Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 12, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Parallel Programming Skills Crisis Could Stall Server Evolution
Computerworld Australia (09/12/11) Sandra Van Dijk

The lack of parallel programming expertise worldwide will become a major issue for the information technology (IT) industry over the next 10 years, warns a RMIT University report. Advanced parallel programming skills are hard to find among professional programmers because it is taught only as an advanced elective in most computer science curricula, says RMIT professor James Harland. The report warns that without a massive injection in parallel programming talent in the IT sector, new server platforms will stall, especially in areas such as fabric-based computing. The lack of programming skill can lead to frozen states commonly known as a deadly embrace, but techniques to deal with frozen states are only taught briefly in computer science and IT programs, according to Harland. "Hence, the only real way to overcome such obstacles is to spend more time on parallel programming techniques in these courses," he notes. Parallel programming represents a different paradigm of software development in that it introduces the notion of complexity into software development, similar to learning a new programming language, says RMIT's John Lenarcic. "Only a minority of developers have sufficient training to handle parallel programs, and only a fraction have enough experience to do it well," says Gartner analyst Carl Claunch.


Keeping Tabs on Skynet
Monash University (09/12/11)

Researchers at Monash University and Universitat Politecnica de Valencia have developed and conducted initial trials of a prototype Anytime Universal Intelligence test designed to gauge and compare the intelligence of humans and machines. During testing, humans and Q-Learning, an artificial intelligence (AI) program, took the test, with Q-Learning scoring competitively compared to the humans. "We are using a mathematically-based definition of intelligence which is based, in simple terms, on the ability to detect patterns of various degrees of complexity," says Monash professor David Dowe. The researchers want to develop a broader definition of computer intelligence, instead of using narrow measures with strict guidelines, such as competing against humans in chess or Jeopardy. "With further research, this type of testing could help not only in assessing the progress of AI, but in driving development," says Dowe, who has been working with Universitat Politecnica de Valencia's Jose Hernandez-Orallo on AI research since 2003.


Portland State University Gives Future Scientists and Engineers an Extra Boost
Oregonian (09/08/11) Bill Graves

Portland State University's Summer Bridge Program gives students from underrepresented groups that are pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees an opportunity to learn techniques to help them succeed in STEM fields, such as how to find tutors, study centers, scholarships, and other sources of help. The Summer Bridge Program, which also is held at Oregon State University (OSU), targets females, students from minority or low-income backgrounds, or those who are first in their families to attend college. The program's goal is to keep students on track to earn degrees in STEM fields. Last year, OSU's Summer Bridge Program helped to keep 80 percent of its students enrolled in STEM fields. The program is part of a larger initiative called the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, which is funded by a five-year U.S. National Science Foundation grant. Intel also donated $75,000 to help fund the programs at the two universities.


New Translator App Makes Sense of Foreign-Language Food Menus
Purdue University News (09/08/11) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers have developed an application that enables portable devices to translate foreign-language food menus for English speakers. "You type in the menu listing and the application translates it automatically without talking to a server," says Purdue professor Mireille Boutin. The translation takes an average of nine-hundreds of a second, and the application takes up 9.56 megabytes of memory, including its multimedia database. Before entering a foreign country, the user would download a region- and language-specific configuration and database. The user types the desired menu item into a prompt field, the text is translated, and the best possible choices are listed, along with other information and pictures. "Our tests indicate that our system yields a correct translation more often than general-purpose translation engines," Boutin says. The researchers used the n-gram consolidation method, which improves translation accuracy while decreasing the database size and increasing the search speed. "As a result, our application can be used in a real-time, network-independent environment and produce highly accurate results," Boutin says.


Application Development Boosts IT Job Market: Dice Report
eWeek (09/07/11) Nathan Eddy

The number of available technology jobs as of Sept. 1 stood at 82,836, with 50,659 full-time positions, 35,378 contract positions, and 1,565 part-time positions, reports Dice.com. Dice's Alice Hill notes that one of the fastest growing areas of hiring requests involves mobile application development. She says that just 17 percent of technology professionals have published a mobile app, and of this group only 27 percent work on mobile initiatives full time. Although full-time developers prefer to work with the iPhone, more employers are searching for Android developers, according to Hill. In addition, she says tech professionals involved in iPhone development report nine times more income from apps, but Android income should rise along with the growth in app advertising revenue. "For tech talent, taking on a mobile app project is a great way to broaden skills in an area that is primed for more growth," Hill says.


New Technologies to Lighten the Web's Energy Load
ScienceAlert (Australia) (09/08/11)

An international research team has developed a chip that promises to reduce the carbon footprint of the Internet's core telecommunications and computing technology. The Spectral Phase Interferometry for Direct Electric-Field Reconstruction (SPIDER) chip enables optical communications systems to process signals in a way that overcomes opto-electronic conversion speed limitations. The SPIDER chip will enable all parts of the Internet, from long distance fiber-optic networks to silicon routing chips, to measure state-of-the-art signals where the phase of light is used to encode information. The researchers say the SPIDER chip uses little energy and is ultrafast. The chip integrates with silicon computer chips and is fabricated using the same method, making it useful for photonic and electronic applications. "Using the SPIDER technology, applications such as telecommunications, high-precision broadband sensing and spectroscopy, metrology, molecular fingerprinting, optical clocks, and even attosecond physics are all set for a major speed upgrade," says University of Sydney professor David Moss.


Base-Jumping Robot Throws Itself Off Buildings
New Scientist (09/08/11) Catherine de Lange

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and Disney Research have developed Paraswift, a base-jumping robot that can climb up buildings before deploying a paraglider to fly back down to earth, filming the descent with a built-in camera. The researchers say the robot could be used to gather aerial footage for three-dimensional modeling systems. The robot uses a rotor-spinning tool, called an impeller, to create a vortex that enables it stick to the wall as it climbs. "The big benefit of this is that you don't need to have a seal between the physical robot and the wall because the vortex forms its own seal round the low-pressure area," says Disney Research's Paul Beardsley. The paraglider is deployed by remote control using a mechanical arm made of carbon fiber. Once the paraglider is open, the vortex is switched off and the robot falls off the wall and begins flying. The researchers want to automate the paraglider's deployment so that it can launch automatically in case the robot accidentally falls off the wall.


IBM's Futuristic Storage Aims for Speed, Density
IDG News Service (09/07/11) Stephen Lawson

IBM is developing super-fast, super-dense storage media that could be available within 10 years. IBM wants to make primary data available faster and to pack more archived information into a small space. To improve data retrieval speed, IBM is developing racetrack storage, in which data is stored in different magnetic areas that travel over short, nano-scale wires when accessed. Racetrack memory could pave the way for storage class memory, which will be almost as fast as today's memory but able to scale up to enterprise storage capacity, according to IBM researchers. To improve data storage density, the IBM researchers are developing a petabyte storage device, a new magnetic technology that could store a petabyte of data in a standard 1U rack unit. The petabyte storage device would be designed to store data for 50 years without the need for migration to another medium. The new devices could be applied to the movie industry, which is moving to all-digital productions that can generate hundreds of terabytes of data. The medical industry also could use the new devices, as one 300-bed hospital can generate up to 30 terabytes of data a year.


Study Shows that Vehicle-to-Vehicle Navigation Systems Really Do Work
PhysOrg.com (09/07/11) Lisa Zyga

Researchers at the University of Cambridge, the University of Bologna, and the University of California, Los Angeles have developed the Computer-Assisted Traveling Environment (CATE), a navigation system in which vehicles collect and share information with each other, decreasing the average travel time of all the vehicles in the traffic network. In CATE, each vehicle acts as a traffic sensor by sending traffic data every time it exits a road segment. The data, including the intersection, the time the vehicle entered the road segment, and the time the vehicle exited the road segment, is sent to all other vehicles in the network. Using computer simulations and traffic data from Portland, Ore., the researchers found that 64 percent of CATE-enabled vehicles reduced their travel time by more than 10 percent. "Since traffic measurements are subjected to a lot of noise, we showed that this information is still valuable when the appropriate algorithm is used in order to correlate information from multiple vehicles," says Cambridge researcher Ilias Leontiadis. The study also opens up new research directions, such as investigating the impact of different algorithms and flow intensities on the average travel time.


The AlloSphere Offers an Interactive Experience of Nano-Sized Worlds
National Science Foundation (09/06/11) Ellen Ferrante

The University of California, Santa Barbara's AlloSphere Research Laboratory takes scientific data that is too small to see and hear and magnifies it to a human scale so researchers can better analyze the data and find new patterns. "The goal of the AlloSphere instrument and research group is to conduct research in interactive visualization and multimodal representation of complex scientific data, while working closely with researchers in data interpretation and finding new patterns in the information," says AlloSphere Research Laboratory director JoAnn Kuchera-Morin. The AlloSphere is a 33-foot diameter sphere built inside of a three-story echo-free cube. The AlloSphere can be applied to fields such as audiovisual technologies, abstract arts and art entertainment, green technology, computers and networking, education, nanotechnology, physics, materials science, geography and remote sensing, human perception, behavior and cognition, medicine, and telemedicine. "The future goals are to build out the instrument to an intelligent reactive device making technology transparent to our every day experience, thus integrating information technology naturally into our various research platforms," Kuchera-Morin says.


MIT Researchers Create New Urban Network Analysis Toolbox
MIT News (09/06/11) Caroline McCall

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed an Urban Network Analysis (UNA) toolbox that can help urban designers and planners describe the spatial patterns of cities using mathematical network analysis techniques. "Network centrality measures are useful predictors for a number of interesting urban phenomena," says MIT's Andres Sevtsuk. The new toolbox, which is an open source plug-in for ArcGIS, enables urban designers to compute five types of graph analysis measures on spatial networks, including reach, gravity, betweenness, closeness, and straightness. The tools utilize several features that make network analysis especially suited for urban street networks. The tools account for geometry and distances in the input networks, as well as incorporating buildings, which are used as the spatial units of analysis for all measures. The tools also allow buildings to be weighted based on their particular characteristics, such as volume, population, and general importance. In addition, the toolbox offers a set of analysis options to quantify how centrally each building is positioned in an urban environment and how easily a user can access different amenities from each location.


'Culturomics 2.0' Forecasts Human Behavior by Supercomputing Global News
National Institute for Computational Sciences (09/06/11) Kalev Leetaru

In a paper published in First Monday, Kalev Leetaru of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign describes how he used the large shared-memory supercomputer Nautilus to forecast and visualize human behavior, from civil unrest to the movement of individuals. The supercomputer enabled Leetaru to apply advanced tonal, geographic, and network analysis methods to three massive news archives totaling more than 100 million articles worldwide and spanning a half century. Nautilus produced a network 2.4 petabytes in size, containing more than 10 billion people, places, things, and activities connected by more than 100 trillion relationships. A subset of the findings were reproduced for a study using more traditional methods and smaller-scale workflows that offer a model for a new class of digital humanities research. The research shows, for example, that news coverage has become more negative, and visualizes societal conflicts and cooperation. The supercomputer is part of the National Institute for Computational Sciences network of advanced computing resources at the U.S.'s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


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