Welcome to the February 12, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
In observance of the Presidents Day holiday, ACM TechNews will not be published on Monday, Feb. 15. Publication will resume Wednesday, Feb. 17.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Berkeley Discusses Progress in Parallel Programming
EE Times (02/11/10) Merritt, Rick
University of California, Berkeley researchers recently discussed their progress in finding new parallel programming models for multicore processor architectures. Parallel Computing Lab professor Kurt Keutzer described seven applications researchers have produced with the new Pallas parallel methodology, and noted that work has started on a more general parallelism framework called Copperhead that could be used by a broader spectrum of programmers. The Pallas approach involves graduate students implementing complex algorithms from domain experts. They start by producing software architectures specific to the algorithms that maximize their employment of computational and structural patterns, then map those architectures on to parallel processors. The Copperhead framework being co-developed with NVIDIA concentrates on producing rapid executable code for data-parallel applications. It will interoperate with both NVIDIA's Cuda and OpenCL environments.
Microsoft Research India to Work on UIDAI
Express Computer (India) (02/12/10) Kundu, Subhankar
Microsoft Research India announced its involvement in the Unique Identification of India (UIDAI) project at TechVista 2010 in Bangalore. The project seeks to provide valid identities to India's population of more than a billion people. "I am looking forward to working with researchers on technologies like multilingual computing and biometrics," says UIDAI chairperson Nandan Nilekani. Microsoft Research India also launched a portal for the computer science community called ResearchAndYou.com. The portal is designed to bridge the gap between computer science researchers and the large pool of potential research talent in India. The Web site will provide students with an interactive forum where they can connect with researchers to ask questions and explore research opportunities. The site also will act as a single source of information for resources in different disciplines. TechVista 2010 also brought together a panel of ACM A.M. Turing award recipients, including Barbara Liskov, Tony Hoare, Butler Lampson, and Tony Hey, to discuss the future of computing.
China Alarmed by Security Threat From Internet
New York Times (02/11/10) LaFraniere, Sharon; Ansfield, Jonathan; Markoff, John; et al.
China is increasingly worried about threats to its security and political stability posed by the Internet. Both Chinese and U.S. political analysts and technology experts say China's attempts to tightly control the Internet are partly fueled by the conviction that the West is trying to foment unrest in China and weaken the country from a military standpoint through the use of a wide range of communications innovations. U.S. experts say China's cyberdefenses are more riddled with holes than those of the United States. New policies are being set up to replace foreign hardware and software with domestic systems, while officials also are broadening the reach and resources of state-controlled media outlets so they reign over Chinese cyberspace with their blogs, videos, and news. Unrest in Xinjiang and elsewhere, allegedly stoked by online warfare from the West, has prompted Chinese leaders to step up new efforts, including the closure of thousands of Web sites, tightening censorship of text messages for objectionable content, and planning a convergence of China's Internet, phone, and state TV networks. They also are nurturing domestic alternatives to foreign computer technologies and foreign-based Web sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
Federal Government Builds Secret Database to Fight Cyber-Terrorism
Computerworld Australia (02/11/10) Pauli, Darren
Australia's federal government has been given sensitive data from utilities, banks, and other organizations for the Critical Infrastructure Protection Modeling and Assessment (CIPMA) program. "Identifying, tracking the cascading effects of [critical infrastructure (CI)], and quantifying these consequences is a key rationale for establishing the CIPMA program," says a spokesperson from the Federal Attorney General's department. "Direct relationships with industry means that there is a high level of trust to enable the provision of accurate data for modeling and analysis." Approximately 4 TB of CI data will be warehoused in central databases, making it unnecessary to retrieve information from knowledge experts who may not be accessible in a disaster. System dynamic models are employed to analyze stock and flow data in CI, such as network connectivity and the energy output of generators, to produce an amalgamated output to be fed into a People, Building, and Infrastructure profile. Data is then deconstructed into demographic, economic, and business profiles, and into statistical divisions to generate novel disruption footprints. The CIPMA program is one of numerous actions that authorities have recently taken to counter increasing numbers of cyberthreats.
Google Makes a Push Into Super-Fast Broadband Access
Washington Post (02/11/10) Kang, Cecilia
Google has announced that it will start to offer broadband service that can route Internet traffic at 1 Gbps--double the speed of most U.S. cable and telephone companies--in certain test markets. By highlighting a super-fast broadband network, the company underlines its push for enhanced consumer applications and demonstrates support for the Obama administration's proposal to make broadband Internet access available to all U.S. homes. The announcement is one in a spate of moves Google has made "to help the Internet juggernaut leapfrog the existing technology establishment to position itself for the future," according to the Washington Post. This week the company debuted Google Buzz, which intends to consolidate various social networks into a single collective. Google says that such efforts are intended to spur innovation in hopes of expanding Internet use, although these initiatives may come at the expense of the company's central Internet search focus.
NTU Launches One of the World's Greenest Supercomputers
Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) (02/11/10) Ang, Esther
Nanyang Technological University (NTU) researchers recently launched the High Performance Computing (HPC) Centre, which features sustainability features such as the use of water-cooled technology that reduces electrical consumption by 30 percent. The HPC Centre also reduces electricity consumption by automatically adjusting to specified energy-usage levels and transaction speeds. NTU's supercomputer is ranked as the sixth most energy-efficient in the world based on the x86 architecture. New research areas for the system include developing future energy sources, studying global climate change, designing new materials, and understanding biological systems. "The establishment of the supercomputer brings under one roof a centralized large-scale computing facility to the 2,800-strong research community on campus," says NTU's Bertil Andersson.
IBM's Jeopardy-Playing Machine Can Now Beat Human Contestants
Network World (02/10/10) Brodkin, Jon
IBM's Watson supercomputer can regularly best human contestants in the game Jeopardy, and within a year it will face a Jeopardy public challenge. Among the challenges the machine faces is understanding natural language, ascertaining answers to questions, and calculating the chances that its answer is correct in order to decide whether it should buzz it in--all without an Internet connection. Understanding a question is challenging to a computer, as words often have multiple meanings and can have different relationships with each other, and must be interpreted in the appropriate context. The computer then has to search within its own knowledge base to find an answer. Watson may be reasonably confident it knows the answer to a question, but will factor in the score of the game and the dollar value of the question before choosing whether it is worth the risk. In addition, the supercomputer requires a category selection strategy and a wagering strategy for Daily Doubles and Final Jeopardy. IBM researcher David Ferrucci says the research underlying the Jeopardy challenge could help address more critical issues, such as sifting through large volumes of data and determining the accuracy of a conclusion.
Natural-Disaster Mathematical Aid Systems Are Presented to NGOs
Platforma Sinc (02/11/2010)
Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) researchers have developed Expert System for Disaster Diagnosis, a program that estimates the magnitude of natural disasters and helps non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the decision-making process. UCM professor Begona Vitoriano says the program "is a natural-disaster diagnosis and prediction computer tool to help NGOs in strategic decision-making." To analyze a disaster, the program takes information about the type of disaster, quantifiable units, and a vulnerability measurement using the Human Development Index provided by the United Nations. The program estimates the magnitude of the disaster in terms of fatalities, injuries, homeless people, others affected, and cost. "The decision aid system that we propose could have been applied perfectly following the recent Haiti earthquake, as it is centered around the assessment of the consequences of disasters such as this, where primary information is scarce, unreliable, or, in general, of low quality," says UCM's Juan Tinguaro Rodriguez. The UCM team also developed a humanitarian aid distribution system based on the use of a logistics map of the territory, with nodes and connections.
Despite Glitches, Electronics Make Cars Safer
NPR Online (02/11/10) Palca, Joe
Future cars will have even more complex electronics and robotic-like control systems that monitor driving conditions and assist drivers, but experts say that will only make cars safer. University of Southern Indiana engineering professor Paul Kuban says a car's mechanical and electronic components are becoming increasingly intertwined. "It's gotten to the point where it's hard to separate the mechanical from the electrical designs because they interact with each other," says Kuban. However, he notes that even if a critical electronic component fails, a mechanical system is always available. Stanford University computer scientist Sebastian Thrun believes that cars will drive themselves in the future. He notes that only a tiny fraction of accidents are caused by problems with the car, and most are the result of human error. Cars with sophisticated electronics, such as anti-lock breaking systems, are just the latest step in the evolution of the automobile, says Carnegie Mellon University's William Whittaker. He says drivers have come to expect cars to come with new features that make it easier and safer to drive. "And at some point, it's actually unsafe to be driving at the higher speeds on modern highways without some of those features," Whittaker says.
NSF Launches Open Government Web Page
National Science Foundation (02/08/10) Van Pay, Lisa
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently launched a new Web site designed to encourage participation and collaboration between the agency and the citizens it serves. The Obama administration's Open Government Directive has led agencies across the government to establish Open Government Web pages to collect ideas and suggestions from the public. NSF's Open Government Web page will enable the public to submit ideas, comment, and vote for proposed ideas. NSF specifically wants input on access to large data sets and collaborations that aim to facilitate transformative research. NSF will publish an official Open Government Plan on April 7, which will incorporate the submitted ideas and will serve as a roadmap for its efforts to improve transparency.
Engineers Push Beyond 10Gbit Ethernet Limit
EE Times Asia (02/10/10)
Engineers announced at three recent industry events that they are preparing to deliver chips next year that can accommodate serial data streams running at 25 Gbps to drive next-generation 100 Gbps and 400 Gbps networks. However, they remain uncertain as to how or whether they can support follow-on elements for the terabit networks that modern-day Internet data centers are already calling for. "We are starting to press some physical boundaries such as switching speeds of silicon and traces on printed circuit boards--and all of this is changing the cost dynamics," says Intel's Bob Grow. The 25 Gbps Serdes standard unveiled at a meeting of the Optical Internetworking Forum could shrink to just four the number of parallel high-speed channels required for 100 Gbps Ethernet chips. Assuming signal integrity problems can be overcome, the 25 Gbps channels will eventually be employed to construct a new suite of interfaces that will present even more formidable challenges. Experts agree that the next developmental phase will demand unprecedented cooperation between chip, board, connector, and tool manufacturers.
PCs Around the World Unite to Map the Milky Way
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (02/10/10) DeMarco, Gabrielle
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) astronomers are using the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) platform for their MilkyWay@Home project, which has built a volunteer base of computers that are being used to map the Milky Way. Each user participating in the project offers a percentage of their personal computer's (PC's) operating power, which is used to gather data about a very small section of the galaxy to map its shape, density, and movement. Using this data, great strides have been made to further the astrophysical goals of the project, says RPI's Travis Desell. "This is really a unique opportunity to get people interested in science while also allowing us to create a strong computing resource for Rensselaer research," Desell says. New collaboration projects are being developed include DNA@Home, which hopes to find gene regulations sites on human DNA. Biophysicists and chemists also are working on BOINC projects aimed at understanding protein folding and to design new drugs and materials.
Software Photo-Doctor Fixes Up Bad Photos
New Scientist (02/09/10) Barras, Colin
Researchers at Tel-Aviv and Zhejiang universities have developed software that identifies the key features of an image based on the color and shape. The elements' positioning is used to judge a photo, then changed to improve it, says Tel-Aviv's Lior Wolf. The software uses color and shape to isolate objects in an image. The program then decides which are the most important or salient to the image. "For example, if there are many lines or contrasting colors in a region, then it would have a high saliency score," Wolf says. These salient features are judged against composition rules commonly included in camera manuals, such as the rule of thirds. The system also tweaks the position of prominent diagonal lines and positions important objects around the central point of the image. The researchers tested the system by manually altering photos to destroy their aesthetics. The software changed the images to make them similar to the originals. The program fits with a recent trend for easy-to-use creative software, says Nanyang Technological University's Martin Constable.
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