Welcome to the May 7, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
London to Test 'Smart City' Operating System
BBC News (05/04/12) Jane Wakefield
London is preparing to test an operating system designed to power the smart cities of the future. Living Plan IT has developed Urban OS, which serves as a platform for connecting services such as water, transportation, and energy to citizens. "We are entering a phase when everything becomes connected, from healthcare to transportation," says Living Plan IT CEO Steve Lewis. Unlike traditional operating systems, Urban OS is designed to be extremely robust, considering critical services will be linked to the network--even an insulin pump. Living Plan IT plans to embed thousands of sensors that will monitor external and internal conditions to create smart lighting and heating systems in a newly built office block, and will test smart lamp posts on the roads. "They will be talking to each other, producing their own energy, raising lighting levels when cars are coming, and monitoring the movement of traffic," Lewis says. Living Plan IT also will test other technologies with the platform, such as smart vests that have microsensors embedded in them to monitor heart rates and other vital signs.
Gesture Control System Uses Sound Alone
Technology Review (05/07/12) Rachel Metz
Microsoft researchers have developed SoundWave, a gesture-control system that utilizes the Doppler Effect, software, and the built-in speakers and microphone on a laptop. The technology can be used to sense several simple gestures. Speakers equipped with SoundWave software emit a constant ultrasonic tone of between 20 and 22 kilohertz. If there is no movement in the immediate environment, the tone the microphone hears should be constant. However, if something is moving toward the computer, that tone will shift to a higher frequency. If something is moving away, the tone will shift to a lower frequency. This phenomenon happens in predictable patterns, so the frequencies can be analyzed to determine how big the moving object is, how fast it is moving, and the direction it is going, says Microsoft's Desney Tan. The software currently performs with about 90 percent accuracy, according to the researchers, who have developed several movements that the software can understand, including swiping your hand up or down, moving it toward or away from your body, flexing your limbs, or moving your entire body closer to or farther away from the computer.
Struggle Continues to Plug Embedded Programming Gap
EE Times (05/03/12) George Leopold
Critics say the growing embedded programming gap can be attributed to university curriculums for introductory computer science courses, which recently have focused more on Java than other languages. "Many universities went to Java because ‘that’s where the jobs are,’ but ironically may have produced a generation of programmers with over-specific but superficial skills who are now losing jobs to overseas competition with broader and deeper talents," says New York University professor Robert Dewar. "To be blunt, adopting Java to replace previous languages used in introductory programming courses, such as Pascal, Ada, C, or C++, was a step backward pedagogically." In response, Industry expert Michael Barr recently created the Embedded Software Boot Camp, which focuses on skills such as controlling hardware in C or C++ and writing more formal device drivers. The most recent embedded boot camp attracted programmers from Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Turkey and the United States, illustrating the lack of emphasis on embedded programming. Explanations for why university computer science departments have de-emphasized teaching embedded programming skills based on the C language include the popularity of Java programming and the lack of job opportunities for computer science graduates with embedded programming skills.
Game On! UCLA Researchers Use Online Crowd-Sourcing to Diagnose Malaria
UCLA Newsroom (05/02/12) Wileen Wong Kromhout
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed a crowdsourcing online gaming system that asks players to distinguish malaria-infected red blood cells from healthy ones by viewing digital images taken from microscopes. The researchers found that a small group of non-experts playing the game was collectively able to diagnose malaria-infected red blood cells with an accuracy that was within 1.25 percent of the diagnostic decisions made by trained medical professionals. "The idea is, if you carefully combine the decisions of people--even non-experts--they become very competitive," says UCLA professor Aydogan Ozcan. The researchers believe that by training thousands of members of the public to identify malaria through their crowdsourced game, a much greater number of diagnoses could be made more quickly. "The idea is to use crowds to get collectively better in pathologic analysis of microscopic images, which could be applicable to various telemedicine problems," says UCLA's Sam Mavandadi. The researchers also have created an automated algorithm for diagnosing malaria images using computer vision. The system includes a hybrid platform for combining human and machine resources to diagnose malaria. The researchers plan to use the crowdsourcing game at clinical sites in Mozambique, Malawi, and Brazil.
U.S. Study Cites Worries on Readiness for Cyberattacks
New York Times (05/04/12) Michael S. Schmidt
U.S. state and local officials are most concerned about the government's cyberattack response readiness, according to a study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regarding the U.S.'s ability to respond to terrorist attacks and man-made and natural catastrophes. FEMA's National Preparedness Report lauded the coordination among local, state, and federal officials for exchanging information and intelligence, and authorities' ability to rapidly implement lifesaving and life-sustaining operations. The report cites cybersecurity as "the single core capability where states had made the least amount of overall progress," while just 42 percent of state and local officials believed that their cybersecurity was sufficient. Forty-five percent of officials reported that they lacked a formal cyberattack prevention and response program, while about 66 percent said they had not updated their "information security or disaster recovery plans in at least two years." The report notes the Secret Service's dismantling of major cybercriminal organizations using 31 task forces, while less than two-thirds of U.S. companies sustained cyberattacks and just half of high-priority facility owners and operators said they reported such attacks. Nevertheless, the report says the number of reported cyberattacks in the U.S. has risen 650 percent since 2006.
Revolutionary Technology Enables Objects to Know How They Are Being Touched
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (05/03/12) Byron Spice
Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Disney Research have developed Touche, a sensing technique that monitors capacitive signals across a broad range of frequencies. Touche uses Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing (SFCS) technology, which makes it possible to detect a "touch event," as well as recognize complex configurations of the hand or body that are doing the touching. "In our laboratory experiments, we were able to enhance a broad variety of objects with high-fidelity touch sensitivity," says Disney's Ivan Poupyrev. However, interpreting all of that SFCS information requires analyzing hundreds of data points. "Devices keep getting smaller and increasingly are embedded throughout the environment, which has made it necessary for us to find ways to control or interact with them, and that is where Touche could really shine," says CMU's Chris Harrison. Different body tissues have unique capacitive properties, so monitoring a range of frequencies can identify a number of diverse routes that the electrical charge takes through the body. The researchers have created proof-of-concept applications such as a smart doorknob and a new touchscreen that can interpret the configuration of the entire hand.
Preparing for Many-Core
Texas Advanced Computing Center (05/03/12) Aaron Dubrow
The Texas Advanced Computing Center recently hosted the Intel Highly Parallel Computing Symposium, which showcased the experiences of researchers who had ported their scientific computing codes to Intel's Knights Ferry software development platform, the prototype hardware and software development package for Intel's Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture. More than 100 participants from many sectors of the science and technology community attended the symposium. Intel engineers James Reinders and Tim Mattson focused on the goals and research processes that led to the development of Intel's MIC architecture, and the ecosystem of libraries, kernels, and programming paradigms that Intel hopes will make its new coprocessors a long-term success in the high-performance computing community. "The architecture for many-core is still being determined," Mattson notes, and he says more than a dozen research groups at Intel are working on the many-core problem. One key topic of the symposium was vectorization, which refers to programs that are modified to perform the same operation many times simultaneously on a large number of operations. The symposium also highlighted the promise and challenge of implementing existing codes on Intel's new coprocessor.
Thanks for the Memory: Researchers Find Room for More Data Storage in 'Phase-Change' Material
Johns Hopkins University (05/03/12) Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University researchers say they have discovered previously unknown properties of a phase-change memory alloy consisting of germanium, antimony, and tellurium (GST), which could lead to new forms of memory drives, movie discs, and computer systems. The researchers say that GST could enable memory devices to retain data more quickly, last longer, and allow for more capacity than current systems. GST currently is used in rewritable optical media, but Johns Hopkins researchers used diamond-tipped tools to find new electrical resistance characteristics that could make GST even more useful to the computer and electronic industries. "This phase-change memory is more stable than the material used in the current flash drives," says Johns Hopkins researcher Ming Xu. Although GST has been in use for at least 20 years, it is still unknown exactly how it switches from one state to another because it happens so quickly. The researchers used a process called X-ray diffraction to trigger the change more gradually. They were able to tune the electrical resistivity of the material during the time between its change from amorphous to crystalline form. "By having a wide range of resistance, you can have a lot more control," says Johns Hopkins professor En Ma.
Hottest IT Skill? Cybersecurity
Network World (05/03/12) Carolyn Duffy Marsan
As they face increased activity by hackers and cybercriminals, U.S. corporations are accelerating their hiring of cybersecurity specialists, with open jobs reaching an all-time peak in April. "Companies want security professionals to counter breaches and also anticipate gaps, suggesting measures to fill them," says Dice's Tom Silver. "Protection is key." The need for cybersecurity experts in the federal government also is pressing, with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano citing a paucity of such pros to assist federal agencies in foiling cyberattacks, which topped 106,000 last year. In fact, Napolitano told a Senate committee in April that cyberattacks are her leading concern. The growing complexity of corporate networks, companies' use of cloud networks, and an inundation of user-owned mobile devices are among the trends driving new interest for cybersecurity experts. "Everything is in flux with the move to the cloud and mobile devices," says consultant Sudhir Verma. "It's about how to protect information in the enterprise in an environment that includes cloud applications and tablets." Yoh's Don Hanson sees a need for developers capable of building secure applications, network engineers with security credentials, and architects who can secure systems and processes.
Purdue Researcher Helps Robots 'See' in 3-D Like Humans
Purdue University News (05/02/12) Cynthia Sequin
Purdue University researchers are developing technology that will enable robots to "see" more like humans do. "Research in the field of robotic vision has typically focused on recording and analyzing [two-dimensional] images, but really it is about [three-dimensional (3D)] visual perception--being able to understand the 3D scene in front of the robot so that it can decide what needs to be done with an object that is in its field of view," says Purdue professor Zygmunt Pizlo. The researchers are developing a model of decision-making to mimic the human mind. "This process eliminates the need for additional range sensors currently used for robotic vision and reduces the time and complexity of robotic sight," Pizlo says. Developing a human-robot connection will be a key factor in bringing robots into every day life, according to the researchers. "Once they can interact with us they can begin doing all types of tasks such as drive a car, help surgeons in hospitals, assist the elderly, provide sight for the blind, replace people in high-risk situations like making repairs in a nuclear plant and, yes, bring us coffee in the morning," Pizlo says.
Turning Big Ideas Into Solutions
CITRIS Newsletter (05/01/12) Susan Suleiman
Student teams' development of innovative tools has earned them awards in the University of California (UC) Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society's recent Big Ideas competition. Winning first prize in the contest was Politify, an algorithm developed by UC Berkeley undergraduates Nikita Bier and Jeremy Blalock that enables anyone to enter a few simple facts about themselves to determine how presidential candidates' agendas will impact their lives and the U.S. government. "I wanted to find a way to quantify [candidates'] proposals," Bier says. "We read their Web sites, and we wrote direct mathematical algorithms for what they propose." Politify has drawn 250,000 uses and is fueling interest among both Democrats and Republicans. Another project recognized in the Big Ideas contest is a pen that illuminates to help stroke victims and autistic children write by hand using a force sensor. Other notable competition entries include an effort that offers low-income people information about social services through text messaging, a project that uses new technology to identify incipient diabetes by non-invasively measuring microcirculation in the eye, and a prototype oral history archive of radio recording collections.
Money Puck: Changing the Way We Rate NHL Players
University of Toronto (05/01/12) Liam Mitchell
University of Toronto researchers have proposed a new methodology for quantifying the value of a hockey player. The researchers note that a player's value can determine his salary, influence trades, and affect his playing time. "We started thinking about how we could develop a model that would help predict what the ideal Team Canada hockey team would look like," says Toronto professor Timothy Chan. In the process, the researchers realized a need for a better method to value different player types. The researchers monitor several player performance statistics, including goals, assists, hits, blocks, time in the penalty box, and time on the ice. The model considers all of the statistics together in order to get an overall picture of a specific player. The model established four types of forwards, including top line, second line, defensive, and physical; four types of defensemen, including offensive, defensive, average, and physical; and three types of goalies, including elite, average, and bottom.
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