Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the May 22, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Classroom Computers Boost Face-to-Face Learning
ICT Results (05/22/09)

A European Union-funded research initiative called LEAD is using computers to enhance collaborative, face-to-face learning and problem solving. The research demonstrates that students can solve problems, master subject matter, and learn to collaborate more effectively when their face-to-face communication is enhanced by specific software tools. LEAD coordinator Jerry Andriessen says the research is important because individual learning and problem solving alone does not prepare students for the interactive and collaborative settings they will encounter later in life. LEAD researchers created the Collaborative Face to Face Educational Environment (CoFFEE), an open source program that can be installed in a school's computer lab or computer-equipped classroom. The program is designed to foster communication and problem solving in class instead of learning at a distance, and does not require an Internet link after installation. Students can use CoFFEE as part of a structured, face-to-face problem-solving challenge, with students in the same room communicating directly with one another while working on their own computers on the same challenge. Andriessen says students quickly learn to switch between verbal exchanges and computer-enhanced interactions. CoFFEE improves cooperative problem solving through a suite of tools that help students analyze and understand the problem, and ensures that every student has the opportunity to contribute to the solution. CoFFEE's two primary tools are a discussion manager and a visualization interface, which complement each other by fostering verbal communication and a visual representation of the problem and the solution.


I.B.M. Unveils Real-Time Software to Find Trends in Vast Data Sets
New York Times (05/22/09) P. B8; Vance, Ashlee

IBM has unveiled System S, stream processing software capable of receiving huge volumes of data from numerous sources and quickly identifying correlations within that data. Swedish Institute of Space Physics scientist Bo Thide has been testing an early version of the software in his effort to study how gas clouds and particles cast off by the sun can disrupt communication networks on Earth. System S enables Thide to gather and analyze massive amounts of information at unprecedented speeds. "For us, there is no chance in the world that you can think about storing data and analyzing it tomorrow," Thide says. "There is no tomorrow. We need a smart system that can give you hints about what is happening out there right now." IBM believes that a commercial version of System S will encourage breakthroughs in fields such as finance and city management by helping users better understand data patterns. IBM's Steven A. Mills says System S could really benefit financial companies. Instead of creating separate large databases to track specific types of financial information, System S can meld all of the information together, and could theoretically add on databases that track current events to determine how such factors affect financial data.


U.S. Lags Globally in Robotics Development
Computing Research Association (05/21/09) Harsha, Peter

The United States is trailing other countries in the development of sophisticated robots, according to a recently released report written by a group of 140 experts from industry, federal laboratories and leading academic institutions. The report, "National Robotics Technology Roadmap," says the United States is falling behind other countries in its ability to compete economically and that more investments must be made in the technology. The report urges the U.S. Congress to increase spending in the fiscal year 2010 budget and calls on the Obama administration to establish a high profile position at the White House to coordinate and integrate robotics policy throughout the government. The European Union, Japan, Korea and other major countries all have made significant research and development investments in robotics technology, but the United States, outside of unmanned systems for defense purposes, has made very little investment in robotics. If the situation does not change, the United States is at risk of relinquishing its ability to compete globally in robotics technology. The next generation of robotic technology will have a major impact on peoples lives as well as a major social and political impact on the U.S.'s future. Human-robot interaction is at the center of many of the most exciting applications for robots, including medical robots, assistive robots, prosthetics, rehabilitation, transportation, human augmentation, entertainment and education.


Anita Borg Institute Announces Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Keynotes and Plenary Panel
Business Wire (05/20/09)

Google vice president Megan Smith and University of California, San Diego professor Fran Berman will be the keynote speakers at the 9th annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which takes place September 30-October 2 in Tucson, Arizona. The New York Times named Smith one of the "women who could change the face of technology" in August 2003, and Berman is an international leader in the development of cyberinfrastructure. The conference's Plenary Panel of Technology Executives will include Lockheed Martin's Linda Brisnehan, Intuit Corporation's Nora Denzel, and Amazon.com's Werner Vogels. The Grace Hopper Celebration is a technical conference designed to highlight the research and career interests of women in computing, with leading researchers and industry experts discussing their work and special sessions focusing on the role of women in technology. Co-presented by the Anita Borg Institute and ACM, the conference features more than 100 sessions in more than eight tracks, as well as invited technical speakers, panels, workshops, robotics workshops, new investigator technical papers, Ph.D. forums, technical posters, birds-of-a-feather sessions, the ACM Student Research Competitions, and awards. This year's theme is "Creating Technology for Social Good."


Researchers to Create Next Gen Discs
Swinburne University of Technology (Australia) (05/21/09) Ladiges, Crystal

Nanotechnology can be used to create discs that offer 2,000 times the storage capacity of current DVDs, according to researchers from Australia's Swinburne University of Technology. A team from Swinburne's Center for Micro-Photonics has used nanoscopic particles to create five-dimensional discs, compared with current discs that have three spatial dimensions. The researchers inserted gold nanorods onto the disc's surface, and the nanoparticles' reaction to light allowed them to record information in a range of different color wavelengths on the same physical disc location. Current DVDs are recorded in a single color wavelength using a laser. Aside from the new spectral dimension, the researchers created a polarization dimension by projecting light waves onto the disc, with the electric field aligned with the gold nanorods enabling them to record different layers of information at different angles. "We were able to show how nanostructured material can be incorporated onto a disc in order to increase data capacity, without increasing the physical size of the disc," says Swinburne professor Min Gu. Although the researchers still need to address issues such as the speed at which the discs can be written on, they believe the discs will be commercially available within the next five to 10 years.


NIST Engineers Discover Fundamental Flaw in Transistor Theory
NIST Tech Beat (05/20/09) Boutin, Chad

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) engineers have uncovered a flaw in the understanding of transistor noise, a phenomenon affecting the electronic on-off switch that is the foundation of computer circuits. The NIST engineers say that unless it is corrected, the flaw could prevent the development of more efficient, lower-powered devices. The engineers have found that a widely accepted model explaining errors caused by electronic "noise" in the switches does not actually work. Defects in the materials used by transistors can divert the flow of electricity and cause the device to rapidly fluctuate between the on and off positions. The industry has accepted a theoretical model that identifies these defects and helps designers mitigate them. A theory known as the elastic tunneling model predicts that as transistors shrink, the fluctuations should increase in frequency. However, the NIST researchers have shown that even in nanometer-sized transistors, the fluctuation frequency remains the same, which means the theory explaining the effect must be wrong, says lead researcher Jason Campbell. "The model was a good working theory when transistors were large, but our observations clearly indicate that it's incorrect at the smaller nanoscale regimes where industry is headed," Campbell says. The findings have a particular impact on the low-power transistors that are used in smartphones and laptops.


New Evolutionary Computing Developments Optimize Complex Problem Solving
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (05/13/09) Martínez, Eduardo

Researchers at the Department of Computer Systems Architecture and Technology at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) and Madrid's Supercomputing and Visualization Centre have been working on the design and implementation of an evolutionary computing platform capable of combining traditional and new techniques to optimize complex problem solving. The platform uses artificial intelligence-based evolutionary algorithms to solve non-linear and complex search and optimization problems. The algorithms optimize the search for solutions to complex scientific and engineering problems, returning results that can be applied to numerous fields, including molecular chemistry, materials resistance, robotics, and games theory. The UPM researchers have developed a methodology called multiple offspring sampling (MOS), which can simultaneously use and intelligently combine different evolutionary algorithmic techniques to utilize the best aspects of each one. As a result, MOS is capable of operating with several evolutionary models, including the popular genetic algorithms, differential evolution, and estimation of distribution algorithms, which is based on probabilistic models.


From a Queen Song to a Better Music Search Engine
UCSD News (05/15/09) Kane, Daniel

At the 2009 International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP), University of California, San Diego researchers presented a solution that could improve song labeling and song search engines. UCSD's system examines songs it has never encountered before, labels them based on the actual sounds in the song, and retrieves songs based on the descriptive words entered by users, such as mellow jazz. At ICASSP, UCSD electrical engineering Ph.D. student Luke Barrington presented a new model for music segmentation that captures both the sound of a song and how that sound changes over the course of the song, which can be used to divide songs into homogenous sections. By dividing and labeling sections of songs with different sounds, music search engines can more accurately identify and match songs to search queries. The researchers call their new system Google for music, since it allows users to enter descriptive words, instead of song and album titles or artist names, and receive specific song suggestions. The search engine currently works with more than 100 words describing instruments, music genres, and emotions. To teach the search engine new words, engineers must provide many different examples of songs that fit that description. To quicken the process, the engineers developed online music games that encourage people to label the songs they listen to online.


Engineering Careers Not Attracting Women
Investor's Business Daily (05/22/09) P. A4; Riley, Sheila

Even as the use of technology continues to grow, the number of women involved in technology and engineering has remained stagnant. "There has clearly been no progress in the last 10 years," says Purdue University engineering program dean Leah Jamieson. Only 20 percent of students in U.S. undergraduate engineering programs are women, according to the National Engineers Week Foundation. From 1994 to 1998, the percentage of women studying engineering rose from 18 percent to 20 percent, but since 1998 there has been no improvement. Jamieson says there is no one reason that more women are not getting involved, and there is no silver bullet to fix the problem. She says one major problem is that the image of engineering and technology careers conflicts with the goals of many young professional women who want to help society. Despite the glamour and press that companies such as Google and Apple receive, the technology industry is still considered to be uncool. "As a profession, we consistently talk about ourselves in ways that simply are not aligned with what young women are looking for," Jamieson says. Studies show that woman want careers that will make a difference and give them an opportunity to give back to society. The women who do enter the technology industry also do not have many female colleagues. Women accounted for 46.5 percent of the U.S. work force in 2008, but only 20.9 percent of software engineers and 19.7 percent of hardware engineers, according to the U.S. Labor Department. To attract more women, technology careers need to be seen as meaningful and enjoyable, and young women need to be shown that the can succeed and have fun in these careers. "Female leaders in very successful positions need to do more to share their success stories," Jamieson says.


Robert Kahn: A Different Kind of Internet
Government Computer News (05/14/09) Kash, Wyatt

Robert E. Kahn of the nonprofit Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) envisions an Internet that manages information rather than just moves it around. He says this can be facilitated by Digital Object Architecture, whose core element is a digital object, or structured information that incorporates a unique identifier, and which can be parsed by any machine aware of the structure of digital objects. Areas where Digital Object Architecture applications have potential include archiving, with Kahn pointing out that CNRI has experimented with some archival capabilities on the Internet with the goal of fulfilling long-term archival storage needs. "My hope is that we can make the digital object technology, which operated in the Internet environment, available as we did with the original Internet technology, and get a lot of people in the public and private sectors to understand its power and the capability," Kahn says. "Because it's an open architecture, it has the potential to grow organically as did the nascent Internet." Kahn sees medical informatics as another potential application area for Digital Object Architecture. He says the architecture intrinsically incorporates public key infrastructure to ensure user identity authentication. "The government's role in things infrastructural is absolutely essential," Kahn says. "It really is very difficult--I would say almost impossible--to create national infrastructure without at least the imprimatur of the government."


CVIS: Connected Vehicles for Next-Generation Mobility
ERTICO ITS Europe (05/12/09) Cornea, Alina

The European flagship project for Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems (CVIS) is preparing the first road demonstrations of technology underlying the universal European platform for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. The vehicles and infrastructure will be able to generate and share real-time information on traffic and the surrounding environment, which will help make mobility more efficient, cut down on congestion and accidents, and improve fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. CVIS' first road demonstration will use a 5.9 GHz wireless LAN and 3G cellular communication to demonstrate various applications, including one that shows how certain types of vehicles, such as public transportation vehicles, emergency vehicles, or hazardous-materials carriers, can actively communicate with road equipment. Another application will show how drivers can receive best-route recommendations and predicted travel times for different journeys, while a third uses enhanced positioning below 1 meter in precision, along with digital maps and location references, to help drivers stay in lane. Further demonstrations include a safety application that senses when a vehicle enters a one-way road in the wrong direction and broadcasts a hazard warning to nearby vehicles and variable message signs, along with various cooperative applications to make things easier for commercial freight and fleet vehicles. "The deployment of cooperative mobility technologies holds the promise of many new benefits, but we also need to ensure that potential privacy issues are seriously considered and public acceptance ensured before these new technologies will come into the market," says Paul Kompfner, CVIS project manager.


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