Welcome to the September 4, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please Note: In observance of the Labor Day holiday, TechNews will not publish on Monday, September 7. Publication will resume on Wednesday, September 9.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Quantum Computer Slips Onto Chips
BBC News (09/04/09)
A silicon chip about the size of a penny that uses photons to run Shor's algorithm has been developed by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. Up to now, laboratory-sized optical computers have been required to run the algorithm, which computes the two numbers that multiply together to produce a given figure. Factoring large numbers is impractical for traditional or classical computers, but quantum computers can execute this task easily, at least in principle. Optical computing, in which photons, rather than electrons, carry information, has been promoted as a potential future for data processing. But photons also have quantum indeterminacy, which means they can represent multiple states concurrently. The Bristol team uses waveguides--channels etched into the chips that provide a path for the photons around the chips--to effect quantum factoring on a much smaller scale than has been required up to now. "To get a useful computer it needs to be probably a million times more complex, so a full-scale useful factoring machine is still at least two decades away," says Bristol professor and team leader Jeremy O'Brien. "But this [chip] is one important step in that direction."
Adding Trust to Wikipedia, and Beyond
Technology Review (09/04/09) Naone, Erica
WikiTrust, developed by University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) researchers, helps users evaluate information published on Wikipedia by automatically assigning a reliability color code to the text, based on the reliability of the author and accuracy of the content. WikiTrust algorithms determine these factors by examining how well received the author's contributions have been within the community, including how quickly an author's contributions are revised or reverted and the reputation of people who interact with the author. UCSC professor Luca de Alfaro says WikiTrust makes it harder to change information without anyone noticing, and makes it easier to analyze the reliability of information on a page. WikiTrust researchers are working on a version that features a full analysis of all edits made to the English-language version of Wikipedia. The principles behind the WikiTrust algorithms could be used on any site with collaboratively created content, de Alfaro says. Similarly, the World Wide Web Consortium recently released the Protocol for Web Description Resources (POWDER), which aims to create a common language for building trust online. Using POWDER's specifications, a Web site can make claims about where information comes from and how it can be used. POWDER is designed to integrate with third-party authentication servers and to be machine-readable. Web users could install a POWDER plug-in that will look for claims made through POWDER on any given page, automatically check authentication, and inform other users of the result.
Putting Computing in Education's Core
ACM has submitted comments on the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top Fund program that stress the need to ensure the level of support and attention devoted to computer science education is at least equal to that committed to other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. ACM recommends that "computer science" be added after "study in ... mathematics, sciences" in the Proposed Priority #2, clarifying that a state application can support reform of existing computer science courses, introduce new computer science standards and courses, and support computer science educators. Another ACM recommendation is making Proposed Priority #2 "an absolute priority" so a state application would have to communicate how the state plans to enhance STEM education. ACM suggests the addition of a new section (A)(4) that contains selection criteria for subjects in STEM areas, including computer science, that may be excluded from the "common set of K-12 standards" but are essential to guaranteeing student competitiveness in the 21st Century. Also promoted by ACM is the inclusion of an assessment measure to the minimum proposed evidence (C)(1) "Providing alternative pathways for aspiring teachers and principals" that a state demonstrate to what degree its alternative certification program for STEM teachers, including computer science, taps nationally recognized models. ACM also says the Education Department should use federal funds to set up a clearinghouse of best practices for teacher certification in STEM fields that support the exchange of information between states about effective certification and endorsement models.
UC San Diego to Develop Ocean Observing Cyberinfrastructure
UCSD News (09/02/09) Fox, Tiffany
The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) expects to receive approximately $32 million to develop and construct the networked cyberinfrastructure of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI), a network of ocean-observing components that will enable scientists to examine ocean processes on a global, regional, and coastal magnitude. Backed by the National Science Foundation and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, OOI will unite all the ocean sensors that will be deployed over the next five years. UCSD professor Jogn Orcutt says the OOI project will provide scientists, for the first time, with the infrastructure needed to conduct interactive experiments in some of the ocean's most extreme environments The OOI's cyberinfrastructure will connect the physical infrastructure into a state-of-the-art scientific network that will allow anyone to access the data in near real time. OOI's 5.5-year construction phase will start in September, and once completed, continuous data from hundreds of sensors will be integrated by the network and made available to scientists, policymakers, students, and the public. "This award represents the fulfillment of over a decade of planning and hard work by hundreds of ocean scientists, and also reflects the commitment of the National Science Foundation to new approaches for documenting ocean processes," said OOI program director Tim Cowles. "Those of us within the OOI project team are excited to play a role in implementing this unique suite of observing assets--knowing that we're building an infrastructure that will transform ocean sciences."
Career Advice: High-Tech, Healthcare Best Choices for College Students
InfoWorld (08/25/09) Dubie, Denise
College students seeking careers in computer science and engineering have the best chance of being hired in the wake of the recession, according to a Challenger, Gray & Christmas survey of 150 human resource (HR) executives. The survey asked executives to recommend the best industry for future college graduates among 11 choices, assuming that the economy would improve in a few years. Sixteen percent recommended careers in computer science or information technology, while 15.2 percent recommended engineering. The executives said the booming market for eco-friendly technology will drive the need for more workers with strong mathematical and technical skills. "The trend toward 'green' technologies is creating jobs in engineering and computer science," says Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. "The areas recommended by human resource executives, while appearing to be relatively specialized on the surface, actually provide future graduates with a great amount of flexibility to pursue careers in a wide range of fields that are emerging now or could emerge over the next two decades."
Smart Home Knows Just How You Like Your Breakfast
New Scientist (09/02/09) Campbell, MacGregor
Washington State University researchers have created a sensor-filled smart apartment that can learn the routines of its inhabitants by observing how they walk around the home and use appliances. The researchers say the technology could be used in homes to help people with cognitive difficulties or dementia perform their daily routines. For example, the apartment can recognize when a person is making breakfast, and if the person accidentally leaves the stove burner on, the system can detect the anomaly and provide audio and video signals to tell the person to turn the burner off. The computer system that analyzes the sensors' output, known as Casas, can learn a person's habits without prior assumptions on what events or patterns to expect. The researchers have successfully tested the system in a single-resident apartment on campus. The system needed about a month of observation before it could identify the resident's habits. Casas uses sensors that detect motion, temperature, light, humidity, water use, door contact, and the use of items such as appliances. Data-mining algorithms also were created to help the sensors, which are less accurate than cameras and other detection systems. One algorithm uses a grid of motion sensors to map out how a person walks around the home, finding daily routes through the house, while another algorithm finds patterns in a sequence of events, such as learning to expect the resident to turn on a tap after turning on the oven. A third algorithm correlates events it detects with the time of day to identify patterns, such as when a person eats.
New iPhone App "Outbreaks Near Me" Locates H1N1 (Swine Flu), Infectious Diseases
Children's Hospital Boston (09/01/09) Stedman, Keri
Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab have created Outbreaks Near Me, an iPhone application that enables users to chart worldwide reports of infectious diseases in real time. The app uses data from the HealthMap, a Web site that gleans information from both official and unofficial online resources, including newspaper Web sites, public health alerts, and blogs. Each resource is posted as a link on its interactive world map. Outbreaks Near Me allows users to submit new data and photographs to the HealthMap. After being approved by managers of HealthMap, the users' alerts are posted onto the map as well. The software also can be set to alert users when new outbreaks are reported in their area or if they are entering an area with reported outbreaks. "We hope individuals will find the new app to be a useful source of outbreak information--locally, nationally, and globally," says HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein. "As people are equipped with more knowledge and awareness of infectious disease, the hope is that they will become more involved and proactive about public health." Outbreaks Near Me also offers an option for users to submit outbreak reports, including photos, to the HealthMap team, enabling them to participate in the public health surveillance process. "In enabling participation in surveillance, we also expect to increase global coverage and identify outbreaks earlier," says HealthMap co-founder Clark Freifeld.
5 College Majors on the Rise
Chronicle of Higher Education (08/31/09) Fischer, Karin; Glenn, David
New college majors are starting to emerge, some in response to demands from students, others in response to industry needs. Computational science--the employment of computer modeling and simulation to advance other disciplines--is one such major, and it is sometimes mistaken for computer science, according to State University of New York College professor Robert E. Tuzun. The difference is that a computer is a tool rather than an object of study in computational science. Fields that use computational science include biology, meteorology, atmospheric science, and commercial product development. "It's a modern way to solve problems," says Oregon State University professor Rubin H. Landau. Mathematics, computer science, simulation and modeling, and courses in specific scientific fields are typical components of computational science programs. Another up-and-coming college major is health informatics, whose concentration is on the digitization and utility of medical records and other health-related data. The push for health informatics is coming from the health care industry, among other sectors. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's David D. Potenziani says there is a strong need among doctors and hospital directors for information technology workers who are skilled in health care delivery systems. Furthermore, there also is demand from public health agencies in need of specialists who can make data comprehensible.
New Computer System to Classify Music on Its Beat and Tempo
Asian News International (08/30/09)
Computer scientists in Taiwan are testing a neural network program that has been developed to classify different music styles, such as cha-cha-cha, jive, quickstep, and tango. So far, the neural network has had varying degrees of success in analyzing the beat and tempo of hundreds of ballroom dance music files and assigning the audio signals a musical genre. An automated approach would save music archivists much time and effort when working with large collections of unclassified music, according to the researchers from the National Sun Yat-sen University and Chang Jung Christian University. The team is "playing" music files to the neural network, and says the program will be able to classify a whole collection of music once it has been trained. The Ellis and Dixon methods of classifying music will be used to confirm the genre assignments. The researchers say the program also would help people search through mislabeled MP3 libraries.
Still Trying to Crack Nazi Enigma Messages
Network World (08/31/09) Brown, Bob
Enigma@home is attempting to break one of three original messages generated by the Enigma machine, which was intercepted in 1942. The Enigma M4 machine is believed to have been used by Germany to encipher the signals during the war. German-born violinist and encryption enthusiast Stefan Krah spearheaded the launch of the M4 Project in January 2006, and the first two messages were broken in a couple of months. Krah worked on the challenge messages of Simon Singh's Cipher Challenge after the actual challenge was over and improved the algorithm so that real world messages could be broken. The algorithm was refined further with the help of a publication by Geoff Sullivan and Frode Weierud. The M4 Project is relying on computer users to donate their spare PC processing power for the cause. "The three messages that are the target of the M4 Project were interesting for three main reasons: They were unbroken, published in a serious journal, and encrypted by the M4 Enigma model," says Krah. "This model has the largest key space of all and breaking these messages pretty much requires a distributed computing project."
Researchers Hope to Mass-Produce Tiny Robots
PhysOrg.com (08/28/09) Zyga, Lisa
Researchers in Sweden, Spain, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland are developing robots the size of a flea capable of being mass-produced and released in swarms for a variety of purposes, including surveillance, micro-manufacturing, medicine, and cleaning. The framework for the project, called I-SWARM, is inspired by the behavior of biological insects. The researchers recently demonstrated the initial tests for fabricating these microrobots on a large scale. The researchers say that their manufacturing approach marks a new paradigm in microrobot development. The technique involves integrating all of a robot's components on a single circuit board. The researchers used a conductive adhesive to attach components to a double-sided, flexible, printed circuit board using surface-mount technology. The circuit board was then folded to create a three-dimensional robot. Each robot is a physically simple unit, but numerous robots communicating with each other through infrared sensors are capable of establishing swarm intelligence to provide significant data and perform more complex tasks. Eventually, the researchers hope to be able to produce the robots on a commercial basis, which would make the loss of some robotic units negligible in terms of cost, functionality, and time, and allow the swarm to continue to achieve a high level of performance.
Welcome to 3-D Learning
Converge (08/26/09) Nichols, Russell
The Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS) is using three-dimensional (3D) technology to enable students to interact with the content covered in courses rather than merely read textbooks. For example, nursing students can perform IV maintenance or future auto technicians can examine car engines in virtual learning environments. KCTCS' Interactive Digital Center has created five interactive digital learning modules in the areas of energy, health care, and manufacturing, and also has developed customized solutions for industry clients. Interactive 3D technology enhances learning and allows people to experiment without risk. KCTCS officials say the coal mining tragedies in 2006 was the turning point in its effort to integrate 3D technologies into the classroom. Its first virtual project would be for the Kentucky Coal Academy and would show the benefits of simulation-based training. KCTCS also credits advances in technology for enabling it to be more innovative in the classroom setting. Some instruction at the 16 colleges across KCTCS' 65 campuses can be viewed on a laptop, uses 3D stereographic projection technology, and takes place in a wall screen-equipped space known as a CAVE.
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