Welcome to the November 23, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Step for the Future Web
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (11/23/09) Martinez, Eduardo
The Semantic Evaluation At Large Scale (SEALS) project will develop a new research infrastructure dedicated to the evaluation of semantic technologies. The infrastructure, developed jointly by the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing and nine other European universities, will provide evaluation services for different types of semantic technologies. The SEALS project plans to develop an infrastructure, called the SEALS Platform, which will provide services for the evaluation of semantic technologies. The project also will organize a series of international evaluation campaigns about different types of semantic technologies with the intention of providing a discussion forum on semantic technology evaluation and object evaluation results for the most relevant existing technologies. The results of the different semantic technologies obtained through the evaluation process will support the currently difficult tasks of selecting the appropriate semantic technologies for different objectives, and obtaining recommendations to facilitate the use and development of additional semantic technologies. The evaluations provided by the SEALS Platform will enable researchers to ground their research on objective and replicable evaluation results, and share and discuss those results with other researchers. The long-term goal of the SEALS project is to establish a research infrastructure that is sustained by a community based on the evaluation of semantic technologies.
White House Pushes Science and Math Education
New York Times (11/22/09) P. A15; Chang, Kenneth
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected on Monday to announce Educate to Innovate, a campaign to enlist companies and nonprofit groups to donate time and money to encourage students, particularly middle and high school students, to pursue degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Educate to Innovate will focus primarily on activities outside the classroom. For example, Discovery Communications has already promised to use two hours of its afternoon schedule on the Science Channel for commercial-free programming aimed at middle school students, and science and engineering societies have promised to provide volunteers to work with students in the classroom on National Lab Day in May. The campaign also includes a two-year focus on science on the children's show Sesame Street, and a Web site, connectamillionminds.com, supported by Time Warner Cable, which will provide a searchable directory of local science activities. "The different sectors are responding to the president's call for all hands on deck," says White House science advisor John P. Holdren. He says the initiatives complement the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top program, which is distributing $4.35 billion in stimulus grants to states and provides extra incentives for STEM programs. Obama administration officials say the Educate to Innovate initiative is far wider-reaching than previous efforts, which have failed to create a perceptible rise in test scores or in most students' perceptions of math and science.
Intel Investing Millions for Supercomputer Research in Europe
eWeek (11/19/09) Ferguson, Scott
Intel is collaborating with three French research institutes to invest in an exascale research center in Europe. The new Exascale Computing Research Center would be able to perform calculations about 1,000 times faster--about 1 million trillion calculations per second--than the fastest supercomputers. Intel, which is partnering with the French Atomic Energy Commission, the Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University, and the French National High-Performance Computing Agency, plans to invest several million euros over three years. The Exascale center will be part of Intel Labs Europe, and will employ several dozen researchers who will use the facility to explore weather forecasting, health care, and seismology. "For example, in health care this capability should enable highly sophisticated genome calculations, enabling individualized patient treatment or simulation of cell interactions to provide new cancer treatments," Intel says in a statement. "Another application can be found in seismology, where exascale computing could enable more detailed prediction of ground movement at sites with high security requirements or where frequent movement is expected."
ICT Results (11/20/09)
A consortium of 23 research and business partners, working on the European OpenTC project, have developed open source software and applications for trusted computing (TC) environments using openSUSE, a commercially available version of the Linux operating system. Building TC support in openSUSE involved compiling a trusted software stack for Linux, developing universal virtualization layers, and creating TC and trusted platform module management software. The developers say the accomplishment represents a breakthrough in TC technology as openSUSE is now the first operating system to offer full TC support. The OpenTC platform continually monitors the computer for changes, ensuring that only trusted, verified software is running. "Until now, TC had been implemented for specific applications, such as Microsoft's BitLocker hard drive encryption in Windows Vista and Windows 7, or the fingerprint reader on some HP laptops," says OpenTC project manager Herbert Petautschnig. "With the OpenTC platform, we are extending the TC environment to the full operating system and beyond."
'Fingerprinting' RFID Tags: Researchers Develop Anti-Counterfeiting Technology
University of Arkansas (11/19/09) McGowan, Matt
University of Arkansas researchers have developed a new method for preventing the cloning of passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. The method prevents the production of counterfeit tags by focusing on one or more unique physical attributes of individual tags, instead of the information stored on the tags. "It is easy to clone an RFID tag by copying the contents of its memory and applying them to a new, counterfeit tag, which can then be attached to a counterfeit product--or person, in the case of these new e-passports," says Arkansas professor Dale R. Thompson. "What we've developed is an electronic fingerprinting system to prevent this from happening." The researchers determined that all RFID tags have a unique fingerprint due to variances in radio frequency and manufacturing. By using an algorithm that repeatedly sent reader-to-tag signals, the researchers found that radio frequencies in RFID tags ranged from 903 MHz to 927 MHz, and increased in increments of 2.4 megahertz. The measurements showed that each tag had a unique minimum power response at multiple radio frequencies, and that power responses were significantly different even in same-model tags. Thompson says the different minimal responses are just one of several unique physical characteristics that enabled them to create an electronic fingerprint to identify tags with a high probability of detecting counterfeit tags.
Shared Supercomputing and Everyday Research
New York Times (11/22/09) P. B1; Vance, Ashlee
Recent advancements in supercomputer design coupled with falling prices are breaking down the barriers that have traditionally surrounded computing-intensive research, which could give ordinary users with a novel idea the opportunity to explore its potential using powerful computers. Ninety percent of the world's 500 fastest computers use standard microprocessors, which enable supercomputers to be built much more inexpensively. "I think this says that supercomputing technology is affordable," says Advanced Micro Devices director Margaret Lewis. "We are kind of getting away from this ivory tower." This possibility has inspired some of the world's top computing experts to make valuable sources of information available, with the goal of filling supercomputers with scientific data and allowing anyone in the world with a PC to access these systems. "It’s a good call to arms," says Silicon Graphics' Mark Barrenechea. "The technology is there. The need is there. This could exponentially increase the amount of science done across the globe." Sharing data and supercomputing resources could allow labs to accomplish far more than was previously possible. Argonne Leadership Computing Facility director Pete Beckman says shifting science research into the cloud democratizes science. Argonne, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, is working on Magellan, a project to explore the creation of a cloud-computing infrastructure that scientists around the world could use. Beckman says such a system would reduce the need for smaller universities and labs to spend money on their own computing infrastructure.
World's First Album of Twitter Music
Queen Mary, University of London (11/19/09)
Social network messaging has the potential to make composing music more of a social activity, according to Dan Stowell, a composer and computer scientist at Queen Mary, University of London. He is now offering people the opportunity to download an album of digital music written exclusively for Twitter. Stowell, who is studying for his PhD in Queen Mary's Center for Digital Music, says he was using the programming language SuperCollider, which tells a computer what sounds to make, and decided to post a tweet with instructions for creating a sound like waves crashing on the shore. The sound of the responses was so impressive, he decided to turn the tweets into an online album, entitled sc140, which can be downloaded for free. Such social network messaging can speed up musical collaborations and create something akin to a "hive mind" of composing inspiration. "For computer scientists and composers alike, it's an interesting challenge," Stowell says. "Musicians often enjoy the challenge of working within limitations, and in our research group we investigate new ways of making music and communicating artistically."
Ten Emerging Technologies to Watch in 2010
EE Times (11/18/09) Clarke, Peter
The editors at EE Times have compiled a list of 10 emerging technologies to watch in 2010. First, biofeedback or thought-control of electronics could give people with disabilities, the military, and consumers new ways to control user interfaces. Second, the possibility of rapidly printing multiple conductive, insulating, and semiconductive layers to create electronics could significantly lower the cost of manufacturing electronics. Third, the development of plastic memory could lead to rewritable, non-volatile memory capable of retaining data for more than 10 years and one million cycles. Fourth, maskless lithography could be a spoiler in the effort to replace immersion lithography with extreme ultraviolet lithography. Fifth, parallel processing will become better understood and more widely used as initiatives such as OpenCL and Cuda expand the understanding of how multiple processors will be programmed and used for increased computational and power efficiency. Sixth, energy harvesting will increasingly be used in devices, such as vibration-powered wireless sensors on machinery or vehicles, or motion-powered mobile phones. Seventh, biology and technology will continue to merge, building off of devices such as under-the-skin tags for pets and heart pacemakers for humans. Eighth, resistive RAM, or the memristor, will continue to evolve. Ninth, the depth of the interconnect stack on top of the leading-edge silicon surface could lead to a splitting of front-end fab production into surface and local interconnect. Finally, various batter technologies will emerge to power an increasingly diverse number of devices.
Georgia Tech Supercomputer Powered By Graphics Processors
Network World (11/18/09) Brodkin, Jon
Georgia Institute of Technology researchers are building an experimental supercomputer that combines Hewlett-Packard's Intel-based processors with NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs). Graphics chips are generally unsuitable for supercomputer applications because they lack the mathematical precision and error correction capabilities of general-purpose chips such as Intel's x86, says Georgia Tech professor Jeffrey Vetter. However, he says NVIDIA's next-generation GPUs, code-named Fermi and due next year, are expected to feature double precision math functions, giving them a level of accuracy required for computational science workloads. He says that future supercomputers will most likely contain a heterogeneous mix of processors, including GPUs. GPUs may not work with as many types of applications as general-purpose processors, but they can accelerate many workloads and offer space and power savings that could be critical to developing larger machines, Vetter says. He says applications requiring highly parallel workloads, such as molecular dynamics and biological simulations, would be ideal for Georgia Tech's new machine, which will be housed at the National Institute for Computational Sciences at the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The system will initially have a performance of about 200 teraflops when it goes online next year, and a successor machine planned for 2012 will operate at speeds of 2 petaflops.
Equal Opportunities Through Technology Education
Academy of Finland (11/18/09)
The international Understanding and Providing a Developmental Approach to Technology Education (UPDATE) project is studying more effective methods of technology education to increase the number of women in the technology industry. UPDATE wants to encourage gender sensitivity in technology education, says project coordinator Paivi Fadjukoff from the University of Jyvaskyla. The International Journal of Technology and Design Education features an article, written by a research team led by Aki Rasinen at Jyvaskyla, that addresses the issue. In the article the researchers conclude that teachers' lack of confidence in providing high-quality technology education is a key problem, and that technology and science education needs to be made more of an integral part of the training of elementary school teachers. Another article in the journal says the utilization of creativity and play in teaching raised the interest of both boys and girls in technology, and proposes techniques for integrating technology education in early childhood education.
Turning Heat to Electricity
MIT News (11/18/09) Chandler, David L.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Peter Hagelstein is researching how to make electronic devices more efficient by converting the excess heat they generate into electricity. He says that harvesting a device's wasted heat could enable laptops to run for twice as long before needing to be plugged in, for example. Hagelstein says existing solid-state devices that convert heat into energy are not very efficient. Research by Hagelstein and graduate student Dennis Wu aimed to determine how close realistic technology could come to achieving the theoretical limits for the efficiency of heat-to-electricity conversion. Theory states that such an energy conversion cannot exceed the Carnot Limit, a specific value based on a 19th-century formula for determining the maximum efficiency that any device can achieve in converting heat into work. Current commercial thermoelectric devices only achieve about 10 percent of the theoretical limit, Hagelstein says. However, experiments involving thermal diodes conducted by Hagelstein and Yan Kucherov demonstrated efficiency as high as 40 percent of the Carnot Limit, and further research calculations indicated that 90 percent efficiency is possible. Hagelstein's research was conducted using a single quantum-dot device. The researchers hope that the highly controlled system will help improve their understanding of how to design the ideal thermal-to-electric converter.
More Than Powerful! German Research Computer QPACE Is the Most Energy Efficient in the World
Julich Research Center (11/20/09) Schlaack, Alexander; Schinarakis, Kosta
At the recent SC09 supercomputing conference, the QCD Parallel Computing on the Cell (QPACE) was recognized as the world's most energy-efficient supercomputer. QPACE was developed by an academic consortium of universities, research centers, and the German IBM research and development center, led by the University of Regensburg. The QPACE core team consists of approximately 20 researchers and developers. QPACE is being used to simulate fundamental forces in elementary particle physics, particularly in quantum chromodynamics. The QPACE supercomputer, which is first on the Green500 list, ranks 110 on the Top500 list, with a computing power of 55 teraflops. QPACE features the IBM PowerXCell 8i processor, an enhancement of the Cell/B.E. processor originally developed by Sony, Toshiba, and IBM for the Sony PlayStation 3 game console. The chips each have nine processor cores, enabling them to execute a large number of calculations simultaneously at a high speed. Its developers say the QPACE is unique in how it connects processors through a network of field programmable gate arrays to create an efficient, scalable computer.
Tim Berners-Lee Launches "WWW Foundation" at IGF 2009
Ars Technica (11/16/09) Anderson, Janna Quitney
Sir Tim Berners-Lee used the recent Internet Governance Forum to announce the launch of the World Wide Web Foundation, which he says will be an incubator for transformative programs that will advance the Web as a medium and empower people to bring positive change. Berners-Lee said the foundation will investigate and enhance social opportunities by expanding connectivity. He said the foundation is the next logical step in the Internet's progression, a process that he has led to nurture his invention. First, Berners-Lee started the World Wide Web Consortium to ensure that the Web would scale appropriately and be adapted to fit the needs of global users in terms of standards and interoperability. Then he started exploring the science of the Web as a network through the Web Science Trust. The new initiative has been in development for some time, according to Berners-Lee, and has included input from many people involved in the Internet Governance Forum. "When we look at the Web, we don't look at it anymore as connected computers or as connected Web pages," he says. "We look at the Web now as humanity connected. Humanity connected by technology. We want it to empower people. We want it to do the very best for humanity."
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