Welcome to the January 11, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
A Nation Develops
Financial Times (01/11/10) P. 7; Leahy, Joe
India is making the transition from a global outsourcing center to a global innovation nexus, but lingering challenges include persistent infrastructure difficulties and an educational system in need of improvement. Still, the establishment of multinational research and development (R&D) facilities in India and China is a significant step forward, according to General Electric chief innovation consultant Vijay Govindarajan. "We are at the cusp of a new paradigm in which innovation will happen in India and China first and then it'll go to the rich countries," he says. More than 200 multinationals currently have India-based R&D centers that plan to harness the ability of the vast pool of homegrown engineers and expatriate Ph.Ds working in the West who are eager to come home. These R&D facilities initially supported their Western equivalents, but recently they have been entrusted with R&D of products for the global market. Google India's Prasad Ram notes that there is an opportunity inherent in the difficulty of solving technical problems related to product development in India due to the country's diversity and infrastructure shortcomings. "If I can solve challenges in a systemic way here, then I can extend the solution to the rest of the world," he says. Nevertheless, analysts say the day when India outpaces the global innovation of the United States, Europe, or Japan will not come until the country starts offering large-scale, high-quality master's and Ph.D courses in sufficient numbers.
White House Calls for IT Boost to Fight Terrorism
Computerworld (01/08/10) Vijayan, Jaikumar
A new White House report says the U.S. government needs better information technology (IT) to counter potential terrorist attacks, such as the recent attempt to detonate an explosive device on an airplane. The report outlines a failure by the U.S. intelligence community to "identify, correlate, and fuse into a coherent story all of the discrete pieces of intelligence held by the U.S. government." Information technology within the counter-terrorism community "did not sufficiently enable the correlation of data that would have enabled analysts to highlight the relevant threat information," the report says. The report called on the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to accelerate IT enhancements in areas such as knowledge discovery, database integration, and cross-database searches. The report also called for better technology linking biographic information with terrorism-related suspects. The DNI has attempted to address these IT issues by standardizing technology acquisition, says DNI's James Lewis. The incident also highlights the intelligence community's culture of secrecy as opposed to information sharing, says Gartner analyst John Pescatore. The intelligence community was programmed to fight the Cold War, where secrecy was paramount, but now more openness is needed to combat terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, says security analyst Bruce Schneier. "Our intelligence organizations need to trade techniques and expertise with industry, and they need to share information among the different parts of themselves," he says.
Hybrid Systems Get Strengthened Through Diversity
ICT Results (01/11/10)
European researchers are working to create more effective hybrid control systems known as networked embedded systems. Starting in 2004, a European Union-funded project called the Hycon Network of Excellence began "concentrating on the use of advanced automatic control methods to make networked embedded systems fulfill their promise." The goal was to create hybrid systems in which physical and computational processes mesh to reshape the way health care, transportation, personal spaces, and environmental problems are handled, says project coordinator Francoise Lamnabhi-Lagarrigue. The Hycon team first developed solutions in the area of automatic control and deployed them in real situations for testing. One test involved an automatic refrigeration system for supermarkets, which needed to maintain a steady temperature in the freezers while the external temperature fluctuated throughout the day and night as customers opened and closed the doors and removed products. Other tests were conducted in a solar air-conditioning plant, a sugar-processing plant, a mining and smelting company, and a power station. The Hycon project, which ended in 2009, laid the foundation for the European Embedded Control Institute, which will become a worldwide center for hybrid systems research.
Making TV Social, Virtually
Technology Review (01/11/10) Jonietz, Erika
Researchers from Motorola, BT, and Intel are developing ways to combine social networking technology with TV viewing. The goal is to get as close as possible to physically sharing the viewing experience. "The one huge key is trying to make it not like instant messaging or a PC on your TV, but like it's sharing an experience," says Motorola Social Media Research Lab's Crysta Metcalf. "What we're working on right now is a version in which people can see what their friends are watching--not Facebook friends, but people you're close to and would really want to watch TV with." The popularity of social networks has made this idea much more realistic. "It's very clear that social networking will become part of the TV viewing experience," says Edelman Digital's Steve Rubel. Several startup companies also are designing new technologies aimed at bridging the gap between social networks and TV. For example, Boxee makes software that enables the user to easily access Internet video content, such as YouTube videos, on TVs. Meanwhile, Motorola researchers are experimenting with software that would make smartphones the interface between users and their TVs. Both BT and Motorola are in the advanced stages of testing and claim that the first fully integrated social TV system will be available to consumers sometime this year.
Queue ICPC Challenge
ACM Queue readers have an opportunity to compete in an online programming competition based on the 2009 ACM International Collegiate Programming Competition (ICPC) Challenge problem. Working under the same rules used for the ACM ICPC Challenge, participants get to code a "player" in C++, C#, or Java, for a game called Capture, and enter it into a tournament against other teams' players. Capture is a game in which two players, each controlling three playing pieces, compete to convert game pucks to their own color. Queue readers can use the Challenge problem distribution binary to try the game and code their own player. All interaction will occur via text protocol implemented with stdin and stdout. The deadline for the Queue ICPC Challenge is Feb. 7, 2010. Participants can try their players in preliminary matches during the one-month coding phase, ahead of the final, double-elimination competition.
Stimulus Funding to Help Search Engines Learn on the Job
Cornell Chronicle (01/07/10) Steele, Ben
Cornell University researchers are developing search engine software that can learn by noticing which links are clicked on in a list of search results, and how searches are reworded when the first results are unsatisfactory. The research will lead to methods that improve search quality, especially on specialized Web sites such as scientific or legal collections. "I think there is a potential for commercial impact, improving quality and productivity," says Cornell professor Thorsten Joachims. Joachims and fellow Cornell professor Robert Kleinberg have created an open source search engine called Osmot, which uses extensive machine learning technology. With the help of Cornell professor Geri Gay, eye-tracking studies have shown that search engines can improve by shuffling the order in which results are returned, since a result that shows up toward the bottom of a list may not be clicked on because the user does not scroll down far enough. Joachims says search engine results represent a tradeoff between displaying the best ranking based on existing data, and experimenting to be able to provide better results in subsequent searches. "The key is to balance the tradeoff between presentation and experimentation in an optimal way," he says.
Modern Wireless Technologies Could Save Bushfire Lives
Researchers at Australia's University of Adelaide are exploring the use of the global system for mobile communications (GSM) and ZigBee short-range wireless data connection technology to create a smart system for detecting and monitoring bushfires. The team has connected a system of temperature and humidity sensors to a microcontroller, which is interfaced with a GSM module to communicate the sensory information and a global positioning system receiver to report the module position. Delivering alerts on the status of bushfires via the short message service (SMS) used by GSM phones means the system can be easily adapted to different settings at little cost. The team also has connected the same temperature and humidity sensors and monitors to a base station via ZigBee modules that feed into a wireless local access network, allowing for a property or site to be monitored remotely over the Internet. Also, when using the ZigBee technology, modules can be linked together using a general packet radio service network to expand coverage. Data could be collected from different sources similar to a distributed sensory network, but the initial setup would be much easier.
Feds Hand Out $47 Million in Grants for Green Data Centers
eWeek (01/06/10) Burt, Jeffrey
The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded $47 million in federal stimulus money to 14 private projects aimed at making data centers more energy efficient. The grants will be matched by $70 million in private industry donations. The work being done in these projects will lead to data centers consuming less energy as well as possibly fueling job growth, says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "If you look at how energy is used in IT ... at the component level, at the rack level, [it's important] to make them more energy efficient," Chu says. "It's essentially in all sectors of the IT industry. There are great gains to be had." Data centers account for about three percent of the energy consumed in the United States, and if current trends continue, they could surpass the airline industry as the fourth largest producer of greenhouse gases in the country, according to Power Assure's Brad Wurtz. "Our goal is to double the energy efficiency in data centers within five years," Wurtz says. The projects also will examine the power supply chain to help reduce power loss and heat dissipation, which will help make the devices more energy efficient. Other research areas include making servers and networking devices more efficient and creating software to optimize their energy use.
Behavioral Identification Can Help Stop Terrorists Like Abdul Mutallab, Researcher Says
University of Buffalo (01/06/10) Donovan, Patricia
University of Buffalo (UB) professor Mark G. Frank says that current technologies could have detected and preemptively stopped the recent terrorist attempt on Northwest Flight 253. "Behavioral science techniques could have detected him once he got to the airport," Frank says. He says security is best achieved in a multi-faceted approach when examining would-be airline passengers. "No single security technique, on its own, is a panacea, although that would be great," Frank says. The goals of anti-terrorism security start with employing intelligence and investigatory processes to stop a would-be terrorist from traveling in the first place. If a potential terrorist does travel, the next goal becomes forcing him or her into a group marked for secondary screening. This is where behavioral science could have been used to stop terrorist Farouk Abdul Mutallab from boarding the Northwest plane. "There exist excellent scientific techniques to spot such suspects, and they don't employ ethnic screening or the random screening of passengers," Frank says. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses the Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT) and Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) to identify suspicious behavior. SPOT is a behavioral observation technique used by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and is based on a successful Israeli program. FAST is a sensor-based program that analyzes body reactions indicative of hostile intention and uses this information to identify who should be required to pass through additional screening. "The immutable fact is that any effective international terrorist security system must address myriad psychological, social, and political issues," Frank says.
Can the World's Fastest Supercomputer Combat Health Care Waste?
Government Computer News (01/06/10) Jackson, William
Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have proposed using Jaguar, a recently upgraded Cray XT5-based supercomputer, to help with U.S. government health care reform. Combining and analyzing health care data could save as much as $50 billion per year by getting rid of waste and preventing fraud, says Oak Ridge's Andrew Loebl. The U.S. government currently uses five regional contractors to process claims for health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as programs run by agencies including the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, Indian Health Services, and the Federal Employee Benefits Health Plan. The new program would eliminate the need for outside contractors and could proactively identify fraudulent or inappropriate claims before they are paid. The FBI estimates that 10 percent of payments are improper, totaling $150 billion per year. Loebl estimates he could save $50 billion by reading the data in real time. The Jaguar supercomputer has a processing speed of 2.3 petaflops and has 362 terabytes of memory. Loebl says that Jaguar can easily handle the health care data and the workload would not interrupt the climate modeling or other advanced research being done using the supercomputer.
New Mathematical Model Aids Simulations of Early Universe
SMU News (01/06/10) Reynolds, Daniel
Researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have collaborated on a project to simulate the birth of the universe using supercomputers. The research team built a computer model of events at the very beginning of the universe, when the first stars emitted radiation that affected the surrounding matter, allowing light to pass through it. The team tested its model on two supercomputers--Ranger at the University of Texas at Austin and Kraken at the University of Tennessee. The new model combines several physical processes, such as gas motion, radiation transport, chemical kinetics, gravitational acceleration due to star clustering, and dark matter dynamics, says SMUs Daniel Reynolds. "By forcing the computational methods to tightly bind these processes together, our new model allows us to generate simulations that are highly accurate, numerically stable, and computationally scalable to the largest supercomputers available," he says. The variables can be altered to describe different scenarios that may have occurred. The goal is to find a simulation that results in a universe that looks like what exists today. Additional researchers on the project include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's John Hayes and UCSD's Pascal Paschos and Michael Norman.
MIT and FIRST Ally to Encourage STEM Educational Careers
The Journal (01/05/10) Aronowitz, Scott
For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are collaborating on a program designed to encourage K-12 students to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. FIRST and MIT are exploring a number of opportunities, including an after-school robotics program. The MIT Alumni Association plans to recruit its members in the STEM community to serve as FIRST coaches, mentors, volunteers, and sponsors. "This synergistic relationship with FIRST and its dedication to attracting and inspiring students with an interest in science and technology clearly puts the intellectual energy of the MIT community to work where it is needed the most, [toward] igniting the minds of young people," says MIT Alumni Association CEO Judith M. Cole. The ultimate goal of the partnership is to get more K-12 students interested in learning math and science and pursuing STEM-related careers.
DHS Eyes Science and Technology Research
Federal Computer Week (01/04/10) Bain, Ben
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) Science and Technology Directorate is seeking proposals for conducting research in a wide range of technology-related areas. Research areas of interest include cybersecurity technologies, chemical and biological research and development, agro defense, interoperability, countermeasures for explosives, data fusion and automated detection for aviation cargo, tools and technologies for determining when radical groups are likely to commit acts of violence, cyber-physical systems security, and threat characterization and attribution. DHS will accept white papers and full proposals throughout the year. The department will provide multiple awards to fund the research performed by individuals or teams.
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