Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the January 22, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Hillary Clinton Calls for Web Freedom, Demands China Investigate Google Attack
Washington Post (01/22/10) Kang, Cecilia

In a sweeping Internet freedom speech, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a global Internet free of censorship in response to claims that hackers targeted Chinese human rights activists' Google accounts. The U.S. State Department has sent a formal request to the Chinese government asking for a review of the claims. Clinton also called for all nations to work together to punish cyberattacks aimed at silencing citizens and disrupting businesses. "Countries or individuals that engage in cyberattacks should face consequences and international condemnation," Clinton says. The rise in social networking has led some countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Tunisia, to try to block online traffic. The United States will push to preserve the ability of everyone to communicate freely over the Web, Clinton says. The State Department also plans to work with non-government organizations and technology companies on solutions to the problem of Internet censorship abroad.
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Tech Volunteers Aiding Haiti Relief Efforts
InformationWeek (01/20/10) Hoover, J. Nicholas

Software developers and tech-savvy individuals from around the world are organizing to help with the Haiti relief effort. For example, Noel Dickover co-founded CrisisCommons to provide non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and others in Haiti with better information and situational awareness. "If we can improve situational awareness and information sharing, we can help NGOs have better performance across the board," Dickover says. Projects already underway include the Haiti OpenStreetMap, a global positioning system-compatible street map of Haiti. Another project is the We Have, We Need Exchange program, an online marketplace for the exchange of resources and services geared toward NGOs in Haiti. Other projects include a timeline of events, a wiki hosted by National Public Radio, an English to Creole dictionary for iPhone and Android mobile devices, and a system to use Twitter messages to ask for or offer assistance. Other volunteer tech efforts include a collaborative effort between Ushaahidi, InSTEDD, and Thompson Reuters to launch a disaster information service using local SMS short code for people in Haiti to text their emergency needs.


Multiple Wavelength Laser Helps Silicon Chip See the Light
University of Sydney (01/21/10) Stock, Sarah

An international team led by University of Sydney researchers have developed a multiple wavelength laser on a silicon chip that produces light for processing and transmitting information. The breakthrough has the potential to lead to more powerful and less expensive computers. "The on-chip light source will be key to enabling the simultaneous transmission of multiple data channels either on-chip or between chips in a single optical fiber, each at a different wavelength," says Sydney professor David Moss. Electrical signals currently carry information over copper wires. "We know that metal is prone to 'choking' on the bandwidth bottleneck," Moss says. The device consists of a laser on a chip, which can be integrated with silicon computer chips. The laser also could be used in telecommunications, high-precision broadband sensing and spectroscopy, metrology, molecular fingerprinting, optical clocks, and attosecond physics.


Slime Design Mimics Tokyo's Rail System
EurekAlert (01/21/10) Pinol, Natasha

Hokkaido University researchers, working with colleagues in the United Kingdom and Japan, recently completed a study suggesting that a fungus-like mold might be a good example of how to construct computer and mobile communication networks. Hokkaido's Atsushi Tero and colleagues observed that the slime mold connected itself to food sources in a pattern that was nearly identical to Tokyo's railway system. The food sources were placed in a way that corresponded to the cities surrounding Tokyo. The slime mold grew outwards from the center and created a network that was comparable to Tokyo's actual infrastructure. The researchers observed the core mechanisms needed by the mold to connect to its food and transformed them into an algorithm. "Biologically inspired pure mathematical models can lead to completely new, highly efficient algorithms able to provide technical systems with essential features of living systems, for applications in areas such as computer science," says Otto von Guericke University's Wolfgang Marwan. The research provides a starting point for improving the efficiency of networks such as remote sensor displays, mobile ad hoc networks, and wireless mesh networks, Tero says.


Fujitsu and A*STAR's IHPC Enter Collaborative R&D Partnership to Usher in Era of Petascale Computing in Singapore
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) (01/19/10) Le-Shon, Tan

Fujistu and the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) at Singapore's Agency for Science Technology and Research have announced a joint research and development project to create advanced applications for the next generation of scientific computing. A team of 20 IHPC and Fujistu researchers will develop scalable algorithms for petascale computing in areas such as computational fluid dynamics and materials science. The researchers say the new applications will allow for a high degree of fidelity and accuracy in complex engineering systems. "Petascale computing is the new frontier in high-performance computing and will open avenues to solve complex problems in the physical and life sciences, as well as engineering," says IHPC's Raj Thampuran.


Picture-Driven Computing
MIT News (01/20/10) Hardesty, Larry

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Sikuli, a system that enables computer users to write programs using screen shots of graphical user interfaces (GUIs). The researchers say that Sikuli could allow novice computer users to create their own programs without having to master a programming language. Sikuli was designed by MIT professor Rob Miller and graduate student Tsung-Hsiang Chang, and the University of Maryland's Tom Yeh. The researchers won the best-student-paper award at ACM's recent User Interface Software and Technology conference. The paper described how Sikuli can build short programs that aid other, larger programs. Sikuli uses computer vision algorithms to analyze the computer screen and can work with any program that has a graphical interface. Another Sikuli application lets programmers who are working on large software development projects create scripts that automatically test an application's GUI components.


Research Team 'Virtualizes' Supercomputer
Northwestern University News Center (IL) (01/20/10)

Northwestern University (NU) researchers, in collaboration with Sandia Nationals Labs and the University of New Mexico, have developed Palacios, a virtual machine monitor (VMM) designed specifically for supercomputers. The researchers successfully virtualized Sandia's Red Storm supercomputer using Palacios. Testing went up to 4,096 nodes, which the researchers say makes it the largest-scale study of virtualization in history. A VMM works by separating a computer's operating system from its hardware. VMM also enables an operating system from one machine to be run on another and it allows one machine to simultaneously run multiple operating systems. "If we can virtualize supercomputers without performance compromises, we will make them easier to use and easier to manage, generally increasing the utility of these very large national infrastructure investments," says NU professor Peter Dinda.


Making Braille Music Universally Accessible
ICT Results (01/21/10)

A new European system uses digital technology to create a standardized format for transcribing music into Braille and making musical scores for the blind universally accessible. The CONTRAPUNCTAS system enables users to download enriched, multimedia scores from a growing digital library, study them with enhanced flexibility, and add new music to the library. CONTRAPUNCTAS uses a new digital format to standardize musical scores and facilitates access by using a software package called RESONARE. The resulting Braille Music Markup Language can be read using another program, the Braille Music Reader (BMR). BMR can describe musical elements from individual notes to changes in tempo or dynamics in spoken form, says project coordinator Antonio Quatraro. BMR plays the notes as the user reads the score on the computer. "That's important, since a commercial recording cannot be as accurate as the printed score, just as a spoken story cannot convey its spelling and punctuation," Quatraro says.


Touchscreen Merges the Real and Digital Worlds
New Scientist (01/22/10) Barras, Colin

Microsoft Research's Andy Wilson and the University of California, Berkeley's Bjorn Hartmann have designed a touchscreen table called Pictionaire. The device is placed under a ceiling-mounted camera and projector, which can recognize and respond to items placed on the table. When a user places a sketchbook on the table, the camera takes a digital snapshot of the page and sends the information to the touchscreen so that a digital version of the page appears on the table. Pictionaire also uses a wireless keyboard. As the user types, images or words appear that are related to the subject the user is writing about, hoping to facilitate the brainstorming process. "We're playing with the concept of moving back and forth between the virtual and the real," Wilson says. In a related project in Germany, the University of Magdeburg's Raimund Dachselt is developing a device called PaperLens. It uses a ceiling-mounted camera to help users manipulate graphics in three dimensions.
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ICT Research to Boost India Socio-Economic Development
EE Times India (01/18/10)

Microsoft Research India scientists have created technologies specifically designed to facilitate socio-economic development, spanning such sectors as education, agriculture, microfinance, and health care. The multidisciplinary research groups consist of sociologists, computer scientists, and communications specialists. One project they developed is the MultiPoint Mouse, in which several mice are attached to one computer and applications are used to enable simultaneous learning. Another project is Digital Green, in which farmers can record their agricultural practices and send them to a mediator, who passes the videos along to other farmers. In collaboration with Operation ASHA, the Microsoft Research India team also developed a biometric terminal for tuberculosis clinics. It uses low-cost netbooks, a fingerprint reader, and a low-cost mobile phone for data upload. The research team also developed a microfludic chip, a small plastic device that integrates all of the features of a biological laboratory on a portable platform.
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Data at the End of the Tunnel
Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin (01/19/10) Helms, Ina

Scientists at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and French research facility CNRS have made advances in the development of tunnel magnetoresistance-based memory. The researchers have used the compound barium titanate to make the insulator that separates two thin layers of a magnetic material, which reduces the amount of energy needed to produce a strong magnetic field for writing data. The quirky behavior of the memory allows some of the charge carriers to move from one side of the insulator to the other. The two spin states of an electron also enable it to build memory capable of rapid and repeated data writes, and to store data permanently. The electric field can be used to switch the insulator to influence the electron spins on either side of the magnetic layer, and then control electron tunneling. The same switched state remains when all the current is removed, which would allow PC memory to draw little power and permanently store data.


Keeping Tabs on Forests
University of Minnesota News (01/19/10) Morrison, Deane

University of Minnesota (UM) researchers have developed software that enables scientists to monitor the growth and degradation of the world's forests and how they are affected by fires, logging, droughts, floods, farming, and other activities. The researchers, led by UM professor Vipin Kumar, say the new system will help climate researchers study ecosystem fluctuations and their relationship to global climate changes and human variability. "We are developing algorithms that take NASA satellite data and use it to identify and create a history of changes in the world's ecosystem," Kumar says. Recently, UM joined the Planetary Skin Institute, a collaboration between NASA and Cisco Systems, which is developing a global "nervous system" called Planetary Skin. The institute plans to gather data from air, sea, and land sensors and convert it into information that policy makers can use. The first prototype of Planetary Skin will use Kumar's system to track where and how much carbon is held in rain forests.


S. Korean Scientists Develop Walking Robot Maid
Agence France Presse (01/18/10)

South Korean scientists say their new walking robot maid performs more advanced human-like movements than any other robot. Designed to perform household chores, Mahru-Z resembles a human in that the robot's body includes a rotating head, arms, legs, and six fingers. Mahru-Z is 4.3 feet tall, weighs 121 pounds, and has three-dimensional vision. "It recognizes people, can turn on microwave ovens, washing machines, and toasters, and also pick up sandwiches, cups, and whatever else it senses as objects," says You Bum-Jae, head of the cognitive robot center at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology. "The most distinctive strength of Mahru-Z is its visual ability to observe objects, recognize the tasks needed to be completed, and execute them." Mahru-Z can be controlled remotely through a computer server and can be used in conditions that might be harmful for humans.


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