Welcome to the March 2, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
New Generation of Optical Integrated Devices for Future Quantum Computers
Bristol University (03/01/11)
Researchers at Bristol University and Imperial College, London have demonstrated quantum computer components that could lead to compact circuits for photonic quantum computers. The researchers showed that quantum information can be changed with integrated photonic circuits. The researchers say the circuits are compact, stable, and could lead to mass production of quantum chips in the near future. The new devices are based on optical multimode interference (MMI). "While building a complex quantum network requires a large number of basic components, MMIs can often enable the implementation with much fewer resources," says Bristol's Alberto Peruzzo. MMIs can create large entangled states, which is the cornerstone of the performance gains hypothesized by quantum computing researchers. "Applications will range from new circuits for quantum computation to ultra precise measurement and secure quantum communication," says Bristol professor Jeremy O'Brien.
CRA Launches Effort to Understand Opinions About Recent PostDoc Surge
Computing Community Consortium (02/02/11) Erwin Gianchandani
The Computing Research Association (CRA) has launched a program to engage the computing research community in the state of postdoctoral fellows (PostDocs). The CRA's recent Taulbee Survey found that the number of new PostDocs rose from 60 in 1998 to 159 in 2009, in contrast to the number of new tenure-track faculty positions, which declined from 224 in 2004 to 151 in 2009 (both figures involve three-year rolling averages). In addition, the number of recent Ph.D.s who found industry jobs immediately after graduate school is about half of the total number of Ph.D. graduates in any given year, which is about 25 percent of what it was in 2004, according to the survey. In order to determine if the rise in PostDocs will positively or negatively impact the industry, the CRA commissioned a white paper that examined PostDoc statistics related to academic and industry hiring. The white paper is available at http://cra.org/postdocs. The CRA would like to receive feedback on the white paper, which can be posted on its Web site, by March 15th.
Share of Black S&E Degrees From HBCUs Declines in 2008
National Science Foundation (02/28/11) Bobbie Mixon; Joan S. Burrelli
Recent U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) studies have shown that the percentage of minorities earning bachelor's degrees in science and engineering (S&E) from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) has declined over time. The recent "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2011" report noted that 20 percent of blacks received S&E bachelor's degrees from HBCUs in 2008, compared to 26 percent in 2000. Although the report said that underrepresented minorities are less likely to attend college and graduate than whites, those minorities who do graduate follow similar degree patterns to their white peers. The number of S&E bachelor's and master's degrees for underrepresented minorities has been rising for 20 years since 1989. However, blacks, who make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, make up only about three percent of U.S. scientists and engineers.
Remapping Computer Circuitry to Avert Impending Bottlenecks
New York Times (02/28/11) John Markoff
Hewlett-Packard (HP) researchers have proposed a fundamental redesign of the modern computer that combines memory and computing power to significantly limit energy consumption. The new computing paradigm would be based on memory chips called nanostores, which are hybrid, three-dimensional systems in which lower-level circuits are based on memristors. The nanostore chips have a multi-story design, with silicon-based computing circuits that use minimal energy. HP's Parthasarathy Ranganathan says that in about seven years nanostore chips could hold up to one trillion bits of memory and contain 128 processors. He says the key is their ability to move data using very little energy. "What's going to be the killer app 10 years from now?" Ranganathan asks. "It's fairly clear it's going to be about data; that's not rocket science. In the future every piece of storage on the planet will come with a built-in computer." Other technologies also are being developed to help computing become more energy efficient. Recently, researchers at Harvard University and Mitre Corporation developed nanoprocessor tiles made from germanium-silicon wires. IBM researchers have been studying phase-change memories based on the ability to use an electric current to switch a material from a crystalline to an amorphous state and vice versa.
The Scientist: Prof. Bailey Explores Human Creativity and Machines
Cornell Daily Sun (NY) (03/02/11) Laura Comin
Cornell University professor Graeme Bailey is studying the ability of computers to mimic human creativity. Bailey says the divide between computer science and art is fading, and he is researching how computer algorithms can be used to create original works of art, and how those creations lead to a universal statement about human self-awareness and perception. "If we as computer scientists are hoping to build machines which can create effective art, then we must understand what psychologists and artists understand about human perception," Bailey says. In 2005, Bailey, composer Steve Stucky, and psychology professor Carol Krumhansl created the Computing in the Arts minor at Cornell. The concentration enables students to create works of art with computers, focusing on different disciplines including music, psychology, dance, film, and art. Bailey says computers will eventually be able to create original works of art indistinguishable from human-created works.
Can Data Stored on an SSD Be Secured?
Computerworld (02/28/11) Lucas Mearian
Sanitizing solid-state drives (SSDs) can be nearly impossible, challenging the popular belief that hard disk drives were more difficult to erase, according to a recent University of California, San Diego (UCSD) study. One certain way to protect SSD data is using cryptographic erasure, a technique that involves deleting the encryption keys on a drive so that decrypting the data becomes impossible, says SandForce's Kent Smith. Unless a user can break the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption algorithm, there is no way to access the data, Smith says. Cryptographic erasure is performed on the drive either through the Security Erase Unit command, or the soon-to-be released addition to the serial ATA specification under Sanitize Device Set. "The effectiveness of cryptographic sanitization relies on the security of the encryption system used [e.g. AES], as well as the designer's ability to eliminate 'side channel' attacks that might allow an adversary to extract the key or otherwise bypass the encryption," say the UCSD researchers. Although the researchers agree that cryptographic erasure is a good method for sanitizing SSDs, they also found that "all single-file overwrite sanitization protocols failed: Between 4 percent and 75 percent of the files' contents remained on the SATA SSDs."
White House Launches New Tally of STEM Education Programs
Science Insider (02/28/11) Jeffrey Mervis
A White House panel will conduct another tally of federal efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, but with more analysis than the inventory exercise initiated by the Bush administration. According to the Bush-era Academic Competitiveness Council (ACC), 12 agencies were spending a combined $3.1 billion a year on 105 programs at all levels of education and training, from elementary school through postgraduate studies and including outreach efforts. There is a need for more than a list of programs and simply labeling it STEM education, says Carl Wieman with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Because that leads people to ask, 'You're spending all this money, why don't we have great STEM education?' " he says. The new panel, under the White House's National Science and Technology Council, will focus on "what these programs do, how they fit together, and how well they match what we feel are best practices," Wieman says.
MIT News (02/25/11) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Charles Leiserson says the best method for rewriting algorithms to run on parallel processors is to use a divide-and-conquer technique, which involves splitting problems into smaller parts to make them easier to solve, allowing the computer to cater an algorithm's execution to the resources available. However, the divide-and-conquer method does not reveal where or how to divide the problems, which must be answered on a case-by-case basis. The divide-and-conquer strategy also means continually splitting up and recombining data, as it is passed between different cores, which can cause more difficulties, such as data storage. MIT graduate student Tao Benjamin Schardl developed a new method of organizing data, called a bag, which led to a new algorithm for searching data trees that provides linear speedup, often considered the holy grail of parallelization because it can double the efficiency of the algorithm.
Microsoft Web Privacy Features Meet W3C Approval
eWeek (02/25/11) Nicholas Kolakowski
Microsoft says the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has accepted and published its submission for a new Web privacy standard. Microsoft's Dean Hachamovitch says the proposal will help develop an industry standard for Web sites to "detect when consumers express their intent not to be tracked, and ... help protect themselves from sites that do not respect that intent." Microsoft submitted thousands of tests to the W3C and other standards groups in the run-up to the release of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9). Privacy controls recently have been particularly important to browser developers, including Google and Mozilla, and Microsoft's IE9 includes baked-in features such as Tracking Protection Lists (TPL). "These lists can block and allow third-party content in order to control what information consumers share with sites as they browse the Web," Hachamovitch says. The TPL initiative follows the Do Not Track proposal promoted by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
New Technique for Improving Robot Navigation Systems
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (02/24/11) Eduardo Martinez
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM) researchers have developed an antonym-based method for creating maps for mobile robots that can be integrated into existing robotic navigation systems. The system runs on low-cost ultrasonic sensors that are already built into most robotic platforms. The researchers, led by UPM's Sergio Guadarrama and Antonio Ruiz, are focusing on map building, which involves robots exploring unknown environments and creating maps, including sensing obstacles and taking measurements. The UPM team used ultrasonic range sensors, which are less accurate, to demonstrate how the system can build accurate maps with less data. Although the UPM method sometimes produces contradicting results, the researchers utilized linguistics and computational theory of perceptions research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley's L.A. Zadeh to solve the problem. For example, the robot can distinguish between an area that is unoccupied because it has not been studied and an area that is unoccupied because the robot has been there and not found any obstacles. Testing found that the range-sensory method results in maps that better capture the shape of walls and open spaces and contain fewer errors from incorrect sensor data.
Xerox Puts Laboratory Work on Display
V3.co.uk (02/25/11) Shaun Nichols
A new Xerox Web site enables computer users and developers to try its ongoing, experimental projects. The company views Open Xerox as a way to better connect its researchers with users and receive direct feedback. Current projects on the site include imaging applications, translation tools, and file-conversion utilities. Some of the services can be run through Xerox imaging devices that support the Extensible Interface Platform. "At Xerox, we encourage change, push the limits of the unknown, and explore new approaches to innovation," says chief technology officer Sophie Vandebroek. "Collaboration with users across the globe brings fresh ideas, diverse opinions, and expertise that enable game-changing innovations for our customers." Long involved in innovative laboratory work, Xerox has seen its Palo Alto Research Center pioneer technologies such as graphical user interface, Ethernet networking, and object-oriented programming.
Quantum Computer--Tune in Now!
University of Innsbruck (02/24/11)
University of Innsbruck researchers have experimentally demonstrated quantum antennae, which allow the transmission of information between two memory cells on a computer chip, and could lead to new methods for building practical quantum computers. The Innsbruck team, led by professor Rainer Blatt, was the first group to realize a quantum byte. However, they could not string together the large numbers of ions to control many more quantum bits. The researchers solved this problem by designing a quantum computer based on a system of several small, interconnected registers. The researchers electromagnetically coupled two groups of ions over a distance of about 50 micrometers, in which the motion of particles serves as an antenna. "If one antenna is tuned to the other one, the receiving end picks up the signal of the sender, which results in coupling," Blatt says. The energy exchange could be the basis for feasible quantum computers. "The new technology offers the possibility to distribute entanglement," he says.
Grid Pioneer Ian Foster Discusses the Future of Science in the Cloud
HPC in the Cloud (02/24/11) Rich Wellner
University of Chicago professor Ian Foster, director of the Computation Institute, has a vision to facilitate a transformational change in scientific research, to the point where research capabilities such as massive data and exponentially faster computers become accessible to researchers everywhere. "We need to take the [information technology (IT)] required for research and deliver that IT in a convenient and cost-effective manner, just as Google delivers email and Salesforce.com delivers customer relationship management," Foster says. He notes that the Globus Alliance has started to move in this direction by concentrating on transferring large volumes of data between locations, bundling this capability into a service called Globus Online. Foster describes Globus Online as "our first foray into what you might call a computational science cloud: Hosted services that let you 'use the grid' without installing software." Foster cites an instance in which an early user employed Globus Online to move data from a single source to 11 sites across the United States as an example of how Globus Online can enhance computing processes. Another goal of Foster's is making the sharing of files and results with collaborators more intuitive, manageable, and direct in order to eliminate much of the tedium inherent in scientific research.
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