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Welcome to the October 17, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Twitter Data Used to Track Vaccination Rates and Attitudes
Penn State Live (10/13/11) Barbara Kennedy

Penn State University researchers have developed a method for analyzing social media and how it affects the spread of diseases. The researchers, led by professor Marcel Salathe, studied how Twitter users expressed their sentiments about the new H1N1 vaccine, and tracked how the users' attitudes correlated with vaccination rates. Between August 2009 and January 2010, Salathe's team tracked 477,768 tweets with vaccination-related terms. The researchers then tracked users' sentiments about a new vaccine for combating H1N1. Salathe asked Penn State students to rate 10 percent of those tweets as positive, negative, neutral, or irrelevant, creating a learning set for the rest of the data. Penn State researcher Shashank Khandelwal used the learning set to design an algorithm that would catalog the remaining 90 percent of the tweets according to the sentiments they expressed. The researchers also categorized the expressed sentiments by region, because Twitter users often include a location in their profiles. The data "could be used to predict how many doses of a vaccine will be required in a particular area," Salathe says. The researchers plan to use the social-media analysis technique to study other diseases, such as obesity, hypertension, and heart disease.

Robot Biologist Solves Complex Problem From Scratch
Vanderbilt University (10/13/11) David Salisbury

Researchers at Vanderbilt and Cornell universities have demonstrated that a computer can analyze raw experimental data from a biological system and derive the basic mathematical equations that describe the way the system operates, making it one of the most complex scientific modeling problems that a computer has solved completely from scratch. The Automated Biology Explorer (ABE) is based on Eureqa, software that was developed at Cornell in 2009. The researchers chose a specific system, called glycolytic oscillations, to perform a virtual test of the software because it is one of the most extensively studied biological control systems. Vanderbilt researcher John Wikswo is currently developing laboratory-on-a-chip technology that can be controlled by Eureqa, and will allow ABE to design and perform a wide variety of basic biology experiments. The researchers note that systems such as ABE have the potential to generate and analyze the tremendous amounts of data required to really understand how biological systems work and predict how they will react to different conditions.

Experimental Mathematics: Computing Power Leads to Insights
American Mathematical Society (10/13/11) Mike Breen; Annette Emerson

In a forthcoming article, "Exploratory Experimentation and Computation," American Mathematical Society (AMS) researchers will describe how modern computer technology has expanded society's ability to discover new mathematical results. "By computing mathematical expressions to very high precision, the computer can discover completely unexpected relationships and formulas," says AMS researcher David H. Bailey. "The computer can be seen as a perfect complement to humans---we can intuit but not reliably calculate or manipulate; computers are not yet very good at intuition, but are great at calculations and manipulations." The article notes that the inductive aspect of mathematics now includes the use of computers, which have increased the amount of exploration that can be completed. The article also discusses the need to redesign mathematics education to include experimental mathematics tools. "The students of today live, as we do, in an information-rich, judgment-poor world in which the explosion of information, and of tools, is not going to diminish," says AMS researcher Jonathan M. Borwein. "We have to teach judgment [not just concern with plagiarism] when it comes to using what is already possible digitally."

Knowledge Mining Resource Accelerates Science, Technology Education, Research
Virginia Tech News (10/13/11)

Virginia Tech researchers have created the Virginia Tech Knowledge Networks, a repository of more than 5,000 publications by the College of Engineering faculty, which enables researchers to test ideas and discover different kinds of interaction patterns across departments. The collaborative patterns show that centers bring together researchers from different disciplines and that the interaction patterns of large centers are similar to those of many disciplinary departments. The researchers are using a community memory platform that enables users who are not experts in data mining to make sense of massive amounts of data. "This system is particularly useful for newcomers to the discipline, such as graduate students in the newly formed Departments of Engineering Education, as it provides a comprehensive and systematic understanding of the formation and growth of the field," says Virginia Tech professor Aditya Johri. Last year Virginia Tech launched the Discovery Analytics Center to bring together researchers from computer science, statistics, mathematics, and electrical and computer engineering to tackle knowledge discovery problems in such areas of national interest as intelligence analysis, sustainability, neuroscience, and systems biology.

Reaching 99.999999999997 Percent Safety: Saarland Computer Scientists Present Their Concept for a Wireless Bicycle Brake
University Saarland (10/13/11)

Saarland University researchers have developed a wireless bicycle brake and demonstrated its reliability using mathematical calculations that test the control systems for aircraft and chemical factories. "The wireless bicycle brake gives us the necessary playground to optimize these methods for operation in much more complex systems," says Saarland professor Holger Hermanns. The researchers found that the brake works with 99.999999999997 percent reliability. "This implies that out of a trillion braking attempts, we have three failures," Hermanns says. To operate the wireless brake, a cyclist clenches the rubber grip on the right handle. As the grip is clenched tighter, the disk brake on the front wheel works harder. The grip is equipped with a pressure sensor, which activates a radio signal if a specified pressure threshold is crossed. The radio signals are sent to a receiver, which forwards it to an actuator that transforms the signal into the mechanical power required to activate the brake. The current configuration enables a cyclist to brake within 250 milliseconds.

Visualizing the Future
University of California, Irvine (10/13/11) Janet Wilson

University of California, Irvine professor Aditi Majumder, who manages the California Institute for Telecommunications & Information Technology's (Calit2's) Visualization Lab, leads the development of software and hardware to make graphics run better, faster, and less expensively. The technology is used to create ubiquitous displays, which Majumder says could soon be used in a wide variety of settings and devices. "Professor Majumder’s research is opening doors to a wide range of new digital projection and interactive display technologies," says Calit2 Irvine director Guann-pyng Li. The researchers' software will be compatible with new digital equipment and allow the use of everyday cameras and much cheaper projectors. The researchers also are developing technology that involves a bank of cameras and projectors that adjust data seamlessly based on hand movements. The software could allow multiple cell phone users to simultaneously project a video clip on a wall in a group setting. "You can do this with the single press of a button," Majumder says. "An elementary school could have its own little planetarium. It would be easy to build and not cost very much."

Avatars With Your Body Language Get Your Point Across
New Scientist (10/12/11) Jacob Aron

Virtual reality conversations in environments such as Second Life could be improved by giving avatars real-world motions, according to Trevor Dodds, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics. For an experiment, Dodds' team created a game that had one person describe a word without using the word, and a second person guess what the word was. The participants met in virtual reality, using head-mounted displays and motion-tracking devices on their hands, feet, back, and head. Some rounds involved the use of the devices to control their avatars, but in other rounds there were static or prerecorded animations that did not match the real motion of the players. Dodds found that players using self-animated avatars guessed about eight words on average in a three-minute round, compared with less than six words for those using static avatars. "It's surprising that it makes a difference, because the movements are really subtle," Dodds says. Self-animated avatars would enable architects collaborating on a new building to communicate a range of body gestures as they walk around a three-dimensional model, he says.

Internet2 and ESnet Span Country With 100 Gigabit Network
Campus Technology (10/12/11) Dian Schaffhauser

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) and Internet2 have completed a transcontinental network designed to provide 100 Gbps data transfers in the United States. The network, built by Internet2, delivers 8.8 terabits of capacity and provides connections over a distance of 4,000 miles that span between New York, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Sunnyvale, Calif. "This new coast-to-coast capacity represents the first major milestone in completing the nation's most advanced platform for network-based innovation," says Internet2's Rob Vietzke. ESnet will share the network's capacity, which is needed for the Advanced Networking Initiative, a 100G prototype network that will link the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, and the Manhattan Landing International Exchange Point. By the end of 2012, ESnet will transition the network to production and begin deploying 100 Gbps connections to link DOE Office of Science sites.

Robot Car to Cut Jams & Prangs
University of Oxford (10/11/11)

Oxford University researchers have installed robotic technology in a Wildcat vehicle built by BAE Systems that transforms the vehicle into an autonomous car. The researchers say the technology makes navigation more precise, reduces emissions, responds to local traffic conditions, tracks driving risks, and autonomously drives the vehicle. Smart and fast processing of driving-related data gathered by the car is the heart of the technology. The Wildcat vehicle includes sensors that use cameras, radar, and lasers to interpret the enormous amount of data. "We need cars that do the thinking and concentrating for you, cars that do not insist you do the driving all the time," says Oxford professor Paul Newman. "Our long-term aim is to enable a new generation of robotic vehicles that can make the roads safer, less congested, cleaner, and personal transport more accessible." The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Nissan are supporting the research. "Only by understanding its environment can an autonomous vehicle genuinely drive itself, safely, without the need for human intervention," Newman says.

Georgia Tech Releases Cyber Threats Forecast for 2012
Georgia Tech News (10/11/11) Jason Maderer

A report from researchers at the Georgia Tech Information Security Center (GTISC) and the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) warned that 2012 will feature new and increasingly sophisticated means to capture and exploit user data, as well as escalating battles over the control of online information that threatens to compromise content and erode public trust and privacy. The report cited search positioning, mobile Web-based attacks, and stolen cyberdata as areas of concern in the coming year. "If we are going to prevent motivated adversaries from attacking our systems, stealing our data, and harming our critical infrastructure, the broader community of security researchers--including academia, the private sector, and government--must work together to understand emerging threats and to develop proactive security solutions to safeguard the Internet and physical infrastructure that relies on it," says GTISC director Mustaque Ahamad. "Our best defense on the growing cyber warfront is found in cooperative education and awareness, best-of-breed tools, and robust policy developed collaboratively by industry, academia, and government," says GTRI's Bo Rotoloni.

Mass. Schools Team Up for Supercomputer Center
Associated Press (10/09/11) Stephen Singer

The Massachusetts Green High Performance Computer Center (MGHPCC) aims to capitalize on the huge boost in the amount of computer power available for academic research. Boston University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts formed the venture to improve academic research in protein structure, fluid flows, the dynamics of the earth's atmosphere, human social interaction, the evolution of the galaxy, and other issues. Each university invested $10 million in the project. The MGHPCC also received $25 million from the state of Massachusetts and $2.5 million from both EMC Corp. and Cisco Systems. The center is designed to appeal to companies and other businesses looking to establish a high-tech presence in western Massachusetts. It also helps meet a growing a demand for more powerful computers to do wider-ranging research, says Thom Dunning, director of the National Center for Supercomputing at the University of Illinois. "The driver is the complexity of scientific problems we're encountering," Dunning says. Only about a dozen employees will work at the 90,000-square-foot building, as most of the research will be performed remotely from university campuses.

Software to Prevent Abuse at the Click of a Mouse
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (10/11)

The State Office of Criminal Investigations in Berlin is using desCRY, a new system for detecting child-pornographic images in field tests. Bertram Nickolay of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology IPK and other researchers developed desCRY to automate detectives' time-consuming task of clicking through hundreds of thousands of files on a suspect's computer to find the illegal content. The software makes use of intelligent pattern-recognition algorithms that automatically analyze and classify images and video sequences. "Technologies such as facial and skin-tone recognition are combined with contextual and scene analyses to identify suspicious content," says project manager Raul Vicente-Garcia. DesCRY searches all files in a computer, including email attachments and archives; filters searches according to size and type; and offers a wide variety of search options, such as content-based data sorting and filtering. Results are displayed in an image viewer that can accommodate several hundred photos as tiny icons, suspicious photos are singled out by placing them at the top of the list, and images can be enlarged with a mouse click and stored as evidence with a second click.

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