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ACM TechNews
August 4, 2008

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Welcome to the August 4, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


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Intel Plans Chip to Boost Computer Performance
Washington Post (08/04/08) P. A6; Whoriskey, Peter

Intel's new Larrabee processor, which features more than 10 processor cores, will boost computer performance by adding more cores instead of increasing the chip's operating frequency. By 2015, the strategy of running chips at increasingly higher frequencies could create products that generate as much heat as a nuclear reactor, according to engineers, so multi-core processing is largely considered the future of computing. "There is a fundamental physics issue we can no longer get around," says Intel's Anwar Ghuloum. "If we kept going as we had been, the heat density on a chip would have equaled the surface of the sun." The first products based on the Larrabee chip are expected to be released in 2009 or 2010. The problem with the multi-core approach is that it will require an equally dramatic shift in software. To utilize the processing power contained in a multi-core chip, software will need to be divided into chucks of instructions that can run in parallel on multiple processors. Once chips with 10 cores are available in consumer products, much of today's existing software may have to be rewritten to take advantage of the extra processing capabilities. New programming languages are being developed and technology leaders are encouraging university computer science departments to strengthen their parallel processing coursework.
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ALIFE Conference to Reveal Bio-Inspired Spam Detection
University of Southampton (ECS) (08/04/08) Lewis, Joyce

Winchester, England, will be the site of the first European conference on Artificial Life (ALIFE). About 250 participants will gather this week at the University of Winchester for ALIFE XI, which will offer a record number of paper presentations. One notable paper, Adaptive Spam Detection Inspired by the Immune System, will discuss how the vertebrate adaptive immune system, which learns to differentiate between harmless and harmful substances, can serve as a model for detecting spam. Alaa Abi-Haidar and Luis Rocha from the Department of Informatics at Indiana University and the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia in Portugal have developed a bio-inspired spam detection algorithm that is based on the cross-regulation model of T-cell dynamics. They will present the paper on Aug. 7, 2008. The new Science and Engineering of Natural Systems (SENSe) group at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) is the host of ALIFE XI. "This is a critical time for artificial life," says ECS' Seth Bullock. "The field is on the verge of synthesizing living cells, a feat that the artificial life community could only dream of when it started out in the late 80s."
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Passion for Virtual Tale Gets Team Noticed
Evening Gazette (UK) (07/31/08) Dent, Karen

University of Teesside researchers have developed a virtual reality game in which players can immerse themselves in the plot of Gustave Flaubert's novel "Madame Bovary" and change the outcome using artificial intelligence (AI) and interactive storytelling. "This work has been well received in the scientific community and presented at major international conferences, such as ACM Multimedia," says professor Marc Cavazza with the university's Intelligent Virtual Environment Group. Players assume the identities of characters in the novel, and they play the game in a three-walled virtual reality environment called the Cave, which can support up to five characters at one time. Users don stereoscopic goggles to give the other characters projected on the walls and floor a three-dimensional appearance, while the game's software utilizes the latest AI advances to plan ahead and consider the consequences of the actions it produces. "Perhaps the biggest breakthrough of the concept is the virtual characters' ability to interact with humans," says game co-developer Fred Charles. "It will be able to able to push the limits of virtual humans, to act having differing types of interaction with humans and virtual humans." Charles adds that specific kinds of virtual environments can be generated, which could help flesh out the concept of virtual holidays. Additional applications include training and industrial work, with the virtual reality element being particularly helpful in the automotive sector, where different parts of the design process are frequently split up among multiple locations.
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Could Evolutionary Computation Cut Billions of Years in Solving Problems?
Hampshire College (07/30/08) Thomas, Elaine

Researchers from Hampshire College in Massachusetts and the State University of New York have used evolutionary computation techniques to solve a century-old algebra problem faster and more efficiently than previous efforts. Evolutionary computing is an increasingly popular sub-field of computer science in which evolutionary processes are built into computer software. The user selects the elements that will be used and how the desirability of particular designs can be measured. The system then creates and tests random combinations of the chosen elements, with better combinations being allowed to create offspring. After many generations, this evolutionary process often produces novel and useful designs and inventions. The researchers used a Beowulf-style computer cluster to simulate the Darwinian processes to look for discriminator terms, majority terms, and Mal'cev terms for finite algebras. Success required finding a formula of manageable size produced in a reasonable amount of time. Two methods for solving the problem had previously been developed, but neither one met both requirements. Evolutionary computation was able to produce useful formulas of fewer than 300 characters in just a few hours.
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Instant-Messagers Really Are About Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon
Washington Post (08/02/08) P. A1; Whoriskey, Peter

Studying the records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people from around the world, Microsoft researchers have concluded that any two people, on average, could be linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances. The study examined a database that covered all of Microsoft Messenger's instant-messaging network in June 2006, which accounted for roughly half of the world's instant-messaging traffic at the time. "What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity," says Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz, who conducted the study with colleague Jure Leskovec. The Microsoft research focused on the popular concept that has inspired the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game and the well-known play "Six Degrees of Separation" by John Guare. The first effort to research the theory that everyone is separated by no more than six connections was done in the late 1960s by Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers, who found that the figure was 6.2. The Microsoft researchers say their study is the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available to validate theory. In the Microsoft study, two people were considered acquaintances if they sent one another a text message. The researchers looked at the minimum chain lengths it would take to connect 180 billion different pairs of users in the database. The researchers found that the average length was 6.6 steps and that 78 percent of the pairs could be connected in seven steps or less.
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Putting a Virtual Doctor in the Ambulance
ICT Results (07/29/08)

The European Union-funded WEIRD project has developed a new communications system that uses WiMax to relay data from a moving ambulance to a hospital, helping medical teams collect vital data and detailed information about the patient's condition to advise the ambulance team as they drive to the hospital. WEIRD researcher Enrico Angori says it is very important to maintain data integrity when transmitting it in high quality, and WiMax can deliver the best quality of service in addition to being the cheapest channel available. The WEIRD project worked to extend the resilience and flexibility of WiMax technology, and created software that hides the complexity of the configuration of the end-to-end communication channel, no matter what equipment or different versions of WiMax is used. The software will allow a paramedic in an ambulance to quickly establish an end-to-end communication path without specialist training, allowing the crew to concentrate on the patient. One of the most important features of the ambulance communication system is its ability to create end-to-end links between two points by seamlessly integrating the WiMax signal with other wireless communication technologies, such as mobile telephony.
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Europe's Science Gathering Draws Crowds and Long-Term Funds
Science (07/25/08) Vol. 321, P. 475; Enserink, Martin

The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), started just four years ago, is becoming a key meeting point for scientists, policymakers, and reporters from across Europe. The meeting enables the integration of dozens of national research cultures into a more European effort, says Hungarian Academy of Sciences' Norbert Kroo. ESOF features a broad scientific program that covers everything from nanotechnology to cosmology, and includes numerous public outreach events. ESOF's policy sessions deal primarily with European trends and concerns, such as international mobility and the difficulties in turning research into economic growth. ESOF is held in a different city every other year, and is largely organized by a local committee and people recruited from across Europe. Consequently, each hosting country has encountered some of the same problems each time, which is why five private foundations have formed a Supporters Club that will donate 1.6 million Euros over the next four years to establish an ESOF secretariat. The secretariat will take care of fundraising at the European level and serve as an institutional memory. Cities must also compete over the privilege to host ESOF. Torino, Italy, won the 2010 event because it promised a very ambitious Web presence. Torino computer scientist Angelo Raffaele Meo plans to Webcast every session live, enabling remote viewers to interact by emailing questions to speakers.
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The Future of Tech in One Word: Plastics
Christian Science Monitor (07/31/08) P. 13; Velasquez-Manoff, Moises

Plastics-based electronics can be cheaper and less energy intensive to manufacture than their silicon counterparts while also being bendable and potentially more energy efficient. Organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) can be used for displays that require no backlight and are flexible, and major technical issues such as uneven wear and durability have been addressed. Experts say price is currently the biggest obstacle to the launch of a mass market OLED display. High-definition televisions that can be rolled up after use is one OLED application that is envisioned to happen after the technology breaks into the mainstream. Electronics for plastic displays can be "printed" roll to roll like a newspaper rather than be constructed piece by piece, and NanoMarkets analyst Lawrence Gasman says this feature will probably lower the cost of fabricating OLEDs to a significant degree. Universal Display has a two-year, approximately $2 million contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop thin OLED lighting panels that can either be printed or mounted onto numerous surfaces. Another breakthrough in plastics electronics is electronic paper. Co-op America estimates that electronic magazine delivery through e-paper could spare 35 million trees from getting converted into paper yearly. The emergence of affordable solar panels could also be accelerated by plastic electronics through the efforts of companies that are working on organic solar panels.
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NSF Announces Partnership With Industry, Academia to Further Explore Data-Intensive Computing
National Science Foundation (07/30/08)

The National Science Foundation's (NSF's) Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Directorate has awarded a grant to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to help establish an experimental computing cluster to further research in data-intensive computing. The UIUC grant will expand the NSF's Cluster Exploratory (CluE) initiative by providing researchers with access to an additional cluster for data-intensive computing research. The wide availability of data, combined with the increased capabilities and decreased cost of both storage and computing technologies, has led to a rethinking of how problems that were once considered impractical to solve are handled. "The new cluster at Illinois is a key ingredient in our efforts to make available massively scaled, highly distributed, data-centered computing resources to the U.S. academic research and education community," says NSF's Jeannette Wing. UIUC professor Michael Heath says the new cluster will be used to explore new and better ways to provide system-level support for data-intensive computing. "With previous efforts focused on networking or user-level applications, the gaping need to process and respond to large amounts of data has been inadequately addressed," Heath says. The new center at UIUC will also be part of the Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Yahoo Cloud Computing Test Bed, one of six centers of excellence the companies are creating to help foster research in data-intensive computing.
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Artificial Tongue Mimics Human Speech
New Scientist (07/29/08) Robson, David

Anton, a mechanical tongue and jaw that has successfully mimicked the muscular activity involved in producing certain vowel sounds will be presented at this year's International Society of Artificial Life conference. Robin Hofe of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom says Anton has the potential to help improve speech recognition software. Existing systems are working with larger databases of recorded speech, but their performance has not significantly improved because the way people talk is not steady and uniform. Speech can be affected by where people are and what they are doing. The researchers believe Anton will be a key to learning more about how the mouth produces sounds, since obtaining data from inside the human mouth might not be the best approach. The researchers also want to embed artificial muscles in Anton to make it more realistic, and eventually have it produce sound. The previous test involved MRI scans to compare the movements of Anton with those of real mouths.
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First Paper-Based Transistors
ZDNet (07/22/08) Piquepaille, Roland

Portuguese researchers have created the first field-effect transistors (FET) with a paper interstrate layer. The researchers say the new transistors provide the same level of performance as state-of-the-art oxide-based thin-film transistors (TFTs) produced on glass or crystalline silicon substrates. These paper-based transistors could be used for new disposable electronic devices, such as paper displays, smart labels, bio-applications, or RFID tags. The transistors were developed at the Center of Materials Research at the Faculdade de Ciencias e Tecnologia of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal. The researchers say there is an increased interest in the use of biopolymers for low-cost electronic applications, and because Earth's major biopolymer is cellulose, several international teams have reported using paper as the substrate of electronic devices. However, this new paper-based transistor is the first time paper has been used as an interstrate component of a FET. To build a transistor using paper, the researchers fabricated the devices on both sides of a paper sheet, allowing the paper to act simultaneously as the electric insulator and as the substrate. Paper FETs outperformed amorphous silicon TFTs during testing, and rivaled TFTs.
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Perl Vision Gets Sharper
Government Computer News (07/25/08) Jackson, Joab

Perl creator Larry Wall proclaimed during his yearly "State of the Onion" speech at the recent O'Reilly Open Source Conference that version 6 of Perl will constitute the world's first truly extensible programming language, enabling power users to enhance Perl with instructions, syntax, expressions, operators, and other features to fulfill their own requirements. "Perl 6 has no core, no keywords, no built-in operators," Wall said. "Everything that looks like an operator is actually defined by some grammatical rule or by a macro or by something that is added in." Perl 6's customization ability will be largely concealed from those using the language to perform basic functions, while more traditional enhancements will be offered in the standard edition to make programming less difficult. Wall and Perl developer Damian Conway presented some late additions to the language's feature set, including a naming scheme of new modules that will offer a placeholder to specify the module's version number, which will facilitate the concurrent operation of multiple module versions. Future versions of Perl 6 will be backward-compatible, at least to version 6, while the generation of regular expression statements has been streamlined through additional shortcuts. A friendlier set of error messages and a method for dividing work into parallel so they may be performed at the same time by multicore processors were also highlighted.
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Virginia Tech Building Supercomputer Out of 324 Mac Pros
Ars Technica (07/24/08) Foresman, Chris

Virginia Tech's Center for High-End Computing System (CHECS) is building a new supercomputer cluster from 324 Mac Pro towers, giving the new cluster a theoretical computing capacity of 29 teraflops. CHECS director Dr. Srinidhi Varadarajan says the new system is intended to be a purely computer science research station that will be used to study two areas: Power-aware software systems capable of adjusting performance automatically to maximize efficiency, and distributed shared memory systems that can run existing threaded code on high-performance clusters. Varadarajan and his team chose Mac Pros because they have numerous power and temperature sensors, which are necessary for the power/performance research and tuning, and an additional full-height PCI Express 2.0 slot for use in other research projects. The Mac Pros are also quite price competitive, even against building a white box off the cheapest prices, Varadarajan says. He expects it will be several weeks before the new system comes online, when tuning and benchmarking will begin. Once tangible numbers on the system's performance is established, the researchers will have a better idea on how Mac Pros fare in cluster-type systems.
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An Interdisciplinary Vision of Computer Science
Chronicle of Higher Education (08/01/08) Vol. 54, No. 47, P. A8; Foster, Andrea L.

Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Computing will continue to focus on establishing schools in biomedical informatics and information science, says Richard A. DeMillo in an interview. DeMillo, who is stepping down as dean, helped increase research funds by 60 percent and faculty members by 40 percent, while leading the College of Computing over the past six years. The former Hewlett-Packard CTO plans to write a book on how technology has revolutionized business, and is considering a textbook about Web science. He also wants to return to teaching, focusing on the impact of technology innovation on management, as well as on areas such as Web science. DeMillo says Georgia Tech helped attract more students to computer science. "We started redefining what computer science meant when the dot-com bust was hitting academic computer-science departments," he says. "One of our real accomplishments was to get the Computing Research Association to form a subcommittee on computing education."
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NCSA Plays Key Role in Digital Archiving Project
NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) (07/08)

The University of Illinois is one of the lead institutions for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIPP), a massive Library of Congress effort to save at-risk digital materials. At the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois, the Digital Library Technologies group is working on the semantic archiving aspect of NDIPP by working with a team from the library with the objective of building a proof-of-concept semantic archive to demonstrate how semantic inference capability could help next-generation archives head off long-term preservation risks. To meaningfully preserve digital content over time, it is necessary to infer meaning or semantics from structures that change over time, but given the incredible and increasing volume of digital data being created, automated tools are a necessity for such a task. Information science research associate Dave Dubin has created BECHAMEL, software that flags possible points of information loss or confusion to reduce long-term preservation risks. BECHAMEL is the result of a joint research effort by the University of Illinois, the University of Bergen, and the World Wide Web Consortium to develop a research platform for the interpretation of structured digital documents.
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