Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 26, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


New Mathematical Model to Enable Web Searches for Meaning
University of Hertfordshire (09/23/11) Paige Upchurch

University of Hertfordshire computer scientist Daoud Clarke has developed a mathematical model based on a theory of meaning that could revolutionize artificial intelligence technologies and enable Web searches to interpret the meaning of queries. The model is based on the idea that the meaning of words and phrases is determined by the context in which they occur. "This is an old idea, with its origin in the philosophy of Wittgenstein, and was later taken up by linguists, but this is the first time that someone has used it to construct a comprehensive theory of meaning," Clarke says. The model provides a way to represent words and phrases as sequences of numbers, known as vectors. "Our theory tells you what the vector for a phrase should look like in terms of the vectors for the individual words that make up the phrase," Clarke says. "Representing meanings of words using vectors allows fuzzy relationships between words to be expressed as the distance or angle between the vectors." He says the model could be applied to new types of artificial intelligence, such as determining the exact nature of a particular Web query.


Software Upgrades Could Produce Self-Tuning Wireless Access Points, Researchers Say
Network World (09/23/11) Tim Greene

University of Wisconsin, Madison researchers have developed Airshark, software that enables wireless access points to automatically detect radio-frequency interference and make adjustments to preserve the quality of Wi-Fi connections. They say the software could eliminate the need for separate spectrum analyzers that discover interfering devices but do nothing to counter the interference. Airshark can identify Bluetooth and ZigBee devices, cordless phones, wireless video cameras, and Xboxes with at least 91 percent accuracy, depending on the signal strength. Airshark uses a wireless card's application programming interface to gather data about radio frequencies in the surrounding area. The researchers say the program's performance is comparable to a commercial signal analyzer. They also note that if wireless access points were embedded with the Airshark software, systems could start using interference-mitigation mechanisms. In a Wi-Fi environment employing multiple access points, Airshark could physically locate interfering devices by collaborating among the access points to triangulate on its signal, according to the researchers.


Taking Touch Beyond the Touch Screen
Technology Review (09/23/11) Duncan Graham-Rowe

Researchers at Intel, Microsoft, and the University of Washington are collaborating on a tablet computer that can be controlled by touching any surface on which the device is placed. The system, called Portico, makes use of two foldout cameras that sit above the display on either side, detecting and tracking motion around its screen. Portico detects the height of objects and determines whether they are touching the surrounding surface by comparing the two views captured by the cameras. As a result, the tablet computer can detect hand gestures and physical objects so that they can interact with the display. "The idea is to allow the interactive space to go beyond the display space or screen space," says Washington computer scientist Jacob Wobbrock. The system could work with other devices that continue to shrink and offer less screen space, such as smartphones and other pocket-sized devices. Portico increases the usable area of the tablet sixfold. Wobbrock will present the project at the upcoming ACM User Interface, Software, and Technology Symposium in Santa Barbara, Calif.


A Campus Champion for Women in Computer Science
Bloomberg BusinessWeek (09/22/11) Ari Levy

Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe has helped increase the percentage of female computer science majors at the college to 42 percent, compared to the national average of 14 percent. In 2005 Klawe, a past president of ACM, fundamentally changed the computer science department at Mudd by breaking the introductory course, called CS for Scientists, into three sections--one for students with some background in programming, another for beginners, and a third that focused on computer science in biology. The new introductory course focuses on teaching problem-solving skills that can be applied to engineering, math, and other subjects. Within two years of instituting the new class format, the number of females majoring in computer science rose noticeably, says Mudd professor Zachary Dodds. Duke University, Northwestern University, and the University of California, Berkeley have since borrowed strategies from Mudd to broaden the appeal of computer science and engineering. Klawe says the next step is to expand the program's reach to other underrepresented groups, including blacks and Latinos. "In the last four years, we have done things that I didn't think were possible," says Mudd dean of faculty Robert Cave.


New Targets for the Control of HIV Are Predicted Using a Novel Computational Analysis
Virginia Tech News (09/22/11) Lynn Nystrom

Virginia Tech researchers have developed a computational approach that can predict several human proteins that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) requires to replicate itself. The researchers, who were led by T.M. Murali, Brett Tyler, and Michael G. Katze, say their work constitutes "a powerful resource for experimentalists who desire to discover new targets for human proteins that can control the spread of HIV." Earlier studies silenced almost every human gene in order to discover HIV dependency factors (HDFs), which are genes that are necessary for HIV to survive and replicate. However, the studies found that only a few HDFs were common in two or more of the experiments. "Inspired by these observations, we hypothesized that we could predict new HDFs by exploiting the proximity between HDFs within networks of interactions between human proteins," Murali says. The researchers used SinkSource, a Virginia Tech-developed algorithm that is able to determine which HDFs were likely to be linked to HIV. "Our results suggest that many HDFs are yet to be discovered and that they have potential value as prognostic markers to determine pathological outcome and the likelihood of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome development," the researchers say.


Steve Lionel on Why Fortran Still Matters
Intelligence in Software (09/23/11) Bridget Moore

For Intel technical staff member Steve Lionel there is no question about the continued relevance of the 54-year-old Fortran programming language. In an interview, he notes that the Fortran standard has been updated five times since its creation. Fortran 2008 features built-in parallel programming capabilities, and Lionel says that "there is an incredible body of well-written and well-debugged routines in Fortran that are out there for reuse." Many new applications are being written in Fortran, and Lionel cites most of the modern models of hurricane forecasting apps as an example. The PAM-CRASH automobile crash simulator also is written in Fortran. "Fortran remains the pre-eminent language in high-performance computing," Lionel says. He notes that it is a particularly outstanding language for number crunching, working with sizable floating-point data, or parallel processing. "Its strengths in array operations--its wide variety of routines--make it attractive, and there is a huge library of freely available high-performance routines written over 40 years that still work together," Lionel says.


Polis Legislation Aims to Boost K-12 Computer Science Education
Boulder Daily Camera (CO) (09/22/11) Brittany Anas

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has introduced a bill designed to boost computer science education in K-12 classrooms. The Computer Science Education Act would provide states with at least $250,000 in planning grants for improving their computer science offerings. The bill would require states to develop computer science standards and curriculum and form a commission to address the shortage in computer science teachers. It also calls for creating professional development and teacher certification initiatives. Polis wants to help train students for computing jobs, with more than 1.5 million jobs expected to be created by 2018. From 2004 to 2008, the number of computer-related bachelor degrees granted fell from about 60,000 to 38,000, introductory secondary school computer science courses have declined by 17 percent since 2005, and Advanced Placement computer science courses have decreased by 33 percent. "If we do not have the capability to educate these youth in the discipline that excites them and gives them incredible opportunities, we are doing our country and these students a disservice," says National Center for Women and Information Technology CEO Lucy Sanders.


Crowd Mentality
University of California, Irvine (09/22/11) Heather Wuebker

University of California, Irvine (UCI) researchers are part of a national team developing statistical models based on the concept that crowdsourcing can be used to forecast the future. UCI researchers, backed by a U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity grant, are collaborating with scientists from the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, Fordham University, Wake Forest University, and Wichita State University. The researchers recently launched models using Forecasting Ace, software that collects individual opinions on the likelihood of certain events within a specified time frame. Before providing input, contributors must complete a short questionnaire in which they rate their subject matter expertise in areas such as science and technology, business and the economy, politics and policy, military and security, and sports and health. Forecasting Ace then analyzes the collected data using models of human decision-making that were created by the UCI researchers. The qualitative and quantitative results from the different studies have led to new ways of identifying experts by combining self-reported expertise levels and behavioral responses in the models.


SDSC Announces Scalable, High-Performance Data Storage Cloud
UCSD News (CA) (09/22/11) Jan Zverina

The University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) recently launched an academic-based cloud storage system designed specifically for researchers, students, academics, and industry users who need to store and share digital information. "We believe that the SDSC Cloud may well revolutionize how data is preserved and shared among researchers, especially massive datasets that are becoming more prevalent in this new era of data-intensive research and computing," says SDSC director Michael Norman. The SDSC storage cloud has an initial raw capacity of 5.5 petabytes, and has sustained read rates of eight to 10 GB per second, which should improve as more nodes and storage are added. In addition, SDSC's cloud is scalable by orders of magnitude to hundreds of petabytes, with aggregate performance and capacity both scaling almost linearly with growth. The cloud was developed on the OpenStack platform, a scalable, open source cloud operating system. Data stored in the cloud is instantly written to multiple independent storage servers, where it is validated for consistency.


Smarter Robot Arms
MIT News (09/21/11) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed two algorithms designed to enable a robotic motion-planning system to calculate more efficient trajectories through free space. Calculating the optimal path usually requires evaluating every possible path in turn, rejecting those that will lead to collisions and selecting the most efficient of those that remain. The MIT researchers have developed a new version of the traditional algorithm that results in much more efficient trajectories. Each time the algorithm evaluates a new point, it considers all the previously evaluated points within a fixed radius of the new one to determine which would offer the shortest path. A second algorithm assumes that every new point has a sphere of open space around it, so it skips other points within that sphere. As the map extends, the algorithm determines new possible sources of collision and rescales the spheres accordingly, resulting in much more efficient paths.


'Stampede's' Comprehensive Capabilities to Bolster U.S. Open Science Computational Resources
Texas Advanced Computing Center (09/22/11) Faith Singer-Villalobos

The University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) announced that it will deploy and support Stampede, a new supercomputer that will offer data-intensive computing and visualization capabilities for the open science community. The supercomputer, part of the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) eXtreme Digital (XD) program, is expected to be fully operational by January 2013. "We expect the Stampede system to be a model for supporting petascale simulation-based science and data-driven science," says TACC director Jay Boisseau. When Stampede is deployed in 2013, it will be the most powerful system in the NSF XD environment. Stampede will have several thousand Dell Zeus servers, each of which will have dual eight-core processors and 32 GB of memory. The system will offer almost 2 petaflops of peak performance, which is double the current top systems in XD. In addition, Stampede will offer 128 next-generation NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs) for remote visualization, 16 Dell servers with 1 terabyte of shared memory, and two GPUs each for large data analysis. Combined, Stampede will have a peak performance of 10 petaflops, 272 terabytes of total memory, and 14 petabytes of disk storage.


Robotics Team Finds Artificial Fingerprints Improve Tactile Abilities
PhysOrg.com (09/21/11) Bob Yirka

National University of Singapore researchers have demonstrated how adding artificial fingerprints to robot fingers can increase tactile sensation, enabling the robot to discern the differences in the curvature of objects. The researchers, led by Saba Salehi, John-John Cabibihan, and Shuzhi Sam Ge, built a touch sensor consisting of a base plate, embedded sensors, and a raised ridged surface. The researchers tested the sensor in a variety ways to determine if they were able to use it to sense things in different ways, specifically as it was applied to flat, edged, and curved objects. The researchers found that the raised sensor provided more feedback information than the one with the flat surface, so much so that they were able to tell the difference in the three types of objects with 95.7 percent accuracy.


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