Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Weather Cells
  2. Urban (Ground) Legends
  3. Corralling Bot Rustlers
  4. Who Do You Trust?
  5. China's "Pedia" Product
  6. The Peak of Devotion
  7. Author

With all the tools and technologies available to predict the weather, nothing apparently beats the accuracy of a cell phone tower. BBC News reports a team of scientists from Tel Aviv University has been following the signals from mobile phone masts to measure rainfall patterns in Israel—a technique it claims is more accurate than current methods used by meteorological services. The team’s method exploits the fact that the strength of electromagnetic signals is weakened by certain types of weather, particularly rain. Analyzing data regarding the amount of reduction in signal strength caused by impending weather gives researchers an indication of how much rain will fall. When the team compared its estimates with measurements from traditional monitoring methods, such as radar and rain gauges, it discovered the readings closely matched but similar readings from cell phone towers proved more accurate. Scientists say their findings help give residents forewarning about heavy rainfall and possible floods. They also believe their method can be used to measure snowfall, hail, and fog.

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Urban (Ground) Legends

The third DARPA Grand Challenge competition is slated for Nov. 3, 2007. The meet—tagged the DARPA Urban Challenge—will feature autonomous ground vehicles executing simulated military supply missions in a mock urban setting. The challenge specifically focuses on the ability to operate in traffic, as U.S. military plans call for using autonomous ground vehicles to conduct missions. Awards will be presented to the top three autonomous ground vehicles that compete in a final event in which they must safely complete a 60-mile urban area course in under six hours. "After the success of Grand Challenge 2005 (where autonomous vehicles traveled significant distances to reach their destination), we believe the robotics community is ready to tackle vehicle operation inside city limits," said DARPA director Tony Tether. First prize is $2 million, second is $500,000, and third is $250,000. To succeed, vehicles must autonomously obey traffic laws while merging into moving traffic, navigating traffic circles, negotiating busy intersections, and avoiding obstacles. For more information, see

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Corralling Bot Rustlers

Cybercrime supported by networks of hijacked PCs, or bots, is soaring, and the culprits are most often teenage boys. USA Today reports that some 47 million PCs in the U.S. have been surreptitiously penetrated by attackers bent on malicious destruction, making quick cash by spreading adware, or controlling the network. While teenagers—or "script kiddies" who feel cyberspace is fair game for manipulation—are often the ones caught and prosecuted, a growing legion of more elite bot herders is partnering with organized crime groups to supply computer power for data theft and other forms of cyberfraud. They are a particularly worrisome breed to security experts as they take great pains to cover their tracks and are rarely caught. A survey conducted last February of 123 tech executives pegged annual losses to U.S. businesses due to computer-related crimes at $197 billion.

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Who Do You Trust?

A poll that highlights the impact of Internet news on a global scale found more people today trust the media than trust their own governments. More than 10,000 people in 10 countries were polled for the BBC, Reuters, and the American Press Institute’s Media Center on the issues of trust and the media, and 61% said they trusted media coverage more than their own government’s explanations. The study also indicated strong demand for news and an increasing awareness and use of Internet news sources. Trust in journalists was highest in Nigeria (88%, with 34% trusting the government), Indonesia (86% vs. 71%), India (82% vs. 66%) and Egypt (74%; government question not asked). Governments scored higher than the media in only three countries: the U.S., where 67% said they trusted their government compared with 59% trusting the media; the U.K., where 51% trusted their government (media 47%), and Germany where 48% trusted their government (media 43%). In the three other countries surveyed—Russia, South Korea, and Brazil—only 30% said they trusted their governments version of events. Moreover, some 77% of those surveyed prefer to check several news sources rather than rely on just one.

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China’s "Pedia" Product

China’s biggest search engine—Baidu—has introduced an online encyclopedia modeled somewhat like Wikipedia. But where Wikipedia is designed to allow anyone to create or modify entries, Baidupedia is censored by the company to comply with the Chinese government’s rules of restriction. New Scientist reports that entries to the online encyclopedia must first pass a filtering system before being added to the site. "I certainly hope our encyclopedia will be the most authoritative one for any Chinese users," said Baidu CEO Robin Li. Indeed, a Chinese-language site of Wikipedia was hugely popular in China until the government blocked access to it late last year.

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The Peak of Devotion

In an effort to advance the benefits of ACM to an unenlightened student population, a daring group of "alpinists" from the Moscow Institute of Electronic Technology—home of the sole ACM student chapter in Russia—went to great heights to promote the association. The group scaled Mount Elbrus, struggling through biting frost, hunger, severe winds, and oxygen shortage, to boldly place the ACM banner on the highest point on Europe’s Western summit (5,642 meters). "The wind was so strong I thought I’d be lifted up and find myself overseas in a couple of hours shaking the ACM President’s hand!" mused Renat Khamidulin, chair of the Institute’s student chapter. Indeed, he found the climb much more daunting than the project he faced a week earlier—his dissertation solving complex NP problems. Still, he found Mount Elbrus a worthwhile challenge not only to draw student attention but to encourage interest in science and technology, stir up the IT community, and present the human side of engineering. A collection of images from the trip is available at

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