognize as almost all the cases investigated were carried out by disgruntled IT employees who tend to show up late, pick arguments with colleagues, and perform poorly. The study showed 86% of those who committed cybercrimes held technical positions, and 90% had system administrator or privileged system access. Some 41% of the IT saboteurs were employed at the time they did it, but most crimes were committed by insiders following termination. Most of the crimes involved VPNs and old passwords that were never terminated. CERT has developed a methodology that can help detect insider threats as early as possible;

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Wearable Robots

Japan, long recognized as a pioneer in automation, is now funding some of the most ambitious research in bionic technology to boost factory-worker productivity, reports BusinessWeek. Wearable robotics, including new high-tech prosthetic devices using sensors and built-in microprocessors that imitate some foot and hand action, is beginning to show interesting potential industrial applications. Toyota has reportedly formed a development team to design bionic suits for its own assembly plants for workers who now use dangling mechanical arms to lift heavy modules for installation. Indeed, robo-suits might create new opportunities for women in physically taxing jobs or allow older workers to delay retirement longer. Industry observers say survival is one reason for Japan’s aggressive spending on factory technology; the nation’s car and high-tech manufacturers are trying to keep low-cost rivals in Asia at bay. "Anytime the physical stress placed on a worker can be reduced, it yields incredible dividends both for the worker and the corporation," said automation analyst Stefan Surpitski.

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Top Hits in IT Job Migration

One of every five programming, software engineering, and data-entry jobs in Silicon Valley will be lost to offshoring over the next decade, according to a report released by the Brookings Institution ( While previous studies examined the pros and cons of moving work across U.S. borders, the types of jobs, and the areas most vulnerable, the Brookings study forecasts how many jobs could disappear from specific metropolitan areas, reports the San Jose Mercury News. "The offshore phenomenon is not a peanut butter sandwich spread evenly across the country," said Robert Atkinson, a co-author of the report. "Federal, state, and regional policy hasn’t caught up to that fact, and we need to take that seriously." The study combined U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data with Forrester Research offshoring forecasts and other information to estimate the percentage of jobs likely to disappear in each of 246 U.S. metropolitan areas between 2004 and 2015. The potential impact of offshoring hit the valley hardest: The San Jose area is expected to lose 24% to 26% of the programming, software engineering, and data-entry jobs that existed in 2004. Moreover, the area is forecast to lose 26,000 to 36,658 jobs to offshoring, or 3.1% to 4.3% of the 852,510 jobs existing three years ago. The other top vulnerable metro areas are San Francisco, Boulder, CO; Lowell, MA, and Stamford, CT.

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Texting Fails Road Tests

Many state legislators (and cell phone companies) have been neutral toward laws requiring drivers to use hands-free equipment based primarily on the argument that the technology has not been around long enough to fully determine its role in car accidents. To date, only three U.S. states (NY, NJ, and CA) and the city of Washington, D.C. have passed laws requiring drivers to use hands-free devices. But new bills making text messaging while driving illegal have been fueled with support from all sides. In Seattle, new bills targeting text messaging and young drivers have emerged after recent studies indicate teens routinely send text messages while driving, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. According to the Allstate Foundation, 13% of teens admit to text messaging while driving. And recent research from Australia has found that typical non-texting teens take their eyes off the road 10% of the time—to check road signs, change the radio, or just look around—but when teens are texting while driving that lack of road focus jumps to 40%. A spokesperson for the National Safety Council notes not only is that a huge increase in the amount a time a driver’s eyes are off the road, but a 140% increase in lane violations, where drivers weave across lanes because they are not paying attention.

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