NIST Requests Comments on Digital Signature Standard

April 23, 2012

As the good folks over at the SANS Internet Storm Center have noted in a diary post, the National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST] is requesting comments for changes it is proposing to make to the Digital Signature Standard, FIPS 186-3 [PDF], and has published a notice in the Federal Register.   The key changes are clarification of implementation instructions for the approved algorithms, and approval of addition pseudo-random number generators for key generation.  You can get the complete summary of proposed changes here [PDF].

Comments can be submitted up until May 25, 2012.   The Federal Register notice page has a comment submission link; comments can also be submitted by E-mail to the address in the notice.

IBM’s Breathing Battery

April 22, 2012

I’ve written here several times before about the importance of better battery technology to the effort to use more energy from renewable sources (such as wind or solar power), and to the development of better electric vehicles.  While autos like the Toyota Prius, which have hybrid gasoline-electric power, have been reasonably successful (helped, of course, by tax and other incentives), the development of all-electric vehicles has been held back by the relatively low power to weight ratio of current batteries.  Gasoline’s big advantage as a vehicle fuel is that it has a high energy density, the amount of power that can be generated per kilogram of fuel.

Back in 2009, IBM launched a research project, called Battery 500, aimed at developing new battery technology that would allow an electric vehicle to travel 500 miles on a single charge.   The project cites consumer surveys that indicate that “range anxiety”, the fear of being stranded without power, is a significant obstacle to consumer acceptance of all-electric vehicles.

Electric cars today typically can travel only about 100 miles on current battery technology, called lithium-ion (LIB). LIB technology stands little chance of being light enough to travel 500 miles on a single charge and cheap enough to be practical for a typical family car.

Now, according to an article at Wired, IBM has demonstrated a prototype lithium-air battery that the company believes has the potential to power a car for 500 miles.   (The ExtremeTech site also has an article on this development.)  The idea of a lithium air battery is not new; one of its key attractions is that, because one of the reactants, air, is taken in from the outside rather than having to be built into the battery, weight and size are reduced.  In the approach developed by IBM, oxygen from the air is taken into tiny openings in the battery cell, about 1 angstrom (10-10 meter) across.  The oxygen then reacts with lithium ions on the battery cathode, producing lithium peroxide and electrons, and thus electric current.  Charging the battery reverses the chemical reaction, releasing oxygen back into the air.  Theoretically, this technology should be able to achieve an energy density of about 12 kWh/kg, roughly 15 times that of lithium-ion batteries.

There is considerable work still to be done to turn this development into a practical product; some of that will probably decrease the energy density somewhat.  Nonetheless, this is a significant step forward, because it has the potential of achieving an energy density at least roughly comparable to gasoline.

Code-Breaking Papers by Turing Released

April 19, 2012

The BBC News site is reporting that the UK Government Communication Headquarters [GCHQ] has released two papers by Alan Turing on the mathematical theory of cryptanalysis (code breaking).  (GCHQ is roughly analogous to the US National Security Agency.)    The papers had been classified since Turing wrote them, approximately 70 years ago, apparently while he was working at Bletchley Park.

The papers, one entitled The Applications of Probability to Crypt, and the other entitled Paper on the Statistics of Repetitions, discuss mathematical approaches to code breaking.

A GCHQ mathematician said the fact that the contents had been restricted “shows what a tremendous importance it has in the foundations of our subject”

According to the BBC report, the papers have been given to the UK National Archives, although the news does not seem to have made it onto the Archives’ site yet.

(There is one small aspect of the BBC’s article that I found amusing.  It has an image of a small section of a page from one of the papers, with the notation, “The papers are typed but contain hand written notes, tables and formulae.”    Well, yes.  That is the way we produced technical papers back in the days of stone tools.)

The release of these papers is timely, too, in this year which marks the centenary of Turing’s birth.  It is good to see that his many contributions in mathematics and computer science are being recognized.

Raspberry Pi Delivered

April 16, 2012

Back in late February, I wrote about the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s bare-bones, low cost (ca. $35) single-board Linux computer.    The idea behind the Raspberry Pi is to provide a cheap computer that can be used in quantity, particularly in educational settings.

The first offering, the Model B board,  mounts a 700 Mhz ARM CPU, a GPU, 256 MB of memory, audio, HDMI, and RCA video outputs. an Ethernet connection, and two USB ports; there is also a slot for an SD memory card.   The initial stock of Model B units sold out within a few hours of the launch in February; delivery has been somewhat delayed by initial manufacturing glitches, and the need to get a “CE” certification that the unit meets European regulatory standards.

According to an article at Ars Technica, the certification has now been completed, and the first Model Bs have been delivered to distributors for shipment to end users.

The Raspberry Pi foundation has started shipping units of the much-anticipated $35 Linux computer. The organization has already started handing out the first units and conducting educational seminars with students.

The Foundation says that routine manufacturing has been started, so that any backlogs should be cleared soon, and that the reaction so far from students has been very positive.

Oxford, Vatican Libraries Launch Joint Digitization Project

April 15, 2012

Another step forward in providing open access to the world’s intellectual heritage has just been announced.  According to an article at the Phys.Org site [formerly], the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford, and the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana at the Vatican have announced a joint project to  digitize some of their books, manuscripts, and other holdings for open access.

Among the items to be digitized will be ancient Greek manuscripts, 15th century printed books, Hebrew manuscripts and astronomical writings.

The project, estimated to take about four years and to cost about £2 million (about $3.2 million), is being funded by a grant from the Polonsky Foundation, the same organization that backed the recently launched Einstein Archive, and the digitization of Sir Isaac Newton’s manuscripts at the University of Cambridge.  The libraries estimate that the new  project will result in about 1.5 million pages being newly available online.

This work will undoubtedly be a great convenience to scholars, who will be able to consult these documents without making a journey to Oxford or the Vatican; perhaps more important, it will make access to the material available to many who would otherwise have no realistic chance of ever seeing it.

World Bank Research to be Open Access

April 14, 2012

I’ve written here before about the encouraging trend to make more scholarly research available online at no charge, including efforts by JStor, The Royal Society, and the National Academies Press.  Now, according to an article at Ars Technica, the World Bank has decided to make its research and knowledge products, as well as the data underlying them,  available free of  charge under a new Open Access Policy.

…  the Bank says it will apply to “manuscripts and all accompanying data sets… that result from research, analysis, economic and sector work, or development practice… that have undergone peer review or have been otherwise vetted and approved for release to the public.

Most of the material will be made available under a liberal Creative Commons license [CC-BY].  The Bank has set up a new Web site, the Open Knowledge Repository, to make its work available for browsing and download.  (At the time I am writing this, there appears to be a problem with the site’s SSL certificate for secure [https:] access; you may get a security warning from your browser.)  There are currently more than 2,100 papers and books available in the Repository, and more will be added over the coming months.  Data sets will be available, too, and will probably be of considerable value to researchers, given the World Bank’s special insight into the process of economic development.

“Making our knowledge widely and readily available will empower others to come up with solutions to the world’s toughest problems,” World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said in the Bank’s announcement.

It is great to see another significant institution move toward making information more widely and easily available.

Google Releases Chrome 18·0·1025·162

April 12, 2012

Google has released a new version, 18·0·1025·162, of its Chrome browser for all platforms (Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, and Chrome Frame).  This version is mainly a bug-fix release; more details are in the release announcement.  (If you want all the gory technical details, the announcement has a link to the SVN revision log.

Windows and Mac users should get the new version via the built-in update mechanism.  Linux users should get the updated package from their distributions’ repositories, using their standard package maintenance tools.  You can verify that your system has been updated by clicking on the tools menu (the little wrench), and then on “About Google Chrome”.

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