Welcome to the March 4, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Scientists Develop Smart, Less Obtrusive Tracking System
University of Buffalo (03/03/11) Charlotte Hsu
University at Buffalo and Amrita University researchers have developed a smart framework that can track a person's location without invasive technologies. The researchers say the system could improve safety and security measures in nursing homes, hospitals, and other places that use constant monitoring. "Our goal is to develop systems that could enhance quality of life at homes and hospitals, productivity at the workplace, and security of critical spaces," says Buffalo professor Bharat Jayaraman. The framework involves capturing a person's identifying characteristics, such as face, gait, or height, at the doorways that connect one room to another. When a person passes through one of the connected doors, the system registers that information into a computer. The computer then compares the person's biometric data against a database that contains information on all of the people in the building. The system uses artificial intelligence to determine if the identification is accurate based on the person's last known location and the layout of the building. The researchers say that during testing the system was very accurate in identifying individuals.
Inoculation Against Stereotype
Inside Higher Ed (03/03/11) Scott Jaschik
University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMA) researchers recently conducted a study comparing the behavior of male and female students in introductory calculus courses taught by male and female instructors to determine a cause for the low representation of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields. The study found significant benefits to female students being taught by women. The study tracked students' level of engagement and confidence using various indicators, such as which students responded to questions posed to the class as a whole versus an individual student, how often male and female students approached the instructor, and how often students asked questions in class without being prompted. The study found that female instructors promoted more frequent participation from both male and female students in all of the key indicators. The researchers also found that, across sections, female students received better grades, indicating that male instructors diminish female student confidence, even if female students know the material better than their male peers. UMA professor Nilanjana Dasgupta says the evidence suggests that women who are exposed to women doing math and science successfully end up with "stereotype inoculation" in which they gain confidence.
Middle East Taps a Well of Research in STEM Fields
Times Higher Education (03/03/11) Paul Jump
The Middle East is rapidly advancing its research efforts in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, according to a recent Thomson Reuters Global Research report. The report notes that the Middle East's share of global research papers has doubled in the last 10 years. Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan produce more than 90 percent of the region's researcher papers (Israel was not part of the study). Growth also has been documented in the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Qatar, and Yemen. "These relative changes from a low base are a signal of the huge potential for scientific activity in the region," the report says. The region's research papers are dominated by those in the engineering field, followed by agricultural science and clinical medicine. Computer science, microbiology, and mathematics also are expanding rapidly throughout the Middle East, the report notes.
Improved Method Developed to Locate Ships in Storms
Plataforma SINC (Spain) (03/01/11)
Researchers at the University of Alcala de Henares (UAH) have developed a system for detecting ships in stormy seas. The system analyzes radar images by applying an algorithm based on artificial neural networks. UAH's Raul Vicen says they devised a detection method "that outperforms the one that has generally been used until now, as well as offering the advantages of low computational costs, and which can also be used in real time." The artificial intelligence system can learn from its environment and differentiate between ships and waves in confusing radar images. The team tested the system on the German FINO-1 research platform in the North Sea. "The fact that we obtained results with real data shows that this method can be installed in ship and ocean platform radar systems, without any problem," the researchers say.
The Quantum Singularity
MIT News (03/02/11) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Scott Aaronson and graduate student Alex Arkhipov will present a paper at ACM's upcoming 43rd Symposium on Theory of Computing that describes a yet-to-be-run experiment, which, if successful, would offer strong support for the power of quantum computers. If the experiment works, "it has the potential to take us past what I would like to call the 'quantum singularity,' where we do the first thing quantumly that we can't do on a classical computer," says Imperial College London's Terry Rudolph. The MIT researchers' proposal is an extension of a 1987 University of Rochester experiment, which involved a beam splitter sending advancing photons in different directions. The Rochester researchers showed that if two identical photons reached the beam splitter at precisely the same time, they will go either left or right, but never take different paths. The MIT experiment expands on the Rochester study by using larger numbers of photons, the distribution of which can be useful in reaching a feasible quantum system. However, calculating the photon distribution is an extremely hard problem, as is simulating it. "It's challenging, technologically, but not forbiddingly so," says the University of Calgary's Barry Sanders.
OLCF, Partners Release eSiMon Dashboard Simulation Tool
Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (03/01/11) Gregory Scott Jones
Researchers at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), the University of Utah, and North Carolina State University have released Electronic Simulation Monitoring (eSiMon) Dashboard version 1.0, a simulation tool that enables scientists to monitor and analyze simulations in real time. The researchers say that eSiMon Dashboard enables researchers to focus on the science behind the simulations instead of the nuances of high-performance computing. The eSiMon Dashboard offers major benefits for computational scientists, including simulation monitoring via the Web, hiding low-level technical details from users, and enabling collaboration between simulation scientists in different locations, says OLCF's Roselyne Tchoua. The eSiMon Dashboard also enables users to generate and retrieve publication-quality images and video, produce vector graphics with zoom and pan capabilities, utilize data lineage viewing, and download processed and raw data onto local machines. "We are currently working on integrating the eSiMon application programming interface into an ADIOS method so that ADIOS users automatically get the benefit of monitoring their running simulation," says OLCF's Scott Klasky.
Sticky Feet Send Insect-Bot Climbing Up the Walls
New Scientist (03/02/11) Sujata Gupta
Tongji University roboticist Minghe Li is developing climbing robots based on insects that release a sticky fluid from their feet to help them climb. The fluid is a mixture of honey and water, and the insect-bots have grooves on their feet, similar to real insects, that help them cling to walls. The grooves result in more fluid connections between the foot and the surface than occur with a smooth foot, making the pads 50 percent more adhesive, according to Li. Other researchers, such as Stanford University's Mark Cutkosky, are basing climbing robots on geckos. The gecko-bots are more effective at climbing walls, since Li's insect-bot cannot handle inclines of more than 75 degrees. However, gecko-bots have been ineffective on rough, wet, or salty surfaces, since those conditions interfere with the van der Waals forces that makes the gecko-bot's technique possible, according to Lewis & Clark College's Kellar Autumn. Combining the adhesion method and the van der Waals method could lead to the ideal climbing robot, Autumn says.
A Tangled Web of Shortened Links
Technology Review (03/02/11) Timothy Carmody
Link-shortening services may be slowing down parts of the Internet, according to the Foundation for Research and Technology and Microsoft Research. The researchers analyzed millions of shortened links involving two shortening services--bit.ly and ow.ly--and found that a small number of shortened links accounts for most of the traffic. The analysis also found that shortening services are mainly used in the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom. More than 10 percent of all bit.ly traffic includes links to YouTube, and Twitter says about 25 percent of tweets contain a URL. The researchers found that shortening services introduce a latency of 50 percent to 600 percent, a delay of less than half a second that is barely perceptible to most end users. However, usage could continue to grow, and the result could be a latency that is perceptible by users and an overall degradation of performance. "Alternative shortening architectures for eliminating such overheads may be required in the future," the researchers say.
CeBIT: Perfect Make-Up Every Time, Thanks to Your Computer
Agence France-Presse (03/01/11)
Computer software designed to serve as a personal makeup artist was on display at the recent CeBIT conference. Developed by the Max Planck Institute's Kristina Scherbaum, the program takes a three-dimensional (3D) image of a person's face, measures its complexion, shadows, and lines, and then suggests the perfect makeup combination. The recommendation is based on professional makeovers conducted on 60 models, and the software matches the user's face to a pre-programmed model. The software will advise how much makeup should be applied to which parts of the face. "We also take into consideration certain personal facial characteristics, like freckles or moles," Scherbaum says. The program will tell users whether their current makeup combinations are actually right for their face, and can be modified to provide cosmetic advice for different situations, such as a jazzy look for an evening party or a conservative look for work. Himangsho Saikia, who designed the interface system, notes the software is currently available only for women.
HUBzero Paving the Way for the Third Pillar of Science
HPC in the Cloud (02/28/11) Michael McLennan; Greg Kline
Purdue University researchers are developing the HUBzero Platform for Scientific Collaboration, a cyberinfrastructure for the Network for Computational Nanotechnology, which aims to connect researchers and educators that use and develop simulation tools. HUBzero currently supports more than 30 hubs, in fields including microelectromechanical systems, volcanology, and medical technology. Researchers from Rice University, the State University of New York system, the University of Connecticut, and Notre Dame University all use the HUBzero system. "Contributors can structure their material and upload it without an inordinate amount of handholding; that's really a key because you want people to contribute," says Purdue professor Gintaras Reklaitis. HUBzero, which can be accessed through nanoHUB.org, is used in 480 classes at more than 150 institutions, including the top 50 U.S. universities, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Additionally, the nanoHUB.org community currently has more than 740 contributors and 195 interactive simulation tools. HUBzero also could be used to build a Web-based repository of models and related documentation. "It's not just providing a library of models, but providing direct access to these tools," says Noha Gaber with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Council for Regulatory Environmental Modeling.
Automaton, Know Thyself: Robots Become Self-Aware
Scientific American (02/24/11) Charles Q. Choi
Cornell University's Hod Lipson is developing robots that can reflect on their own thoughts by equipping them with two controllers. One controller was rewarded for chasing dots of blue light while avoiding red dots, and the second controller modeled how the first behaved and how successful it was. This technique, known as metacognition, enabled the robot to adapt after about 10 physical experiments, as opposed to the thousands of experiments needed using traditional evolutionary robots. "This could lead to a way to identify dangerous situations, learning from them without having to physically go through them--that's something that's been missing in robotics," says University of Vermont's Josh Bongard. Lipson also is studying how robots can model what others are thinking by programming one robot to watch another randomly move toward a light. The observer developed the ability to predict the other's movements so well that it could lay a trap for it on the ground. "This research might also shed new light on the very difficult topic of our self-awareness from a new angle--how it works, why, and how it developed," Lipson says. One application for self-aware robots could be the maintenance of a bridge, with sensors constantly monitoring vibrations in the framework to develop a self-image of the bridge.
San Diego Supercomputer Center Launches Trestles
UCSD News (CA) (02/28/11) Jan Zverina
The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California, San Diego recently launched Trestles, a high-performance computer that will be available to users of the TeraGrid, the nation's largest open-access scientific discovery infrastructure. Trestles has 10,368 cores, a peak speed of 100 teraflops per second, 20 terabytes of memory, and 38 terabytes of flash memory. "Trestles is appropriately named because it will serve as a bridge between SDSC's unique, data-intensive resources available to a wide community of users both now and into the future," says SDSC's Michael Norman. Trestles also will work with Dash and Gordon, SDSC's other supercomputers. "Trestles, as well as Dash and Gordon, were designed with one goal in mind, and that is to enable as much productive science as possible as we enter a data-intensive era of computing," says SDSC's Richard Moore. The Scripps Research Institute's Bridget Carragher and Clint Potter are some of the first users of Trestles. Their research focuses on developing a portal on the TeraGrid for structural biology researchers. "Based on our initial experience, we are optimistic that this system will have a dramatic impact on the scale of projects we can undertake, and on the resolution that can be achieved for macromolecular structure," Carragher says.
When the Internet Nearly Fractured, and How It Could Happen Again
The Atlantic (02/24/11) Nancy Scola
The Internet was nearly splintered in the late 1990s when Eugene Kashpureff, unhappy with what he saw as the emerging Net's dominance by academics, industry figures, and government entities, established AlterNIC, an alternative domain name registration service that allowed anyone in the world to register a Web site on Kashpureff's top-level domains (TLDs). He later raised the stakes by diverting traffic intended for InterNIC, which managed the majority of domain name registrations on major TLDs. Internet Software Consortium co-founder Paul Vixie says fracturing the domain name system (DNS) would divide the Internet so that users might never know where to go to locate domains, or what they might get, which could result in chaos. Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement division and the Department of Justice seized Web sites thought to engage in offensive activities, and Congress is considering legislation that would enable the Attorney General to blacklist Web site names. Such developments have heightened the controversy surrounding the central role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and U.S. influence over Internet governance, and there have been sizable initiatives to shift power from ICANN toward a globally accountable entity. These and other sources of tension have raised concerns that a balkanization of the Internet could result.
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