Welcome to the January 26, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Obama Talks About Innovation, IT Investments in Speech
InfoWorld (01/26/11) Grant Gross
President Obama called for increased investments in technology, education, innovation, and research in his State of the Union speech before the U.S. Congress. Obama wants to encourage innovation and improve the U.S. education system by hiring 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math teachers in the next few years. Obama also wants to invest in better broadband networks by supporting the Federal Communications Commission to free up wireless spectrum for mobile broadband. Within five years, the U.S. should deploy next-generation mobile broadband to 98 percent of U.S. residents, according to Obama. "All these investments in innovation, education, and infrastructure will make America a better place to do business and will create jobs," he says. "We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world." Obama also cited the need for immigration reform, arguing that foreign students that earn advanced degrees in the U.S. should be encouraged to remain in the country. "As soon as [foreign students] attain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us," he says. "It makes no sense."
A Research Study Identifies Who Uploads the Majority of the Content to the P2P Piracy Networks
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (01/25/11)
The behavior of BitTorrent users was recently examined by researchers at Carlos III University of Madrid. "The success of BitTorrent is due to the fact that a few users make a large number of contents available in exchange for receiving economic benefits," the researchers say. About 100 users are responsible for 66 percent of the published content and 75 percent of the downloads. The study involved identifying who those users are and why they are motivated to dominate the peer-to-peer application field. One group of users, known as "fake publishers," violate copyright laws and spread infected software. The other major group includes a smaller number of users, known as "top publishers," who publish massive amounts of content on BitTorrent, profiting from this activity. However, "if these users lose interest in this activity or are eliminated from the system, BitTorrent's traffic will be drastically reduced," the researchers note. They developed a tool that scans BitTorrent files, identifying the publisher's name, IP address, and the IP address of users who downloaded the file in question.
Students Score Poorly on Science Test
Wall Street Journal (01/26/11) Stephanie Banchero
Two recent science and math exams revealed that many students in the United States are not learning basic principles in these subjects compared to their counterparts in other countries. The Program for International Student Assessment showed that U.S. students trailed those in many European and Asian countries, and the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released Tuesday, found that U.S. students are not meeting federal standards. Education-advocacy groups provided several reasons for the test results, including a lack of qualified teachers and too few advanced classes in low-income and rural communities. President Obama has made math and science education a priority, stating that falling behind in these fields will hurt U.S. long-term prosperity. Obama recently launched a $260 million public-private partnership to train 10,000 new science and math teachers. The NAEP labels students as advanced, proficient, basic, or below basic. Just 31.6 percent of students were proficient or better, with less than three percent qualifying as advanced. The test also showed that boys scored better than girls and whites and Asian students scored better than African-Americans and Hispanics. Low-income students had the lowest scores and students in the southern states scored lower than those in the north.
The Fantastical Promise of Reversible Computing
Technology Review (01/25/11)
University of South Florida researchers are studying computation that takes place in steps that are time reversible, known as reversible computing, as a way to make computing more efficient overall. When a conventional logic gate produces several outputs, some of them are not used and are called garbage states. "Minimization of the garbage outputs is one of the major goals in reversible logic design and synthesis," says South Florida's Himanshu Thapliyal and Nagarajan Ranganathan. The researchers have found a theoretical way to reduce the number of garbage states that a computation produces and is applicable to reversible computing. The new theory involves performing an inverse computation on output states. If these computations result in the original states, then the computation is error free, minimizing the amount of garbage states that are produced. The researchers say their theoretical method has the potential to be dissipation-free, meaning it would use less energy than modern computing systems, and it would not lose energy while performing computations.
University of the Basque Country Computer Researchers Working With Biodonostia in Quest for Markers to Predict Multiple Sclerosis
Basque Research (01/25/11) Prentsa Bulegoa
University of the Basque Country researchers are conducting bioinformatics research to find biomarkers for certain diseases, which can result in more accurate diagnoses and prognoses. The researchers, led by Jose Antonio Lozano, Borja Calvo, Inaki Inza, and Ruben Armananzas, are working with Biodonostia researchers to develop algorithms that can identify signs of multiple sclerosis. Molecules known as micro RNA can act as biomarkers for multiple sclerosis, and the researchers are analyzing how these molecules express themselves. "They generated these data, they passed them on to us, and we aimed to construct a classificatory model which, introducing levels of expression into it, was able to predict if there was a disease or not, or the state thereof," Calvo says. The researchers found that the models were successful in predicting the disease and the study has moved on to the validation stage, according to Calvo. The researchers note that bioinformatics makes gene research much faster and more efficient, enabling significantly quicker breakthroughs.
Tool Developed to Help With Information Overload
The Tartan (01/24/11) Daniel Tkacik
Carnegie Mellon University researchers are developing a tool to help users understand complex and seemingly unrelated issues by making connections between various news stories to reveal the overarching meaning. "The goal here is to mathematically construct an issue map for any story," says Carnegie Mellon researcher Carlos Guestrin, who developed the tool with Dafna Shahaf. The visual map can optimize the information from multiple stories and help users identify the most useful information. The tool works by finding connections between two originally submitted news articles, and these connections are then found in other news articles. Users also can make changes to what the connections focus on to revise the issue map. The researchers also found that users of the model had a better understanding of big-picture issues after studying the chain of articles. The users graded the different chains, regarding those that improved their understanding of issues as the most effective. The researchers say the technique also can be used to help people make better choices in everyday life.
Supercomputers Increase Research Competitiveness
University of Arkansas (AK) (01/24/11) Matt McGowan
Research competitiveness for U.S. academic institutions is boosted by consistent investment in high-performance computing, according to a new study by University of Arkansas researchers. "Even at modest levels, such investments, if consistent from year to year, strongly correlate to new [U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF)] funding for science and engineering research, which in turn leads to more published articles," says Amy Apon, director of the Arkansas High Performance Computing Center. Among the factors the researchers considered to ascertain an investment's impact on competitiveness were ranking on the Top 500 list, number of published articles, total NSF funding, overall total of federal funding, and total funding from specific federal entities. A pair of statistical models was used to measure and analyze data from these factors, and Apon and colleagues observed an economically and statistically significant impact on higher NSF funding and published articles by researchers at investing institutions. The researchers determined that an initial or one-time investment in supercomputing loses value quickly if investments are not sustained. "Our results suggest that institutions that have attained significant returns from investment in high-performance computing in the past cannot rest on laurels," Apon says.
European Molecular Biology Laboratory (01/23/11) Sonia Furtado
Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have used machine learning to develop software that can automatically perform microscopy experiments. Machine learning enables the Micropilot software to quickly determine what scientists are looking for. Once Micropilot detects cells with interesting features, the software takes over the laborious and time-consuming tasks. Micropilot analyzes low-resolution images taken by a microscope to identify a cell or structure, and then automatically instructs the microscope to start the experiment. The software's actions can be as simple as recording high-resolution time-lapse videos or as complex as using lasers to interfere with fluorescently tagged proteins and recording the results. Micropilot quickly generates enough data to obtain statistically reliable results. EMBL researchers have deployed the software in several microscopy experiments investigating cell division.
Curved Carbon for Electronics of the Future
University of Copenhagen (01/23/11)
University of Copenhagen researchers have demonstrated how electrons on thin tubes of graphite can be controlled, a development that could lead to new spin-based nanoelectronics. "Our results show that if the graphite layer is curved into a tube with a diameter of just a few nanometers, the spin of the individual electrons are suddenly strongly influenced by the motion of the electrons," says Copenhagen researchers Thomas Sand Jespersen and Kasper Grove-Rasmussen. "When the electrons on the nanotube are further forced to move in simple circles around the tube, the result is that all the spins turn in along the direction of the tube." The researchers were able to induce electron alignment in general cases, when it was previously thought that perfect conditions in a vacuum were required. The interaction between motion and spin was measured by sending a current through a nanotube, where the number of electrons can be individually controlled. The researchers say their work opens up new possibilities for the control of electronic spin.
Millions More to Benefit From Greenfoot
University of Kent (01/21/11)
The University of Kent has established an international training network for teachers who want to use the free Greenfoot programming teaching tool. Seven hubs have been established, including five in the United States, one in Germany, and one in Russia, to enable teachers to participate in face-to-face workshops, training, and discussions. More than 1,000 institutions are using Greenfoot for their computer science teaching, and more than 1 million students have used the software to create games and simulations. Greenfoot's developers hope to at least triple that number over the next few years. Greenfoot is designed to teach computer programming to students 14 years old and up. "Partnering with a number of enthusiastic people at different places in the world will allow us to grow our user base even more than before," says Kent professor Michael Kolling, Greenfoot's lead designer. "We now have more than a quarter of a million active users, so providing training and support is one of the big challenges."
University of Warwick Engineering Students Use Xbox to Aid Award Winning Rescue Robot
University of Warwick (01/21/11) Luke Hamer
University of Warwick students are using Xbox Kinect technology to provide a rescue robot with autonomous navigation capabilities. The students say the gaming console has the potential to provide a method for real-time visual communication and three-dimensional mapping. The students also plan to use the robot to compete in the European RoboCup Rescue Championship in Germany and the RoboCup Rescue World Championships in Turkey. Another Warwick team took first place in last year's European championship, and this year's team plans to enhance the robot by increasing maneuverability, improving the human-machine interface, and designing an arm with an added manipulator for carrying supplies to trapped survivors. "As well as giving each team member experience in solving real engineering problems, the project offers them the chance to acquire unparalleled expertise in mobile robot design which, in the future, companies will need to have," says Warwick Mobile Robotics academic Emma Rushforth.
For Robust Robots, Let Them Be Babies First
University of Vermont (01/20/11) Joshua E. Brown
University of Vermont roboticist Josh Bongard recently completed an experiment involving both simulated and actual robots that change their body forms while learning how to walk. The evolving robots were able to learn to walk more quickly and ended up with a more robust gait than robots that began in fixed body forms. "Body change, morphological change, actually helps us design better robots," Bongard says. His research is part of a broader U.S. National Science Foundation study on evolutionary robotics. "We have an engineering goal to produce robots as quickly and consistently as possible," he says. The evolving robots started by crawling, similar to snakes and walking reptiles, and slowly evolved into walking on four upright legs like mammals. The evolutionary pattern allows the robots to master balance first, and then progress to more advanced types of movement, making them better movers at the end of the project. The researchers hypothesize that controllers that evolved in the robots with changing bodies learned to keep the desired behavior over a wider range of sensor-motor arrangements than controllers evolved in robots with fixed body plans.
Billions of Entangled Particles Advance Quantum Computing
New York Times (01/20/11) John Markoff
A team of researchers has briefly generated 10 billion quantum-entangled pairs of subatomic particles by bombarding a three-dimensional crystal with microwave and radio-frequency pulses. The technique is based on a purified silicon isotope doped with phosphorus atoms, and when the crystal was cooled to about 3 degrees kelvin, the team was able to produce and quantify massive numbers of quantum-entangled pairs of atomic nuclei and electrons. The researchers aim to create a platform for a quantum computing system by moving the entangled electrons to concurrently entangle them with a second nucleus. One of the core benefits of the silicon-based approach is that the team thinks it can sustain the entanglement required to preserve quantum information as long as several seconds. Scientists say the method is a potentially significant advance toward quantum computing because it might allow quantum computer designers to take advantage of inexpensive and easily fabricated components and technologies that have found wide use in the consumer electronics industry. "Our mecca is to build a quantum computer that could have thousands of qubits; here we have only a few," notes University of Waterloo physicist Raymond Laflamme.
Converting 2-D Photo Into 3-D Face for Security Applications and Forensics
Florida Atlantic University's Xin Guan and Hanqi Zhuang have developed an algorithm that can analyze the viewing angle and illumination of a face in an image and generate a three-dimensional (3D) view of the face based on the results. Uniquely identifying an individual from a flat, two-dimensional (2D) image is difficult for current computing technology because people's faces share so many characteristics, according to Guan and Zhuang. However, they say a processed 2D image that yields a 3D image of a face would provide a unique perspective. For example, a 3D image of a person's face could be used in biometrics for identity management and security applications. The technique could be used to analyze security footage from closed-circuit TV cameras in crime investigations or in searching for missing persons. The entertainment industry could use the technology to render 2D images of famous people from the past in 3D and animate a face.
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