Welcome to the April 28, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
High-Tech Employment Grows
Network World (04/28/10) Dubie, Denise
U.S. employment rose for three high-tech job categories in 2010's first quarter, according to IEEE-USA, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs for electrical engineers grew 7.8 percent in the first quarter, and increased 16 percent from the same quarter a year ago. Meanwhile, software engineering employment rose 5.3 percent in the first quarter compared to the same quarter in 2009, and employment for computer scientists and systems analysts were both up 4.7 percent in the quarter compared with 2009. "Re-employed engineers, scientists, and other technology professionals will help create more jobs and ratchet the economy forward," says IEEE-USA president Evelyn Hirt. A recent Technisource survey of 220 technology workers found that 32 percent thought the economy was getting stronger. "We are seeing technology investments being made within the telecommunication, finance, and healthcare industries, which is certainly a positive sign," says Technisource's Michael Winwood.
Putting the Touch Into Touchscreens
New Scientist (04/26/10) Graham-Rowe, Duncan
Researchers are studying new haptics technologies and how a person's brain interprets the sense of touch. For example, Marie Curie University researchers are developing a system that uses surface vibrations to generate sensations of texture. By changing the frequencies of the vibration, the researchers are able to make the surface feel rougher or smoother. Meanwhile, Mexican computer engineer Gabriel Robles De La Torre is using vibrating surfaces to simulate sensations of sharpness by using motors to create lateral movement to a smooth, flat surface. The technique produces a change in the resistance a user's finger feels as it moves across a certain part of the screen, which is perceived as a sharp edge. Northwestern University engineer Ed Colgate is using vibrations to make objects feel more slippery. His system vibrates their surface at a very high frequency with an amplitude of about two micrometers. University of Exeter's Ian Summers uses a force-feedback system featuring pressure-sensitive nerves instead of stretch-sensitive ones. The system is able to simulate the feel of several materials. And McGill University's Yon Visell has developed a novel surface designed to simulate walking on different types of ground, such as solid ground, gravel, or sand.
New Technology Helps Visually Impaired to 'See' Emotions
Umea University (Sweden) (04/27/10) Wikman, Karin
Umea University's Shafiq ur Rehman has developed a system that offers visually impaired users a method for interpreting people's facial expressions. The system features a Web camera, hardware the size of a coin, and a tactile display. The system converts visual information from the camera into advanced vibrating patterns displayed on the skin. "The vibrators are sequentially activated to provide dynamic information about what kind of emotion a person is expressing and the intensity of the emotion," Rehman says. The user first must learn the vibrational patterns associated with different facial expressions. The researchers' main focus has been to characterize different emotions and find a way to present them using biomedical engineering and computer vision technologies. "We have successfully demonstrated how the technology can be implemented on mobile phones for tactile rendering of live football games and human emotion information through vibrations," Rehman says.
What's in a Tweet?
Technology Review (04/27/10) Naone, Erica
Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers working on the Eddi Project have developed a Twitter "topic browser" that extracts meaning from the posts in a user's timeline. The researchers say the browser could help users scan through thousands of tweets quickly, and the underlying technology also could provide new ways of mining Twitter for information or for creating targeted advertising. The researchers developed two ways of filtering Twitter content. The first is a recommendation system that ranks tweets by how interesting a user is likely to find them. The second tool is a Twitter topic browser, which summarizes the contents of a user's timeline. The sheer volume of tweets provides a lot of information for algorithms to use and the researchers determined that search engines would be the best way to extract meaning from tweets. "The essence of the approach is to coerce a tweet to look more like a search query and then get a search engine to tell us more," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Michael Bernstein.
The Internet of Meetings
ICT Results (04/23/10)
European researchers are working on projects designed to enhance the value and effectiveness of meetings, and to capture much of the lost, intangible information that never reaches a traditional meeting's minutes. The Augmented Multiparty Interaction (AMI) project developed a browser for all captured meeting information in audio, video, and text. The second project, called AMIDA, enhanced the browser technologies and added distance access. "We did not develop any hardware, rather we developed software and adapted it to off-the-shelf components," says AMIDA project coordinator Herve Bourlard. The system can capture notes taken by meeting participants using an input pen. The audio system can transcribe text in real time, with high accuracy, in meetings. "In any case, the transcript is annotated with the recording, so if you want to hear exactly what was said and how it was said at that point in the transcript, you can simply click a button and hear the original instantly," Bourlard says. Another program was developed to retrieve background documents from database archives that are relevant to the content of the conversation as it happens.
New Research Offers Security for Virtualization, Cloud Computing
NCSU News (04/27/10) Shipman, Matt
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed HyperSafe, software for resolving security concerns related to data privacy in virtualization and cloud computing. A key threat to virtualization and cloud computing is malicious software that enables computer viruses to spread to the underlying hypervisor, which allows different operating systems to run in isolation from one another, and eventually to the systems of other users. HyperSafe leverages existing hardware features to secure hypervisors against such attacks. "We can guarantee the integrity of the underlying hypervisor by protecting it from being compromised by any malware downloaded by an individual user," says NCSU professor Xuxian Jiang. HyperSafe uses non-bypassable memory lockdown, which blocks the introduction of new code by anyone other than the hypervisor administrator. HyperSafe also uses restricted pointer indexing, which characterizes a hypervisor's normal behavior and prevents any deviation from that profile.
'Smart' Cars Steer Towards Safety
Western News (04/22/10) Travis, Heather
University of Western Ontario (UWO) researchers are developing smart cars that can see the conditions around them, assess the appropriateness of a driver's response, and take action if needed. UWO's Road Lab advanced driving assistance system places four cameras across the front windshield to capture images of what the car sees from the hood to 180 meters ahead, in addition to rear and side cameras, which provide a 360-degree view. The system also includes two cameras facing the driver with an infrared light that reads the driver's eye movements. Data from the car's diagnostic system, cameras, and a global positioning system is fed to a computer in the back seat, which determines how the driver should react in a situation, says UWO professor Steven Beauchemin. He says the researchers are focused on developing a better understanding of driver behavior and creating computer response models. "The research question is this: can we develop cognitive models of driver behavior that are accurate enough or that work sufficiently well enough so that we can compare that with actual driver behavior and attempt to correct it?" Beauchemin says.
MIT News (04/26/10) Hardesty, Larry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed software that makes computer simulations of physical systems run more efficiently on multicore chips. The system can break a simulation into much smaller chunks, which it loads into a queue. When a core finishes a calculation, it moves onto the next chunk in the queue, which saves the system from having to estimate how long each chunk will take to execute. Additionally, smaller chunks mean that the system can better handle the problem of boundaries. The management system can divide a simulation into chunks that are so small that they can fit in the cache along with information about the adjacent chunks. So a core working with one chunk can rapidly update factors along the boundaries of adjacent chunks. Using existing management systems, the MIT team found that a 24-core machine ran 14 times faster than a single-core machine. However, the new management system ran the same machine 22 times faster. The new system would allow individual machines within clusters to operate more efficiently as well.
Fixing Silicon Valley's Gender Gap One Pitch at a Time
TechCrunch (04/22/10) Rusli, Evelyn
Teams of high school girls recently pitched Android apps and business plans to business leaders at Microsoft's campus in Mountain View, Calif. "Pitch Night" marked the culmination of the Technovation Challenge, an eight-week program that introduces girls to tech entrepreneurship. The contest worked with Girls in Tech, the Bay area chapter of Iridescent, to link 25 mentors with 45 girls, who were charged with developing apps from scratch and creating marketing plans. "We wanted to expose them to high tech, connect them to mentors, and help them understand what opportunities are out there," says Technovation Challenge founder Anuranjita Tewary. "It's about confidence." Team Zeal won the competition with an app called Mash, inspired by the classic childhood fortune-telling game. Team Creanova came in second with an application that teaches users how to play the piano using games.
Salford Develops Emergency Planning Software for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa
University of Salford (04/23/10)
South Africa is using software developed at the University of Salford to plan for potential emergencies during the World Cup. The software is designed to simulate different emergency scenarios that could result in casualties at South African stadiums. The software enables emergency services officials to see detailed data on an event, move forward in real time, and capture a snapshot for later reviews. The program's developers--Salford computer science researcher Lee Griffiths and Salford Royal Hospital's Dr. Jane Mooney--used models from hospitals to plan for an increase in casualties due to a major incident. Griffiths and Mooney tested the prototype on gamers. "By using a games engine we've created something which is far more flexible, informative, and can be adapted simply by inputting data from any event," Griffiths says.
Dynamic Nimbus Cloud Deployment Wins Challenge Award at Grid5000 Conference
Argonne National Laboratory (04/26/10) Taylor, Eleanor
The Argonne National Laboratory and University of Chicago's Nimbus toolkit, an open source set of software tools for providing cloud computing implementations, was demonstrated at the recent Grid5000 conference in France. Grid5000 is a testbed for studying large-scale systems using thousands of nodes distributed across nine sites in France and Brazil. University of Rennes student Pierre Riteau deployed Nimbus on hundreds of nodes spread across three Grid5000 sites to create a distributed virtual cluster. The deployment won Riteau the Grid5000 Large Scale Deployment Challenge Award. Argonne computer scientist Kate Keahey says the deployment was one of the largest to date and created a distributed environment that opens up computational opportunities for scientists by creating a "sky computing" cluster.
New Sensors to Predict Landslides
University of Southampton (ECS) (04/21/10) Lewis, Joyce
University of Southampton researchers have received funding from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop sensors to monitor erosion rates during California's storm season. Six fist-sized sensors have been placed in Los Laureles Canyon in Mexico, which is close to San Diego. The radio-based sensors measure light, conductivity, and tilt, and take readings every hour. "Our challenge now is to get them measuring more and to have them really wake up when a storm is predicted," says Southampton's Kirk Martinez, who first developed sensor probes to monitor glacier movements in 2003. "We are already getting very good signs that we are getting a sense of the changes in sediment and soil through the sensors; the next move is trying to predict when things begin to change so that people living nearby can have early warnings of storms and landslides." Martinez says the sensor probes also could be used to predict flooding in the United Kingdom.
Multimedia Search Without Detours
A multimedia search engine, developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT), uses digital fingerprints to locate video and audio files. For music files, digital fingerprints provide information such as genre and tempo, while fingerprints in video include information on scene changes, camera movement, and brightness of the image. The direct video & audio content search engine (DIVAS) generates fingerprints automatically and does not decompress compressed files. "Our series of tests with MP3 files showed that search times can be halved," says IDMT professor Gerald Schuller. DIVAS performs searches on the Internet, archives, and TV programs, and can find similarities in different video or audio as well as topic-related data searches. The fingerprints are stored in the MPEG-7 format.
Scientists Discover New Genetic Sub-Code
ETH Life (04/22/10)
ETH Zurich and Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics biologists and computer science researchers have identified a genetic sub-code that determines at which rate given products must be made by the cell. The researchers say this information provides new insights into how the cellular decoding machinery works and it makes reading information about gene expression rates easier. "A cell must respond very quickly to injuries such as DNA damage and to potent poisons such as arsenic," says ETH Zurich's Gina Cannarozzi. "The new sub-code enables us to know which genes are turned-on quickly after these insults and which are best expressed slowly." The new sub-code also provides insight into cellular processes at the molecular level and will offer more information about how ribosomes function. This discovery could potentially be exploited to better produce therapeutic agents and research tools.
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