Welcome to the May 28, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
In observance of the Memorial Day holiday, ACM TechNews will not be published on Monday, May 31. Publication will resume Wednesday, June 2.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tokyo Tech Announces Plans for 2.4 Petaflop Supercomputer
Tokyo Institute of Technology (05/26/10)
The Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) announced that the TSUBAME 2.0 supercomputer, a green, cloud-based supercomputer system with a top speed of 2.4 petaflops, will begin operation this fall. TSUBAME 2.0 will be built by Hewlett-Packard and NEC using GPGPU computing and will feature a large solid-state drive. TSUBAME 2.0, dubbed Petakon, will be 12 times faster than Japan's current fastest supercomputer and is expected to achieve a top ranking on the TOP500 list. It also is expected to score high on the DARPA HPC Challenge benchmark and the Green 500 list. TSUBAME 2.0 will feature Intel Westmere-EP and Nehalem-EX processors with scalar operation, and will employ approximately 4,200 NVIDIA Fermi graphics processing units. Petakon also will have more than 1,400 computer nodes and use Voltaire's QDR InfiniBand network. The operating system will be a combination of Linux and Microsoft Windows HPC, and will use virtual machine technology to provide cloud-hosting services.
New Technology Will Make Election Voting More Efficient
Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (05/26/10)
Researchers at the universities of Surrey and Birmingham have developed a voting system that integrates optical scanning, data processing, and encryption with the process of manually writing on a paper ballot. The Surrey/Birmingham system retains the use of a paper ballot that looks nearly identical to those currently in use, but with two key differences. First, the order of the candidates' names is randomized and is not the same on every ballot as in current elections. Second, a perforated line will run down the middle of the paper ballot, with the candidates' names on the left and the voting boxes on the right. Each voter, after casting their ballot, will use this perforation to tear the paper ballot in half. They then will use a shredder to destroy the left-hand half containing the list of candidates and feed the right-hand half into an optical scanner, which will immediately feed all the information to a central database that keeps a count of all votes cast. "Our system will combine the best of both worlds--providing secure electronic vote-counting that cuts the cost and complexity of running elections but doesn't require big changes to the actual voting process," Surrey professor James Heather.
Worldwide R&D Expenditures Top $330 Billion
R&D Magazine (05/26/10) Livingstone, Paul
U.S.-owned businesses and U.S. affiliates of foreign companies had worldwide R&D expenses of $330 billion in calendar year 2008 and worldwide sales of $11 trillion, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). Working with the Census Bureau, NSF launched a pilot-scale study in 2008 to more accurately track R&D activity in an attempt to obtain a better gauge of the global competitiveness of the United States. The initial findings show the manufacturing sector accounted for about 71 percent of R&D activity. Moreover, 68 percent of the worldwide sales of companies with R&D activity came from their domestic business, and 85 percent of the sales at scientific R&D service companies came from their domestic operations. Small businesses with less than 500 employees invested more of their expenditures on R&D than larger companies, spending $64 billion on R&D and accounting for $1 trillion of the total $11 trillion in sales. About $234 billion of the total R&D expense was conducted in facilities in the United States. The report also shows that foreign companies with R&D operations in the United States are making up the difference in R&D activity that has been taken overseas by U.S.-based companies.
Customizing Supercomputers From the Ground Up
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (05/26/10) Beckman, Mary
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) computer scientist Adolfy Hoisie will lead a group of scientists that will design supercomputers and their software applications simultaneously, so all the components of a supercomputer can be optimized and focused on one kind of problem. The PNNL team plans on solving the kinds of problems specific to various scientific fields, from studying biological systems to understanding the electrical power grid. The data-intensive problems the PNNL team wants to solve requires a different emphasis in computational resources, which is why they will design supercomputers and their applications simultaneously. "The science of systems and applications designed for optimal performance is a grand challenge for high performance computing research," says PNNL researcher Moe Khaleel. The team also will examine how performance and power relate, and how they trade off against one another on extreme-scale systems and workloads.
Social Supercomputing Is Now
ETH Zurich (05/28/10)
ETH Zurich scientists working on the FuturIcT project plan to use the world's largest supercomputers to simulate life on Earth, including the financial system, economies, and whole societies. The ETH researchers, working under the Competence Center for Coping with Crises in Complex Socio-Economic Systems, are analyzing huge amounts of financial data to detect dangerous bubbles in stock and housing markets, potential bankruptcy cascades in networks of companies, or similar vulnerabilities in other complex networks such as communication networks or the Internet. The FutureIcT project aims to bring different kinds of research together to simulate the entire globe, including the diverse interactions of social systems and of the economy with the environment. The FutureIcT project also aims to analyze data on social, economic, and environmental processes by augmenting the results of field studies and laboratory experiments. "Such observatories would detect advance warning signs of many different kinds of emerging problems, including large-scale congestion, financial instabilities, the spreading of diseases, environmental change, resource shortages, and social conflicts," says ETH's Dirk Helbing.
Advances Made in Walking, Running Robots
Oregon State University News (05/26/10) Stauth, David
Oregon State University (OSU) researchers say they have made a fundamental advance in robotics that could lead to robots that use little energy to walk and run effectively. "What we've done is taken a step back to analyze the fundamental dynamics of the mechanical system, what behavior is really possible for a given robotic system," says OSU professor Jonathan Hurst. Current walking and running robots tend to be extremely rigid while moving, but this approach uses a lot of energy, which greatly reduces their value and possible real-world applications. To improve upon robot locomotion, the OSU researchers studied the gait of ostriches, which respond well to unexpected disturbances while running. The researchers plan to build the robot equivalent of the ostrich by combining spring-mass models with force-control actuators. "There are machines that can walk with no active controls at all, using barely any energy, but they fall if they run into the smallest bump," Hurst says. "We need to use as much of that passive ability as possible and only use motors or active controls if it's really necessary, so we can save energy in the process."
UBC Researcher Decodes Rembrandt's 'Magic'
University of British Columbia (05/28/10) Lin, Brian
University of British Columbia's (UBC's) Steve DiPaola has uncovered a technique that he believes is responsible for making Rembrandt's portraits so popular. DiPaola says Rembrandt may have created a technique that guides the viewer's gaze around a portrait, creating a special narrative and calmer viewing experience. To isolate and pinpoint factors that contribute to the "magic" of Rembrandt's portraits, DiPaola used computer-rendering programs to recreate four of the artist's most famous portraits. DiPaola then tracked the viewer's eye movements while they examined the original photographs and the Rembrandt-like portraits. "When viewing the Rembrandt-like portraits, viewers fixated on the detailed eye faster and stayed there for longer periods of time, resulting in calmer eye movements," he says. The study is the first to scientifically verify the impact of these "eye guiding" techniques on viewers and to attribute its origin to Rembrandt.
Secure System Developed for Monitoring Transport of Goods in Real Time
Basque Research (05/28/10) Hualde, Ana Ollo
Researchers at the Public University of Navarre (UPNA) and TB-Solutions have developed a system for monitoring intermodal goods at all times, from point of origin to destination, in a secure way and in real time. The research is part of the Intelligent Transport of Intermodal Goods (TIMI) project, which is developing technologies for a future generation of devices, systems, and tools that will make intermodal transport more intelligent. "With this device, I know what goods are being moved by which truck and in what conditions of temperature, luminosity, etc.," says UPNA's Jose Javier Astrain. "One of the greatest difficulties faced was interpreting the information, given that if there are, for example six containers, I don't want to share information with any others than those of my company; this information must not be sent or intercepted without being coded and having a security mechanism." The system allows for the optimization of financial, human, and logistic resources, because the chain of supply is enormously optimized, says TB-Solutions' Mayte Hurtado.
Outstanding in Their Field Effect
Rice University (05/25/10) Williams, Mike
Rice University (RU) researchers have developed thin films of nanotubes made with ink-jet printers that offer a new way to make field-effect transistors (FETs). The technique does not scale down to the levels required for modern microprocessors, but it will be useful to inventors who want to print transistors on flexible substrates, says RU's Robert Vajtai. The process involves the analysis of sample circuits printed with single-walled carbon nanotubes functionalized with four types of molecules. "The key is printing the appropriate number of layers to get the type of conduction you want, either metallic or semiconductive," Vajtai says. The researchers found that at room temperature, electrical transport took place through the network of semiconducting and metallic nanotubes, while at low temperatures, the semiconducting nanotubes became insulators, so electron tunneling between adjacent metallic nanotubes took over. Vajtai says nanotube-based FETs are suited for logic-based applications that can be printed on a flexible surface but do not need a large number of circuits.
Researchers Find 'Million-Follower Fallacy' in Twitter
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/25/10) Young, Jeff
Tweeters with few followers often start discussions and spread their ideas more than celebrities who have a huge following, according to a team of researchers who analyzed approximately 2 billion public Twitter messages. The researchers based a tweeter's influence on the number of times their messages were mentioned or forwarded to other people. "Having a million follows may not be everything in terms of influence," says Meeyoung Cha of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, who cited the example of a librarian whose messages were mentioned and forwarded at a high rate. From September 2006 to August 2009, most Twitter users had 24 followers on average, while 99 percent had less than 200. About 500 tweeters had more than 100,000 followers. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest Twitter data set that has ever been studied," Cha says.
Florida State Researchers Work to Help Mobile Devices Keep Going and Going
Florida State News (05/25/10) Elish, Jill
Florida State University (FSU) researchers are developing a more energy-efficient processor for mobile embedded systems designed to perform as well as traditional pipelined processors. "Minimizing energy consumption is very important to these systems because it is vital to extend the life of the batteries that power them," says FSU professor Gary Tyson. A more energy-efficient processor could reduce the cost of mobile devices, and might lead to the development of new kinds of even smaller and lower-power mobile devices. "The problem is that current techniques used in pipeline designs can waste power by performing redundant and sometimes unnecessary computations," says FSU professor David Whalley. "Rather than having each instruction go through several cycles, a statically pipelined processor will control all aspects of the processor during a single cycle." The researchers say their work could lead to the development of a new class of low-powered devices, such as ant-sized environmental monitors that can measure ocean currents and temperatures or a new generation of pacemakers that would require less frequent surgeries to change the batteries.
Microsoft Researchers Propose Privacy Sensor 'Widget'
Dark Reading (05/25/10) Higgins, Kelly Jackson
Microsoft researchers have developed a sensor widget concept that issues alerts and lets users control what others see from their webcams, microphones, and other live data streams. Microsoft's Jon Howell and Stuart Schechter say their research grew out of concerns that applications are able to access multimedia peripherals even after the user's activities are finished. The researchers envision a sensor tool that provides an animated representation of how an application is gathering the user's data. "The moment the application attempts to access these sensors, three sensor-access widgets will appear within the application, informing the user of the data that is about to be revealed," Schechter says. The researchers recommend a configuration that lets applications access only webcams, microphones, and global positioning systems after users have had time to notice the application is about to gather data from them. "We believe this is an important issue given the emerging class of application platforms that can enforce restrictions on the resources that can be accessed by applications," Schechter says.
Educators Seek New Ways to Steer Kids Toward Technical Fields
Government Technology (05/19/10) Nicholas, Russell
At the new Hughes STEM High School, in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati (UC), students learn concepts of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by using their hands. Hughes STEM High School mirrors a national trend of partnerships between K-12 and higher education to put more students on track for STEM careers. The programs enable students to learn through hands-on activities, project-based assignments, and apprenticeships in the field. Many students do not know enough about the industry to even think about pursuing STEM jobs, says UC's Carla Johnson. Hughes introduces students to STEM career possibilities and offers high school/college enrollment programs, co-ops, and internships. Along with Ohio and Colorado, Massachusetts also offers a wide array of partnerships between K-12 schools and universities. The Center for STEM Education started its outreach work in the late 1980s as part of several research projects that developed at Northeastern University, focusing on partnerships with local school districts. "Getting them into a classroom early in their careers will increase their comfort level, help them reinforce science concepts, and explain it in context," says the Center's Claire Duggan.
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