Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

ACM TechNews (HTML) Read the TechNews Online at: http://technews.acm.org

ACM TechNews
June 16, 2008

Learn about ACM's more than 3,000 online courses and 1,100 online books
MemberNet
CareerNews
Unsubscribe

Welcome to the June 16, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Spotlight on Frances E. Allen
ACM-W Newsletter (06/08) Vol. 1, No. 1, P. 1; Bair, Bettina

IBM Research's Frances E. Allen was honored as the first female recipient of the A.M. Turing Award, in 2006, for contributions that led to fundamental improvements in the performance of problem-solving computer programs and the acceleration of high performance computing utilization. In an interview in the inaugural issue of the ACM-W CIS newsletter, Allen says in an interview that she has observed a significant decline in the percentage of women entering the field of computer science in the United States, which she describes as "nothing short of a national disaster." In order to draw more women into the field, computer science must change on a fundamental level, she argues. On a more positive note, Allen believes that technologies to support wikis and online communities will soon be employed to address important world challenges. She predicts that high performance computing coupled with computational models for all kinds of environmental systems will deliver more accurate and integrated information for communities to use in making decisions that impact the health and welfare of their people as well as the Earth. To change the world for the better, Allen advises computer scientists to provide systems with natural user interfaces, universal access, nearly zero cost, and bullet-proof reliability. Among the advice she recommends young women considering a computing career should follow is to concentrate on work rather than career, cultivate professional networks, acquire multiple mentors and function as a mentor, engage in teamwork, and enjoy themselves.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Flight of Dragonfly Robots
Technology Review (06/11/08) Grifantini, Kristina

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College in England and the University of Ulm in Germany have developed a robotic dragonfly to measure the current flows that go over and under the wings at different flap cycles. The U.S. military wants to build tiny flying robots equipped with cameras and sensors for surveillance. Such robots will need to be able to navigate around obstacles, carry weight and be able to fly for long periods of time. While most of the hovering dragonfly scenarios studied by the researchers were not very efficient, the team discovered that if the lower wings are beating slightly ahead of the upper wings, the double-wing effect is more efficient at generating lift. Despite the potential advantages, small flying robots that mimic dragonflies have not been successfully made, partially because of the complexity surrounding the aerodynamics of the dragonfly's four wings, and because of fabrications issues involved with small flying machines. However, studying wing motion and air forces reveals how dragonflies achieve their agility, and may allow roboticists to eventually build robots that use four wings. University of Ulm researcher Fritz-Olaf Lehmann says a four-wing system versus a two-wing system for a biomimetic micro air vehicle is a tradeoff because four wings require an extra control system and extra power, but a two-wing system needs to incorporate ways to change the angle, amplitude, and frequency of the wings flapping.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Microchip Sets Low-Power Record With Extreme Sleep Mode
University of Michigan News Service (06/13/08) Moore, Nicole Casal; Lessnau, Laura

The new Phoenix Processor, developed at the University of Michigan, uses 30,000 times less power in sleep mode and 10 times less power in active mode than comparable chips currently available on the market. The new low-power microchip, which sets a low-power record, is intended for use in cutting-edge sensor-based devices such as medical implants, environment monitors, or surveillance equipment. In sleep mode, the chip consumes only 30 picowatts (a picowatt is one-trillionth of a watt). To achieve such low power consumption, the researchers focused on sleep mode, where sensors can spend more than 99 percent of their lives. University of Michigan Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professor Dennis Sylvester says sleep mode dominates in sensors, so the researchers designed the device with an efficient sleep mode as the top priority, which had never been done before. The processor measures about one square millimeter, which is the same size as many modern sensors and electronics, but the processor is also the same size as its thin-film battery, a significant achievement. University of Michigan Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science professor David Blaauw says the Phoenix Processor system is projected to be 1,000 times smaller than the smallest known sensing system, and it could lead to a variety of new sensor applications. A group of University of Michigan researchers are putting the Phoenix in a biomedical sensor designed to monitor eye pressure in glaucoma patients, and engineers envision using the chip in nearly invisible sensor networks that could be sprinkled around to monitor air or water or to detect movement. Such tiny sensors could also be mixed into concrete to monitor the structural integrity of new buildings and bridges.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Roadrunner Supercomputer Puts Research at a New Scale
Los Alamos National Laboratory News (06/12/08) Rickman, James E.

Less than a week after Los Alamos National Laboratory's world-record setting petaflop Roadrunner supercomputer went online, Los Alamos researchers have started using the computer to mimic extremely complex neurological processes. Soon after the supercomputer became operational, Los Alamos and IBM researchers started verifying Roadrunner's performance using three different computational codes to test the machine. One of those codes, called PetaVision, models the human visual system, mimicking more than 1 billion visual neurons and trillions of synapses. The quadrillion synapses in the human brain automatically make human cognition a petaflop computational problem. Los Alamos researchers recently used PetaVision to model more than 1 billion visual neurons, surpassing 1 quadrillion computations a second, and the next day scientists used PetaVision to reach a new computing performance record of 1.144 petaflops per second. The ability to achieve human levels of cognitive performance on a computer could lead to new insights and revolutionary technological applications, such as "smart" cameras that recognize danger or an autopilot system for automobiles that could take over for drivers in complex situations such as dense urban traffic. "Roadrunner ushers in a new era for science at Los Alamos National Laboratory," says Los Alamos' Terry Wallace. "Just a week after formal introduction of the machine to the world, we are already doing computational tasks that existed only in the realm of imagination a year ago."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


'Chatter Box' Computer Will Unravel the Science of Language
University of Manchester (06/12/08)

University of Manchester computer scientists are developing Chatter Box, a speech and language model that will enable experts in the psychology department to learn more about the function of the brain. The five-year project will use the Brain Box supercomputer to build a model of human language capable of understanding basic words in English. "The Brain Box computer is being built using simple microprocessors that are designed to interact like the networks of neurons in the brain allowing it to replicate sophisticated functions such as speech," says professor Steve Furber. The Brain Box is an initiative to build a new type of computer that uses biological principles to perform high-level functions like the brain does. "We will then use the model to predict the results of different speech therapy strategies and will test these predictions in a population of stroke patients who have linguistic problems," says professor Stephen Welbourne.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Embedded Developers Keep Watch on Kernel Bloat
LinuxWorld (06/11/08) Edge, Jake

As "embedded maintainers" for the Linux kernel, David Woodhouse and Paul Gortmaker help coordinate the embedded Linux community, and Woodhouse says their role is "a bit more fluid" than the normal maintainer role where they assume control of a certain portion of code. He says maintainers must work with the various embedded Linux users and help them to work better with the community, as well as review general changes in the kernel while keeping their impact on embedded systems in mind. Gortmaker says he hopes that the maintainers can patch the entry-level gap between long-time Linux developers and people who do not necessarily keep tabs on kernel development but have elected to develop on Linux with a particular embedded use case in mind. He also stresses the need to improve the connection between people writing feature changes and some of the users of those features who would probably be affected, but otherwise would not be heard from, and to examine externally maintained features embedded users are interested in, and try to identify and remove obstructions to upstream merging of features. Woodhouse says the most pressing problem that embedded developers face when attempting to use Linux is the fact "that people are too focused on getting their stuff out the door as quickly as possible without much thought to working with upstream." Gortmaker acknowledges that Linux may not be the proper solution for all hardware and use cases, but the maintainers should work to ensure that Linux is the right tool in as many possible instances. Woodhouse sees the replacement of JFFS2 and the overhaul of the MTD API as priorities.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Saving Lives, and Saving Energy: IT Projects That Produce Real Benefits
Computerworld (06/09/08) Vol. 42, No. 24, P. 14; Thibodeau, Patrick

The rapid growth of the tech industry in India has improved people's lives in ways that residents of Western countries take for granted. For example, three Indian states, with a combined population of about 130 million, established an automated emergency call center developed by the Emergency Management Research Institute (EMRI) to provide 911-like emergency response. EMRI sends out help as soon as someone dials 108, which puts callers in touch with a 24/7 dispatch center that can automatically notify police, fire, and medical responders, log calls for audio replay, and send out EMRI-operated ambulances equipped with technology such as GPS locators and videoconferencing links to allow doctors to view real-time patient data. Verghere Jacob, chief integrator and lead partner at Byrraju Foundation, which funds EMRI, says the project has already saved 20,000 lives. EMRI says the emergency response system is now being deployed nationwide, with completion planned for 2010. EMRI received top recognition in the Health Care category at the 2008 Computerworld Honors Program ceremony, and the Byrraju Foundation won a 21st Century Achievement Award in the Nonprofit Organizations category for a telemedicine program it developed on top of a wireless broadband network to provide health care services to rural residents. The Virginia Credit Union was awarded for reducing its annual data center power bill by an estimated $100,000 after consolidating a rack-mount system into server blades in a virtualized environment, eliminating 200 servers. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo won an award for its use of a wireless mesh network and videoconferencing technology to provide real-time distance learning to schools, among other winners.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Next Phase of Moore's Law
Forbes (06/09/08) Sperling, Ed

IBM Fellow Bernard Meyerson says Moore's Law will hit its limits when the 15-nanometer threshold is reached on widths between the wires on a chip. Meyerson speculates that chip performance could be improved by re-architecting the stack, such as by positioning a plane of super high-density memory above a plane of logic, or placing multiple cores on a single level and then reconfiguring the wiring between that chip and the one above it. "You get added density, lower cost because the yields go up dramatically," he says. "You use extraordinarily less power because driving a signal on and off a chip can use 50 percent or more of the chip's power." In terms of software development, Meyerson says the amount of available memory can be dramatically enhanced. Such advances support optical communications, which makes integrated optics essential. Meyerson says light supports multiple wavelengths and the low-power transmission of huge amounts of data, which boosts the efficiency of large data centers.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Linked Data Leaders: The Semantic Web Is Here
InternetNews.com (06/09/08) Muse, Dan

In an interview, OpenLink Software CEO Kingsley Idehen and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute professor James Hendler, who are prominent figures in the Linked Data movement, talk about standards and adoption and how this plays into the overarching vision of Linked Data and the Semantic Web. Idehen thinks the standards bodies are keeping pace with companies and developers, while both he and Hendler agree that the standards bodies are adequately responsive to real-world needs. Idehen characterizes Linked Data as the most relevant and demonstrable element of the Semantic Web vision in terms of value, describing it as the "foundation layer" or "ground zero." "Linked Data addresses the problem of open data connectivity for both the enterprise and the broader Web, by peeling back the data confinement of a Web site, Web page, database, or database table," he says. "It sets the records free by bringing the entities that records represent to life." Hendler notes that Google is currently not engaged in any public discussion of work with the Semantic Web, while the smaller companies dabbling in areas such as Semantic search demonstrate real potential. He adds that some of the bigger companies competing with Google are investigating the Semantic Web as well.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Computer Science Departments Must Reinvent Themselves to Avoid a Business School Takeover
ComputerWeekly.com (06/09/2008) Tuson, Andrew

Computer science departments must adjust to provide the skills graduates need to enter the job market work-ready, or else risk losing students to business schools, writes Andrew Tuson, head of the department of computing at City University London. Tuson says that although large IT employers can recruit technically able graduates and develop their skills, smaller employers do not have the resources to train graduates and they need new employees to be able to work on the first day. Meanwhile, he says the IT industry has shifted away from simply providing technical services to offering business services as well, requiring employees and graduates who posses both business and technological skills. Most university computer science departments have not adapted to these changes and are still primarily theoretical and technological in nature. The transformed IT industry gives business schools the opportunity to take over university computer science departments because of an increased demand for degrees that directly relate to business-facing IT roles and an incentive among business schools to enter the IT-business field. Tuson says that computer science departments need to engage industry professionals and discuss what skills graduates should have to be immediately employable. The industry can also help by providing mentoring and role models to students, which would also increase the availability of industry placements.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Open Sesame
Economist Technology Quarterly (06/08) Vol. 387, No. 8583, P. 31

"Open-source hardware" refers to the practice of making public the specifications of electronic devices so that enthusiasts can suggest refinements, write and share software enhancements, and even construct their own devices, and companies say this strategy can help them get to market quickly with products that fulfill customers' expectations without the need for market research. OpenMoko founder and CEO Sean Moss-Pultz says that his company's policy of open-sourcing its hardware supports scenarios in which "we get a question that has stumped our developers for days and we push it public and get a suggestion within five minutes." Going open-source also has the potential to boost customer loyalty. The advent of the Internet and the success of open-source software are responsible for the renewed enthusiasm for open-source hardware, but some companies have limits on how much they are willing to disclose about their products' specifications. MIT Sloan School of Management professor Eric von Hippel says understanding open-hardware business models is difficult because they invert traditional product development models, while the considerable effort that providing open-source hardware entails is another challenge--one that can be complicated if component suppliers are not interested in going open-source. Moss-Pultz adds that companies can be swamped by a flood of suggestions from the open-source community, while another concern is that firms may endanger sales of existing products by sharing plans for future products online. Systems administrator Lance Lavery observes that open devices "tend to be geared more toward technology-oriented people, with products you might not see at Best Buy." But von Hippel insists that open hardware will broaden the range of choices mainstream consumers have.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Move Over, AJAX, ARAX Is Here
eWeek (06/05/08) Taft, Darryl K.

Microsoft is promoting an alternative to AJAX known as Asynchronous Ruby and XML (ARAX). At the RailsConf conference for Ruby on Rails developers, Job Lam, creator of the IronRuby project at Microsoft, said that as Microsoft's Silverlight rich Internet application environment is adopted, it will provide Ruby developers with a way to deliver AJAX-style applications without having to use JavaScript. Lam says using ARAX will allow Ruby developers to not have to use tools such as the Ruby JavaScript (RJS) utility for generating JavaScript code for the client. Lam demonstrated that IronRuby would allow Microsoft to dispatch simple Rail requests. "We showed some dynamic stuff happening--we demonstrated we could dispatch to a controller, which will render using a view," Lam says. "And then we showed we could use ActiveRecord to round-trip from SQL Server and return like a single row." Other functions are also on the way. "I don't think we can update or delete or any of that stuff yet," Lam says. "But that's coming."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Researchers Say Notification Laws Not Lowering ID Theft
IDG News Service (06/05/08) McMillan, Robert

The adoption of data breach notification laws by all but seven U.S. states has done little to stem the tide of identity theft, according to a state-by-state analysis by Carnegie Mellon University researchers of data provided by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The analysis, which covered ID theft complaints submitted to the FTC between 2002 and 2006, looked for a change in the rate of reported ID thefts before and after data breach ordinances were enacted. Though Carnegie Mellon Ph.D student Sasha Romanosky says the laws had no statistically significant effect on ID theft rates, other factors, such as state populations, gross domestic product, and fraud rate, did have a noticeable impact. Breach notification letters are often disregarded by consumers, and Romanosky thinks security firms' data protection efforts are still insufficient. "In so many of these cases, the breaches occur because of ridiculous security practices," he says. Gartner analyst Avivah Litan says the incompleteness of the reports to the FTC makes drawing definite conclusions from the data difficult, but she notes that many companies have responded to tighter laws and regulations by devoting more attention to compliance than security, which is frequently inadequate for shielding customers from ID theft. In a paper to be presented at Dartmouth College's Information Security Economics conference, the Carnegie Mellon researchers recommend the adoption by the federal government of a unified breach law designed to "reduce conflict between states laws and lower the barrier for compliance."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Using Brainwaves to Chat and Stroll Through Second Life: World's First
Keio University (Japan) (06/05/08)

For the first time ever, researchers have demonstrated the ability to use brainwaves to chat and move through a virtual world. Researchers at Keio University in Japan enabled a 41 year old man with a muscle disorder to walk through Second Life, a 3D virtual world. The subject was able to make his avatar walk toward the avatar of a Keio University student, logged on from 16 km away, and have a conversation with the student using the "voice chat" function. The demonstration creates new communication possibilities for motion-impaired people in serious conditions. The experiment illustrates the successful union of leading-edge technologies in brain science and the Internet, and is the world's first successful example of people meeting and holding a conversation in the virtual world using brainwaves. The system uses electrodes as small as 1 cm in diameter that are attached to the scalp. A computer reads brainwaves from the sensory-motor cortex when the subject moves his or her right- and left-hand fingers slightly and moves the avatar accordingly; the computer also senses when the subject wants the avatar to move forward. The system uses a commercially available portable electroencephalograph, allowing the researchers to set up the demonstration in the subject's home. As the detection of brainwaves becomes more accurate, control over virtual avatars will become smoother and easier. The technology used in the demonstration will be used to develop communication tools and business tools to support people with serious movement disabilities.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: technews@hq.acm.org

To be removed from future issues of TechNews, please submit your email address where you are receiving Technews alerts, at:
http://optout.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

To re-subscribe in the future, enter your email address at:
http://signup.acm.org/listserv_index.cfm?ln=technews

As an alternative, log in at myacm.acm.org with your ACM Web Account username and password, and follow the "Listservs" link to unsubscribe or to change the email where we should send future issues.

to the top

News Abstracts © 2008 Information, Inc.


© 2008 ACM, Inc. All rights reserved. ACM Privacy Policy.

About ACM | Contact us | Boards & Committees | Press Room | Membership | Privacy Policy | Code of Ethics | System Availability | Copyright © 2014, ACM, Inc.