Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the June 11, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Europe's Prace HPC Grid Aims for Exaflop Power by 2019
ZDNet UK (06/10/10) Meyer, David

The European Commission (EC) is funding a project by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (Prace) to develop a grid of up to six "tier 0" high-performance computing systems spread across participating member states. Prace is aiming for a combined computing power in the multi-petaflop range in the next five years, and in the exaflop range by 2019. "I warmly welcome the launch of the Prace supercomputer infrastructure as scientific computing is a key driver for the development of modern science and technology and for addressing the major challenges of our time like climate change, energy saving, and the aging population," says EC Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes. Prace will help investigate photosynthesis at a sub-atomic level, which could accelerate the development of more efficient solar cells. "Scientists can also investigate [three-dimensional] protein folding, which helps them understand how drugs interact with cells in the human body," according to the EC.


AI That Picks Stocks Better Than the Pros
Technology Review (06/10/10) Mims, Christopher

Iona College's Robert P. Schumaker and University of Arizona's Hsinchun Chen have developed AZFinText, a system for predicting stock price fluctuations by analyzing large quantities of financial news stories along with minute-by-minute stock price data. AZFinText will buy every stock it believes will move more than one percent beyond its current price in the next 20 minutes. Schumaker and Chen minimized the amount of text the system has to parse by reducing all the financial articles into words falling into specific categories of information. The system focuses on proper nouns and combines information about their frequency with stock prices at the moment the news article is released. Using a machine-learning algorithm on historical data, AZFinText looks for correlations that can be used to predict future stock prices.


Flying Bots That Self-Assemble Midair
CNet Asia (06/11/10) Hornyak, Tim

Swiss researchers are developing a swarm of single-propeller robots that are able to self-assemble in midair. The modules for the robots feature wheels for moving along the ground, a computer, and infrared sensors for measuring the flight angle. The modules autonomously dock with each other through magnetic links, and form a robotic platform that has the appearance of a large Honeycomb cereal. So far, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control (IDSC) has flown four of the modules joined together. The researchers call the technology the Distributed Flight Array. The modules drive around, take flight, hover, and then fly to a predetermined altitude. The modules exchange information over a network, and adjust their own thrust in order to maintain level flight for the whole robotic platform.


Tech Companies Form Group to Study Net Neutrality
Computerworld (06/09/10) Gross, Grant

A group of technology companies has launched the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (TAG), a broadband technical advisory committee that will examine ways to resolve net neutrality issues. TAG will bring together engineers and other technical experts to develop a consensus on broadband network management practices. The group will work to advise U.S. agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice about the technical issues surrounding network management. Among the companies involved in TAG are AT&T, Cisco Systems, Comcast, DISH Network, EchoStar, Google, Intel, Level 3 Communications, Microsoft, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon Communications. "The TAG will function as a neutral, expert technical forum and promote a greater consensus around technical practices within the Internet community," says University of Colorado professor and TAG facilitator Dale Hatfield.


Scientists Strive to Replace Silicon With Graphene on Nanocircuitry
Georgia Tech News (06/10/10) Terraso, David

Scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the Georgia Institute of Technology say they have made a breakthrough in creating nanocircuitry on graphene, which is considered a leading candidate to replace silicon in next-generation transistors. The researchers developed a one-step process based on thermochemical nanolithography for creating nanowires using graphene oxide, which allows it to switch from being an insulating material to a conducting material. "We've shown that by locally heating insulating graphene oxide, both the flakes and epitaxial varieties, with an atomic force microscope tip, we can write nanowires with dimensions down to 12 nanometers," says Georgia Tech professor Elisa Riedo. The researchers found that when the reduced graphene oxide reached 130 degrees Celsius, it began to become more conductive. "So the beauty of this is that we've devised a simple, robust, and reproducible technique that enables us to change an insulating sample into a conducting nanowire," says the Naval Research Laboratory's Paul Sheehan.


Traffic Technology for a Cooperative Commute?
ICT Results (06/09/10)

European researchers have developed an intelligent traffic system that involves vehicles communicating with each other and with road signs and central services, as well as drivers who do not know each other talking about their route. The system, continuous air interface for long- and medium-range communications (CALM), is a family of standards that features a common architecture, protocols, and interfaces for wired and wireless vehicle-infrastructure communications. CALM is designed to maintain a continuous connection to a vehicle by managing access to various wireless technologies, including GSM, UMTS, satellite, infrared, 5Ghz microwave, Wi-Fi, and WiMAX. The Cooperative Vehicle-Infrastructure Systems (CVIS) project did "a lot of work to help finalize the CALM standards, to develop them in the most open, universally applicable way," says CVIS project coordinator Paul Kompfner. "But within the CVIS project, we use CALM-compliant equipment almost like a 'black box,' a standalone, all-in-one communication solution for cooperative traffic systems." He says that once the communication systems are in place, application developers can design ways to take advantage of them.


Protecting Privacy: Make the Data 'Fade Away'
University of Twente (Netherlands) (06/09/10)

Personal information can be protected by having it gradually fade away over time "like footprints in the sand," says the University of Twente's Harold van Heerde, who discusses storage structures, indexing methods, and log mechanisms in his dissertation, "Privacy-Aware Data Management by Means of Data Degradation: Making Private Information Less Sensitive Over Time." The dissertation shows that data degradation can be implemented with an acceptable loss of performance. Van Heerde believes total security might be impossible to achieve, so he wants to shift the discussion to what information should be stored, why it should be stored, and how long it should be stored. Web sites would have to consider the usefulness of the data they want to hold as they make prior agreements with their users. Although current databases are optimized for long-term data storage and access, new techniques would be needed to enable the information to be efficiently and irretrievably erased.


Programming Visually With Sikuli
Computing Community Consortium (06/10/10)

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Maryland have created Sikuli, software that could eventually make programming easy enough for everyday computer users. Sikuli has the potential to quickly automate any programming task that involves a graphical user interface. The programming tool uses a combination of screenshots and simple commands. Users can script what appears to be function calls, except with screenshots between the parentheses instead of code, which means the interface can be used by beginners as well as more experienced programmers. The User Interface Design Group says some understanding of Python is needed to use the current version of the programming tool, but a more streamlined, novice-friendly Sikuli program could turn the average computer user into a programmer. "You can look at it as an augmentation of human capability," says MIT professor Rob Miller.


New System Developed for Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease
Universidad de Granada (06/08/10)

University of Grenada (UG) researchers have developed techniques that enable the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease by analyzing computer images. The UG researchers, led by professor Ignacio Alvarez Illan, used SPECT and PET tomographies from three different databases to test the new system. The databases included brain CT scans from patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease or with normal development patterns. The researchers developed a series of algorithms that can identify areas of the brain affected by the disease. The software had a 90 percent success rate in identifying the disease from PET and SPECT images. The researchers are now developing software to translate the results so they can be used in hospitals.


Study Looks at Potential Effects of Multi-Touch Devices
ASU News (06/09/10) Derra, Skip

Arizona State University (ASU) professor Kanav Kahol is leading a research effort to evaluate whether the long-term use of multitouch devices places musculoskeletal stress on users. The researchers also are developing a toolkit that could be used by designers when they create new multitouch systems. "Multitouch systems might be great for usability of a device, but we just don't know what it does to our musculoskeletal system," Kahol says. The ASU research project also will develop best practices and standards for interactions that are safe and cause minimal user stress. Kahol says the system will be built with off-the-shelf components and will provide designers with a tool to use when developing new multitouch systems.


New Software to Measure Emotional Reactions to Web
University of Montreal (06/08/10) Desjardins, Sylvain-Jacques

Scientists at the University of Montreal (UM) are developing software for measuring how people emotionally react to Web sites. The software will analyze everything from body heat and eye movements to the facial expressions of Internet users. Tests are being conducted at the Bell User Experience Center, and the research will help Bell improve the online experience for Internet users. "With electronic commerce and the proliferation of Web sites selling at retail, it is essential that companies consider the emotions of Internet users," says UM professor Aude Dufresne. "Our software is the first to allow the measurement of emotions to conscious and preconscious levels, giving businesses a better idea of likes and dislikes of visitors to their sites."


Why Do Women Leave Science And Engineering?
Forbes (06/08/10) Hunt, Jennifer

Increasing the retention rate of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) could help stem the U.S.'s declining share in world patenting and scientific publishing, writes McGill University professor Jennifer Hunt. A recent report, "The Athena Factor: Reversing the Brain Drain in Science, Engineering, and Technology," by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, identifies the major reasons why women leave STEM fields at a higher rate than men, from the lack of a buddy network to outright sexual harassment, and proposes ways to make STEM careers more friendly to women. The exit rate for women compared to men is higher in science and engineering than in other fields, according to the 1993 and 2003 National Surveys of College Graduates. The gap is concentrated more in engineering than in science, and in exits to other fields rather than to unemployment. An analysis of the surveys shows the gap between the female and male exit rates from a field is related to the share of men who studied the field. For example, if engineering fields have the highest number of female excess exits, it is because they have the highest share of men. The share of men also explains the excess female exits for pay and promotion reasons.


Thumbs Up for Gesture-Based Computing
New Scientist (06/09/10) Barley, Shanta

A gesture-based computing system with a simple hardware interface has been developed by Robert Wang at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Lab. The system is composed of a pair of multi-hued latex gloves, a laptop, and a webcam. Twenty patches of 10 unique colors cover the gloves, which are configured to maintain the best possible separation of hues. When the webcam is employed to track a glove-clad hand, the system can recognize the location of each finger and tell the difference between the front and back of the hand. Upon calculating the hand's position, the system mines a database of 100,000 images of gloved hands in various positions, and then displays the closest match on-screen. The system can replicate gestures in real time by repeating the process several times per second. However, eliminating the gloves is thought by some to be key to gesture-based computing's mass appeal, and the possible viability of markerless motion-capture was recently demonstrated by researchers from Sweden's Royal Institute of Technology. Their system attempts to identify an unclad hand in a stream of video from a webcam by spotting flesh tones, using a reference database containing images of hands picking up various objects.


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