Out of Scope November 2009By Tim Moran Print
Digital ants and other tales from the world of technology.
A (Digital) Bug’s Life
Cyber-security threats are no picnic, for sure, but if researchers are successful, ants will come to the rescue in protecting computer networks from intruders. “Digital ants,” that is.
According to a recent story from Help Net Security (HNS) (www.net-security.org/secworld.php?id=8195), security experts are deploying a new defense modeled after one of nature’s hardiest creatures—the ant. HNS explains that “unlike traditional security devices, which are static, these ‘digital ants’ wander through computer networks looking for threats, such as computer worms. ... When a digital ant detects a threat, it doesn’t take long for an army of ants to converge at that location, drawing the attention of human operators who step in to investigate.”
Wake Forest Professor of Computer Science Errin Fulp, an expert in security and computer networks, believes this concept of “swarm intelligence” can transform the nature of cyber-security because it can quickly adapt to ever-changing threats. Glenn Fink, a research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., came up with the idea of copying ant behavior. PNNL, one of 10 Department of Energy laboratories, conducts cutting-edge research in cyber-security, and Fink teamed up with Fulp to join a project at PNNL that tested digital ants on a network of 64 computers. In that study, Fulp introduced a worm into the network, and the digital ants successfully found it.
According to Fulp, the digital-ants concept will work best in large networks with many similar machines. But can the ants get out of control and cause unwanted damage? No worry, say the researchers. “Software sentinels” located at each machine report to network “sergeants” that are monitored by humans, who supervise the colony and maintain ultimate control.
Just don’t go getting potato chip crumbs all over the keyboard. You never know.
Do you know your BMI—body mass index? George Fernandez, a professor of applied statistics and director of the Center for Research Design and Analysis at the University of Nevada, Reno, is pretty sure you don’t—or, at least, that you don’t know how to figure it out. That’s why, according to an article on the university’s Nevada News site (www.unr.edu/nevadanews/templates/details.aspx?articleid=5168&zoneid=8), he decided the world needed an alternative to “weight in pounds is multiplied by 703 and then divided by height in inches squared.”
Fernandez fired up some SAS software and devised a simpler way of calculating a “maximum weight limit.” There’s a baseline height and weight: 5 feet, 9 inches and 175 pounds for men, 5 feet and 125 pounds for women. The article explains that, “from that starting point, you calculate how much taller or shorter you are, in inches. If you’re a man, you add or subtract 5 pounds for every inch you are taller or shorter than 5 feet, 9 inches.” Women add or subtract 4.5 pounds for each inch over or under 5 feet.
Watered Down Data
Can the island nation of Mauritius become an international data center hub? (A question that’s surely been on all of our minds.) Economic development officials in this island chain in the western Indian Ocean believe that it can, by connecting Africa, Asia and the Middle East, according to an article on DatacenterKnowledge.com (www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2009/09/21/mauritius-pitches-sea-cooled-data-centers/).
“A key part of that pitch is the ocean itself and its potential to help data center operators slash their cooling costs,” writes Datacenter Knowledge. It seems that the country has plans to develop something called “sea water air conditioning” (SWAC) to tap into deep, cold water currents that come within two miles of the island. This cold water will then be piped back to a data center complex, where it will be used as the main cooling system, obviating the need for more “power-hungry chillers.”
According to the article, the SWAC concept is not unique to Mauritius—Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., uses water from Lake Cayuga for data center cooling—so it’s a mature technology, says Steve Wallage of the Broad Group, a U.K. consultancy focused on the data center sector. “You tend to have a high up-front cost in the pipe work,” he says, “but the long-term saving is in the 75 percent to 90 percent range on the cooling build.”
We wish Mauritius the best, for, as we know, still, cold waters run cheap.
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