Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the March 28, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Smarter Computing Systems Make Society Better
CORDIS News (03/27/12)

The High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation (HiPEAC) project is driving the development of computing systems designed to make everyday life easier, such as smart houses and grids. The HiPEAC network is supported by more than 1,000 European researchers working to identify and evaluate the problems that computing systems will face in the next 10 years. "To continue to be a source for new and innovative solutions, the computing systems community must dramatically improve the efficiency, complexity, and dependability of the future computing systems," says Ghent University professor Koen De Bosschere. The HiPEAC report highlights clear trends in the smart computing systems industry, including "an unseen data explosion in all domains (much faster than the explosion in computing power), [and] an increased demand for connectivity and for dependable and reliable systems across all fields." HiPEAC researchers have identified seven research objectives related to the design and exploitation of specialized heterogeneous computing systems. In the longer term, new devices and new computing paradigms, including bio-inspired systems, stochastic computing, and swarm computing, will be important, according to HiPEAC.


A Surge in Learning the Language of the Internet
New York Times (03/27/12) Jenna Wortham

The market for online classes in programming, Web construction, and application development is booming. Many people are finding that the jobs they have held for years now require being able to customize a blog's design or manage an online database. "Inasmuch as you need to know how to read English, you need to have some understanding of the code that builds the Web," says investment manager Sarah Henry. Many Web sites and services catering to the learn-to-program market have been launched in recent years, such as Codeacedemy, which walks users through interactive lessons in various computing and Web languages, showing them how to write simple commands. "People have a genuine desire to understand the world we now live in," says Codeacedemy co-founder Zach Sims. The growing interest in programming is part of a national trend of people moving toward technical fields. The number of U.S. students who enrolled in computer science degree programs rose 10 percent in 2010, according to the Computing Research Association (CRA). That figure has been steadily climbing for the last three years, notes CRA's Peter Harsha. "To be successful in the modern world, regardless of your occupation, requires a fluency in computers," Harsha says.


Google Working on Advanced Web Engineering
InfoWorld (03/27/12) Joab Jackson

Google is developing several advanced programming technologies to ease complex Web application development. "We're getting to the place where the Web is turning into a runtime integration platform for real components," says Google researcher Alex Russell. He says one major shortcoming of the Web is that technologies do not have a common component model, which slows code testing and reuse. Google wants to introduce low-level control elements without making the Web stack more confusing for novices. Google's efforts include creating a unified component model, adding classes to JavaScript, and creating a new language for Web applications. By developing a unified component model for Web technologies, Google is setting the stage for developers to "create new instances of an element and do things with it," Russell says. Google engineers also are developing a proposal to add classes to the next version of JavaScript. "We're getting to the place where we're adding shared language for things we're already doing in the platform itself," Russell says. Google also is developing a new language called Dart, which aims to provide an easy way to create small Web applications while providing the support for large, complex applications as well, says Google's Dan Rubel.


China's Not-So-Super Computers
Wall Street Journal (03/23/12) Bob Davis

China's latest supercomputer, Nebulae, symbolizes the country's growing ambition to challenge the United States and other developed nations in technology. China's progress in developing supercomputers has led to increased anxiety in the United States over possibly losing its position as the world leader in supercomputing technology. However, a closer examination of China's supercomputers reveals a program that is far less of a threat to U.S. technological dominance than commonly believed. In China, decisions on how supercomputers are used are often made by local politicians who are more interested in local developments than in breakthrough technology. This is a reminder that China remains a developing nation whose main goal is to close the technological and economic gap with more developed countries. China hasn't determined the best way to pioneer new technologies in part because researchers are rewarded according to the number of academic papers they publish rather than the quality and novelty of their work, says the University of Oregon's Richard Suttmeier. However, Chinese scientists have benefited from training at top U.S. and European research centers, as well as using U.S.-made microchips. "The critical point is keep devising strategies in the U.S. to stay way ahead of the game," Suttmeier says.


Super Computing Meets the World of Biology
UA News (AZ) (03/23/12) Shelley Littin

University of Arizona researchers have developed the iPlant Collaborative, a computer cyberinfrastructure that enables biological sciences researchers to process immense data sets. "A big function of iPlant is to bring together high-performance computing experts, build a cyberinfrastructure platform, and use it to advance life science research," says iPlant Collaborative director Stephen Goff. IPlant is the first major investment by the U.S. National Science Foundation aimed at building a cyberinfrastructure for biologists to use to manage massive amounts of data. IPlant researchers used survey data to develop software and projects that would be most useful to help scientists store and process their data. IPlant has developed ways for scientists to share information through software over the Internet and virtual servers created to store huge amounts of data. "We're also offering novel ways to interact with iPlant's computational systems," says iPlant's Matthew Helmke. He says one of the most important developments is the iPlant Discovery Environment, a Web interface that gives researchers a method for storing data, adding new software that they design for their experiments, and collaborating with other scientists using the new software.


Computing for Disaster Management Visioning
CCC Blog (03/22/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The Computing Community Consortium and the U.S. National Science Foundation are co-sponsoring a visioning workshop on computing for disaster management, which will identify ways in which fundamental computing research can advance the field of emergency response and recovery. The workshop's organizers say the unique attributes of disasters pose hidden computing challenges in real-time data sensing, visualization, analysis, and prediction capabilities for on-the-fly decision-making, which can serve to advance emergency response and recovery as well as drive forward the field of computer and information science and engineering. The workshop will include U.S. leaders in academia, the public sector, and industry. Participants will meet with scientists and practitioners outside their areas of expertise in order to share and identify multi-disciplinary opportunities.


Rutgers University, IBM Open Supercomputer Center
Wall Street Journal (03/27/12) Heather Haddon

Rutgers University and IBM researchers have opened a technology center that holds the $3.3 million Blue Gene/P supercomputer, which features similar analytical capabilities to IBM's Watson supercomputer and could make it onto the next Top500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers. Although private companies will have access to the machine, most of the research will be dedicated to academics. "This is the first step in a multi-year plan that involves IBM and Rutgers," says Rutgers' Michael Pazzani. He says the new system will enable researchers to be more creative in their experiments because time is not such a factor. The initial experiments conducted on Blue Gene will involve cancer cells, superconductive materials, and predicting flash floods. A Rutgers advisory panel will determine which companies get to use the machine, while the university's science and engineering students also will get training on it. Venture capitalist Evangelos Simoudis notes the arrangement is a unique partnership between business and academia. "We are falling further and further behind in having people who can prepare and analyze this data," Simoudis says. "Universities must start to develop these broad partnerships with industry."
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Cybersecurity Partnership to Improve Anti-Hacking Systems
Diamondback (MD) (03/26/12) Madeline Tallman

Researchers at the University of Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2) are collaborating with CyberPoint International to develop new ways to protect computer systems from hacking and cyberattacks. "We believe strongly in an interdisciplinary approach to research in cybersecurity that brings government, academia, and industry together," says CyberPoint's Mark Raugas. The partnership will give MC2 and CyberPoint an opportunity to enhance their research efforts by focusing on different aspects of cybersecurity issues, including computer science, engineering, social sciences, economics, and public policy. CyberPoint's Peter Kilpe says the company's researchers view the partnership as an opportunity to "connect with new ideas, new thinking." MC2 previously has partnered with corporations to develop new educational programs, as well as to research innovative technologies to guard against cyberattacks. "Part of the mission of the cybersecurity center is to extend outreach and to engage local industry in solving cybersecurity problems," says MC2 director and computer science professor Michael Hicks.


US Dept. of Energy Offers $100,000 for Cool Apps
Network World (03/23/12) Michael Cooney

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) wants to support the development of applications that can help businesses and consumers use less energy and save money. DOE launched the Apps for Energy Challenge, and is accepting ideas for apps at apps@hq.doe.gov. The agency will feature the best ideas on Energy.gov, and the ideas will serve as an inspiration for software developers who are participating in the competition. The department will release the official rules for Apps for Energy on April 5, and begin accepting submissions, which can be any kind of software app for the Web, personal computers, mobile devices, or any software broadly available to the public. Utility data from American Electric Power, Austin Energy, Baltimore Gas and Electric, CenterPoint Energy, Commonwealth Edison, NSTAR, PECO, Reliant, and Virginia Dominion Power can be used to develop the apps. DOE will accept app design submissions until May 15, and then will conduct an internal review and hold a public vote. The agency will announce the winners, who will receive $100,000 in cash prizes, in late May.


Meet Charles, the Robot That'll Make You Want to Smile
Cambridge Evening News (UK) (03/23/12)

Dozens of Cambridge University labs and lecture rooms staged events for the Cambridge Science Festival. One of the highlights was a robotic head that mimics facial expressions, created by Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory. Called Charles, the robot can imitate more than 400 expressions, and people who visited the lab sat in front of a computer, made faces, and watched Charles copy their facial expressions. Computer Laboratory scientists developed Charles as part of a research project involving human emotions. Researchers in the lab also demonstrated a mobile phone application that detects the speech patterns and emotions of its user. Moreover, they discussed how computers will play a key role in measuring the achievements of athletes at this summer's Olympics. The Institute of Manufacturing demonstrated robots and lasers, and gave the public a chance to fire lasers at mini-rockets and move them along a track. Microsoft Research also opened up its science lab and put some of its current projects on display.


Artificial Intelligence? I'll Say. Why Computers Can't Joke
Bloomberg BusinessWeek (03/23/12) Drake Bennett

University of Cincinnati researchers are developing software that can understand humor. Puns and jokes work because of a person's expectations and then being surprised when something unexpected occurs. Computers do not understand jokes or metaphors because they have no expectations to subvert. The researchers, led by Cincinnati professor Lawrence Mazlack, are trying to program computers to have expectations and to think in terms of ontologies. Mazlack believes that training a computer to execute crosswords can test if it can do the sort of tasks human beings do, while getting it to understand jokes is a good way to get it to start to work the way the human brain functions. "If a computer can't come to understand what's a joke and what's not a joke, then it's not going to be able to think like a person," Mazlack says. The researchers note that even simple humor-detection capabilities could have applications, such as a humor screen that would detect unintentional puns or jokes in memos or emails.


Using Twitter to Predict Financial Markets
UCR Newsroom (03/19/12) Sean Nealon

University of California, Riverside researchers have developed a model that uses Twitter data to help predict the traded volume and value of a stock the following day. The model, developed by Riverside professor Vagelis Hristidis, outperformed other baseline strategies by as much as 11 percent, and did better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average during a four-month simulation. "These findings have the potential to have a big impact on market investors," Hristidis says. The research focused on the volume of tweets and the ways that tweets are linked to other tweets. The researchers obtained the daily closing price and the number of trades from Yahoo! Finance for 150 randomly selected companies in the S&P 500 Index for the first six months of 2010. They then developed filters to select only relevant tweets for those companies during that time period. The researchers found that the number of trades is slightly more correlated with the number of connected components, which is the number of posts about distinct topics related to one company. The researchers also found that stock price is slightly more correlated with the number of connected components.


The Grill: David D. Clark
Computerworld (03/26/12) Mary K. Pratt

Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist David D. Clark's research focuses on redefining the Internet's architectural foundation. In an interview, Clark says the Internet's biggest benefit is its intermediation of people getting to information and to each other. He says one of the main issues the Internet faces today is how to police and control the bad parts of the Internet without impairing the good parts. This problem has a technical engineering component and a social component, according to Clark. Although the Internet does need to make some changes, it is not necessary to have a single person be in charge, but everyone needs to understand that these are pressing questions, Clark says. The Internet changes very fast in terms of applications, but the underlying technology has gone largely unchanged for 10 years. Clarks says most of the current Internet investment comes from the private sector, so most of the innovation has been motivated by commercial interests. "On the Internet, there are issues of fraud and privacy and there will be government interventions, but by and large, I like to say the benefit in most cases is determined by experimentation [and asking]: Did we meet a need?" he says.


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