Welcome to the August 31, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Taking Mobile Applications Into the Cloud
Campus Technology (08/31/11) Mary Grush
Microsoft Research Mobile Computer Research Center director Victor Bahl, speaking at the recent Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2011, discussed Project Hawaii, a research initiative that provides students at more than 20 universities with tools to create cloud-enabled mobile applications. The goal of Project Hawaii is to pair mobile devices with cloud technology to take advantage of its ubiquity, according to Bahl. The project creates a framework that enables student developers to use the skills they are learning in computer science. As part of Project Hawaii, the universities create mobile application development courses and Microsoft Research builds the infrastructure, offers support and cloud services, and provides devices to the programs. Project Hawaii offers many cloud services that developers can choose from as they write new mobile applications, Bahl says. Since Project Hawaii's launch in the spring of 2010, Stanford University students have used it to develop a citizen science project application that collects sensory data from mobile phones in the field. The data is sent to a central location in the cloud and turned into a visualization of what is happening in real time.
Watching Viruses 'Friend' a Network
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (08/30/11)
Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have developed PiggyDemic, a Facebook application that enables users to infect each other with a simulated virus, revealing patterns that could allow researchers to gather information on how a virus mutates, spreads through human interaction, and the number of human infections. "Adding the element of human interaction, and looking at the social networks we belong to, is critical for investigating viral interaction," says TAU's Gal Almogy, who developed the application with professor Nir Ben-Tal. PiggyDemic follows the user's newsfeed to determine the people they interact with. Users are labeled "susceptible," "immune," or "infected" with various simulated viruses, and can pass them on to their online contacts. Researchers then follow these interactions using network visualization software, which watches the links between users as the viruses are passed on. Accurate modeling of viral dynamics is critical for developing public health policy, according to Almogy. The researchers say that PiggyDemic can serve as a research tool, a teaching tool, a game, and potentially a method for high-resolution, real-time tracking of virus outbreaks.
Graphene's Shining Light Could Lead to Super-Fast Internet
University of Manchester (08/31/11) Daniel Cochlin
Researchers at universities of Cambridge and Manchester have developed a recipe that improves the characteristics of graphene devices for use as photodetectors in future high-speed optical communications. The researchers were able to show a twenty-fold enhancement in harvesting light using graphene with metallic nanostructures, which could lead to advances in high-speed Internet and other communications. The new graphene devices have the potential to be hundreds of times faster than communication rates in today's fastest Internet cables due to the unique nature of electrons in graphene. The researchers used plasmonic enhancement to boost the light-harvesting performance of the graphene without sacrificing any speed, which had been a major hurdle for graphene researchers. "We expected that plasmonic nanostructures could improve the efficiency of graphene-based devices but it has come as a pleasant surprise that the improvements can be so dramatic," says Manchester's Alexander Girgorenko. The technology could particularly benefit photonic and optoelectronic devices "where the combination of its unique optical and electronic properties with plasmonic nanostructures can be fully exploited, even in the absence of a bandgap," says Cambridge professor Andrea Ferrari.
Study Finds Computer Science, Modern Languages Most Gender-Polarized Majors at Swarthmore
Swarthmore Daily Gazette (08/30/11) Jon Emont
More than 70 percent of Swarthmore graduates in computer science, physics, engineering, and philosophy are men, according to a recent Swarthmore College institutional study. The study also found that more than 75 percent of graduates in modern languages, art history, and art are women. The findings at Swarthmore mirror national undergraduate trends, with women making up 12 percent, 20 percent, and 25 percent of computer science, engineering, and physics majors, respectively. "The real problem is the lack of exposure high school students have to computer science," says Swarthmore professor Lisa Meeden. Nationally, the percentage of women who are majoring in computer science has decreased by more than 50 percent since 2000, causing a cycle of disinterest among women. Professors say the cycle creates a catch-22: Since there are so few women pursuing computer science, the stereotype of a computer scientist is not female-friendly, and thus few women pursue it as a career.
Dumping Friends on Facebook Helps Make You Secure
New Scientist (08/30/11) Jacob Aron
Arizona State University researcher Pritam Gundecha has developed a method for determining which Facebook friends are most likely to leak private information. Gundecha studied the relative importance of data that 2 million Facebook users choose to share publicly and calculated the privacy risks that friends pose to each other. Gundecha found that about 80 percent of users share their gender, but less than 1 percent share their home address, suggesting that people publicizing their address are not the most privacy-conscious users. Gundecha used the statistics to determine a vulnerability score for each user, and was able to show that unfriending the least discreet friend can increase a user's security by more than 5 percent. Unfriending people based on how vulnerable they make you is an intriguing take on the problem, says University of Maryland researcher Randy Baden.
Crowdsourcing Could Predict Terror Strikes, Gas Prices
Investor's Business Daily (08/29/11) Julie Vallone
Researchers from Applied Research Associates (ARA) and seven U.S. universities are devising and testing a crowdsourcing system for gathering opinions on various world topics to help prevent terrorist attacks. The researchers plan to share their results with U.S. intelligence agencies to help make predictions about potential terrorist threats. ARA's Dirk Warnaar says that crowdsourcing efforts generally take an average of everyone's opinion and use it to form predictions, but research on the approach's effectiveness is paltry. "We think we can do better by weighting people's opinions based on their rationale for making their predictions," he says. The four-year Forecasting Ace project uses a Web site where people can give their predictions as well as their backgrounds and experience in specific disciplines. "The idea is that we can combine the best information provided by a number of different people to come up with better forecasts," says Wake Forest University professor Eric Stone. The researchers plan to use the crowdsourcing process to complement forecasts made by a smaller group of experts in a particular field. "We can still take advantage of the knowledge the analyst has, but combine it with a larger group of opinions in a way that results in higher-quality predictions," Stone says.
Artificial Intelligence to Make Life Simpler, Even for Dummies
Yorkshire Post (UK) (08/29/11)
Huddersfield University professor Lee McCluskey is an expert in the field of artificial intelligence known as knowledge engineering for automated planning, which involves developing machines to complete tasks by making decisions based on reasoning. McCluskey's research aims to reduce the complexity of systems that have built up in the developed world, such as transportation, automatic number-plate recognition, and closed-circuit TV. "These systems are getting too complicated for people to actually control at a command level," he says. McCluskey and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Brian Williams will co-chair an international conference on automated planning and scheduling next year in Brazil. The conference is viewed as the main forum for research in automated planning, which is essential for fields such as manufacturing, space systems, software engineering, robotics, education, and entertainment. "There are lots of examples of complex control systems that are too complex and too costly for people to maintain," McCluskey notes.
Turning Data Into Democratic Action: Social Apps Lab at CITRIS
CITRIS Newsletter (08/27/11) Gordy Slack
Current projects at the University of California Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society's Social Apps Lab include eradicating dengue fever, reducing asthma, and engaging citizens in local urban issues. "At the Social Apps Lab, we aim to harness the participatory and creative energies of game play to address social issues," says researcher James Holston. The dengue fever app, DengueTorpedo, enables users to mark potential mosquito breeding sites on a map. Users get points for identifying and destroying breeding grounds, as well as recruiting new players. The Social Apps Lab also is developing Pwning Asthma Triggers, a game in which users identify sources of asthma-inducing industrial pollution in Oakland and agricultural pollution in the Central Valley. Another project is CitySandbox, a map-based Web site that aims to bridge the gap between local neighborhood knowledge and larger political institutions. CitySandbox users can mark sites on the map and ask questions of other users. All of the projects aim to engage local residents in critical thinking, gathering data that can be prioritized, and turning the results into civic action, according to Holston.
Hanging Can Be Life Threatening
Although testing and static code analysis are used to detect and remove bugs in a system during development, problems can still occur once a software system is in place and is being used in a real-world application. Such problems can cause one critical component of the system to hang without crashing the whole system and without being immediately obvious to operators and users until it is too late. Researchers at the Universita degli Studi di Napoli Federico II and at Naples company SESM SCARL have developed a software tool that offers non-obtrusive monitoring of systems, based on multiple sources of data gathered at the operating system level and collected data. "Our experimental results show that this framework increases the overall capacity of detecting hang failures, it exhibits a 100 percent coverage of observed failures, while keeping low the number of false positives, less than 6 percent in the worst case," according to the researchers. They also say the response time, or latency, between a hang occurring and detection is about 0.1 seconds on average, while the impact on computer performance of running the hang-detection software is negligible.
The First Fully Stretchable OLED
Technology Review (08/26/11) Kristina Grifantini
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed the first fully stretchable organic light-emitting diode (OLED). In order to make the device completely pliable, the researchers developed a way of creating a carbon nanotube and polymer electrode and layering it onto a stretchable, light-emitting plastic. The team coated carbon nanotubes onto a glass backing and added a liquid polymer that becomes solid yet stretchable when exposed to ultraviolet light. "The approach we used is very simple and can be easily scaled up for real production," says University of California, Berkeley researcher Zhibin Yu, who worked on the project while at UCLA. The proof-of-concept device can be stretched by as much as 45 percent while emitting colored light. "The fact that the fabricated OLED can work under stretched conditions is quite impressive," says University of Michigan professor Jay Guo. The electrode also is less likely to short out than conventional devices, says Stanford University professor Zhenan Bao. "With this work and those from others, we are getting closer and closer to realizing this kind of sophisticated and multifunctional electronic skin," Bao says.
Prof Explores Dynamics of Online Networking
UT Dallas News (08/25/11) Chaz Lilly
University of Texas at Dallas professor Cuihua Shen has led a study of SourceForge, the Internet's largest open source community, using social network analysis to test social drivers that shape collaboration dynamics among users. The study found that users in online communities choose which users to interact with, and those choices reveal the motivations and processes that create collective networks. "Taken together, we found that accomplished developers tend to connect with other accomplished developers, essentially forming an elitist circle in the [open source software] community," Shen says. "By contrast, it is more difficult for less successful developers to establish collaborative relations, and even if they do, they tend to connect with others who have a similar lower level of performance and experience." The researchers hope the study can lead to new discoveries in the social network analysis field. "By conceptualizing an online community as a network of participants and examining the formation of social ties, this research demonstrates that social network analysis can be a useful approach to studying the dynamics of online social systems," Shen says.
New Depiction of Light Could Boost Telecommunications Channels
City College of New York (08/25/11) Jessa Netting
City College of New York researchers have developed a way to map spiraling light that could help harness untapped data channels in optical fibers, increasing bandwidth in fiber-optic telecommunications networks. The approach, developed by City College professor Robert Alfano and graduate student Giovanni Milione, also could lead to advances in quantum computing and other applications. The simplest form of light, the ground state, previously has been mapped using a globe-shaped model called the Poincare Sphere. However, complex light moves with both spin and orbital angular momentum, taking the form of vector beams and vortices. The researchers mapped the vortices by expanding the existing Poincare Sphere into the Higher Order Poincare Sphere (HOPS). The HOPS model reduces large sets of mathematical equations into a single line. The researchers say the HOPS tool will be able to harness the complex light that is needed for advanced electronics. "This kind of organization on the higher level Poincare Sphere could clear the path to a number of novel physics and engineering efforts such as quantum computing and optical transitions," Alfano says.
NIH Research Model Predicts Weight With Varying Diet, Exercise Changes
NIH News (08/25/11) Bill Polglase
Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) have developed a computer simulation of metabolism that enables scientists to better understand how diet and exercise impact metabolism and ultimately lead to changes in weight and body fat. The researchers developed a mathematical model to create the simulation tool, which accurately predicts how body weight will change and how long it will likely take to reach weight goals based on one's starting weight and estimated physical activity. The online tool can simulate changes in calories or exercise that would never be recommended for healthy weight loss. "This research helps us understand why one person may lose weight faster or slower than another, even when they eat the same diet and do the same exercise," says Kevin Hall at NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Our computer simulations can then be used to help design personalized weight management programs to address individual needs and goals." A more comprehensive mathematical model of human metabolism was recently used to design an NIH clinical trial that is comparing the effects of reducing fats versus carbohydrates in obese adults.
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