Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 8, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Scientists Develop Device to Enable Improved Global Data Transmission
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (09/07/10)

University of Southampton researchers have developed a data transmission system that could benefit optical communications networks by eliminating phase noise from optical amplifiers and cross talk induced by rogue signals. Southampton researchers, working on the European Union's PHASORS project, developed a phase sensitive amplifier and phase regenerator for high-speed binary phase-encoded signals, which eliminates phase noise directly without the need for conversion to an electronic signal. "This result is an important first step towards the practical implementation of all-optical signal processing of phase-encoded signals, which are now being exploited commercially due to their improved data-carrying capacity relative to conventional amplitude coding schemes," says PHASORS director David Richardson. He says the technology also could be used in test and measurement applications in science and engineering, optical sensing, and metrology.


Computer-Based Video Analysis Boosts Data Gathering in Behavioral Studies
Brown University (RI) (09/07/10) David Orenstein

Researchers at Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the California Institute of Technology have developed a computerized system for behavioral studies that can analyze video footage and automatically identify specific behaviors. The researchers say the system is as accurate as humans in identifying mouse behaviors in videos. Given standard camcorder footage of a mouse, the open source software will automatically identify a mouse's behavior frame by frame. "We measured the agreement [on mouse behaviors] between any two human observers and it was more than 70 percent," says Brown professor Thomas Serre. The researchers say the automated system could provide more objective annotations than a human team could because it is not susceptible to bias. "You can actually do a lot more behavioral analysis and get a lot more complex behavioral characterizations of the animals without the need for people spending significant amounts of time going back and coding," says Brown researcher Kevin Bath.


Searching for STEM Success
Inside Higher Ed (09/03/10) David Moltz

Rural community colleges (CCs) have recently done much better than urban and suburban CCs in the percentage increase of associate degrees awarded to women and minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). From 1986 to 2005, rural CCs increased the number of women and minority STEM graduates by more than 42 percent. Meanwhile, urban CCs boosted these underrepresented groups by less than 24 percent and suburban CCs by about 10 percent. University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa (UAT) researchers studied the production of STEM graduates in CCs of different sizes and geographic locations and found that rural CCs increased their number of female engineering technology graduates by more than 37 percent during the 20-year period studied, while that number decreased by 19 percent and 17 percent at suburban and urban CCs. The researchers also found a substantial decrease in the number of STEM degrees at CCs going to men. "It may well be that the programs that [the U.S. National Science Foundation] and others have targeted for women and other underrepresented populations in recent years should expand their focus to include populations that are better represented in higher education as a whole," say UAT professors David E. Hardy and Stephen G. Katsinas.


Scientists View Cybersecurity as an Intimidating Conundrum
NextGov.com (09/02/10) Aliya Sternstein

The U.S. President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recently called on cybersecurity experts to discuss specific areas in the networking and information technology sector that warrant federal government research and development (R&D) funding. Cybersecurity "is the most difficult challenge," says Carnegie Mellon University's Jeannette M. Wing, who previously served as assistant director of the computer and information science and engineering directorate at the U.S. National Science Foundation. "And it's not just a societal and political challenge. It's a technical challenge." PCAST has found that although many advances in networking used to come from the Defense Department, recently innovation is more prevalent in the private sector, and the federal government does not play a huge part in R&D financing. Wing says the federal government needs to build research programs at agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Energy Department, which traditionally have not been considered test sites for computing, but now are conducting revolutionary work in the field.


HTML5 May Help Web Pages Talk, Listen
IDG News Service (09/07/10) Joab Jackson

A new World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) project could lead to the incorporation of voice recognition and speech synthesis interfaces within Web pages. AT&T, Google, Microsoft, and the Mozilla Foundation all have engineers participating in the project. The W3C's HTML Speech Incubator Group is studying the feasibility of developing a standard Web interface for both speech recognition and synthesis, says group chair Dan Burnett. Such an interface would allow browsers to read pages aloud or let users audibly fill out Web forms. The group will issue a report in a year summarizing its findings, but Burnett notes that developing the actual interfaces would be overseen by the W3C's HTML Working Group. The W3C also is working on related voice and speech technologies. For example, it recently released version 3.0 of VoiceXML, which is primarily designed for voice-driven applications, and version 1.1 of the Speech Synthesis Markup Language, which will incorporate Asian languages.


ITU Head: Cyberwar Could Be 'Worse Than Tsunami'
ZDNet UK (09/03/10) David Meyer

There needs to be a global cybersecurity peace treaty to avert the threat of international cyberwar, whose effects would be more devastating than a tsunami, says International Telecommunications Union Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure. He told a London roundtable that he had proposed such a pact this year, only to be challenged by opposition from industrialized countries. The risks associated with cyberattacks have been on the rise as nations' energy and infrastructures become increasingly linked to the Internet. The United States established the U.S. Cyber Command last year in an attempt to fortify its offensive capabilities so that it could attack other nations' cyberinfrastructure. Toure noted that cyberspace has no borders and criminals can carry out mischief in any territory. He acknowledged that the concept of a cyber peace treaty is an ideal rather than an achievable goal, but said he would settle for a "common code of conduct against cybercrime" in which each country would pledge to ensure its citizenry are connected to the Internet rather than denied access. The code also would mandate that nations commit to not attacking another country first.


Quantum Physics Adds Twist to Chess
CBC News (Canada) (09/03/10) Emily Chung

Queen's University (QU) computer scientists have developed a new chess game by mimicking the unpredictable nature of quantum physics. In the quantum chess game, a piece that should be a knight also could be a queen, pawn, or something else. The player does not know what the second state might be or which of the two states the piece will choose when it is moved. "You only know what a piece really is once you touch the piece," says QU researcher Ernesto Posse. QU's Alice Wismath wrote the game based on ideas proposed by QU professor Selim Akl. Akl developed a system in which chess pieces mimic the behavior of small particles that follow the laws of quantum mechanics. According to the principle of superposition in quantum physics, such particles can simultaneously be in multiple states at once, but collapse into a single state when an attempt is made to measure their position, momentum, or some other aspect. In designing the quantum chess game, Wismath limited the computer's calculations to the next possible move and the human response immediately after that.


Dental Surgery at the Click of a Mouse
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (09/01/10) Ulf Arnold-Fabian

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) researchers have developed an e-learning platform that enables dentistry students to download case studies with videos and images showing disease patterns and surgical procedures directly to their laptop, iPad, or iPhone. The researchers say the new platform, called Interaktiver Lernzielkatalog der Universitatsmedizin Mainz (ILKUM), provides students with a structure that ensures they are aware of the most important parts of dentistry. "This close link with actual practice is unquestionably one of the most important aspects of the training of dental students, and we intend to retain this approach in future," says JGU professor Reinhard Urban. The ILKUM platform consists of about 80 anonymized clinical cases that are available in PDF files, with some also containing video footage. ILKUM is an "exemplary concept that can be employed not only in medicine but also in other disciplines to achieve significant progress both in learning and teaching via sustainable blended learning," says consultant Jorg Skorupinski.


Human Unconscious Is Transferred to Virtual Characters
Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (09/02/10)

The unconscious actions of humans can direct the behavior of virtual characters in a new system developed by researchers at the University of Barcelona. The system uses sensors and wireless devices to measure heart rate, respiration, and the galvanic skin response in real time. A software program immediately processes the data and introduces the human physiological parameters into computer-designed characters. The heart rate impacts the movement of the virtual character's feet, while respiration and the galvanic skin response are reflected in the rising of the chest and the more or less reddish color of the face, respectively. "The ultimate aim is to develop a method which allows humans to unconsciously relate with some parts of the virtual environment more intensely than with others, and that they are encouraged only by their own physiological responses to the virtual reality shown," says Barcelona researcher Christoph Groenegress.


Shape-Shifting Robot Compensates for Damaged Limb
New Scientist (09/01/10) Colin Barras

European roboticists have developed software that enables a modular robot to adapt when one part stops working. The University of Southern Denmark's David Johan Christensen collaborated with the Swiss Federal Technical Institute's Alexander Sprowitz and Auke Ijspeert to simulate a quadruped robot constructed from a dozen Roombots. In the simulation, each Roombot randomly alters its pattern of movement every few seconds and assesses the impact on the quadruped's walking speed. After about 10 minutes, the quadruped increases its speed from 5 centimeters per second (cm/s) to 31 cm/s. One Roombot was made to malfunction, reducing the walking speed to 15 cm/s, and the quadruped learned to adapt its gait. The robot increased its pace to 21 cm/s after about 20 minutes. A U.S. team in 2006 designed a multi-legged robot that learned to adapt after damage. The U.S. researchers believe the two approaches could be complementary. "This method is especially suited for distributed systems such as modular robots," says Cornell University's Hod Lipson.
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New Process Promises to Revolutionize Manufacturing of Products
University of Waterloo (09/01/10) John Morris

University of Waterloo scientists have developed Multiple Memory Material Technology, a new manufacturing process that they say makes smart materials even smarter. "We have developed a technology that embeds several memories in a monolithic smart material," says Ibraheem Khan, a Waterloo research engineer working with Waterloo professor Norman Zhou. "In essence, a single material can be programmed to remember more shapes, making it smarter than previous technologies." The researchers say the technology will enable almost any memory material to be quickly and easily embedded with additional local memories. One of the team's demonstrations of the technology involves a miniature robot whose limbs transform in response to increasing temperatures. The researchers say the smart material process could revolutionize the manufacture of medical devices, microelectromechanical systems, printers, hard drives, automotive components, valves, and actuators.


Dynamic Memory Mapping Delivers Additional Flexibility to Virtual Resource Management
EurekAlert (09/02/10)

Peking University researchers have developed a dynamic memory mapping (DMM) model that brings additional flexibility to virtual resource management, and could lead to the design of a virtual machine monitor. The DMM model is a low-level memory management system that allows a dynamic mapping change between the physical memory and the machine memory while the virtual machine is running. The DMM layer uses high-level policies and low-level implementations by making both of them adjustable. The researchers say the DMM model can be applied to many novel management policies. The DMM model also has several advantages over current memory management systems, such as better platform independency and flexibility.


Computer Scientists Leverage Dark Silicon to Improve Smartphone Battery Life
UCSD News (CA) (08/31/10) Daniel Kane

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have developed a smartphone chip prototype that boosts efficiency by using specialized processors made from dark silicon. The chips, called GreenDroid, are designed to run heavily used sections of code, called hot code, in Google's Android smartphone platform. "Our students are designing a real multicore-processing chip, in an advanced technology, that is simultaneously advancing the state-of-the art in both smartphone and processor design," says UCSD professor Michael Taylor. The researchers say that GreenDroid cores use about 11 times less energy per instruction than an aggressive mobile application processor. "Smartphones are a perfect match for our approach, since users spend most of their time running a core set of applications, and they demand long battery life," says UCSD professor Steven Swanson. The research is motivated by the growing problem of dark silicon, which refers to transistors on microprocessors that must remain off a majority of the time due to power limits.


Solving an Earth-Sized Jigsaw Puzzle
University of Texas at Austin (08/31/10) Aaron Dubrow

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Austin have developed geodynamics software that enables them to accurately simulate tectonic plate motion. The simulations were facilitated by the accessibility of petascale high performance computing systems that form part of the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) TeraGrid as well as other government facilities. Three years ago, NSF awarded the researchers a Petascale Applications grant to study the mantle simulation problem, and the effort yielded a suite of algorithms that tackle the challenges of the global mantle dynamics problem and can utilize computing resources at the highest scale. A central element of the software executes adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) that concentrates the simulation on the relevant parts of the model, with higher resolution and computing power channeled to these areas. The researchers say the AMR algorithms could be important tools for a broad spectrum of multiscale challenges, such as the simulation of Antarctic ice sheet dynamics. The AMR library has been embedded in the deal.II open source finite element code, which will allow scientists to employ parallel AMR methods in applications characterized by a wide range of time and length scales, such as problems in materials processing or astrophysics.


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