Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 23, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


'IPad Deconstructed' Forum Makes Case for Federal Research
Computerworld (09/22/11) Patrick Thibodeau

Federally supported research sparks game-changing innovation, according to a U.S. Capitol forum on the future of federal research moderated by Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn. He says in an interview that the forum used the iPad as an example, as most of its components came from federally supported research. Von Ahn argues against a Senate proposal to cut the budget of science research funding, saying that a reduction could hurt the sustainability of U.S. technological leadership. He notes that private tech companies cannot do research on their own, as they have a priority to deliver commercial products in the short term. However, federal research projects take a long-term view and are borne out of the pursuit of basic questions. "If you look at lot of the game-changers [new technologies] over the last few years, it's not because someone was trying to solve a specific problem, it was just because somebody was trying to understand something better," von Ahn says.


Technically, Science Will Be Less Lonely for Women When Girls Are Spurred Early
Washington Post (09/23/11) Anna Holmes

The lack of women in computer science is undercutting U.S. economic strength and national security, according to futurist Nancy Ramsey. An August report from the U.S. Commerce Department found that less than a quarter of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math fields are filled by women, while female representation in the computer science and math sector has fallen from 30 percent to 27 percent between 2000 and 2009. Girls are being sent a message at a young age that careers in math and science are marked by social isolation and will make them seem less attractive. The pressures women face as girls often continue in the technology workforce, where they can become acutely aware of a lack of women as well as female mentors around them. However, peer pressure and cultural expectations of femininity can be overcome by slight adjustments in attitude, and Carnegie Mellon professor Lenore Blum cites a 2006 study comparing female enrollment in Advanced Placement-level computer science courses at Arabic-speaking and Hebrew-speaking schools. The Arabic-speaking schools had significantly more female involvement because girls in the Arab community faced less peer pressure against tech careers and more encouragement from parents and teachers.


Fordham Professor Goes Wireless With Project WISDM
The Ram (09/21/11) Eddie Mikus

Fordham University professor Gary Weiss is leading the Wireless Sensor Data Mining (WISDM) Project, which is developing ActiTracker, a smartphone application that will be able to identify a user by name as well as any activities they are engaged in. "The phone has a lot of different sensors, and we're going to look at a lot of them, but the one we've mostly focused on is the accelerometer," Weiss says. The accelerometer can track how the phone moves, which will reveal how the user is moving. "With that, we can learn patterns in how you move, so we can identify you as opposed to somebody else, as well as what you are doing," Weiss says. As part of the WISDM project, the researchers are using the accelerometer to determine the height, weight, and gender of 36 different smartphone users. Smartphones could be made smarter by knowing what the user is doing at a certain time, according to Weiss. "If it knows that you're jogging and that you don't like getting phone calls when you're jogging, it may immediately send it to your voicemail," he says.


CSU-Northridge, UCLA Researchers Try to Harness Brain-Computer Interface Technology for Wheelchairs
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (09/21/11) Amara Phillip

Researchers at California State University-Northridge (CSUN) and the University of California, Los Angeles are developing a motorized wheelchair that can be operated using brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. The wheelchair can run in an autonomous mode in which the computer makes navigating decisions or in a hybrid mode in which the user issues commands. The real challenge going forward will be trying to marry unpredictable human behavior with the precision of computers, says CSUN professor C.T. Lin, who is leading the research. He notes that BCI technology requires the brain and the computer to interact, which can lead to widely divergent results. "If you are turning a corner, and you generate the thoughts too early or too late, you will have a turn that is going to become awkward," Lin says. The prototype is being tested by a CSUN student and a faculty member who both have a physical disability. The wheelchair features a laptop computer, a laser sensor, and a headset, which includes electrodes that are attached to the user's head and absorb brain waves. Software converts the brain waves into actions that direct the wheelchair to move in specific directions.


Searching for New Ideas
Technology Review (09/22/11) Tom Simonite

In an interview, Google director of research Alfred Spector, who is leading a team that is focused on the most challenging areas of computer science with the goal of shaping the company's future technology, discusses its work in artificial intelligence (AI). Spector says the group is working on areas such as natural language processing, machine learning, speech recognition, translation, and image recognition. The research has resulted in better translation tools that now use parsing, and Fusion Tables, which enable users to create a database that is shared with others and to visualize and publish the data. Spector says that Google's general approach to AI is actually a hybrid AI, which means that the company learns from its user community. He says that AI also could contribute to social network communications technology by recommending content or communicating across languages. Beyond AI, the researchers are working on security issues, specifically if it is possible to constrain the most-used programs to run with minimal amounts of information.


Novel High-Performance Hybrid System for Semantic Factoring of Graph Databases
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (09/21/11) Kathryn Lang; Christine Novak

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Cray have developed an application that can analyze gigabyte-sized data sets. The application uses semantic factoring to organize data, revealing hidden connections and threads. The researchers used the application to analyze the massive datasets for the Billion Triple Challenge, an international competition aimed at demonstrating capability and innovation for dealing with very large semantic graph databases. The researchers utilized the Cray XMT architecture, which allowed all 624 gigabytes of input data to be held in RAM. The researchers are now developing a prototype that can be adapted to a variety of application domains and datasets, including working with the bio2rdf.org and future billion-triple-challenge datasets in prototype testing and evaluation.


NASA Unbolts Open Source Space Applications Challenge
Network World (09/20/11) Michael Cooney

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced an open source-based application competition with the goal of delivering a new generation of software that can address space, weather, and economic issues. NASA will collaborate with other interested space agencies worldwide on an International Space Apps Challenge that will encourage researchers to create, build, and invent new applications that can address world-class issues. "The International Space Apps Challenge is an innovative international collaboration that accelerates the development of solutions focused on making government better and addressing critical issues on our planet, such as (but not limited to) weather impacts on the global economy and depletion of ocean resources," according to NASA. The agency wants a collaborative platform to share early-stage government technology-based innovations, which can receive feedback from citizens and commercial stakeholders. In addition, NASA wants a tool to leverage distributed crowdsourcing analysis by citizens to help process, archive, distribute, and visualize data for space exploration.


Proton-Based Transistor Could Let Machines Communicate With Living Things
UW News (09/20/11) Hannah Hickey

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a transistor that uses protons, instead of electrons, to send information, which could enable electronic devices to communicate directly with living things. "We found a biomaterial that is very good at conducting protons, and allows the potential to interface with living systems," says Washington professor Marco Rolandi. A machine that was compatible with a living system could monitor body processes such as flexing muscles and transmitting brain signals. The prototype device is a field-effect transistor, a drain and source terminal for the current. "In our device, large bio-inspired molecules can move protons, and a proton current can be switched on and off, in a way that's completely analogous to an electronic current in any other field-effect transistor," Rolandi says. The device uses a modified form of the compound chitosan, originally extracted from squid pen, because it works very well at moving protons by absorbing water and forming many hydrogen bonds that the protons are able to easily move between. "So we now have a protonic parallel to electronic circuitry that we actually start to understand rather well," Rolandi says.


Fraunhofer SCAI Successfully Completes Pilot Project on Information Extraction from Chinese Scientific Literature
Fraunhofer SCAI (09/19/11) Michael Krapp

The Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing (SCAI) recently completed a pilot Chinese text mining project. The pilot project was started as a feasibility study to evaluate how far current text mining technology could support automated information extraction from Chinese text sources such as scientific publications and patent literature. The researchers used a specially adapted version of ProMiner, recognition software developed at Fraunhofer SCAI, to meet the requirements of text mining in Chinese scientific biomedical and pharmaceutical literature. "We have just demonstrated that we are able to mine the Chinese biomedical scientific literature automatically," says Fraunhofer SCAI professor Juliane Fluck. "The real work--which is aiming at providing all functionalities needed for true knowledge discovery from Chinese unstructured text sources--starts now, after the proof-of-principle." In addition, the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research will use the technology to collaborate with the Chinese Institute of Policy and Management on monitoring Chinese research, innovation, and markets.


Fear of Repression Spurs Scholars and Activists to Build Alternate Internets
Chronicle of Higher Education (09/18/11) Jeffrey R. Young

Traction for the free-network movement is growing as activists, scholars, and entrepreneurs pursue efforts to repurpose existing online networks or create parallel networks to fight corporate or governmental repression. "The Net we have is increasingly monitored, measured, and surveilled everywhere by everybody all the time," notes Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen. He has built an encryption device designed to function as a personal server that automatically scrambles digital data to make its interception by unauthorized parties more difficult. Moglen's invention is one of numerous concepts that participants will promote at the Contact Summit in October. Other ideas include the creation of two parallel Internets, one for banks and entertainment giants, and the other for independent artists, civic discourse, and academic research. Meanwhile, the Project Byzantium initiative uses a mesh network approach to construct a homemade Internet that could go online if parts of the global Internet are shut down by a repressive regime. There also are mesh network efforts to create an "Internet in a suitcase" to be established wherever unrestricted Internet access is needed. The U.S. State Department awarded a $2 million grant to the New America Foundation to build such as network for use by dissidents abroad.


Reach Out and Touch 3D Characters With RePro3D
PhysOrg.com (09/17/11) Nancy Owano

Gamers will be able to reach out and touch characters on their screens using new technology developed by researchers at Keio University. The retro-reflective projection technology uses material that reflects light that enters back at the same angle it entered, enabling a display to show images at a different place from the light source. A tactile device worn on the finger enhances the sensation of touching objects and seeing them instantly react to movements. The Japanese team wrote about the RePro3D project--a three-dimensional (3D) parallax display with an infrared camera--last year in a paper that appeared in Proceedings: SIGGRAPH Emerging Technologies. "When a user looks at the screen through a half mirror, he or she, without the use of glasses, can view a 3D image that has motion parallax," according to the researchers. They also note that "consequently, we can design a touch-sensitive soft screen, a complexly curved screen, or a screen with an automatically moving surface." The team wants to build a similar system that expands the size of a visible image, enabling several people in the same space to interact with the image.


CICC Talk: Graphene Could Succeed CMOS
EE Times (09/16/11) Rick Merritt

Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology could halt its progress at about 7 nm in 2024, and graphene is a leading candidate to replace it, according to Georgia Tech professor James D. Meindl, who spoke at the recent Custom Integrated Circuits Conference. "Graphene has shown a lot of promise to eventually replace silicon microchips, but in my opinion we won't see it in use until after silicon reaches its limits early in the next decade," Meindl says. By 2024, silicon metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors will reach limits in how short a channel gate can be and how thin a gate insulator can be, according to the International Technology Road Map for Semiconductors. Graphene transistors have better electrical and thermal conductivity and current carrying capabilities, compared to copper interconnects, in addition to being a very attractive way to make MEMs, Meindl says. "The most impressive graphene transistors described to date have been radio-frequency transistors," such as an amplifier for a 500 GHz analog signal, he notes. Georgia Tech researchers are currently working to make 15 nm wide ribbons of graphene that could be building blocks for graphene switches that are as fast and power-efficient as silicon.


App Lets University Students Send Video Instantly to Police
Government Technology (09/16/11)

The University of Maryland at College Park has launched a phased rollout of a smartphone app that can provide students, faculty, and staff with a direct and instantaneous line of communication to campus police and dispatch. The M-Urgency app is designed to broadcast real-time audio and video over the university's wireless network. Dispatchers can then send the real-time data to responders in their cars or in the field. Emergency responders will be able to find the approximate location of the user by triangulating off of the phone's built-in global positioning system and cell towers. The app also can serve as a virtual police escort service, enabling campus police to monitor the smartphone video feed upon request, such as when a student walks across campus at night. The Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab, directed by professor Ashok Agrawala, developed the app in collaboration with the university's Department of Public Safety. The app is currently limited to the Android mobile operating system, but University of Maryland researchers plan to make it available for iPhones and other platforms, and to add additional features.


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