Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the February 13, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


The Blind Codemaker
MIT News (02/10/12) Larry Hardesty

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tel Aviv University, and Google have developed a coding scheme that guarantees the fastest possible delivery of data over fluctuating wireless connections without requiring prior knowledge of noise levels. The system works by creating one long codeword for each message, and then breaking that codeword up into smaller but still effective codewords. "The transmission strategy is that we send the first part of the codeword [and] if it doesn’t succeed, we send the second part, and so on," says MIT professor Gregory Wornell. When the first part, which was too noisy to decode, is combined with the second and any subsequent parts, the system creates a new encoding message for a higher level of noise. Once the receiver has received enough symbols to decode the underlying message, it signals the sender to stop. The researchers demonstrated mathematically that at that point the length of the received codeword is the shortest possible length given the channel's noise properties. They created the master codeword by splitting the message into several fragments of equal length. Each of the fragments is then encoded with existing error-correcting codes.


Log Onto Facebook, Contribute to Scientific Research
Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) (02/09/12)

Researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Cardiff University are developing a cloud computing-based Facebook application that enables users to donate their computing resources to scientific projects. Victoria researcher Kris Bubendorfer says integrating cloud architecture with an existing social network such as Facebook has advantages over other options, such as commercial cloud services, which some research teams use on a pay-as-you-go basis and can be very expensive. "If we can recruit even one percent of current Facebook users to become volunteers, that will have a significant impact on resources available for research," Bubendorfer says. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology researchers are developing rewards and incentives that will encourage Facebook users to sign on for volunteer computing while Cardiff University researchers are developing a business model to support the initiative. "Social networks offer an easy and quick way for scientists to find each other and agree to share resources for the duration of a project," Bubendorfer says.


Unique Testbed Soon Will Be in Space
NASA News (02/09/12)

The Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Testbed, which was developed at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Glenn Research Center and could lead to new ways for future space travelers to communicate, will be tested on the International Space Station later this year. The SCaN Testbed will provide an orbiting laboratory on the space station to develop software defined radio (SDR) technology, which will enable researchers to conduct a suite of experiments on space communications. The testbed is the first space hardware to provide an experimental laboratory to demonstrate new capabilities in communications, networking, and navigation techniques that utilize SDR technology, which is possible due to software changes that are sent to the device, enabling researchers to use it for several different functions. The new devices will enable future space missions to return more scientific information, because the software loads will add new functions or accommodate changing mission needs. The SCaN Testbed space laboratory consists of three SDRs, each with unique capabilities aimed at advancing different aspects of the technology.


Kenya ICT Board and CMU Launch International Software Standard
PC Advisor (02/09/12) Dennis Mbuvi

Researchers at the Kenya ICT Board (KICTB) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) launched Chipuka, a certification program for Kenya's software developers in the country that aims to create an international standard for software development skills. The need for such a program arose after KICTB visited Silicon Valley and marketed the country as a software development destination, says Bitange Ndemo, Kenya's permanent secretary at the Ministry of Information. The Chipuka project will run as a trial with 500 developers expected from the first round in April 2013. Ndemo says the number of certified developers should increase to about 1,000 depending on the initial success of the program. "Kenya needs to quantify [its software development industry] and the best way to do this will to build a software certification program that [information technology] firms such as IBM and others will identify with," says CMU's Randal Bryant. IBM already has voiced interest in the Chipuka program and is ready to test about 10,000 people, says CMU's Phillip Miller. Ndemo says Chipuka is a "triple helix partnership between the academic sector, government, and private sector" that is needed to help move Kenya forward.


CSIC Enquiry Tests Visual Intelligence Through Facebook
CSIC (Spanish National Research Council) (02/09/12)

Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) scientists are using Facebook to conduct cognitive research. The researchers have developed a Web application that offers different tests for measuring visual intelligence and calculation ability, and have made it available to all Facebook users for downloading. "This will enable us to obtain large amounts of information on the cognitive capacity of Internet users worldwide," says CSIC's Gonzalo Garcia de Polavieja. "Once we collect that information, we will analyze it in order to obtain innovative models and results on visual ability." The app, available in both Spanish and English, presents a simple game that lasts about three minutes, and asks for permission to use the profile and basic personal information of Facebook users. CSIC's Angel Carlos Roman says the game might ask participants to estimate how many pencils can be seen in a specific figure, and then estimate which of two choices has the largest number of pencils. Scores will be based on the number of correct answers and responding time. The researchers will be able to determine what factors, such as time, social information, or age, affect visual ability.


New Technology Platform for Molecule-Based Electronics
University of Copenhagen (02/09/12)

University of Copenhagen researchers have created a nanotechnology platform for developing molecule-based electronic components using graphene. The researchers say they are among the first in the world to be able to chemically produce large flakes of graphene. "Using chemical and physical processes, that we have been working to develop in recent years, we are now able to produce such large flakes of graphene that we can use the flakes as components in an entirely new technology platform within molecule-based electronics," says Copenhagen's Kasper Norgaard. Developing molecular-based electronics has been challenged by the fact that components short-circuited when the molecules were contacted with electrodes and were thus unable to generate a practical circuit. Norgaard says his team placed a graphene flake on top of the molecules, protecting the system from short circuits, which led to the development of a technology platform for use in the development of new electronics based on molecules. He says the breakthrough could lead to a new generation of electronics with applications in memory technology, ultra-thin displays, and solar cells.


U.S. to Use Climate to Help Cool Exascale Systems
Computerworld (02/08/12) Patrick Thibodeau

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Berkeley Lab has started building a computing center that will one day hold exascale systems. DOE recently gave Congress a report outlining a plan to deliver exascale computing by 2019-2020 and its expected cost. Berkeley's Computational Research and Theory (CRT) facility will use outside air cooling, relying on the Bay Area's cool temperatures to meet its needs about 95 percent of the time, says CRT's Katherine Yelick. The evaporative cooling method involves hot water being transported into a tower where evaporation helps it cool. The 140,000-square-foot building, expected to be ready in 2014, will enable Berkeley Lab to combine offices that are split between two sites, and it will be large enough to house two supercomputers, including exascale-sized systems. The exascale system will be able to reach 1 quintillion floating point operations per second. The Berkeley facility "is very representative of what we have that's best in the United States in research, in innovation," says DOE secretary Steve Chu. He notes that computation will be "a key element in helping further the innovation and the industrial competitiveness of the United States."


Power Profiles Help Electronics Go Green
ANU News (02/08/12) James Giggacher

Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU), the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Washington have completed the first systemic power profile of microprocessors. The team examined the power profiles of different software and chip architecture, as well as the application power, performance, and energy on a range of hardware. "We found that different software have really different power usages," says ANU's Steve Blackburn. "This is really important because as technology and processors are getting smaller and smaller it has stopped yielding exponential gains in power and performance." Technology companies could use the findings to develop software and hardware that will lower energy costs in electronic devices as well as their technology infrastructure. Blackburn also believes power profiles will become a key consideration at every stage of future software and hardware development because consumers, manufacturers, and governments are more energy conscious.


NSF Releases Report on Cloud Computing
CCC Blog (02/07/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently released a report on the organization's support for cloud computing, describing the research as a vital area of national importance that requires further research and development. The report highlights some of the 125 cloud computing research awards issued by NSF's Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) directorate between 2009 and 2011, in fields such as architecture, algorithms, big data, security and privacy, and green computing. "The CISE directorate is currently considering future directions for cloud computing research under the working title Science and Engineering of Cloud Computing, [which] is intended to address the important questions of how to design correct and efficient future cloud systems, rather than how to utilize existing cloud systems," the report says. The research is a collaboration between various technical areas, including computer systems, networks, security, computer architecture and software, and databases and data-intensive computing. "NSF anticipates that the CISE directorate will continue its support for cloud computing in future years, primarily driven by the [Computer & Network Systems] Division, with participation by ... other directorates or offices as appropriate," the report says.


A Therapist in Your Pocket
Northwestern University Newscenter (02/07/12) Marla Paul

Northwestern University researchers are developing Web-based, mobile, and virtual technologies to treat depression and other mood disorders. Examples include a virtual human therapist who will work with teens to prevent depression, a medicine bottle that reminds the user to take antidepressant medication and alerts the doctor if the dosage needs adjusting, and a Web-based social network to help cancer survivors relieve sadness and stress. Northwestern's Mobilyze! smartphone application offers support for people who have depression and intervenes to help them change their behavior. The smart medicine bottle is part of the MedLink system, which includes a mobile app that monitors the patient's depressive symptoms and any medical side effects and will provide specific advice to manage problems. The virtual therapist is being developed with University of Southern California researchers. The therapist will role-play with adolescents and adults to teach social and assertiveness skills to prevent and treat depression. The researchers note that Web-based content to help cancer survivors manage stress and depression is more effective when a human coach checks in on their progress via a phone call or email.


Researchers Claim 100-Fold Increase in Data Storage Speed
Network World (02/08/12) Tim Greene

Researchers at the universities of York and Nijmegen have developed a method for accelerating data storage hundredfold. The researchers say that if successfully translated to a storage product, the technology could theoretically cut the time to store a bit of data on a hard disk drive from a billionth of a second to a hundred-billionth of a second. For example, the method could decrease the time it takes to store a terabyte of data from about 22 minutes to about a minute and 20 seconds. The researchers developed the technology by heating a magnetic material with laser bursts that alter the magnetic spin of the material at the atomic level. The researchers note that current storage on hard drives changes spin using a fluctuating magnetic field, which is slower. Their method uses X-ray Magnetic Circular Dichrosim to examine thin films of an alloy of gadolinium iron and cobalt to study ultrafast spin reversal.


Augmented Reality Promises Astronauts Instant Medical Knowhow
European Space Agency (02/06/12)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has developed the Computer Assisted Medical Diagnosis and Surgery System (CAMDASS), a wearable augmented reality prototype that provides medical expertise to astronauts. CAMDASS currently is focused on ultrasound examinations, but could guide other procedures as well. "Although medical expertise will be available among the crew to some extent, astronauts cannot be trained and expected to maintain skills on all the medical procedures that might be needed," says ESA's Arnaud Runge. CAMDASS uses a stereo head-mounted display and an ultrasound tool tracked via an infrared camera. Three-dimensional augmented reality cue cards are displayed in the headset to guide users, reference ultrasound images give users an indication of what they should be seeing, and speech recognition technology enables hands-free control. During testing, untrained users found they could perform a reasonably difficult procedure using effective probe positioning. "Based on that experience, we are looking at refining the system--for instance, reducing the weight of the head-mounted display as well as the overall bulkiness of the prototype," Runge says.


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