Welcome to the April 6, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Flexible Displays Bend What's Possible for Computers
USA Today (04/05/12) Jon Swartz
Although the latest flexible display technologies are likely to take the form of personal devices, they also could find their way into larger surface displays, such as furniture and wallpaper. In addition, other emerging technologies, such as wearable computers, embedded devices, and mini-projectors also could be used as applications for flexible displays, says Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. For example, Hewlett-Packard is developing wristband prototypes that could have applications for the U.S. Army and the National Football League (NFL). The Army could use the small display as a combination global positioning system, shortwave radio, and field manual for vehicle repairs. The NFL could use the wristband to replace helmet microphones. Microsoft's home of the future has many digital displays, including the kitchen counter, which shows graphics beamed down by an overhead projector. NanoLumens is developing large, energy-efficient light-emitting diode displays, including a flexible display that is 112 inches diagonal, one inch thick, and weighs 80 pounds. Meanwhile, LG recently announced the mass production of its electronic paper display product with a planned launch in Europe next month.
DoE to Launch "Apps for Energy" Challenge Today
CCC Blog (04/05/12) Erwin Gianchandani
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has launched the Apps for Energy competition, which challenges developers to use the Green Button data access program to take advantage of residential and commercial utility data. DoE says the Green Button initiative gives access to energy usage data in a streamlined and easy-to-understand format. DoE is offering $100,000 in cash prizes to the software developers and designers who submit the best apps, as judged by a panel of government officials, energy industry leaders, and information technology experts. "The competition is all about creating tools and products that help consumers get the most out of their Green Button data--from apps that track personal energy savings goals to software that helps businesses optimize building energy usage," DoE says. "In addition, the 27 million households that will have access to Green Button data by the end of the year represent an untapped market that can serve as a catalyst for an active, energy-focused developer community." DoE says the best app ideas will be featured on Energy.gov and used to inspire developers who are participating in the competition. The winners will be announced in late May.
A Rose-Colored View May Come Standard
New York Times (04/04/12) Nick Bilton
Google recently offered a preview of Project Glass, Internet-connected glasses that feature a small see-through display screen above the user's eye that can show maps and other data. The wearer could use voice commands to get directions or send a message to a friend. Apple also is developing wearable computers, and former Apple engineer Richard W. DeVaul is now one of Google's lead developers on Project Glass. Institute for the Future's Michael Liebhold, a senior researcher specializing in wearable computing, says Google has a significant lead on Apple. “In addition to having a superstar team of scientists who specialize in wearable, they also have the needed data elements, including Google Maps,” he says. Google researcher Babak Parviz, who also is a professor at the University of Washington, recently built a contact lens with embedded electronics that form a miniature display, which could result in Project Glass evolving into Project Contact Lens. The prototype for Project Glass is "much less dorky-looking than all of the heads-up displays we've seen to date," Liebhold says. Other companies developing wearable computers include Nike, which has developed a bracelet that tracks the wearer's activity, and Motorola, which sells a head-mounted display for business use.
NSF Announces New Expeditions in Computing Awards
National Science Foundation (04/03/12)
The U.S. National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering announced four new Expeditions in Computing awards, with each award providing a five-year, $10 million grant. Award recipients include a project focusing on transforming computer programming from a purely manual task to one that involves collaboration between a programmer and an automated program synthesis tool. Another project seeks to integrate three distinct types of computational resources--algorithms, machines, and people--to create a data analytics paradigm that can address the big data challenge, as current data analytics comes up short in extracting sense from data produced by computers, sensors, scientific instruments, various media, and free-form tweets, blogs, and documents. A third recipient envisions three-dimensional robotic systems designed and manufactured via two-dimensional fabrication, and aims to cultivate a community of interest, reach out to youth in grades K-12, and establish new interdisciplinary programs among participating academic institutions. The fourth Expedition project will devise the basic computational methods to facilitate the design, deployment, and assessment of socially assistive robots, and it includes educational and training components for K-12 students.
Computer Science Transitions From Elective to Requirement
U.S. News & World Report (04/03/12) Kelsey Sheehy
Although many universities offer computer science as an option to satisfy science or math requirements, some schools are now making it a required course in order to graduate. For example, each of the nearly 2,000 freshmen entering the Georgia Institute of Technology each year must take a computer science course regardless of their major, says college of computing associate dean Charles Isbell. In addition, every student at Montclair State University must complete a computer science course in order to graduate. Most Montclair students take "Introduction to Computer Applications: Being Fluent with Information Technology," which is designed to teach students majoring in nontechnical fields about network security, artificial intelligence, databases, and e-commerce, says computer science department chairman Michael Oudshoorn. "It's not aimed at making them experts; it's aimed at making them aware," Oudshoorn says. "They do live in a digital age ... they have an obligation to know something about the technology." University of California, Irvine professor Geoffrey Bowker says more schools should make computer science a requirement. "All aspects of our personal lives and our work lives are affected by computers," he says. "We need to know about the tools that we're working with."
Supercomputing Education in Russia
HPC Wire (04/04/12) Vladimir Voevodin
Cultivating a national system for training highly skilled supercomputing professionals is the goal of Russia's Supercomputing Education project, which has completed its second year, writes Moscow State University's Vladimir Voevodin. In its first year the project sought to develop and implement the fundamental elements of such a system in Russia's top academic institutions, and 62 Russian universities and more than 600 people participated in the effort. The foundation of the project's success is the national System of Research and Education Centers for Supercomputing Technologies, whose primary goal is organizing the training and retraining of supercomputing professionals in academia, institutes, industry, and business. Last year saw the initiation of large-scale training of entry-level specialists on supercomputing technologies, and the development of a knowledge base on parallel computing and supercomputing technologies was a key project component. Some 37 courses covering the main chapters in the knowledge base were devised and disseminated among universities. In progress is a broad program for developing and reviewing educational literature on supercomputing technologies, and retraining programs for professors and faculty were deployed in all Russian federal districts in 2011.
Programming Computers to Help Computer Programmers
Rice University (04/03/12) Jade Boyd
Computer scientists from Rice University will participate in a project to create intelligent software agents that help people write code faster and with fewer errors. The Rice team will focus on robotic applications and how to verify that synthetic, computer-generated code is safe and effective, as part of the effort to develop automated program-synthesis tools for a variety of uses. "Programming is now done by experts only, and this needs to change if we are to use robots as helpers for humans," says Rice professor Lydia Kavraki. She also stresses that safety is critical. "You can only have robots help humans in a task--any task, whether mundane, dangerous, precise, or expensive--if you can guarantee that the behavior of the robot is going to be the expected one." The U.S. National Science Foundation is providing a $10 million grant to fund the five-year initiative, which is based at the University of Pennsylvania. Computer scientists at Rice and Penn have proposed a grand challenge robotic scenario of providing hospital staff with an automated program-synthesis tool for programming mobile robots to go from room to room, turn off lights, distribute medications, and remove medical waste.
The Secret Science of Memorable Quotes
Technology Review (04/03/12)
Cornell University researchers have found that there is an inherent quality to memorable movie lines that makes them easier to recall. The researchers took memorable lines from about 1,000 movies and compared them against other lines spoken by the same character. They then asked individuals who had not seen the films to guess which of the two lines was the memorable one. On average, the participants chose correctly about 75 percent of the time, confirming the idea that the memorable features are intrinsic in the lines themselves and not the result of some other factor. The researchers then compared the memorable phrases with a standard corpus of common language phrases taken from 1967. The researchers found that they can measure the distinctiveness of the memorable phrase by seeing how likely various-sized segments of it are in the corpus. The researchers discovered that memorable phrases have a tendency to use pronouns, the indefinite article, and verbs in the past tense. "Future work may lead to applications in marketing, advertising, and education," says Cornell researcher Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil.
3D Planning Tool for the City of Tomorrow
A new three-dimensional (3D) map will make it easier for urban planners to determine the impact of noise levels, fine particulate matter, and traffic volumes on city residents. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics developed the tool, which will enable urban planners to virtually move through a 3D view of the city without needing 3D glasses. The corresponding values would float at the associated locations on the 3D map. For example, noise data might be displayed using red, yellow, or green boxes. Users can adjust the distances between data points and determine how the map is displayed by selecting a standpoint, zooming into street level, or selecting a bird's eye perspective. Urban planners would be able to quickly locate problems, such as areas with heavy noise pollution. "For the simulations, we used standard programs that are oriented around [European Union] directives on noise-pollution control," says Fraunhofer 's Roland Blach. "The main challenge was to come up with a user-friendly way of displaying different simulation results." The researchers developed the 3D map as part of the Virtual Cityscape project, which has built other tools such as parametric modeling.
'Pipeline' to Programming Jobs Has Leaks
New York Times (04/02/12) Katie Hafner
The effort to propel women into programming jobs is losing women at a discouraging rate as the pipeline winds its way from high school through graduate studies. Even women with computer science degrees might not obtain programming jobs, and those familiar with the hiring process say recruiting is part of the problem. Some companies hold 24-hour hackathons, which reinforce the geeky, high-testosterone stereotype of the industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 19 percent of software developers are women, but the percentage is in the single digits at many prominent tech firms. The bias in the system affects women's willingness to go into these situations because they know what they are in for, says New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman. Still, there are signs of hope in the corporate world, such as IBM, an industry leader, winning the 2011 Top Company for Technical Women award. The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology started the competition two years ago, and American Express will receive the 2012 award. IBM's Sharon Nunes says women want to use their skills to make a difference, and also want to maintain a work-life balance. Women comprise about 20 percent of IBM's technical workforce.
New Image Sensors Could Lead to Focusing Photos After They're Taken
Cornell Chronicle (04/02/12) Anne Ju
Cornell University researchers led by professor Alyosha Molnar have used new computational methods and traditional chip-making techniques to develop a new generation of image sensors. The sensors give detailed readouts of the intensity and the incident angle of light as it strikes the sensor, which the researchers say could result in a new generation of three-dimensional cameras with the ability to focus photos after they are taken. The key to the technology is a uniquely designed pixel for a standard complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor. The design enables the chip to detect information about the incident angle of the light striking it with more detail than a normal CMOS imager. This information can be analyzed using the Fourier Transform, which extracts the depth of objects in an image and allows for computational refocusing of the image taken. The researchers' chip can thus far capture an image at 150,000 pixels with the assistance of a standard Nikon camera lens, but they say this could be enhanced with bigger chips.
Forecasting a Warming World Via Thousands of PCs
Computerworld (04/02/12) Patrick Thibodeau
Oxford University researchers recently conducted a climate change study using 50,000 PCs to run simulations that were originally written for a high-performance computing system. The researchers conducted the study on ClimatePrediction.net, which uses the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC) framework for distributed computing. ClimatePrediction, which is the only distributed network for climate change research, has more than 500,000 registered hosts, according to Oxford researcher Daniel Rowlands. He says the research, which is focused on continent-wide changes around the world, would have cost more than $1 million to do on a commercial cloud service. "We are completely indebted to our volunteers," Rowlands says. He notes the study took about 5,000 years of central-processing unit computer time. The BOINC framework also is used for the Rosetta@home project, which is investigating protein folding, PrimeGrid@home, which conducts mathematical research, and MilkyWay@home, which creates three-dimensional models of the galaxy.
How Smart Is Your Home?
Science (03/30/12) Vol. 335, No. 6076, P. 1579 Diane J. Cook
Within reach is a smart home that is responsive to residents' wishes and needs due to technological advances that support ambient intelligence, including sensors, computer networks, databases, and intelligent agents, writes Washington State University professor Diane J. Cook. Embedding sensors in the home generates large volumes of raw data that require analysis to extract pertinent information, and Cook says cloud computing could be used to process data too large to be managed by a single computer. Meanwhile, Cook says enabling devices to interact with their peers and the networking infrastructure without explicit human control is the purpose of much current ambient intelligence research, while imbuing the residence with contextual awareness supports the design of intelligent environments. Among the hindrances to realizing ambient intelligent homes is the need to weigh possible privacy and security implications, while another challenge is the provision of seamless, intelligent support both inside and outside the residence. The introduction of wearable sensors and smartphones expands ambient intelligence beyond the home environment. Smart homes currently offer resident-guided monitoring and automation, and Cook says future advances should support the use of these services in a more independent fashion.
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