Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the December 17, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Dynamic Language Use Pops in Asia
eWeek (12/16/08) Taft, Darryl K.

Dynamic programming languages such as PHP, Perl, JavaScript, Ruby, and Python have caught on in a big way in Asia, according to an Evans Data survey of more than 400 software developers in the Asia-Pacific region. Evans Data found that 88 percent of developers use dynamic languages some of the time, and more than 40 percent said they use one more than half of the time. Most Asian developers use JavaScript, but PHP also is used in some of the projects of 45 percent of developers. Overall, the use of dynamic languages is likely to remain the same in 2009, but the use of Perl could decline while the use of ActionScript rises. "Software developers are always looking for ways to shed unneeded complexity and outdated methodologies and move to approaches that make programming simpler and faster, especially as more and more development is Web-centric," says Evans Data CEO John Andrews. "The high use of dynamic languages in Asia Pacific is consistent with the high concentration of Web application development being conducted in that region." The study also found that more than 20 percent of developers plan to launch cloud projects within the next six months, and 60 percent expect their development for devices to increase.


Mobile Phones to Be Primary Internet Device by 2020, Experts Predict
Network World (12/15/08) Brodkin, Jon

Mobile phones will become the primary Internet device for most people by 2020, largely due to their increasing computing power, predicts the "Future of the Internet," a new Pew Internet & American Life Project report. "Telephony [will be] offered under a set of universal standards and protocols accepted by most operators internationally, making for reasonably effortless movement from one part of the world to another," the report says. The report, based on a survey of 578 Internet activists, builders, and commentators, also predicts that despite the widespread access to other cultures and viewpoints on the Internet, Internet use will not make people more socially tolerant. The report says that some survey respondents even suggested that the divide between the tolerant and the intolerant could widen due to Internet-based information-sharing tactics. The report also found that 55 percent of experts believe that by 2020 people will routinely interact in artificial spaces through virtual worlds and other types of augmented reality. Voice activation and touch interfaces will be common by 2020, predict nearly two-thirds of experts, and "air-typing" will become common because small handheld devices will display a full size virtual keyboard on any flat surface. A majority of experts, 78 percent, believe that the current Internet architecture will not be completely replaced by a new system in 2020, but search, security, and reliability will have been improved by next-generation research.


ACM Urges Obama to Include Computer Science as a Core Component of Science and Math Education
AScribe Newswire (12/16/08)

ACM has released a set of recommendations supporting U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's goal of making science and mathematics education a national priority, and urged the new administration to make computer science a critical part of the nation's education system. "Computing education benefits all students, not just those interested in pursuing computer science or information technology careers," says ACM Education Policy Committee chair Bobby Schnabel. "To meet the nation's educational and professional needs in the face of insufficient numbers of undergraduates majoring in computer science, we need to work harder to increase interest at the K-12 level, and to expand the pipeline supplying the necessary workforce for an information-based economy." The recommendations highlight the role of computer science in driving the technology sector, which is expected to make significant contributions to economic growth. Specific recommendations include focusing on research funding for K-12 computer science education to address the gaps in understanding how students engage computer science, and reviewing how states can better coordinate and improve existing teacher certification requirements, particularly for computer science teachers. The recommendations also cite several challenges that prevent students from experiencing the excitement and creativity computer science has to offer. One problem is that courses in computer science fundamentals are often general electives and not college-preparatory electives, so many college-bound high school students are not able to explore the field.


Estonia to Use Mobile Phones to Simplify E-Voting
IDG News Service (12/15/08) Ricknas, Mikael

Estonia is expanding the authentication of voters to mobile phones. The Estonian Parliament recently voted in favor of the move as a way to make it easier for Estonians living abroad to participate in elections. "In some places, because of internal security polices, it's not possible to use an ID card, so mobile ID is just giving them another option," says Silver Meikar, a member of the Estonian Parliament and a proponent of e-voting. Estonia has used a national ID card for authenticating voters since 2005 and will add the mobile phone as an option in 2011. Authentication must occur via a digital certificate stored on Subscriber Identity Module cards. "You still need a computer and the Internet, but now you will have a choice of using your ID card plus card reader or a mobile ID to authenticate yourself," Meikar says. He says it will take about six months to make Internet voting systems technically ready to accommodate mobile-phone authentication.


Tangible Fun at UC Berkeley's Virtual Projects
San Francisco Chronicle (12/11/08) P. B1; Yollin, Patricia

A University of California, Berkeley class, "Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces," recently held an open house to demonstrate the user interfaces designed by students in the class. Course instructor Kimiko Ryokai says the class goal was to create radically new solutions that look at everyday activities and events from completely new perspectives. Such thinking is what led to the new interfaces used in the Nintendo Wii game system, Ryokai says. The projects included a Digital Shadow display that presented photos representing a person's recent activities in pictures using only their name as input. The purpose of Digital Shadow is to demonstrate how people leave digital trails wherever they go. In another project, dubbed Physical Battleship, players balanced on a platform and threw Velcro-wrapped tennis balls at a projection of an enemy vessel on the wall; sound effects accompanied a direct hit. The Art-Mo-Sphere project involved competitors dipping oversized wands into one of three bowls with fluffy, gooey, or spiky textures. The players then blew on wind sensors in the wand, and virtual bubbles floated on a big screen, providing targets that players could pop. The result was a series of splotches that could serve as wallpaper on a computer or add atmosphere to a party.


Your World View Doesn't Compute
Forbes (12/11/08) Gomes, Lee

Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Scott Aaronson's Worldview Manager is a program designed to help people become cognizant of the inconsistencies and contradictions that may be embedded within their political beliefs. The program will display a list of statements about a subject to users and then ask them how strongly they concur or clash with each statement. At the conclusion of the process, the Worldview Manager will produce a list of the statements they supported that contradict each other, as well as suggest that the users rethink those views and their underlying assumptions. Aaronson says the genesis of the program began with his consideration of "what could be done, as a practical project or experiment, that might make even the smallest dent in people's propensity to think rationally about 'big' questions." He says the most intensive component of the program's development will be determining what real-world statements should be presented to users, and how those statements confirm or contradict each other. Aaronson hopes to complete Worldview Manager in 2009, and make it freely available online.


A Software Secretary That Takes Charge
New York Times (12/14/08) Markoff, John

SRI International is nearing the end of a multiyear U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project called CALO, short for "cognitive assistant that learns and organized," that is developing intelligent agent software for the military. SRI artificial intelligence researcher Thomas D. Garvey says CALO recently passed an important milestone when it was used in a U.S. Army test of a command and control system at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. CALO can watch users on computer systems and automate routine tasks, freeing Army officers to focus on more important tasks. Although CALO is focused on defense applications, startup Siri Inc. was launched to develop a personal assistance service in the first half of 2009 based on concepts developed by the CALO project. Meanwhile, entrepreneur Patrick W. Grady has taken a different approach by creating a technology team at Rearden Commerce that is developing an intelligent personal assistant designed for travel and entertainment purposes that will made available to nonbusiness customers early next year. "This is the connective tissue that sits on top of the Web and brings you more than the sum of the parts," says Grady. Rearden's software will tie together all of the online services needed for business travel that are currently separate, such as travel, airport parking, car services, dining reservations, entertainment tickets, package delivery, and videoconferences.


Supercharged File Sharing
Technology Review (12/15/08) Kleiner, Kurt

Preliminary tests of a new Internet traffic management strategy known as Provider Portal for Applications (P4Ps) have shown that the framework can significantly improve download times for file sharers while reducing bandwidth costs for Internet service providers (ISPs). The open standard requires ISPs to provide some information on how their networks are structured to reduce file-trading traffic. The shared information is used by peer-to-peer (P2P) "trackers," which are servers that are used to locate files for downloading. Trackers arrange for more efficient file sharing by connecting computers that are closer to each other and sharing files at the lowest resource cost to ISPs. "We knew, as a peer-to-peer company, that in order for peer to peer to become successfully commercialized, network operators had to be cooperative," says Pando Networks CEO Robert Levitan. "Instead of blocking traffic, they had to get involved in it." Pando is a founding member of the P4P Working Group, which was established to develop and test new technologies to make P2P more efficient. The group's members include Verizon, Comcast, BitTorrent, Cisco Systems, Yale University, and Washington University. Small-scale tests conducted by Yale, Pando, Verizon, and the Telefonica Group suggest that P4P could reduce the average distance data travels on P2P networks from 1,000 miles to 160 miles, and reduce the average number of connections that have to be made from 5.5 to 0.69. The P4P approach does have several challenges, including requiring ISPs to calculate and provide p-distance values to P2P trackers, as well as some legal questions.


Removing User Constraints From Digital Rights Management
ICT Results (12/10/08)

Researchers at the European Union-funded AXMEDIS project have developed a digital rights management (DRM) system for automating the post-production formatting process of complex intelligent content. The AXMEDIS researchers say the system makes it commercially viable to have the same multimedia and cross-media files available for downloading, transferring, and use on different devices. The project has focused on DRM to ensure that only users who paid for the content can exploit the rights specified by the licenses. The researchers created a software platform that can be used to produce content, and manage distribution and content licensing, as well as a set of software media players that can be downloaded by end users and loaded onto any device the user wants to use to watch content created and protected by the first program. The tools developed for the end users will allow them to produce and distribute their own files. As a result, the AXMEDIS model protects the rights of content producers (CPs), but also allows end users to protect themselves and their own digital rights. The content files "can be part audio, part video, part still photos, part text, and interactive," says project coordinator Paolo Nesi. "We don't want to be Big Brother and dictate to people, but at the same time we need to be able to guarantee to all CPs their security will be protected and their intellectual property rights will not be violated."


Wii Bit of Fun at Rice University Has Serious Intent
Rice University (12/09/08)

A Rice University research project is using the Nintendo Wii video game console to codify learning systems for use in a variety of human activities. Rice professors Marcia O'Malley and Michael Byrne have received a three-year National Science Foundation grant to measure the motions of people performing tasks such as playing paddleball or flying a fighter jet using the accelerometer contained in the Wii's Wiimote controller. The research builds on previous work by O'Malley, the director of Rice's Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Laboratory, which used robots to treat stroke victims as part of a study to map how people learn physical tasks. "We're already grabbing motion data from the Wiimote," O'Malley says, "so soon we'll be able to measure a range of motion and then turn it into a mathematical model." The goal is to unite virtual reality and robotics in such a way that it allows people to absorb information through the repetition of motor pathways. The research into "cognitive modeling of human motor skill acquisition" will focus on three types of learners--experts who learn slowly but achieve their goals, novices who learn slowly and may never reach proficiency, and those who are somewhere in the middle of training and suddenly excel at the task.


Japanese Billboards Are Watching Back
IDG News Service (12/12/08) Williams, Martyn

NTT Communications will test technology in January that could help companies determine how effective they are in delivering commercial messages digitally. A small camera, connected to image-processing software, has been set up above a flat-panel display promoting DVDs and books in a Tokyo railway station. A second camera also will be installed as part of the effort to estimate how many people standing in front of digital signboard ads actually look at them. "To automatically measure the effectiveness of the advertisements we can put a camera and PC nearby, and by using the image from the camera we can estimate how many people are looking at the monitor," says system developer Tetsuya Kinebuchi with NTT's Cyber Space Laboratories. The technology uses image detection software. "We gathered together many faces and came up with an average Japanese face, and by using pattern matching the system recognizes faces from the image," Kinebuchi says.


Argonne Leadership Computing Facility Makes it Easy to Be 'Green'
Argonne National Laboratory (12/12/08) Taylor, Eleanor

The recent opening of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory has ushered in a new era of environmentally conscientious computing that involves several steps intended to maximize the efficiency of Argonne's new Blue Gene/P high-performance computer. Similar computing centers can require several megawatts to operate, but the new ALCF facility requires only about one megawatt. ALCF director Paul Messina says the supercomputer's energy efficiency will be more than a million dollars a year. The new Blue Gene/P currently runs at a speed of more than 557 teraflops, and while several high-performance computing facilities are able to exceed that speed, only one facility exceeds the efficiency of Argonne's Blue Gene/P. "The Blue Gene/P uses about a third as much electricity as a machine of comparable size built with more conventional parts," Messina says. The Blue Gene/P's energy efficiency averages to more than 350 million calculations a second per watt, the second most energy efficient machine on the November 2008 Green500 ranking of supercomputers. Much of the energy consumed by the Blue Gene/P is used to cool it, not run it. To cool the facility, six air handlers pump 300,000 cubic feet of air per minute under the floor. Messina says the air handlers are more cost-efficient than large air conditioners used at other facilities.


'SMART' Quality Control System Cuts Risk of Human Error on Assembly Lines
EUREKA (12/02/08)

A EUREKA-supported project has created an artificial intelligence (AI)-based quality control system that significantly reduces the chance of human error on assembly lines by enabling equipment to learn from previous actions. The new system could end fault proliferation and the need for destructive testing by providing a continuous and complete view of processing, allowing errors to be corrected immediately. The system was initially designed to control the production quality of architectural steel sandwich-panels, but it can be adapted for other uses. The non-contact activation program commands and monitors laser-scanning for precise panel measurement, and runs triangulation methods for positioning components. The project was led by Slovenia's Trimo d.d., and researchers at Slovenia's University of Ljubljana and Germany's Institut fuer Sandwichtechnik. The project created a system that controls a variety of parameters, including the type and quality of input materials, the settings and current state of the assembly line, the speed of production, and the individual processes that take place on the line. A major aspect in the development of the system was an AI system capable of learning the manufacturing process by mining the records of assembly line parameters. A prototype system was successfully installed in the factory's production line.


Institute Unveils 3-D Videoconferencing Prototype
Government Computer News (12/08/08) Carr, David F.

Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) have developed a prototype three-dimensional (3D) videoconferencing system. Although the system is similar to the holograms of the Star Wars movies, it produces real animated images that can be seen floating in space. Such technology could potentially enable a full-body image of a speaker to make realistic eye contact with an audience, which would have a natural view of the speaker. The team at USC's Institute for Creative Technologies trains cameras on the face of a man sitting behind a black curtain, illuminates his face with a strobe light, and uses a computerized system to produce the 3D model of his face. The researchers produce a flickering black-and-white image of a floating head within a glass case. Researcher Paul Debevec says viewers do not have to wear special gear, such as glasses. The team uses a video projector that can send 4,320 frames per second, and projects the image onto a spinning device that has two reflective brushed aluminum surfaces. A different image is projected at each angle of rotation, and is translated by video into the standard video rate of 30 frames per second for each viewing angle.


Robots Rush In: In Search-and-Rescue Operations Teamwork Is Everything
CITRIS Newsletter (12/08) Slack, Gordy

Researchers at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) are developing intelligent search-and-rescue robots that work cooperatively. University of California, Merced professor and robotics lab director Stefano Carpin says the robots, equipped with sensors and sonar, are designed to enter emergency situations and provide reconnaissance for first responders. "The idea is not to replace first responders with robots but to collect as much information as possible so that first responders can do their jobs better without being exposed to unnecessary risks," Carpin says. Carpin's lab has focused on developing multiple intelligent robots that can cooperate to complete a shared goal. The robots are overseen by a single operator, allowing them to work together and track each other's locations. Robots capable of coordinating movements and merging collected information will enable first responders to cover a far larger area. The robots could use each other as navigational points when not in contact with the human controller, enabling a single operator to deploy a team of robots. Coordinating the movements of multiple robots and creating a single geographical model from multiple moving sources are significant challenges that require complex mathematical algorithms, advanced engineering and subtle programming. "The user interface has to be simple enough for firefighters to use without too much training," Carpin says. "We have begun closing the link between the first responders and the scientists."


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