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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Japanese 'K' Computer Is Ranked Most Powerful
New York Times (06/19/11) Verne G. Kopytoff

Japan's K Computer was ranked number one on the latest Top500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. The K Computer achieved a top speed of 8.2 petaflops per second, three times faster than China's Tianhe-1A supercomputer, which previously held the record as the world's fastest computer. The K Computer, which was built by Fujitsu and is located at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science, is composed of 672 cabinets filled with system boards and uses enough electricity to power almost 10,000 homes at a cost of about $10 million per year, according to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor Jack Dongarra, who keeps the official rankings of computer performance. "It's a very impressive machine," Dongarra says. "It's a lot more powerful than the other computers." Japan and China hold four of the top five spots on the latest Top500 list, while the United States has five of the top 10 spots on the list. It is the first time since 2004 that Japan has topped the supercomputer rankings, but Dongarra notes that the Blue Waters supercomputer being built at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign could offer speeds similar to the K Computer.


Pentagon's Advanced Research Arm Tackles Cyberspace
Reuters (06/16/11) Jim Wolf

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing the National Cyber Range, a model of the Internet that will enable researchers to test defense systems against virtual foreign and domestic-launched cyberattacks on the U.S. government. The National Cyber Range also will help the U.S. government train cyberwarriors and develop new technologies to defend information systems. A prototype test range will be launched this summer, while the actual National Cyber Range is expected to be fully operational by mid-2012. The cyber range also will act as a series of testbeds that can carry out different drills or be combined into larger pieces. A key goal is to run classified and unclassified experiments in quick succession, "in days rather than the weeks it currently takes," says DARPA's Eric Mazzacone. DARPA also is developing the Clean-slate design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts system, which aims to design computer systems that evolve over time, making them more difficult to attack. Meanwhile, DARPA's Cyber Insider Threat program will help monitor military networks for threats from within. In addition, the Cyber Genome program aims to automate the discovery, identification, and characterization of malicious software.


Gender-Spotting Tool Could Have Rumbled Fake Blogger
New Scientist (06/17/11) Paul Marks

A gender analysis program developed by Stevens Institute of Technology researcher Na Cheng and colleagues could have successfully determined the sex of a 40-year-old U.S. man writing online as a gay Syrian girl, according to tests. The software permits users to either upload a text file or paste in a paragraph of 50 words or more for analysis. The program was based on a vast corpus of documents that the researchers screened for psycholinguistic factors, and they winnowed the more than 500 factors they uncovered down to 157 gender-significant ones. These cues were then combined by the program through a Bayesian algorithm that guesses gender according to the balance of likelihoods suggested by the factors. The program has three gender judgments to choose from--male, female, and neutral. A judgment of neutral might signal that someone is attempting to write in a gender voice that is unnatural to them. When fed text, the software's assessment of a male or female author is only precise 85 percent of the time, but the researchers say its accuracy will improve as more people use it and alert it to wrong guesses.


Research Tackles Powering the Virtual Data Center
Network World (06/16/11) Jon Brodkin

Researchers at Duke University and Microsoft have jointly designed a system that monitors the power needs of individual virtual machines and distributes power based on application priorities. The researchers, led by Duke's Harold Lim, designed a virtual power shifting (VPS) system that budgets power and has visibility into the virtual machine layer. VPS dynamically shifts power among different distributed components to utilize the total available power budget, according to the researchers. They say the system is more granular than conventional technologies. "In contrast to existing techniques that use only one power control knob, typically frequency scaling, VPS uses multiple power control knobs and selects the optimal combinations of power settings to optimize performance within the available power budget," the researchers write. Lim says that because VPS can dynamically adjust to changing workloads, it should be able to handle sudden drops in the power budget. However, the researchers are still resolving some issues, such as how to automatically shut down servers and transfer virtual machines between boxes.


Inspired by Insect Intelligence
Monash University (06/16/11)

Monash University researchers are developing wireless sensor networks (WSNs) based on insects' neural systems that could revolutionize how environmental systems, building infrastructures, and health-care patients are monitored. "A fruit fly's brain consumes only a few microwatts of power, and yet is still able to integrate sensory information, actions of flight, and control over relatively complex behavior in order to survive," says Monash's Asad Khan. The researchers are using bio-inspired computing to develop WSNs that are based on the efficiencies and intelligence of biological systems. "WSNs are hugely important and widely used to monitor patient health, track air pollution, and as early detection systems for forest fires," Khan says. The bio-inspired approach could make it possible to create infinitely scalable WSNs that could include millions of sensors, according to Khan. He says WSN technology also could be applied to online networks.


Michigan Two- and Four-Year Colleges Team Up to Boost Minority STEM Enrollment
Diverse Online (06/14/11) Eric Freedman

The Michigan Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (MI-LSAMP) has enlisted nine community colleges for its effort to increase the number of minority students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. The addition of community colleges in Detroit and its suburbs, as well as nearby smaller communities, marks the second phase of the MI-LSAMP initiative. From 2005 to 2010, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Wayne State University, and Western Michigan University helped to increase the number of STEM degrees awarded to minority students by nearly 50 percent. MI-LSAMP will use pre-first-year programs, paid research experiences, and other strategies. The partner universities will help community college students and counselors understand STEM career opportunities and course transfer equivalents. For example, Western Michigan will host a summer pre-college program to accelerate the problem-solving and math and science skills of incoming students. "We recognize that more and more students are considering community college as one pathway to a bachelor's degree in the STEM disciplines," says Muskegon Community College professor David Wiggins.


"Ultrawideband" Could Be Future of Medical Monitoring
Oregon State University News (06/16/11) David Stauth

Oregon State University (OSU) researchers have found that "ultrawideband" technology could be used for health monitoring and sophisticated body-area networks, which would offer continuous, real-time diagnosis to reduce the onset of degenerative diseases and cut health-care costs. "This type of sensing would scale a monitor down to something about the size of a bandage that you could wear around with you," says OSU professor Patrick Chiang. "The sensor might provide and transmit data on some important things, like heart health, bone density, blood pressure, or insulin status." The researchers say that one of the key obstacles to implementing body-area networking technology is the need to transmit large amounts of data while consuming very little energy. They found that ultrawideband could be the solution if the receiver getting the data were within a line of sight. Even non-line-of-sight transmission could be possible using ultrawideband if lower transmission rates were required, the researchers say. "The challenges are quite complex, but the potential benefit is huge, and of increasing importance with an aging population," Chiang says.


Non-Invasive Brain Implant Could Someday Translate Thoughts Into Movement
University of Michigan News Service (06/16/11) Laura Bailey

University of Michigan researchers have developed BioBolt, a brain implant that uses the body's skin as a conductor to wirelessly transmit the brain's neural signals to control a computer. With conventional neural implants, the skill must remain open, which makes using the technology in the patient's daily life unrealistic, says Michigan professor Kensall Wise. However, BioBolt does not penetrate the cortex and is completely covered by the skin, which greatly reduces the risk of infection. Wise says "the ultimate goal is to be able to reactivate paralyzed limbs" by picking the neural signals from the brain cortex and transmitting those signals directly to muscles. BioBolt also can be used to control epilepsy and to diagnose diseases such as Parkinson's. BioBolt uses a film of microcircuits to analyze the firing neurons and associate them with a specific command from the brain. Those signals are converted to digital signals and transmitted through the skin to a computer, says Michigan professor Euisik Yoon. BioBolt minimizes power consumption by using the skin as a conductor. Yoon says the researchers hope to eventually bypass the need for an off-site computer by transmitting the signals through skin and directly into a device worn on the person's body.


You Can Take It With You
MIT News (06/16/11) Larry Hardesty

Users can transfer open applications between a computer and a mobile phone by pointing the phone's camera at the computer screen through a new system developed by researchers at Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. With the Deep Shot system, users can shoot a photo of the computer screen with the phone camera, and the handset automatically opens up the corresponding app in the corresponding state--and vice versa. Deep Shot leverages many Web apps' usage of the uniform resource identifier (URI) to describe the states they are in. Using the system requires installing software on the phone as well as on all of the computers the phone will interact with. When uploading data to a phone, Deep Shot utilizes existing computer-vision algorithms to recognize the app open on screen, while the software installed on the computer extracts and sends the corresponding URI. Deep Shot also can mediate between different apps by exploiting URIs' use of a standardized set of codes.


'Hadoop Alternative' to Be Open Sourced
IDG News Service (06/15/11) Chris Kanaracus

LexisNexis will open source its HPCC Systems supercomputing platform and offer developers an alternative to the Hadoop framework for large-scale data processing. The platform operates on clusters of commodity hardware and is comprised of components oriented around LexisNexis' Enterprise Control Language. The company says that data extraction, transformation, and loading tasks are managed by a component dubbed Thor, while a third system called Roxie delivers "highly scalable, high-performance online query processing and data warehouse capabilities." The system is capable of analyzing petabyte-sized data volumes "significantly faster and more accurately than current technology systems," scaling up to thousands of nodes, according to LexisNexis. Both a community edition and a commercial enterprise edition of HPCC Systems will be released by LexisNexis. HPCC Systems will initially be offered as a virtual machine for testing by the developer community, with full binaries and the source code to be released some weeks later. The community version will be issued under the GNU Affero GPL v3 license, while new code contributed by LexisNexis and community members will go to the open source edition first, according to LexisNexis.


Exposing the Badger's Social Life
BBC News (06/15/11) Mark Ward

Researchers at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge recently launched a test of Wildsensing, an underground tracking project that uses magnetic fields and sensor collars. Direct observation of burrowing animals has been difficult, and the researchers wanted to automate the process to limit human interaction. The researchers recently tested the technology on badgers, using magnetic fields because they can easily penetrate the soil and reach badger chambers even in complex, well established colonies. The researchers' technique involves magnetic field-emitting antennas that monitor the colony and special collars equipped with sensors that log the movements of the badgers in relation to the magnetic fields. "We know where we have placed the antenna above the surface, the collar picks up signal strength from the intensity," says Oxford's Andrew Markham. When the badger surfaces, the data is downloaded to a micro-SD card. The test was limited to four badgers, but the researchers plan a larger test that could include the creation of an ad hoc badger data network that uses the collars to capture data when any member of the badger colony surfaces.


Molecular Biologist Uses Computer Science to Solve a Genetic Puzzle
Michigan Tech News (06/15/11) Jennifer Donovan

Michigan Technological University researcher Hairong Wei has developed a computer-based tool for rapidly and accurately identifying the transcription factors that work together to control a biological process. Wei developed a virtual map of the genes that have the greatest synchronicity on a certain biological process, and developed an algorithm to break that network into components, which enabled him to identify a cluster of transcription factors that control the biological process. "Once these transcription factors are identified, scientists will know which genes to manipulate to get the results they want," Wei says. The algorithm was able to identify 24 transcription factors in less than one day. It previously took 10 years to identify 22 transcription factors. Wei's team found that many of the resulting clusters accurately represent a biological process of interest. "This is a pipeline for quickly and accurately identifying functionally coordinated key transcription factors," Wei says.


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