Welcome to the November 18, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
There's No Business Like Grid Business
ICT Results (11/16/09)
The European Union-funded GRid enabled access to rich mEDIA (GREDIA) content project has developed a platform that makes the grid's resources available to business users. "Many business applications need to work fast and need to work with huge amounts of data," says GREDIA coordinator Nikos Sarris. "The grid is ideal for that, but software developers don't use it because they don't know how." Sarris says the GREDIA platform will help business application developers exploit the grid without requiring them to become grid technology experts. He says the system is reliable because it is distributed across numerous machines, and it optimizes business transactions using algorithms that make the most of the grid's distributed resources. The project developed and demonstrated two business services: one allows any number of sources using almost any kind of device to be used as a news-gathering team; a second is designed for the banking industry. The banking applications enable lenders to use their home computers or handheld devices to securely provide information. The program authenticates information, combines it into a profile, and calculates credit rankings using a protocol specified by the lender.
New Social Networking Tool to Improve Well-Being Awareness
University of Southampton (ECS) (11/18/09)
A social networking tool called Healthii has improved personal and group well-being and interactions, according to researchers at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science. A study of 10 Healthii users over five weeks reveals that half felt they were more reflective, eight said they were more aware of other group members, and half said they would really miss this level of communication when the trial ended. Healthii was designed to help users of social networking sites and microblogs understand how they and their peers are doing, and to help them enhance their quality of life at work. The application uses graphical avatars to show the level of busy-ness, enjoyment, stress, and health of users, and adding a numeric code would allow a person to quickly communicate that he or she is feeling very busy, enjoying the task, averagely stressed, but feeling a bit under the weather, for example. The field of Human-Computer Interaction tends to focus on designing to support efficiency or productivity in tasks, says dr schraefel. "That's important, but we're now beginning to consider how to design systems to support well-being while engaged in everyday tasks to enhance quality of life," says schraefel. "Eventually, we hope to inspire designers and researchers not only to explore these attributes in social networking applications, but also to consider the potential for well-being measures across Human-Computer Interaction the same way we consider efficiency today," says Ph.D. student Paul Andre.
Feds Mull Rules, Fees to Spur Net Access
Wall Street Journal (11/18/09) P. A1; Schatz, Amy
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is debating whether it should force Internet service providers (ISPs) to share their networks with rivals and increase the fees charged to consumers' phone bills to pay for broader Internet access. The proposals, which are heavily opposed by telecommunications and cable companies, are a reversal from the Bush administration, when regulators reduced government control of Internet and phone service. The new Democrat-controlled commission is considering if more government oversight is necessary to ensure competition and more affordable Internet service. The FCC will examine possible solutions in December and make a formal recommendation in February when it is scheduled to release its National Broadband Plan for improving broadband speed and access. FCC officials estimate that the plan could cost $20 billion to $350 billion, depending on the speed offered, to connect all U.S. households to high-speed Internet service. One potential solution would revive open access rules, which would require ISPs to lease their networks to rivals at government-regulated rates. Open access rules are in place in Europe and some Asian countries, and consumer advocates argue that open access is a major reason why Internet service is cheaper and faster in those countries. Cable and phone companies argue that they will have little reason to invest in networks if they are required to offer below-rate access to competitors.
Cellphone App to Make Maps of Noise Pollution
New Scientist (11/18/09) Ananthaswamy, Anil
The European Union requires member states to create noise maps of their urban areas once every five years. Instead of deploying sensors all over a city, the maps are usually created using computer models to predict how various sources of noise affect the surrounding areas. However, those maps are not an accurate reflection of residents' exposure to noise, says Sony Computer Science Laboratory researcher Nicolas Maisonneuve, who has developed NoiseTube, a downloadable software app that uses smartphones to monitor noise pollution. NoiseTube records any sound picked up by the phone's microphone and marks the location using the device's global positioning system capabilities. Users also can label the data with additional information, such as the source of the noise. The recording is converted into a format that can be mapped using Google Earth. The software checks against weather information to reject data that may have been distorted by high winds, for example. Locations with sustained levels of noise are labeled as dangerous. The software currently must be calibrated to work with the microphone used in each individual smartphone, but the researchers are working on a method of automatically calibrating microphones.
Evaluators Sought for Degree Programs in Computing
CSAB, Inc.--the lead society within ABET, Inc. for the accreditation of programs in computer science, information systems, IT, and software engineering--is seeking evaluators for degree programs in computing. The role of a CSAB evaluator includes visiting college campuses to review facilities, curriculum, faculty qualifications, student achievement, and other key program areas. Program evaluators are expected to serve for at least one three-year term and to be available to make a minimum of one school visit each year. Candidates with an industrial background must have at least five years of experience as a working practitioner in a computing-related field, hold an advanced degree, and have a minimum of one degree in a computing-related field. Recent contact with computing graduates and experience in evaluating them (for example, recruiting, hiring, interviewing, or working with graduates) is also required. Desired qualifications include one or more years of management experience in a computing-related discipline, experience evaluating computing degree programs (such as industrial advisory committees, curriculum committees, and undergraduate teaching experience), and experience in evaluating the criteria for success in a computing career (for example, career monitoring, academic advisory activities, making hiring and promotion decisions). Interested candidates should apply directly at www.abet.org/volunteer.shtml/. Applications are due by Dec. 31.
Software Knowledge Unnecessarily Lost
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (11/18/09)
Dutch researchers Remco de Boer and Rik Farenhorst, working on the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research's Joint Academic and Commercial Quality Research & Development program, investigated how software architectural knowledge can be better disseminated and retrieved. Designing and building large software systems requires a great deal of creativity and knowledge, but architects without access to the right knowledge often end up unnecessarily reinventing the wheel. Farenhorst explored how software architects can share knowledge more easily and discovered that many architects simply do not talk with each other enough, often because they want to receive knowledge but are less willing to pass on their own knowledge. Farenhorst recommends using fixed templates to record architectural knowledge in combination with open communication facilitated by forums that allow architects to find each other. Remco de Boer studied the role of auditors who assess the quality of software systems, which often requires searching through piles of paperwork for specific information, such as the decisions an architect made during the design process. De Boer developed a method for guiding auditors through the information in a more efficient manner. Both researchers conducted their efforts through the GRIFFIN project, which aims to describe how and why software engineers make their decisions about software architecture.
IBM Announces Advances Toward a Computer that Works Like a Human Brain
San Jose Mercury News (CA) (11/18/09) Bailey, Brandon
Researchers from IBM's Almaden Research Center and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have performed a computer simulation that matches the scale and complexity of a cat's brain, while researchers from IBM and Stanford University say they have developed an algorithm for mapping the human brain in unprecedented detail. The researchers say these efforts could help build a computer that replicates the complexity of the human brain. In the first project, an IBM supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore Lab was used to model the movement of data through a structure with 1 billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses, enabling researchers to observe how information "percolates" through a system similar to a feline cerebral cortex. The research is part of IBM project manager Dharmendra Modha's efforts to design a new computer by first better understanding how the brain works. "The brain has awe-inspiring capabilities," Modha says. "It can react or interact with complex, real-world environments, in a context-dependent way. And yet it consumes less power than a light bulb and it occupies less space than a two-liter bottle of soda." Modha says a major difference between the brain and traditional computers is that current computer are designed on a model that differentiates between processing and storing data, which can lead to a lag in updating information. However, the brain can integrate and react to a constant stream of sights, sounds, and sensory information. Modha imagines a cognitive computer capable of analyzing a constant stream of information from global trading floors, banking institutions, and real estate markets to identify key trends and their consequences; or a computer capable of evaluating pollution using real-time sensors from around the world.
Who's Talking About Me?
Technology Review (11/18/09) Naone, Erica
Web experts are developing technologies capable of tracking online conversations in real time, even when those conversations are distributed across the Web. For example, popular videos and articles often get re-posted and discussed on hundreds of sites, and the creators of that content may want to be able to follow those discussions. In response, new Web protocols have been developed that provide notifications when new content is available. One protocol, pubsubhubbub, can push content out to feed readers as it is updated. Another, Salmon, enables comments to "swim upstream" to connect to the original post. In a keynote address at the recent Defrag 2009 technology conference, speaker Kevin Marks said that these types of technologies are needed for today's Web, where content rapidly flows from one site to another. Gathering this distributed content and related discussions could be critical for people who want to participate in the conversation that surrounds the content they post online, particularly because people are increasingly likely to discuss and interact with content away from the site it was originally posted, according to PostRank chief technology officer Ilya Grigorik. For protocols like Salmon to work, they would have to be adopted by both content publishers and services that may subscribe, distribute, or discuss that content. When new content appears, the publisher could use pubsubhubbub to notify subscribers, who would use Salmon to send back any information or discussions to the publisher.
New Supercomputer to Boost Aussie Research
Computerworld Australia (11/16/09) Edwards, Kathryn
Australia recently unveiled the Sun Constellation, a 140 teraflop machine that will be the country's most powerful supercomputer. The $15 million Sun Constellation, which ranks among the world's top 40 supercomputers, has 180 Sun Blade x6275 Server Modules implemented in two computer racks, but there are plans to expand to 14 racks by the end of 2009. The total system leverages the Sun Lustre Storage System and the Sun Datacenter InfiniBand Switch 648. The Sun Constellation also has an energy consumption rate of 604 kilowatts. The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) will operate the supercomputer, which will be housed at the Australian National University (ANU). The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, ANU, the Australian government, and other partners will use the supercomputer for research projects, such as computational chemistry, nanotechnology, astronomy, photonics, medicine, and environmental science. Australia also has plans to introduce a 1 petaflop or 2 petaflops next-generation machine in 2011. "Australia's now back in business in the high-performance computing league," says NCI director Lindsay Botten.
3D Web Will Save High-Performance Computing Industry, Intel CTO Says
Network World (11/17/09) Brodkin, Jon
Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner believes that three-dimensional (3D) Web technologies will revive the high-performance computing (HPC) industry. Rattner, who delivered the opening address at the SC09 supercomputing conference, said HPC demand is currently limited to small markets. However, he said virtually the entire population could benefit from HPC if the right platform became available. "High-performance computing doesn't need a killer app as much as it needs a killer application framework," Rattner said. "It needs a platform in which people can leverage the power of high-performance computing to do just about anything they can imagine." Rattner believes the killer application framework is the 3D Web, powered on the back end by cloud technologies and the HPC industry. The 3D Web will power virtual worlds and create new ways for people to interact, as well as new platforms for businesses to test products. Guest speaker Aaron Duffy, a biology researcher at Utah State University, said he is using 3D simulations to study how environmental conditions affect fern populations over several generations. Fashion Research Institute CEO Shenlei Winkley, another guest speaker, said 3D modeling and simulation programs have reduced design times by 75 percent and sample costs by 65 percent. "This is the killer application infrastructure platform that will power growth and increase [research and development] capability in high-performance computing," Rattner said.
A New Tool for Real-Time Credit Card Fraud Prevention
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (11/12/09) Martínez, Eduardo
Researchers from several European institutions, led by the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing, are creating a services development platform that will be able to process millions of data per second. The researchers say the new technology could help fight real-time credit card fraud, mobile telephony SIM card cloning, and fraudulent unpaid telephone calls. Banks and credit card companies have several systems in place to detect fraudulent credit card use, but they all detect fraud after it has been committed, aiming to identify the fraud and prevent cardholder losses. The new system will implement real-time fraud detection, preventing improper credit card use and cardholder losses because improper payments will not be authorized. The same technology can be applied to mobile phones, where SIM card copying or the fraudulent use of telephone lines is only detected after the crime. The real-time system is being developed as part of the Scalable Autonomic Streaming Middleware Project (Stream), which aims to build a platform for real-time processing of massive data flows. The major technological innovation is that Stream uses large node clusters to process massive data throughput of millions of data per second.
Planting Seeds for a Fertile Future
University of Texas at Austin (11/11/09) Dubrow, Aaron
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched the iPlant Collaborative, a $50 million, five-year project that will create the cybernetic infrastructure needed to solve grand challenge problems in plant biology. iPlant will provide the ability to draw from resources and talents in remote locations, enabling plant, computer, and information scientists from around the world to collaboratively work on questions of global importance. iPlant co-director Dan Stanzione, deputy director of the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas, Austin, says feeding the world is a crop production problem, and sustaining a breathable atmosphere is a plant problem, so solving these problems is of vital importance. "iPlant is the first attempt at this scale to build a cyberinfrastructure that fills the gap between building a supercomputer and what scientists do in their labs," Stanzione says. Filling that gap requires identifying the technical and structural obstacles that prevent researchers from using high-performance computing systems to find solutions. Over the past decade, NSF has supported numerous individual projects in plant sciences. iPlant will integrate the disparate data that was created through those projects to create a comprehensive network of knowledge.
Facebook Offers Poor Personal Data Protection
A study of Norwegian Internet users and social media found that people are willing to post their personal information on social media sites even when they are not aware how it will be used. Conducted by SINTEF for the Norwegian Consumers' Council, the researchers found that 60 percent of Norweigan Internet users are on Facebook. SINTEF's Petter Bae Brandtzaeg and Marika Luders conclude that Facebook offers relatively poor personal data protection due to the service itself, its design, the level of competence of its users, and their lack of awareness of how to protect themselves. "Facebook has become an important arena for social participation in our personal environment," Brandtzaeg says. "However, it is becoming ever more easy to gather and aggregate personal information, outside the control of users." Still, people are willing to post their personal information because so many other people use Facebook, and they rarely hear of unfortunate incidents. Respondents were usually not aware that Facebook uses personal information for commercial purposes, and their personal information also can be used against them, such as when they apply for a job. The researchers say that people and objects will be woven together ever more closely by the next wave of Internet media such as Google Wave and mobile smartphones. "This can make us even more vulnerable to failures of personal data protection," Luders says.
Hackers Create Tools for Disaster Relief
CNet (11/15/09) Mills, Elinor
The first-ever Random Hacks of Kindness recently took place in Mountain View, Calif., bringing software developers together to focus on how technology could be used to help people get information and find each other during emergencies. Organized by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, NASA, the World Bank, and SecondMuse, the event is viewed as a way to bring technologists together to solve real-world problems and create a community of developers to build tools to help emergency workers. "We're trying to seed the community," says Google Crisis Response's Jeffery Martin. "We're saying, partner with the private sector and we can push technology forward and innovate." Developers used social media sites such as Twitter and short message service (SMS) for information sharing to build about a dozen tools. One project would use laptops, routers, mobile devices, USB keys, and Wi-Fi to create a mesh network during a disaster. A group primarily from NASA took first place with a mobile application for easily notifying loved ones that "I'm OK" via SMS by clicking one button. The organizers plan to hold the next Random Hacks of Kindness event in early 2010 in Washington, D.C.
Scientists Put Interactive Flu Tracking at Public's Fingertips
OSU News (11/12/09) Caldwell, Emily
Ohio State University (OSU) researchers have combined several computer systems to analyze massive amounts of genetic data collected from publicly available isolated strains of the H5N1 virus, the cause of the avian flu. The researchers then developed a Web-based application using Google Earth that enables health officials and the public to visualize how the virus moved around the world. The researchers say the visualizations are the most comprehensive map of how the avian flu has been transmitted among sites in Asia, Africa, and Europe. To create the visualizations, the researchers developed a new method for analyzing genetic data that generates more complete information about the flu's spread. The method, combined with the growing availability of sequenced genomes of isolated flu strains, is expected to help public health officials make better-informed predictions about how the H1N1 flu will evolve. "We are taking into account more data but at the same time, we're making simpler visualizations, allowing users to choose what they want to see," says OSU professor Daniel Janies. "We waded through all of the complexities so people in the public health realm who want to determine how a flu virus got from point A to point B can find that out, and we'll have better public health outcomes as a result."
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