Welcome to the March 22, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Bias Called Persistent Hurdle for Women in Sciences
New York Times (03/21/10) Lewin, Tamar
Cultural biases are still hindering the progress of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers, according to an American Association of University Women report supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation. The report analyzed decades of research to accumulate recommendations for getting more women interested in STEM fields. Lead author Catherine Hill says that although the study recognizes differences in male and female brains, "none of the research convincingly links those differences to specific skills." However, the report found several cultural factors, such as the fact that female postdoctoral applicants had to publish three more papers in prestigious journals, or 20 more in less-known publications, in order to be considered as productive as their male counterparts. The study also found research indicating that girls' performance declines as a result of any suggestion that they are poor at math. The report says that girls are less confident about their math skills than boys with equal levels of achievement.
The Internet of Cars
ICT Results (03/22/10)
The European Union-funded Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems (CVIS) project has developed applications for a totally integrated, open-source Internet of cars. The CVIS project is part of the larger international movement to develop an intelligent transport system (ITS). "Right now, I'd say Europe has something of a lead in technology development and validation across a wide range of test sites," says CVIS project coordinator Paul Kompfner. CVIS is tackling issues such as a mobile platform for infrastructure-to-car communication, car-to-car communication, mobile ITS, and mapping. The project has developed a complete communications infrastructure; a platform that can use any known communications infrastructure; attached a scalable, open, and partly open-source software chain to a scalable hardware chain; and created a series of application programming interfaces and an open application development suite for third-party software developers.
Silicon Valley Loses Foreign Talent
USA Today (03/22/10) P. 1B; Swartz, Jon
Silicon Valley is losing more foreign-born executives, engineers, and scientists due to better opportunities in their native countries, tough U.S. immigration laws, and the high cost of living in California. Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley Index shows that fewer foreign students are pursuing engineering and science degrees in the region. The annual study found that foreign students received 16.6 percent of all degrees awarded in science and engineering programs from local colleges and universities in 2007, down from 18.4 percent in 2003. Harvard Law School senior research associate Vivek Wadhwa says the region is experiencing a massive brain drain. "For the first time, immigrants have better opportunities outside the U.S.," he says. A lack of work visas also can push foreign talent to leave the United States. Legislation pending in the U.S. Congress would give immigrant entrepreneurs with investment funding a two-year visa.
Nine PRACE Prototypes Are Available for Testing
Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (03/19/10)
Researchers from academia and industry have until April 11, 2010, to submit applications for an opportunity to test prototypes of potential future high-performance computing (HPC) petascale systems. The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) is making nine different prototypes available, including three prototypes of hybrid clusters. The prototypes are not intended for production work. PRACE, which will give priority to teams focusing on research in areas that are different from the partnership's research, will publicly release a summary of the applicants' project purpose and the results achieved during prototype testing. Researchers will be able to use the prototype systems for three months per application. The project will allow PRACE to research petascale prototypes, as well as the scaling and optimization of applications on petascale machines. Selections will be made on May 1.
Wireless Controlled From the Cloud
Technology Review (03/19/10) Graham-Rowe, Duncan
IBM China Research Lab scientists have developed Wireless Network Cloud (WNC), a new architecture that shifts the signal-processing requirements of wireless networks from base stations into the cloud. The researchers say moving to the cloud will make it easier and less expensive to upgrade networks, and could lead to wireless networks that can provide better coverage by rapidly adapting to user demand. General-purpose data centers are used to carry out the signal processing entirely in software, which enables the network to be managed in a more centralized way, with the raw signals being relayed to and from multiple antennas, says IBM's Yonghua Lin. The centralized approach also means operators can manage their networks more efficiently. "IBM's concept is not totally new but rather a combination of familiar themes, such as software-defined radio, network equipment virtualization, and networks as software," says Rutgers University professor Dipankar Raychaudhuri.
Mobile Learning with iPhone Now Possible
EurekAlert (03/18/10) De Waard, Inge
Peruvian and Belgian researchers have developed an open source mobile learning application that enables health-care workers to connect to the free learning platform Moodle with their iPhone or iPod. The application was tested by health-care workers engaged in 20 clinics throughout Peru. The three-month pilot program used multimedia, three-dimensional animations, group discussions, policy documents, and peer-reviewed literature. The researchers are now finalizing the code before making it available under a Create Commons GNU license. Once the application is completed, the researchers say that institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and companies will be able to use the code to develop their own mobile learning environments.
Frank Moss: Tech to Help Those Who Can't Help Themselves
New Scientist (03/17/10) Webb, Jeremy
Frank Moss, head of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says there are real opportunities in developing technology for disabled or disadvantaged people, and believes they will translate into great commercial hits. For example, MIT's Rosalind Picard is creating a system for people with autism that can tell from a person's head movements and facial expressions if they are confused, interested, or disagreeing. The system then feeds the information to a display in the corner of a pair of glasses. "The idea is to supply autistic people with the cues they would otherwise miss," says Moss. Meanwhile, MIT's Hugh Herr has designed a supportive exoskeleton that enables a person to run with the same energy they would normally use to walk. And MIT research assistant John Moore has built an artificial intelligence system that collects information from a patient and creates a report for the doctor. The patient talks to an avatar, which uses natural language processing to interpret what the patient says.
Getting Robots to Play Together
Boston Globe (03/18/10) Johnson, Carolyn
Robotics researchers recently have focused on multiple-robot systems that work together and react to each other, with the goal of one day performing dangerous or menial tasks that machines, in combination, might do better than humans. One way researchers are getting robots to work together is by designing all-robotic soccer teams. "When we started this, the main research question was ... how do you get multiple robots to coordinate?" says Carnegie Mellon University professor Manuela Veloso. Researchers also are studying insects, such as ants, bees, and termites, that work together to accomplish complex goals such as building an intricate nest. "These collective behaviors are very powerful and arise from very simple individuals," says Harvard University professor Radhika Nagpal. Nagpal is part of a project to create robotic bees that mimic those in nature. Rice University's James McLurkin is developing a swarm of robots that can seek out the boundaries of an area, which could be useful in exploration.
A Swiss Army Knife for Analyzing Three-Dimensional Images
Howard Hughes Medical Institute News (03/14/10) Michalowski, Jennifer; Keeley, Jim
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) computer scientists have developed V3D, a software suite that features tools for visualizing, analyzing, and measuring complex, three-dimensional (3D) biological and biomedical images. The free software promises to greatly accelerate scientists' ability to assemble and manipulate extremely detailed images. The digital reconstruction tools are 17 times more reliable than those created using commercially available software, according to HHMI computer scientist Hanchuan Peng. The HHMI team wrote algorithms to accelerate the rendering of the images on the screen. V3D allows the user to drag and drop the images to be analyzed, and to pinpoint a location in a 3D image with a mouse click. "Since we have a very fast renderer for 3D images, we were able to design new approaches to manipulate very large images freely in real time," Peng says.
Collaboration With IBM to Speed Up 'the Cloud'
Cornell Chronicle (03/16/10) Friedlander, Blaine
Cornell University (CU) professor Hakim Weatherspoon and IBM researchers are studying the causes of data distortions and are developing ways for cloud computing applications to deal with them. The research involves a testbed called the Cornell NLR Rings, which sends data on loops of up to 16,000 miles around the National LambdaRail high-speed fiber-optic research network. Weatherspoon and Cornell physics post-doctoral researcher Daniel Freedman developed an apparatus that uses a very precisely modulated laser to generate packets of optical signals and to analyze what comes back with sub-picosecond accuracy. Early testing found that transmission problems show up on the uncongested LambdaRail network, meaning they also may appear on private networks used by businesses and institutions. "I have discovered that contrary to the widely held supposition that such networks are largely stable, lossless, and jitter free, these networks can be rather unstable, prone to loss, and sources of significant jitter," Weatherspoon says.
Computational Feat Speeds Finding of Genes to Milliseconds Instead of Years
Stanford University (03/15/10) Vaughn, Christopher
Stanford University computer scientist Debashis Sahoo and computer science professor David Dill recently completed a study of a program based on Boolean logic that can locate specific genes. Starting with two known B-cell genes, Sahoo searched through databases with thousands of gene products in milliseconds and found 62 genes that matched the patterns he would expect to see for genes that got turned on in between the activation of the two genes he started with. He then examined databases involving 41 strains of laboratory mice that were known to be deficient in one or more of the 62 genes. Of those 41 strains, 26 had defects in B-cell development. "Biologists are really amazed that, with just a computer algorithm, in milliseconds I can find genes that it takes them a really long time to isolate in the lab," Sahoo says. He is currently using the technique to try to find new genes that contribute to cancer development. "This shows that computational analysis of existing data can provide clues about where researchers should look next," Sahoo says.
MIT Researchers Enable Self-Assembling of Chips
IDG News Service (03/16/10) Shah, Agam
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers recently released research showing how molecules in chips can self-assemble, potentially reducing manufacturing costs by making it less expensive to etch complex designs on smaller chips. The researchers developed a technique in which polymers automatically fall into place to create an integrated circuit, says MIT professor Caroline Ross. The researchers designed a template to cause polymers to spontaneously arrange themselves into useful patterns. They then created blocks on the pattern around which the polymers lined up to create a circuit. The researchers are looking to extend the technique to denser patterns. "We want to do something that people would want to be able to use," Ross says.
The Atlantic (03/10) Vol. 305, No. 2, P. 58; Fallows, James
Google's recent disclosure of broad surveillance "originating from China" highlighted a threat that many experts are convinced will continue to grow, writes James Fallows. Purdue University computer scientist Eugene Spafford says that cybercrime has evolved into a well-financed enterprise perpetrated by mature individuals and groups of professionals who have deep financial and technical pockets, as well as the tolerance, if not support, of local governments or other countries. Cybercrime experts generally agree that the primary damage inflicted by cyberwar so far has been business-versus-business spying rather than the stealing of military secrets or electronic sabotage. Fallows says that China has become even more of a potential cyber-adversary due to its ability to rapidly approach parity with the West in terms of advanced information systems, particularly in its focus on being able to cripple foes' networking infrastructure in times of war.
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