Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

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

ACM TechNews
July 28, 2008

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

Welcome to the July 28, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


HEADLINES AT A GLANCE:

 

Former Google Engineers Launch Search Engine
Wall Street Journal (07/28/08) P. B5; Vascellaro, Jessica E.

Cuil is a new search engine started by former engineers from Google and several other tech giants. Cuil's founders say the new search engine covers as many as three times the number of Web pages as Google. Cuil aims to deliver better results than other major search engines by searching through more Web pages and studying pages more accurately. Cuil's results page also is different; it looks more like a magazine than a list of results. "You can't be an alternative search engine and smaller," says Cuil cofounder Anna Patterson, one of the engineers who helped build Google's search index. "You have to be an alternative and bigger." Cuil claims to be able to search across 120 billion Web pages, compared with Google's 40 billion. Patterson says Cuil has developed a faster and better way to index Web pages that relies of fewer machines. Analyst Greg Sterling says the strong skills of Cuil's founders, which includes Patterson's husband Tom Costello, who built search engine technology for IBM and was on the research faculty at Stanford University, and the fact that the company has already built such a large search engine from scratch strengthens Cuil's chances of competing over the long term. However, the company must still find a way to generate enough advertising revenue to fund the hefty infrastructure and technology costs of scaling a search engine.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Numbers Show Girls as Good at Math as Boys
San Francisco Chronicle (07/25/08) P. A1; Tucker, Jill

Standardized test scores required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act enabled University of California and University of Wisconsin researchers to examine a wide swath of math scores for boys and girls in grades 2-11. The researchers reviewed test scores from 7 million students in 10 states and discovered no difference between girls and boys in relation to performance. Their findings were published in the most recent issue of Science. Over the last two decades, educators have made an effort to urge girls to pursue math and more complex science courses; and by 2000, high school girls were enrolling in calculus at the same rate as high school boys. The National Science Foundation funded the research to help eliminate education myths that girls lack mathematical ability.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


CalTech: Intelligent Space Robots Will Explore Universe By 2020
Computerworld (07/24/08) Gaudin, Sharon

Researchers are developing autonomous spacecraft that will be used to analyze data collected at a point of interest and determine what else needs to be investigated, says California Institute of Technology (CalTech) physicist Wolfgang Fink. Such autonomous space probes are expected to be launched and exploring the universe before 2020. Fink says the robotic arm being used onboard the Mars Lander at the Martian north pole is a great start, but the lander relies on daily instruction code created by programmers on earth and sent to the lander, and Fink says robots need to make some of the decisions for themselves. He envisions a time when humans send out intelligent probes to explore the universe and send information back to Earth. The key to making successful autonomous space-searching robots is giving them the ability to recognize something of interest, such as a crater, and investigate it without instruction. Fink says CalTech is working with the University of Arizona to develop software that uses camera images to enable machines to distinguish colors, shapes, textures, and obstacles, which will help robots be able to calculate what is anomalous. The researchers have connected the software to a rover and will soon link the software to the rover's navigation functions.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


New Project to Develop GPS-Like System for Moon
Ohio State University Research News (07/21/08) Gorder, Pam Frost

An Ohio State University researcher currently helping Mars rovers navigate is also leading a new effort to help humans navigate on the moon. NASA has set a target date of 2020 to return to the moon, but astronauts will not be able to use global positioning systems (GPSs) to navigate the lunar landscape, say Ohio State professor Ron Li. Instead, NASA has awarded Li $1.2 million over the next three years to develop a navigation system that will use signals for a series of sensors, including lunar beacons, stereo cameras, and orbital imaging sensors. New technology, including sensors, inertial navigation systems, cameras, computer processors, and image processors will make the next trip to the moon easier for astronauts. Li says that people are used to having certain visual cues to judge distances, such as the size of a building or a car on the horizon, but the moon does not have any of these clues and getting lost, or misjudging a distant object's size and location, would be easy and extremely dangerous. Li says the system will combine images taken from orbit with images from the surface to create maps of lunar terrain. Motion sensors on lunar vehicles and on the astronauts will enable computers to calculate their locations, and signals from lunar beacons, the lunar lander, and base stations will give astronauts a view of their surroundings, similar to drivers using a GPS device on Earth.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Keeping Up With Your Peers, Securely
ICT Results (07/21/08)

European researchers have built a platform that can be used to develop secure, mobile peer-to-peer (P2P) applications for specific industry needs. With secure P2P, users will not have to go through a central communications hub to connect and work together. The European Union-funded PEPERS project developed the platform on mobile devices based on the open-source Symbian operating system for mobile use. "And developing software that responded to all the security constraints was tough, too," says PEPERS project coordinator Vasilios Tountopoulos. "We had the rules in place, but then you need to adapt those rules to a specific situation." The PEPERS researchers addressed the issue by isolating the P2P application from the rest of the host operating system, which improved security, and they also faced certain business constraints. The team used the platform to develop a P2P application that would allow reporters to collaborate on breaking news and another that would allow security guards to coordinate a response to a situation without the use of a central dispatch.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Created From Scratch
MIT News (07/21/08) Chandler, David

MIT's Media Lab has developed Scratch, a free programming language intended to let anyone create and share video games and animated stories. Media Lab professor and Scratch project leader Mitchel Resnick says more than 160,000 Scratch projects have been created and uploaded to the Scratch Web site, which allows anyone to try the projects. Scratch uses a set of modular building blocks that can be dragged into place and linked together like Lego bricks to create simple computer programs. The Scratch Web site has tutorials, forums, and an extensive archive of projects. Scratch has been used to create an ongoing soap-opera program with new episodes every week, online competitions, and sophisticated simulations that reproduce scientific, historical, or cultural settings. One group of users created an animated newscast, called the Scratch News Network, which features the Scratch cat, the cartoon logo for Scratch, to provide information on the Scratch community. Resnick says Scratch is expanding beyond the primary age group and is being used in college-level programming classes as a way of introducing students to basic concepts. For example, Harvard uses Scratch in the first weeks of a programming class for non-computer science majors.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


The Open Source Jobs Boom
InfoWorld (07/24/08) Snyder, Bill

As much as 15 percent of IT positions currently available require open source software skills, concludes a new report. Analysts say the strong growth of open source-related jobs, particularly at a time when overall job growth in IT may be slowing, suggests widespread adoption of open-source technologies in industry. In fact, the slowing economy may be driving open source adoption as a low-cost alternative to commercial software. Another indicator of the growing popularity of open source can be seen on SourceForge, which maintains a database of projects and downloads. The number of projects hosted by the site grew from 12,500 in 2000 to nearly 200,000 by the end of 2007, an annual growth rate of about 55 percent. Annual downloads on SourceForge have also jumped. In 2003, there were slightly less than 200,000 downloads, but by the end of 2007 the annual total had risen to 800 million, and by the end of 2009 the annual total is expected to real 1 billion, says report author Bernard Golden. That estimate may even be understating the actual number of downloads because some products are hosted on mirror sites that do not track cumulative totals.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


High-Stakes Race to Unlock a Wider Web
Washington Post (07/24/08) P. D1; Hart, Kim

Leading technology companies have been working to use unlicensed spectrum between television stations, known as white spaces, to provide high-speed Internet access to mobile devices. Engineers from Motorola and Philips recently set up experimental equipment around the Washington, D.C., area to prove to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the technology could work. The Wireless Innovation Alliance's Jake Ward says that using white spaces will provide a way to distribute broadband across long distances and at much faster speeds than existing cell phone networks or Wi-Fi. However, the idea faces several challenges. Broadcasters use adjacent airwaves to send TV shows to viewers, and they say the technology could interfere with over-the-air signals. Meanwhile, wireless microphone users, such as musicians and church sound system operators, say using white spaces could interfere with their audio signals. White-space broadband supporters say their devices will be able to detect and avoid frequencies being used by broadcasters or wireless microphones, but critics say the devices are not reliable enough. The FCC has been testing prototypes for more than a year to settle the debate, and has met with mixed results. The FCC plans to continue testing white-space devices over the next few months to determine if the prototypes are capable of sensing occupied signals.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Virtual World Is Sign of Future for Scientists, Engineers
Purdue University News (07/16/08)

Purdue University's virtual environment for dynamic atomic force microscopy (VEDA) is a virtual environment that enables scientists and engineers to interpret raw data collected by dynamic atomic force microscopes, which use a tiny vibrating probe to gather information on materials and surfaces at the nanometer scale. The online tools are believed to be the first of their kind for the instruments. "We will see more and more of this sort of thing for many other types of instruments that are being used around the world," says Purdue professor Arvind Raman. "This allows researchers to spend more time doing research and less time and money developing simulations." More than 300 researchers from around the world have used VEDA since it went online about a year ago. The online tools are provided through nanoHub and operated by the Network for Computational Nanotechnology at Purdue. The nanoHub uses TeraGrid, a high-speed, fiber-optic network. The online simulation tools are becoming popular with researchers who otherwise would have to either purchase or create their own complex software to interpret data from the microscopes. "These are the first Web-based simulation tools for atomic force microscopy available online," Raman says. "There are a dozen or so research groups around the world with the capability of doing accurate simulations the way we do for dynamic atomic force microscopy, but there are hundreds of researchers who need these tools." Specialized software is needed to interpret data regarding the probe's changing amplitude, which provides information on a material's magnetic, electrical, and physical properties, the contours of surfaces, and the shapes of objects.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Biology Enters 'The Matrix' Through New Computer Language
Harvard Medicine (07/22/08)

A team of Harvard Medical School researchers have developed Little b, a new computer language that can describe biology the same way a biologist would. Little b can "think" like cells and molecular mechanisms, and simulate the dynamics of biological phenomenon. Little b allows biologists to create programs that can reason about biological knowledge, helping them overcome the barrier of complexity. Cell biologist and computer scientist Aneil Mallavarapu says that overcoming the limitations of previous techniques required assimilating fundamental concepts of engineering, such as modularity and abstraction, into the biological realm. Mallavarapu wrote Little b in the LISP programming language. The researchers have demonstrated how Little b can be used to build complex models of kinase activity, using Little b as a kind of scientific collaborator and not just as a passive tool. The researchers have also used the program to examine the development of fruit fly embryos. "Through incorporating principles of engineering, we've developed a language that can describe biology in the same way a biologist would," says Jeremy Gunawardena, director of the Virtual Cell Program in Harvard Medical School's department of systems biology. "This opens the door to actually performing discovery science, to look at things like drug interactions, right on the computer."
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Printable Ads Boost Ignored Web Campaigns
New Scientist (07/16/08) Marks, Paul

Some Web site owners and advertisers are making sure advertisements appear on pages when Web surfers click the "print this page" button. Traditionally, Web sites remove ads when people print a page. However, the new strategy is an attempt to keep Internet users from ignoring their advertisements. Hewlett-Packard's research lab in Bangalore, India, has tested the approach on 450 users at a travel Web site, and some of the volunteers' printouts of a travel itinerary included adverts. Among the users who had ads on their printouts, 33 percent remembered the brand and 22 percent recalled the message a week later. However, Joanna Bawa, a British psychologist who specializes in user interfaces, believes "there's a possibility of increased resentment towards ads that steal valuable printing time, paper and cartridge ink, especially for domestic users or those with slower printers." HP's Nidhi Mathur says advertisers would have to improve the design of ads so people are not bothered by having them on their printouts.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Tech Giants Tackle Information Overload
CNet (07/18/08) Jackson, Holly

Information overload costs the American economy more than $650 billion in lost productivity, and takes up 28 percent of workers' time, Basex reports. To combat information overload, Intel engineer Nathan Zeldes and other tech industry insiders have formed the Information Overload Research Group (IORG), which includes members from Microsoft Research, IBM, Xerox, and Google. The nonprofit consortium recently held its first conference in New York. As more minds join the effort to solve "the world's greatest challenge to productivity," Zeldes hopes the group will generate innovative ideas that will benefit both businesses and individuals. "Hopefully, in a year or two, we'll be where major organizations, governments, wherever, that need information about information overload will come to us," he says. IORG believes that solutions come in two forms. The first is physical restrictions placed on email or Internet use. For example, companies such as Intel are starting to deploy "quiet time" or "no email Fridays" to allow workers to focus. These programs have employees stay offline and turn their phone to voice mail to allow them to concentrate. The other solution deploys special software to organize information. For example, Xerox is developing smart documents software that compiles information into a flexible, sharable, single file.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


RFID Unlocks Supply Chain Potential
ICT Results (07/17/08)

The European Union-funded SMART project is completing a radio frequency identification (RFID) application platform that addresses a number of technical problems associated with RFID, and presents options for an integrated solution for businesses. RFID could revolutionize store management through stock management, sophisticated promotions, and supply chain optimization, but few applications currently exist and cost-effective solutions have been elusive because of serious technical and business hurdles. RFID reduces the risk of human error, provides instant stock levels, and can be tied to back-end systems, initiating orders automatically when stock starts to run low. The SMART team has been working to make RFID reliable and more cost effective, and to adapt the technology for use with meat products and in cold storage. The SMART project also worked on developing back-office functions and Web services so the retailer could, for example, automatically relay stock levels to a supplier. The project is scheduled to start testing an RFID system in October 2008, including stock tracking and activity monitoring for promoted goods. SMART's work will make it easier for other projects to design a functioning system and could help propel RFID systems into the retail mainstream.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


Sun's Fortress Language: Parallelism by Default
HPC Wire (07/16/08) Feldman, Michael

Sun Microsystems' Fortress programming language targets high-performance computer applications, but can also be applied to almost any type of large-scale parallel application. "We were looking for a language that was good for multicore, for supercomputing, and for everything in between," says Sun's Eric Allen. Fortress is an open source project, and almost anyone with a computer can try the language because the current Fortress prototype runs atop a standard Java Virtual Machine. Both task and data parallelism are supported by Fortress, with most constructs assuming concurrency unless sequential execution is specified by the programmer. The runtime employs a fine-grained threading model to implicitly farm out computations to available processor cores, and Fortress also supports explicit threading under the programmer's direction. The language uses implicit as well as explicit data distribution techniques for clustering, while its mathematical notation ability is probably its most notable feature. Fortress also supports many kinds of domain-specific formulations via new grammar generation. Sun believes that continuing to support Fortress as an open source initiative will help boost the language's adoption.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


For Future of Mind Control, Robot-Monkey Trials Are Just a Start
Popular Mechanics (07/07/08) Sofge, Erik

Thought-controlled prosthetics is the goal of research into brain-computer interfaces at Duke University and elsewhere, where neuroscientists have engineered amazing breakthroughs, including demonstrations in which monkeys outfitted with electrode implants were able to control machines using brain signals. Such technology relies heavily on the ability to analyze neural activity and translate it into physical action, and it is the belief of Duke University Medical Center neuroscience professor Miguel Nicolelis that a physical neural connection will allow the rapid enablement of brain plasticity with greater precision than what can be facilitated with current prosthetic control systems. "When you link the brain to a device, it could allow scaling in force and time--things that, today, your body can't do," he reasons. Nicolelis says rehabilitation is the technology's primary benefit for the foreseeable future, but even further out is the possibility of a two-way brain-computer interface with a remote device, which has the potential to greatly expand human perception and environmental interaction. An experiment conducted at Nicolelis' lab in North Carolina involving a monkey that drove the walking movements of a 200-pound robot in Kyoto, Japan, indicated that the brain signal traveled from the monkey to the robot faster than from the monkey's brain to its own muscles, leading to the possibility that prosthetic machines could be controlled faster than the speed of thought. It will be a major challenge for mind-machine interface technology to cross the gulf separating the primate from the human mind, which is similar but vastly more sophisticated. However, the biggest obstacle may be human beings' natural reluctance to have electrodes permanently implanted in their skulls.
Click Here to View Full Article
to the top


A Conversation With Christos Papadimitriou
Dr. Dobb's Journal (07/09/08) Woehr, Jack

University of California, Berkeley professor Christos Papadimitriou, recipient of the 2008 Katayanagi Prize for Research Excellence, says in an interview that achieving an understanding about the underpinnings of the Internet and the Web has been the focus of the bulk of his work over the last decade, noting that the Internet and the Web comprise "mysterious objects" that emerged from the interaction of intentionally designed elements such as software, artifacts, and processors. "If [the Internet is] democratic and censorship-resistant and open and end-to-end, all these great things that are under attack these days, it's because of ingenious and strategic programming," he argues. Papadimitriou characterizes an interface between algorithm theory, networking, and economics in his paper "Algorithms, Games, and the Internet," and points out that he and several students demonstrated three years ago that John Nash's theorem that every game has equilibrium and Brouwer's fixed-point theorem are equivalent, in that you need one theorem to prove the other. Another subject that interests Papadimitriou is the mathematics of quantum computing, and he says that quantum computing might ultimately be concerned with testing quantum physics to determine why the practical engineering of a quantum computer may be impossible. Papadimitriou says that from a generalized perspective, interaction between computer scientists and other disciplines will increase. "I think the future belongs to programmers who are well-rounded people who have diverse interests, who are flexible, who understand deeply other fields and are ready to transform them," he asserts.
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.