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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


The A-Z of Programming Languages: From Pizza to Scala
Techworld Australia (08/18/11) Lisa Banks

Scala, Twitter's underlying programming language, was developed by Martin Odersky in an attempt to incorporate some functional elements, first within a language extension of Java, and then within a language that did not have Java's restrictions. "At first, this was an experiment, to answer the question whether we could achieve a tight integration between functional and object-oriented programming and whether this would lead to a useful programming model and language," Odersky says in an interview. Scala increasingly developed into an open source environment and then into a language that could be commercially supported. Odersky says one of the biggest challenges of developing Scala was having a language distinct from Java but that also is simultaneously interoperable with Java. He notes that Scala is increasingly used in projects inside Twitter. "Scala keeps much of the 'feel' of a dynamic language even though it is statically typed," Odersky says. "It thus tends to appeal to people who come from dynamic languages--not all of them but some of them."


W3C Ignites Developer Participation in Web Standards Process
eWeek (08/16/11) Darryl K. Taft

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently announced a new track, called W3C Community Groups, that makes it easier for developers and businesses to create Web technology within W3C's international community of experts. The move is an effort to support the rapid evolution of Web technology, according to W3C officials. W3C Community Groups promote diverse participation, allowing anyone to propose a group, which leads to lots of small groups, even those that have minimal peer support. Additionally, there are no fees to participate and active groups can work indefinitely. "As the pace of innovation accelerates and more industries embrace W3C's Open Web Platform, Community Groups will accelerate incorporation of innovative technologies into the Web," says W3C CEO Jeff Jaffe. The W3C also recently announced the launch of Business Groups, which provide W3C members and non-members with a vendor-neutral forum to develop market-specific technologies that impact Web standards. "Developers can propose ideas to the extensive W3C social network, and in a matter of minutes start to build mindshare using W3C's collaborative tools or their own," says W3C's Harry Halpin.


Taking a Disruptive Approach to Exascale
HPC Wire (08/18/11) Nicole Hemsoth

A recent U.S. Department of Energy workshop concentrating on exascale challenges and current gaps in research and ideology offered insight for those seeking a disruptive approach to exascale computing. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Anant Agarwal said the problem of boosting performance while using less energy is superseded by the far greater challenges of exascale programmability and resiliency, which require disruptive research to address. Such research will emphasize that solving two of the three challenges of performance, efficiency, and programmability will be relatively easy compared to solving all three. Meanwhile, NVIDIA's Bill Dally said that "algorithms should be designed to perform more work per unit data movement" and that "programming systems should further optimize this data movement." Dally further noted that architectures must effect data movement by furnishing an exposed hierarchy and efficient communication. University of California, San Diego professor Allan Snavely discussed locality, and how his team is devising tools and methodologies that can identify location in applications to lower the processor frequency for effective power efficiency.


Faster Organic Semiconductors for Flexible Displays Can Be Developed Quickly With New Method, Say Stanford Researchers
Stanford Report (CA) (08/16/11) Louis Bergeron

Researchers at Stanford and Harvard universities have developed an organic semiconductor material that is among the fastest every created. The researchers also accelerated the development process by using a predictive approach that cut the typical timeline by several months. The researchers worked with compounds possessing chemical and electrical properties that seemed likely to enhance the performance of DNTT, which has already been shown to be a good organic semiconductor, and found seven potential candidates. The Harvard researchers predicted that two of the candidates would most readily accept a charge, and then calculated that one of the two materials was much faster in passing that charge from molecule to molecule. The new material is more than 30 times faster than the amorphous silicon currently used for liquid crystal displays. The researchers hope their predictive approach can be used by other researchers working to find new materials for organic semiconductors.


Georgia Tech Researchers Demo Disaster Communications System
Georgia Institute of Technology (08/16/11) Liz Klipp

Georgia Tech researchers have developed LifeNet, a wireless communication system that is designed to help first responders manage disaster zones. LifeNet is a mobile ad-hoc network designed for use in highly transient environments that requires no infrastructure such as Internet, cell towers or traditional landlines. LifeNet bridges connectivity between a satellite phone, the standard for post-disaster communications, and a WiFi-based network on the ground. The new system extends the coverage of a satellite phone from one computer with access to the entire independent network in the field, meaning that several users who might not have satellite phones but do have smartphones or laptops with WiFi can connect to the LifeNet network, communicate with each other, and use the Internet as long as any one of them has access. "If you use LifeNet, the cost savings per text message is 100 times less than a satellite phone," says Georgia Tech graduate student Hrushikesh Mehendale. Each LifeNet-equipped computer acts as both a host client and a router, moving data to and from any other available wireless device. The LifeNet software provides basic communications that are low bandwidth, but reliable.


Research Team Develops Face-Mapping App for Global Smartphone Searching
PhysOrg.com (08/16/11) Bob Yirka

Rice University researchers have developed a smartphone application that allows users to search images on other users' phones that have been transmitted by a centralized server. If the search finds a targeted image, the photo is sent back to the server for additional processing. The application, called Theia, is designed for users that want to find a photo of someone or something that may have been taken unintentionally. Theia features a pair of key advancements to control search cost and enhance search efficiency. Incremental Search broadens search scope incrementally and exploits user feedback, while Partitioned Search leverages the cloud to lower the energy consumption of search in smartphones. The researchers hope that Theia can be used to help identify people in recent child abduction or criminal manhunt cases. Although there are significant security issues, as users would have to approve opening up their phones to random searches by complete strangers, the researchers hope that Theia will be used for the public good.


NIST Uncovers Reliability Issues for Carbon Nanotubes in Future Electronics
NIST News (08/16/11) Laura Ost

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has discovered reliability to be a sizable problem for future electronic applications of carbon nanotubes. Tests of nanotube interconnects between metal electrodes demonstrated that the nanotubes slowly deteriorate under constant current, while the electrodes fail when currents climb above a certain threshold. NIST is devising measurement and test methods and examining various nanotube structures, focusing on what happens at the interfaces of nanotubes and metals and between different nanotubes. "The common link is that we really need to study the interfaces," says NIST's Mark Strus. Failures in carbon nanotube networks also were identified in a related study, and Strus says the failures appeared to occur between nanotubes, which are the point of highest resistance. In spite of these issues, Strus envisions nanotubes having practical use in certain electronic apps. "Carbon nanotube networks may not be the replacement for copper in logic or memory devices, but they may turn out to be interconnects for flexible electronic displays or photovoltaics," he says.


Wire Robot Yanks Your Golf Game Into Shape
New Scientist (08/15/11) Paul Marks

University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed a haptics-based robotic wire system designed to help golfers with putting. The researchers, led by professor Katherine Kuchenbecker, designed a 1.5-meter-long by 70-centimeter-wide metal training frame with a green baize base and a practice hole. The player stands at the center using a practice putter with attached four steel wires, which go to the four corners of the frame, where they are connected to an electric motor that can alter the wires' tension. As the player swings the putter, software controls the tension in the wires and corrects any deviation to the swing, keeping it straight. "The golfer feels forces pulling them back to the correct position when they go wrong, making it feel natural to swing correctly," says Pennsylvania researcher Jacquelyn Kunkel. The Pennsylvania team plans to improve the system by reducing the friction in the wires so the altered swing feels more natural.
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Strain and Spin May Enable Ultra-Low-Energy Computing
American Institute of Physics (08/15/11) Catherine Meyers; Jennifer Lauren Lee

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) researchers have developed an integrated circuit that can function without batteries, using just the ambient energy from the environment, by combining spintronics and straintronics. When spintronic devices are run at usable processing speeds, much of their energy savings is lost in the mechanism through which the energy is transferred to the magnet. To solve this problem, the VCU researchers used a composite structure called multiferroics, which consist of a layer of piezoelectrical material with close contact to a magnetostrictive nanomagnet that changes shape in response to strain. With the correct choice of materials, the energy dissipated can be as low a 0.4 attojoules, or about a billionth of a billionth of a joule, which could lead to the development of extremely low-power but high-density, non-volatile magnetic logic and memory systems. The processors could be used in devices such as implantable medical devices and buoy-mounted computers that get their energy from motion.


Forecasting Pipe Fractures
MIT News (08/15/11) Jennifer Chu

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are using simulations of material deformation in car crashes to predict how pipes may fracture in offshore drilling accidents. The researchers simulated the forces involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and found that their model accurately predicted the location and propagation of cracks in the oil rig's drill riser. "We are looking at what would happen during a severe accident, and we're trying to determine what should be the material that would not fail under those conditions," says MIT professor Tomasz Wierzbicki. The researchers' work in car-crash safety testing has led to Fracture Predictive Technology, which combines physical experiments with computer simulations to predict the strength and behavior of materials under severe impacts. In testing, a motion-capture camera takes images as the sample material crumples, sending the images to a computer, which analyzes exactly when and where deformations occur. The tests reveal the materials' overall mechanical properties, which makes it possible to create a simulation to predict the materials' behavior in any configuration and under any conditions.


DNA Construction Software Saves Time, Resources and Money
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (08/16/11) Lynn Yarris

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher Nathan Hillson has developed j5, a new type of DNA construction software that also identifies which strategy would be the most cost effective. DNA construction software is used for a variety of studies, including genetic studies, medical research, and the development of advanced biofuels. "Through the design of short DNA sequences that can be used to join longer sequences together in recombinant DNA assemblies, the j5 software improves the accuracy, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of DNA construction," Hillson says. DNA construction utilizes DNA sequence fragments from several different organisms into a self-replicating genetic element that will propagate the assembled parts in a host cell, which traditionally has been a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. "The j5 software package is a Web-based computer application that automatically designs and optimizes state-of-the-art DNA construction protocols," Hillson says. He notes that the system can determine the optimal flanking sequences that should be attached to each DNA part to produce the desired recombinant DNA at the lowest cost in just a few minutes. The j5 software also can build combinatorial libraries, each with a different combination of genes or parts that perform similar functions in different organisms.


Mediocre Hackers Can Cause Major Damage
Washington Times (08/16/11) Shaun Waterman

Even minimally competent hackers can hijack the computer systems that control critical industrial machinery to deadly effect, according to security researchers. NSS Labs researcher Dillon Beresford successfully breached industrial control systems (ICSs) from Siemens and other companies despite having no experience with the systems, limited time, and a small budget. He did it by exploiting a back door coded into the Siemens ICSs and other vulnerabilities that could permit a hacker with access to the computer network at a target facility to shut down or even damage the equipment that the system controls, says NSS Labs' Vikram Phatak. Security consultant Joe Weiss says this discovery is a game-changing revelation, as it proves that "you don't have to be a nation state" to penetrate an ICS. Last month the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an advisory to critical infrastructure owners warning that the Anonymous hacker collective had threatened attacks on U.S. and Canadian oil and gas companies, and that the skill level affiliated with such hacks to date was low. A DHS official cautions that "once ... vulnerabilities make their way into open source, that lowers the [skill] bar down to a 'script kiddie' level."


Yahoo! Uses Facebook to Test Six Degrees of Separation
San Jose Mercury News (08/15/11) Mike Swift

Facebook and Yahoo! researchers have embarked on an experiment to determine how many online connections it takes, on average, for people to communicate a message to a person they do not know. The outcome could address lingering issues about the degrees of separation between people. Each member of Facebook has an average of 130 friends on the social network, which is visualized as a person's social graph. The current Small World experiment is designed to test people's effectiveness at transmitting a message from friend to friend to measure the actual level of connection between people, according to Yahoo! scientist Duncan Watts. The Facebook-Yahoo collaboration could cover a much wider participant population than Stanley Milgram's famous 1960s-era experiment, whose results were based on just 64 out of 300 letters that reached their targets. University of California, Berkeley professor Phil Cowan says the validity of the current experiment would be reliant on whether it is representative of the general populace, especially since users of social networks tend to be younger.


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