Welcome to the April 8, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM Reintroduces Queue Website With Expanded Content on New Technologies
AScribe Newswire (04/07/09)
ACM's renowned Queue magazine, aimed at computing practitioners who demand a critical perspective on current and emerging information technologies, is now acmqueue, an online, Web-enabled resource. The new digital format gives software developers and software architects an expanded range of new fresh content as well as new offerings that capture the contemporary relevance of classic engineering work from the ACM Digital Library. "We believe our new Web site is the next step forward in providing our readers with the content they want in the most timely and easily accessible manner," said publisher Jim Maurer. He noted that the original focus embodied by Queue--asking the right questions and looking forward beyond today--remains the same. "The acmqueue site publishes content that identifies and analyzes the opportunities and challenges presented by new capabilities and new technologies that lie ahead," Maurer said. Maurer cited an array of industry experts who guide acmqueue's content. They include the Advisory Board, which he said were among the most distinguished professionals in their respective technical fields. He also pointed to acmqueue's columnists, bloggers, and guest editors, who are experienced and respected engineers known for their strategic and tactical skills. The acmqueue Editorial Board also shapes and vets the Practice Section of ACM's monthly print publication, Communications of the ACM (CACM). The CACM Practice Section publishes technical articles of interest to practitioners. These articles are identified on the acmqueue site with a CACM "stamp" at the end of each piece, making it easy to locate in the CACM print edition. In addition, the acmqueue content in each month's issue of CACM is clearly branded, making it easier to find and identify. For more information on acmqueue and its content and features, click on http://queue.acm.org.
Supercomputing Gets Its Own Superhero
ICT Results (04/06/09)
Distributed European Infrastructure for Supercomputing Applications (DEISA) provides Europe will a top-level supercomputing network that is on par with the TERAGRID in the United States. With funding from the European Union, DEISA was launched five years ago as a transcontinental grid linking 12 of the fastest supercomputers. "Cross-national communication was extremely difficult, and the rules and behavior for accessing each supercomputer were all different," says Hermann Lederer, head of DEISA external relations. "But now, through DEISA, a scientist in Italy can access a new supercomputer, say, in the Netherlands, and in addition have a more comfortable way of addressing it." DEISA routes data in several streams at the same time, and offers a secure computing environment, a common interface, and gives all users instant and automatic access to the data of other researchers. The aggregated peak computing power has risen from 30 teraflops to more than a petaflop. And by 2010, three to five petaflop supercomputers will be installed, according to Lederer.
Robot That Can Turn Cartwheels, Do Somersaults
Times of India (03/31/09)
Sherry Randhawa of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, recently demonstrated some of the school's progress in robotics and computing. A major attraction was a robot capable of performing cartwheels, somersaults, balancing on one leg, and flapping its arms, as well as demonstrating exercises such as squatting. Another technology on display was Thinking Head, an onscreen entity with a personality created by professor David Powers. "The more you interact with Thinking Head, the more it absorbs and gains artificial intelligence," said Randhawa. "Our students are trying to get it to process images and recognize speech. Now we can interact with it only by keying in statements through the computer keyboard." David Lewis of the university's New Nanotechnology Center said the school is seeking to expand opportunities in nanotechnology. "We have nanotechnology in the things we see around us, like our plasma television screens or even in our wall paints. We are looking at a future where we can have plasma screens that are as flexible as paper; even a situation where we will not need plasma screens and the wall will double up to show visuals," he noted. "In health, too, there are applications. We are looking at objects so small that they will escape the immune system and become biologically compatible."
RTI Sponsors HPC Adoption Conference
HPC Wire (03/10/09)
The 2009 High-Performance Computing Adoption Conference will expose attendees to information critical to strategic business and technical efforts impacted by high-performance computing adoption. The three-day event will define the challenges of high-performance adoption and provide solutions for scaling the innovation curve. The program will feature policy and market experts as well as thought leaders from both industry and academia who will offer strategic insights into roadmaps for success in adopting high-performance computing. "High-performance computing is changing the game," said conference director Stephen Baker of RTI. "From fundamental research to advanced modeling and simulation, high-performance computing is invigorating productivity and innovation throughout industry and science. In an increasingly competitive global economy, the question is no longer can organizations afford to adopt high performance computing, but rather can they afford not to?" The conference will include topics from implementation challenges and barriers to adoption, to public policy factors and market considerations. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage leading minds shaping the high-performance computing ecosystem and understand how strategic allocation of critical national resources will fuel domestic competitiveness in the high-performance computing revolution. The conference, sponsored by RTI International, will be held May 11-13 at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport Hotel. For registration and other information about the HPC Adoption '09 conference, visit http://2009.hpcadoption.org.
The ACM Looks at Sentiment Analysis
Intelligent Enterprise (04/02/09) Grimes, Seth
The April issue of Communications of the ACM explores sentiment analysis, and how sentiment algorithms can be used to identify and assess the variety of options available online and create computational models of human opinion. The term "sentiment analysis" is growing in popularity but still lacks a solid definition, and consultant Seth Grimes says that sentiment analysis is a set of algorithms and tools for identifying and extracting features that express opinions or attitudes, attributes that indicate sentiment polarity, intensity, or another characteristic, and the topics that create those sentiments. "Sentiment analysis may further include aggregating sentiment across sources, documents, or document sections and studying trends and correlation of sentiment with events and demographic information," he writes. Opinions and attitudes are drastically different from conventional facts, and are full of cultural and contextual factors, such as who is speaking and the language they are using, such as slang, irony, or sarcasm. Sentiment data is often presented in business intelligence (BI) dashboards and other familiar interfaces, but sentiment and text analysis is not yet done with conventional BI, with numerical analysis taken from transactional and operating systems, and unified analysis is not yet available but will be soon. Grimes believes the major market for sentiment analysis software are companies looking to improve product and service quality, customer support, brand and reputation protection, and marketing, as well as the hospitality and consumer products areas.
World's Most Efficient Supercomputer Gets to Work
IDG News Service (04/02/09) Williams, Martyn
The new Fujitsu FX1 supercomputer in Japan has a peak performance of 110.6 teraflops, making it the most powerful machine in Japan and the most efficient supercomputer in the world. The peak performance when running the Linpack benchmark represents 91.2 percent of its theoretical performance of 120 teraflops, and outperforms the previous record holder, a machine at the Leibniz Rechenzentrum in Munich, Germany. The Fujitsu FX1 at the JAXA's Chofu Space Center in western Tokyo has 3,008 nodes, each of which has a 4-core Sparc64 VII multiprocessor and 94 terabytes of memory. In addition to the previous, less powerful FX1 supercomputer, the facility that hosts the new FX1 also has an NEC SX-9 vector computer for specialized tasks. In total, a petabyte of disk storage space and 10 petabytes of tape storage are available. The machine will be used by Japan's Aerospace Explorations Agency to simulate the launch of spacecraft to help engineers properly insulate payloads to prevent the vibrations and noises that occur during launch from damaging satellites before they can be deployed. The new computer will help researchers capture frequencies of 150 Hz to 200 Hz, which was difficult to do on the previous computer. Fujitsu says the high efficiency of the machine is due to the high-performance hardware, the Parallelnavi middleware used in the system, and the expertise of the system's builders.
Averting Radio Spectrum Saturation, Opportunistically
ICT Results (04/02/09)
A research team in Europe believes that enabling mobile handsets to sense their radio environment and find available bandwidth would be a better way to ensure that the radio spectrum is used efficiently. The Opportunistic Radio Communications in unLicensed Environments (ORACLE) project comes at a time when users of mobile devices are demanding better video calls, streaming television, and faster downloads, and it is different from other initiatives in that it does not address the issue of spectrum management from the network end. Opportunistic Radio (OR) uses the sensors in handsets that monitor radio spectrum usage by other devices and base stations in their immediate vicinity, and software to decide when and what bandwidth to use when it becomes available. As a result, handsets would be able to create ad hoc networks with other mobile devices, which would reduce traffic for base stations and the wider mobile network. OR would improve the quality of service for mobile and WiFi network users, and operators would be able to provide more efficient services to more people and at lower cost. "With demand booming for new services, both in terms of the number of connections and also quality, we need to find better ways of utilizing the radio spectrum available to us... otherwise we will reach a point of saturation," says ORACLE project coordinator Dominique Noguet.
Maybe Robots Dream of Electric Sheep, but Can They Do Science?
National Science Foundation (04/02/09) Chamot, Joshua A.; Friedlander, Blaine
Cornell University researchers have developed a computer program that allows a computer to process raw observational data to find fundamental laws of physics, which could assist in the discovery of new scientific truths In the April 3 issue of Science, Cornell University researcher Hod Lipson and doctoral student Michael Schmidt report that their algorithm is capable of distilling fundamental natural laws from observations of a swinging double pendulum and other simple systems, with no prior knowledge of physical laws, geometry, or kinematics. In only a few hours, the algorithm was able to determine that the swinging, bouncing, and oscillating of the devices were the result of specific fundamental processes. The breakthrough is similar to Lipson's earlier work to develop Starfish, a robot capable of "self-imaging" and repairing any damage. The Starfish robot repaired itself by creating a dynamical model, or self image, that it used to make predictions about itself. Although the algorithm is capable of processing almost any data set, in this case it used motion-capture data of pendulums and oscillators, similar to the motion-capture techniques used for special effects. The computer started with a broad suite of mathematical building blocks that could be combined to recreate the patterns in the data set. Through a process called symbolic regression, the computer took the assemblage of expressions and competed them against one another to identify matches that reflect the data with the goal of finding aspects of the data that did not change from one observation to the next. The computer retained invariant mathematical expressions, creating a set of expressions that matched the data set and predicted future behavior. A human still had to interpret those expressions to give them meaning, but the computer served as a data miner to find the laws.
Videogame Competition Announced for SIGGRAPH 2009
ACM's Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques (SIGGRAPH) 2009 will feature GameJam!, a new international video game competition and will give three-person teams 24 consecutive hours to create, design, and implement a comprehensive video game. Each team must contain a programmer, artist, and sound designer. Contestants will be given a pre-designated theme, tools, and software to complete the challenge. "SIGGRAPH'S expanded focus into the video game arena offers a great opportunity for a competition like GameJam! to bring some experimental game play into the mix," says SIGGRAPH 2009's Drew Davidson. "We encourage video game developers at all levels from around the globe to submit applications. Our goal is to make GameJam! one of the most dynamic, international videogame competitions in the world." The contestants' products will be judged by a panel of industry experts, and awards will be given in multiple categories, including Best Game Play, Best Sound Design, Best Appearance, Best Show, Crowd Favorite, and Epic Failure.
Innovation: The Mobile Future of the Keyboard
New Scientist (04/02/09) Barras, Colin
Touchscreen keyboards could stand some improvement before they become the norm in smartphones and make their way to desktop computers, gaming devices, and even coffee tables. With such touch screens, users tap the image of buttons on small, slippery surfaces. One of the latest efforts to improve input text on touch screens involves Shapewriter, which has users draw over a qwerty layout to select the letters of a word they want to write. Drawing shapes for relatively simple words is much faster than even using a conventional touch keyboard, according to the company behind the technology, which is already available for the iPhone, Android, and Windows Mobile devices. Meanwhile, at this week's Computer Human Interaction 2009 conference in Boston, researchers at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom will present a test of a Nokia N800 Internet Tablet in which the sensation of vibrations will be used to indicate the selection of uppercase letters. Also, Ambient made news last year for its work on a neckband device designed to allow the user to think words and have a computer type them.
A Step Toward Superfast Carbon Memory
Technology Review (04/01/09) Patel, Prachi
Researchers at the National University of Singapore have made computer memory devices using graphene, a flat sheet of hexagonally arranged carbon atoms capable of transporting electrons at high speeds. The researchers' graphene memory could be the first step toward memory that is far denser and faster than the magnetic memory used in modern hard drives. National University of Singapore professor Barbaros Ozyilmaz led the researchers in the construction of prototype graphene memory devices. Ozyilmaz says graphene is going to change the electronics industry, and all that was missing was a way to use graphene as a memory device. The key to making memory is having a material that can be in two different states to represent two different bits, 1s and 0s. Hard drives also need to be nonvolatile, or capable of storing information without a constant power supply. Ozyilmaz and his colleagues developed an easy way of making graphene hold two different levels of conductivity, or resistance. Switching between the levels requires applying and removing an electric field. The researchers deposited a thin layer of ferroelectric material, which has an intrinsic electric field that can be changed by applying a voltage change and helps sustain conductivity. By changing the polarization of the ferroelectric, the conductivity of the graphene is also changed. Graphene memory could be read 30 times faster than magnetic memory because electrons move through graphene so quickly, and memory also could be denser, providing more storage in a smaller space.
Scholarship Opportunity: CIS Program Seeks to Close the Gap
Black Engineer (04/03/09)
Florida A&M University's Computer Information Sciences (CIS) Program has been awarded a $552,000 National Science Foundation grant to recruit minority women to computer science and information technology fields. "The latest data shows that out of all U.S. entering freshmen declaring a major in computer science, African-American women made up only 3.3 percent," says CIS professor Jason T. Black. "The fact is that women are not choosing technology, and this is a dangerous predicament. When you couple that with the fact that it is estimated that 75 percent of all jobs by the year 2020 will require a technology background, it becomes a crisis call." The grant will go to the African-American Women in Computing Science (AAWCS) program, which is a four-year program that provides scholarship and other forms of assistance to women interested in computer science or information technology. AAWCS directly addresses the insufficient number of minority women, particularly African-American women, in degree programs in computer science and IT. AAWCS accepts program participants based on financial need, and awards scholarships between $3,000 and $5,000 per semester. Program participants are also involved in CIS departmental clubs and organizations, including the ACM, the National Society of Black Engineers, and the CIS Mentoring Organization. Selected AAWCS scholars are also chosen to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and the National Conference of Women in Information Technology.
Electrosmog on the Circuit Board
Fraunhofer Institute (04/01/09)
Electronic components continue to be made smaller and smaller, which reduces the amount of power that they require but increases signal-to-noise ratios. If electronic components are too densely packed they can start to interfere with each other. The Fraunhofer Research Institution for Electronic Nano Systems (ENAS), in collaboration with Continental and Infineon Technologies, has developed a measuring system that can accurately locate even the weakest electrical and magnetic fields down to a few hundredths of a millimeter. "Circuits are becoming more and more susceptible with each generation," says Thomas Mager of Fraunhofer ENAS. "Only a few years ago, it still took several volts to destabilize processors. Today, a few hundred millivolts are sometimes enough to disrupt millions of transistors." This heightened sensitivity means the designers of electronic circuits need to pay more attention to electromagnetic compatibility. The concern is no longer simply protecting cell phones or MP3 players from external influences or shielding the environment from electromagnetic emissions, but rather how each individual component on a circuit board behaves. The near-field scanner developed by Fraunhofer ENAS can scan individual chips and processors all the way up to complete laptops, cell phones, or even aircraft control units, helping reveal which types of fields the test objects are radiating. Mager says the developers are working on a function that applies targeted electromagnetic fields to the test object to test for areas that are sensitive to external fields. The near-field scanner may be particularly useful to the developers of smart cards as the scanner can provide time- and space-resolved images of the radiated fields from smart cards, enabling the developers to identify weak points that could be attacked to steal sensitive information such PIN numbers, allowing the developers to make the cards more secure against fraud.
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