Welcome to the December 6, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Live Online Briefing: Inspiring the Next Bill Gates
National Science Foundation (12/03/10)
The U.S. National Science Foundation will host a Webcast on Dec. 7 at 12 noon (EST) featuring Georgia Tech's Amy Bruckman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Leah Buechley, and ACM's Cameron Wilson, as part of the federally sponsored Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), which takes place Dec. 5-11. The Webcast will include demonstrations and suggestions on how to improve K-12 computer science education. Georgia Tech students will help Bruckman describe GLITCH, a program that enlists high school boys to debug computer games in an effort to inspire them to pursue computer science. Meanwhile, Buechley will show how E-Textiles has encouraged young girls to learn computational skills. The U.S. Congress created CSEdWeek to highlight the importance of computer science education and the need to improve technology education at the K-12 level.
Japanese Supercomputer Gets Faster But Draws No More Power
Computerworld (12/06/10) Martyn Williams
The Tokyo Institute of Technology recently developed Tsubame 2.0, a high-performance computer that is the second most energy-efficient supercomputer in the world, while achieving a peak performance of 2.4 petaflops. Tsubame 2.0 runs on a combination of central-processing units (CPUs) and graphic processing units (GPUs), which specialize at quickly performing computations on large amounts of data while using much less power than CPUs. The university's CIO put a limit on how much electricity and physical space the researchers could use to build their new supercomputer. "It wasn't the money, it wasn't the space, it wasn't our knowledge or capability, it was the power that basically was the limiter," says Satoshi Matsuoka, director of the university's Global Scientific Information and Computing Center. Tsubame 2.0 features 1,408 computing nodes and 448 processing cores, which results in nearly 1.9 million GPU cores and gives Tsubame 2.0 much of its power. The machine ranked fourth in the recent Top500 supercomputing list and second in the Green 500 energy-efficiency list.
Virtual Training Gets Real!
University of Leeds (12/02/10) Paula Gould
University of Leeds researchers are leading the ImREAL project, which is developing a virtual-reality training tool aimed at creating a simulated learning environment that responds and adapts to users' behavior. The project also involves researchers from Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and will focus on training workers for business, academia, and volunteering. "Simulated environments provide a cost-effective alternative to standard face-to-face training, but they need to incorporate the cognitive, social, and emotional aspects of the activities that are being modeled," says Leeds' Vania Dimitrova. The ImREAL project will focus on developing systems for interpersonal communications, which are important for managing relationships, customer service, and providing advice. The project also will develop tools that help trainees learn how communication and social cues vary across different cultures. The researchers plan to develop a self-growing adaptive simulation that uses a virtual mentor to help users learn about the experience as they work through it. "By the end of three years, we aim to have two fully functioning demonstration simulators up and running that incorporate these new ideas and illustrate highly innovative technologies for learning," Dimitrova says.
Schools See Surge in Computer Science Classes
Poughkeepsie Journal (NY) (12/05/10) Sarah Bradshaw
Many colleges saw significant growth in computer science enrollment this fall compared to three years ago, demonstrating the growing importance of technology education among young people. "I think the students are aware that they have it in their power to be the next Bill Gates if they come up with something really great," says Andrew Pletch, chairman of the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz's computer science department. SUNY New Paltz experienced a 53 percent increase in computer science majors since last spring. At Dutchess Community College, enrollment is up 43 percent in computer information management, 40 percent in computer certificate programs, 10 percent in computer science, and six percent in computer information systems. Many students think that information technology opens up employment opportunities, notes Dutchess' Frank Whittle. Professors also attribute the ability to specialize in specific areas of interest in computer science as a big factor in their programs' success. This fall Vassar College had 134 students sign up for at least one computer science class, and many of those students were taking additional classes, even though they are pursuing a different major, notes Vassar's Jeff Kosmacher.
It Will Soon Be Too Late to Stop the Cyberwars
Financial Times (12/03/10) Bruce Schneier
Clearly defining cyberwar is problematic because there are various levels of cyberespionage and tactics that create uncertainty, writes Bruce Schneier. Although he points out that developing offensive digital measures that target another nation is not a warlike act by itself, the use of cyberattacks to spy on another country represents "a gray area." This ambiguity increases when a country breaches information networks as a feasibility study. Schneier says the definitions and rules of cyberwarfare are complicated not only because weapons have changed, but because a broader group of people can avail themselves of those weapons through cyberspace. The lack of clear knowledge about the motives and perpetrators of cyberattacks further clouds the issue, and Schneier warns that this could lead to retaliation against the wrong target, or for the wrong reason. "While it is legitimate for nations to build offensive and defensive cyberwar capabilities we also need to think now about what can be done to limit the risk of cyberwar," he urges. Schneier suggests setting up a hotline between the world's cybercommands, so that communication between governments can hopefully produce more constructive results than bare speculation. There also should be established new cyberwar pacts that could stipulate a no-first-use policy, declare unaimed weapons unlawful, or authorize the use of weapons that destroy themselves at the conclusion of hostilities.
Green Grid Creates More Metrics for Energy Efficiency in Data Centers
IDG News Service (12/02/10) James Niccolai
The Green Grid consortium is developing two metrics to add to its power usage effectiveness metric for measuring energy efficiency in data centers. The new metrics will address carbon usage effectiveness (CUE) and water usage effectiveness (WUE). CUE will help officials determine how much greenhouse gas emissions come from the IT equipment in data centers, and WUE will help managers determine how much water is used by a facility for IT operations, according to the Green Grid. Companies have been under pressure to improve the overall environmental profile of data centers following a report to the U.S. Congress, which calculated that data centers comprised 1.5 percent of all U.S. energy consumption, and that percentage could double next year. Data centers also use a significant amount of water to cool their equipment. Meanwhile, cloud computing has been targeted as a source of global warming, and Europe has imposed carbon taxes for large energy consumers. The CUE and WUE metrics will be discussed at the Green Grid's Technical Forum next March.
Tongue Clicks to Control Wheelchairs
New Scientist (12/01/10) Duncan Graham-Rowe
The University of Bristol's Ravi Vaidyanathan is leading a research effort to develop an in-ear device that would enable people to control a wheelchair by clicking their tongue. Vaidyanathan's group says an in-ear device, which would replace tongue-controlled interfaces, is importance for hygiene issues, and because the interface would enable people to use it when they are eating or speaking. The in-ear device consists of a microphone that resembles an earbud and listens for four types of tongue clicks. Each low-frequency sound has a distinct local acoustic signature. The microphone sends the information to a signal processor to translate the clicks into commands for the wheelchair to move in a distinct direction. So far, Vaidyanathan's team has used the interface to navigate a virtual wheelchair through a maze, and to control a robotic arm. The researchers say that people can master the four tongue clicks in a couple of hours.
CulturePlex Marries Science and the Arts
University of Western Ontario (12/02/10) Heather Travis
University of Western Ontario (UWO) scientists have built the CulturePlex research lab, which connects humanities researchers with other scientists to develop new technologies and tools to study cultural dynamics. "We have to take advantage of technology to ask better questions about the past and get ready for the future," says UWO professor Juan Luis Suarez. The CulturePlex is aimed at developing digital humanities, which combine the arts with digital technology to find answers to traditional problems. The new research lab will facilitate research and development of technologies that enhance collaboration among different fields. "It's putting the mathematical and computer science part together with the needs we have as humanists, taking advantage of all the new gadgets and tools," Suarez says. The researchers want to create databases of paintings, texts, and people to better understand different cultures. They also plan to study culture and the structure of communications similar to the way Facebook analyzes its users.
Stanford Students Create 'Do Not Track' Software
Stanford University (12/02/10) Adam Gorlick
Stanford University researchers have developed Do Not Track, software that enables users to disable third-party Web tracking technology and tell advertisers to stop following their behavior online. "What concerns us is if you're on a site like Amazon and you go looking for shoes, then someone tells a behavioral advertising service that you've been looking for shoes," says Stanford's Jonathan Mayer. Do Not Track can be installed as an add-on to Firefox and adds a header to HTTP traffic that says the user does not want to be tracked. Once installed, the program works automatically. The researchers are working to make the program compatible with Google's Chrome browser, and also are developing ways to configure it for use on Web servers. However, the researchers say that ultimately the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will need to intervene to ensure widespread privacy protection. "At the end of day, Congress would probably have to pass a law empowering the FTC to enforce this," says Stanford's Ryan Calo. "The FTC could also say they are responsible for policing the Internet for deceptive and unfair practices, so if a consumer says he doesn't want to be tracked and you track him, that can be seen as an unfair practice."
Robots Imitate Honey Bees for Aircraft Aerobatics
University of Queensland (12/01/10)
University of Queensland scientists have developed an autopilot system that is able to guide planes through extreme maneuvers, such as loops and barrel rolls, by watching the horizon like a honey bee. "Our system, which takes thousands of a second to directly measure the position of the horizon, is much faster at calculating position, and more accurate," says Queensland's Saul Thurrowgood. The researchers taught the system to distinguish the sky from the ground by loading hundreds of landscape images into a computer, and training the system to compare the sky's blue color with the ground's red and green shades. Low-resolution cameras, which are similar to the eyesight of a bee, are attached to the aircraft and the system takes its own pictures of the horizon. A major challenge was determining the best resolution of images that allowed the system to locate the horizon quickly and not compromise the accuracy of the information, Thurrowgood says. "The measurement process can certainly be quickened—we only have to adjust the cameras to take images with a smaller resolution," he notes. Thurrowgood says the system also could be programmed for military, sporting, and commercial planes.
GPS Not Working? A Shoe Radar May Help You Find Your Way
NCSU News (12/01/10) Matt Shipman
Researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and Carnegie Mellon University have developed a shoe-embedded radar system to help people find their way when their global positioning system (GPS) device is not working. The radar system helps reduce the accumulation of errors in estimating velocity and position by inertial measurement units (IMUs), which work in conjunction with a GPS to measure acceleration. The IMUs track a person's movement after a GPS signal is lost, and provide location data relevant to the person's last known location via GPS. The researchers have attached the radar to a small navigation computer that tracks the distance between the person's heel and the ground. "If that distance doesn't change within a given period of time, the navigation computer knows that your foot is stationary," says NCSU professor Dan Stancil. "By resetting the velocity to zero during these pauses, or intervals, the accumulated error can be greatly reduced." The navigation computer compiles data from the portable radar sensor in the shoe and IMUs, and incorporates the most recent location data from a GPS to better track a person's location.
Intel Charts Its Multicore and Manycore Future for HPC
HPC Wire (12/01/10) Michael Feldman
Intel recently mapped out its strategy for multicore and manycore architectures. Intel's Rajeeb Hazra says the company's objective "is to bring to the high-performance computing (HPC) marketplace innovations that drive essentially all of HPC, from the very high end of supercomputing to volume workstations." Intel's new Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture is positioned to be a primary tool in that effort, with Hazra noting that it will form the foundation for its manycore processor design for the next 10 years and beyond. MIC is designed to pack many floating point operations into an extremely energy-efficient bundle. Hazra points out that performance upgrades in the top 100 supercomputers over the last decade were chiefly facilitated through the scale-out model, but this solution will be practical for only a few more years. He says Intel plans to provide the performance per watt similar to that of general-purpose computing on graphics processing units, but in an x86 architecture that enables applications to migrate from single-threaded codes to highly-parallel codes without revising the underlying model. Intel will provide compiler and runtime software support for MIC, as well as a common set of development tools to be employed across the Xeon and MIC products, with a goal of maximizing the productivity of programmers.
Linux Kernel Shows Growing Mobile Influence
InfoWorld (11/30/10) Joab Jackson
The open source Linux kernel is receiving increasing numbers of contributions from the mobile and embedded equipment sector, according to the Linux Foundation's annual kernel development report. The foundation says this "reflects the increasing importance of Linux in those markets." More than 6,117 individual developers from more than 600 companies have contributed to the kernel in the last five years, while independent developers have made the largest percentage of changes to the kernel with about 18.9 percent of the whole. There has been a general slowdown in kernel development since the release of 2.6.30, and the foundation report attributes it to the conclusion of certain large projects, such as the incorporation of the ext4 file system. However, the Linux kernel continues to expand in terms of size with the latest version more than double the size of 2.6.11, with more than 13 million lines of code. Linux serves as the platform for the Google Android mobile operating system, as well as the MeeGo OS for low-powered and portable devices.
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