Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 7, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


The RayMatic: Making a Thermostat With a Human Face
The Tartan (11/07/11) Benjamin Madueme

Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D student Ray Yun has developed RayMatic, a device that consists of a touchscreen, an Arduino microcontroller, and temperature sensors, all housed in a picture frame. The RayMatic communicates ambient temperature information to the user by displaying a video of Yun's upper body on the screen. If the temperature is normal, Yun's face is smiling. As the temperature gets too hot or too cold, Yun's facial expressions change to indicate the change. Yun used Adobe Flash actionscript to make the changes seamless. "It’s human-friendly and engaging as well," Yun says. "Employing a face to represent an agent has been shown to increase engagement and motivation and makes a user pay more attention." Both the touchscreen and the Arduino microcontroller currently have to be linked to a computer to function, which adds cost and space issues to the system. However, Yun says RayMatic's costs would drop if it was ported to an iPad or iPhone. He demonstrated the device earlier this year at the Tangible Embedded and Embodied Interaction Conference in Portugal. "The RayMatic points to a style of interaction with household appliances and devices that is simple, fun, and friendly," Yun says.


Open Data Initiative Moves Into the World of Consumers' Personal Data
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (11/04/11) Joyce Lewis

The Open Data initiative has launched a project in Britain to assist businesses in returning personal data to consumers. Twenty-six companies have joined the Midata project, which will provide consumers with personal data inventories that contain information about their personal consumption and spending patterns. "This is about getting the information that companies hold about me and you back to you in a form you can use," says University of Southampton professor Nigel Shadbolt. The companies agreed to seek common approaches to data access, and to jointly establish protocols for privacy, data security, and consumer protection. Technologies such as apps will be used to link data in a way to provide consumers with new insights into information and to enable them to make comparisons. "At the moment we're used to seeing our buying preferences from online bookstores recommend books back to us and we can share our preferences with friends and social networks--this kind of facility is going to happen everywhere," Shadbolt says. "But the government also holds large amounts of information about us, and I'd like to see us move to a situation where our health, education, and tax information is just as accessible."


Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It's Just So Darn Hard)
New York Times (11/04/11) Christopher Drew

Most students' enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) peaks in middle and high school and dissipates in college as the focus on calculus, physics, and chemistry proves overwhelming and tedious. Attrition among even the most talented engineering students often happens because college classes are too narrow and not sufficiently focused on application, while students also see easier ways to make a living in other fields. Research verified in the 1990s that students acquire more knowledge by dealing with open-ended problems than by listening to lectures. The challenge for educators is sustaining STEM interest in college and beyond, and the Association for American Universities recently announced a five-year effort to encourage faculty members in STEM disciplines to make teaching more interactive. Worcester Polytechnic Institute took on this challenge by reworking its curriculum to accommodate extensive research, design, and social service projects by juniors and seniors, including those conducted on trips abroad with professors. Four years ago, the school concentrated on world problems such as disease or hunger, and dean of undergraduate studies Arthur C. Heinricher stresses that "that kind of early engagement, and letting them see they can work on something that is interesting and important, is a big deal."


Computer Science Students Produce Software That Could Change the Way Geologists Work in the Field
Lafayette College (11/04/11)

Four Lafayette College computer science students have developed an iPad application that could change the way geologists do research in the field. The app combines a field notebook, a global positioning system, and a camera, eliminating the need to input data at night, which reduces transcription errors and gives the geologists more time for analysis and reflection on the data. The students met with Lafayette geology professors Lawrence Malinconico and David Sunderlin several times while the app was being developed to determine which features would be most helpful to researchers in the field. The students are now refining the app for use with the Android operating system and are working on a version for the iPad 2. "We've been keeping our ear to the ground about what sort of apps have been coming out and we haven’t heard of anything like what we’ve developed that integrates everything together," Sunderlin says. The app was developed as part of Lafayette computer science professor Chun Wai Liew's EXCEL research class. "We want to be seen as a leader in pedagogy innovation," Liew says. "That's what the college should be pushing."


University Adopts Predictive Technology
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (11/03/11) Cynthia Karena

Edith Cowan University is using an IBM-developed predictive model to identify students at risk of leaving a course before they complete it, says National ICT Australia (NICTA) researcher Lawrence Cavedon. "We at NICTA are investigating similar things in health--can we predict the likely risk of contracting a disease, the likely length of stay, or likely future hospital admissions, from patient information?" he notes. Cavedon says that one of the particular challenges of using information from social media is that the information is in text format rather than structured databases. "At NICTA, we are investigating how to perform text analytics [rather than data analytics] across different types of text documents, from tweets to research papers," he says. Meanwhile, futurist Ross Dawson speculates that Apple's Siri speech recognition application could be upgraded to perform tasks based on vocal command. "We're on the verge of a significant transition to better human-machine interaction so [machines] understand what we mean," he says. "And voice is a big part of that."


Think About It: CSU Research Could Turn Brain Waves Into Remote Control
Denver Post (CO) (11/05/11) Karen Auge

Colorado State University (CSU) researchers are developing technology that will enable people with severe neurological impairments to complete tasks by changing what they are thinking about. The researchers are analyzing differences in brain waves from one thought to another and classifying them in data that can be used by a computer to complete different actions, says CSU professor Chuck Anderson. The researchers collected data from volunteers and asked them to think about specific actions, such as making a fist. The researchers recorded the changes in brain activity with each thought, and printed out the results at the end of each session. On the printouts, the researchers are "looking for patterns, to see if we can classify what the pattern is" for the thoughts behind the simple activities, says CSU professor Patricia Davies. The researchers plan to convert the wave patterns into numbers that will enable to them to develop software that can perform functions based on recognizing specific brain patterns. Anderson says the military and the video game industry are interested in using the technology.


A KAIST Research Team Has Developed a Fully Functional Flexible Memory
KAIST (11/03/11) Lan Yoon

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology researchers have developed a fully functional and flexible non-volatile resistive random access memory (RRAM) in which a memory cell can be randomly accessed, written, and erased on a plastic substrate. The researchers, led by professor Keon Jae Lee, note that their RRAM technology is not affected by cell-to-cell interference. The researchers say they solved the cell-to-cell interference problem by combining a memristor with a high-performance single-crystal silicon transistor on flexible substrates. The combination of the two advanced technologies enabled the researchers to develop memory functions in a matrix memory array. "This result represents an exciting technology with the strong potential to realize all flexible electronic systems for the development of a freely bendable and attachable computer in the near future," Lee says.


Crime Algorithms Target Gangs of LA
New Scientist (11/03/11) Melissae Fellet

University of California, Los Angeles researchers led by Andrea Bertozzi have developed software that uses a network of gang rivalries to predict which gang is most likely responsible for a certain crime. The researchers represented the known gang rivalries in the Hollenbeck district as a web-like network with lines connecting rivals. They then examined criminal activity across the network, identifying pattern lines. By combining equations that describe this pattern with the network, the researchers used the timing of an unsolved crime to predict which rivalry could be relevant, which allowed them to calculate a probability that a given gang is responsible for a particular incident. During testing, the program produced three most likely gangs for each unsolved crime, and these three included the correct gang 80 percent of the time. The Santa Cruz Police Department currently is field-testing the software.


Supercomputers Accelerate Development of Advanced Materials
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (11/03/11) Julie Chao

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have launched the Materials Project, which aims to accelerate the process for finding new materials to be used in a clean energy technology. "Our vision is for this tool to become a dynamic ‘Google’ of material properties, which continually grows and changes as more users come on board to analyze the results, verify against experiments, and increase their knowledge," says Berkeley Lab's Kristin Persson. The researchers are using supercomputers to characterize the properties of inorganic compounds, including their stability, voltage, capacity, and oxidation state. The results are organized into a database with a Web interface that gives the researchers access to the data. "First-principles calculations have reached the point of accuracy where many materials properties, relevant for photovoltaics, batteries, and thermoelectrics, can be reliably predicted," says MIT professor Gerbrand Ceder. U.S. President Barack Obama recently launched the Materials Genome Initiative, which aims to double the speed with which new materials are discovered, developed, and manufactured. "The Materials Project represents the next generation of the original Materials Genome Project," says National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center's Shreyas Cholia.


Socialbots Used by Researchers to 'Steal' Facebook Data
BBC News (11/02/11)

University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers were able to collect 46,500 email addresses and 14,500 home addresses from Facebook by using socialbots. Socialbots are a social networking adaptation of botnets that criminals can use to send out spam. The malware takes control of a social networking profile and performs basic activities such as posting messages and sending requests. Over the course of eight weeks, the UBC team used 102 socialbots and one botmaster to attempt to make friends with 8,570 Facebook users, and 3,055 accepted the friendships. Facebook users with the most friends were more likely to accept a socialbot as a friend. The team had the socialbots send only 25 requests a day to keep from triggering Facebook's fraud detection software. "As socialbots infiltrate a targeted online social network, they can further harvest private users' data, such as email addresses, phone numbers, and other personal data that have monetary value," the researchers say.


Android Add-on Monitors Eyewitness Mobile Media Reports
Duke Today (11/03/11) Ashley Yeager

Duke University researchers have developed YouProve, software that can be embedded in the Android operating system to monitor images and audio captured with mobile devices, tracking changes that individuals make using third-party applications such as Facebook, Photoshop, or Garageband. If an app writes a modified version of the media to a file on a phone or over a wireless network, YouProve uses its algorithms to compare the original data to the modified one. The software then produces a non-forgeable "fidelity certificate," which summarizes the degree to which different regions of the media are preserved compared to the original data. In testing, YouProve identified edited regions of photos or audio clips with 99 percent accuracy. The software monitored the media files for compression, cropping, and blurring. YouProve uses emerging tamper-resistant, trusted hardware on mobile devices to produce the fidelity certificates, which guarantees that the certificates are generated securely and cannot be fabricated, notes Duke's Landon Cox.


Computer-Based Tool to Improve Diagnosis and Prognosis for Cancer Patients
University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) (10/31/11) Emma Thorne

University of Nottingham researchers have developed two Web calculators that could help general practitioners accelerate the diagnosis and treatment of patients with gastro-oesophageal cancer and lung cancer by identifying them at an earlier stage. The researchers found that 10 percent of the patients that the algorithm predicted as most at risk of developing one of the two diseases accounted for 77 percent of all the gastro-oesophageal and lung cancers diagnosed over the following two years. "Earlier diagnosis of cancer is a major challenge and we hope this new research will help doctors identify patients for earlier referral and investigation," says Nottingham professor Julia Hippisley-Cox. Although the Web calculators are designed to be used by doctors, the researchers say they could be modified for public use to raise awareness and to prompt patients with high risk factors or symptoms to seek medical advice. The study involved 375 general practices that already use the QResearch database system to collect anonymized patient information. The study identified those patients with the highest associated risk factors for the cancers to predict which of them were most likely to develop the disease.


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