Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the May 21, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


MIT Creates Amazing UI From Levitating Orbs
Fast Company (05/18/12) Mark Wilson

Jinha Lee from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab's Tangible Media Group has been experimenting with developing a tactile user interface (UI) in which floating objects are manipulated in three-dimensional (3D) space. Lee's prototype ZeroN UI harnesses electromagnetism so that a user can place a metal ball in midair. The orb can be repositioned manually by a computer, it can be animated on a path, and it can function as a virtual camera or light source in a 3D scene with the assistance of software. The interface features a 3D actuator housing an electromagnet, which keeps the ball stable by creating a perfectly tuned magnetic loop. The actuator repositions itself to drag the ball around lateral space, moving in tandem with the object and tracking its position with 3D infrared cameras. "ZeroN can remember how it has been moved," Lee notes. "Physical motions of people can be collected in this medium to preserve and play them back indefinitely." Lee envisions the UI being adopted for numerous applications, including animation prototyping, physics simulation and education, and 3D design studios.


University of Nevada, Reno Scientists Design Low-Cost Indoor Navigation System for Blind
University of Nevada, Reno (05/18/12) Mike Wolterbeek

University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) researchers have developed Navatar, an indoor navigation system for people with visual impairments. The smartphone-based system combines human-computer interaction and motion-planning research. "Existing indoor navigation systems typically require the use of expensive and heavy sensors, or equipping rooms and hallways with radio-frequency tags that can be detected by a handheld reader and which are used to determine the user’s location," says UNR's Kostas Berkis. Navatar uses two-dimensional architectural maps, which are already available for many buildings, as well as low-cost sensors such as accelerometers and compasses. The system locates and tracks users inside buildings, finding the best path based on their needs, and provides step-by-step instructions to the destination. "To synchronize the location, our system combines probabilistic algorithms and the natural capabilities of people with visual impairments to detect landmarks in their environment through touch, such as corridor intersections, doors, stairs, and elevators," says UNR's Eelke Folmer. The directions are provided using synthetic speech, while users confirm their location by verbal cues or by pressing a button on the phone. The researchers now are seeking new applications for Navatar, including integrating it into outdoor navigation systems that use global positioning systems.


Emergency Management: Incident, Resource, and Supply Chain Management
CCC Blog (05/20/12) Nabil R. Adam

Rutgers University professor Nabil R. Adam, director of the Information Technology for Emergency mAnageMent Research Laboratory, recently led a U.S. Department of Homeland Security workshop focused on emergency management at the University of California, Irvine. The workshop aimed to provide a forum for researchers, subject-matter experts, and practitioners dealing with emergency management to assess the current state of the art, identify challenges, and provide input to developing strategies for addressing those challenges. The workshop discussions led to the realization that emergency management poses unique challenges that require fundamental advances in computing and information science and engineering. Participants noted that there are opportunities to advance not only the state-of-the-art in emergency management, but also computing broadly, including real-time data sensing and analysis, predictive modeling and simulation, human-computer interaction, computer vision and robotics, wireless networks, and social networking. The workshop focused on incident management, resource management, and supply chain management. The workshop can help communities by developing support tools for enhanced disaster supply chain management, modeling disaster supply chains, developing information-sharing networks across the disaster supply chain, and developing public-private partnerships for enhanced disaster supply chain resiliency.


'March Madness' of Coding Contests Highlights Two Trends
ITBusiness.ca (05/17/12) Brian Jackson

ACM's International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) is used by the top software companies as a tool to find talented recruits, with the main event being a rigorous five-hour programming competition in which three-person teams solve problems at a single workstation. This year's ICPC highlighted a number of trends, including a dearth of female participants, which emphasized the general shortage of women selecting computer science as a study path and career choice. Accompanying the ICPC's expansion to include international teams has been a decline in North American teams' performance. The last time a North American school won the top spot was 1999, and in recent years Chinese and Russian teams have dominated the event. Underlying this trend are deep cultural differences between North Americans and their Asian counterparts, with the former subscribing to a view of computer programming as geeky and socially undesirable. In Asia, and China in particular, programming is taken very seriously, reflecting Asian schools' competitiveness. In fact, the Chinese contestants have fans supporting them in their native country, which demonstrates profoundly dissimilar attitudes to computer science between the Asian and North American regions.


Navy Pilot Training Enhanced by AEMASE 'Smart Machine' Developed at Sandia Labs
Sandia National Laboratories (05/16/12) Heather Clark

Sandia National Laboratories researchers have developed the Automated Expert Modeling & Student Evaluation (AEMASE) system, and is giving it to the U.S. Navy as a component of flight simulators. The components are currently being used to train Navy personnel to fly H-60 helicopters and a complete system will soon be delivered for training on the E-2C Hawkeye aircraft. AEMASE is a cognitive software application that updates its knowledge of experts' performance on training simulators in real time to prevent training sessions from becoming obsolete and automatically evaluates student performance, both of which reduce overall training costs. The system is adaptable and aware of what is happening, which is what is "driving our cognitive modeling and automated systems that learn over time from the environment and from their interactions with people," says AEMASE inventor Robert G. Abbott. He says AEMASE will give Navy trainees specific ways to improve performance through machine learning, automated performance measurement, and recordings of trainees' voices during training sessions. The software recognizes that there may be several right answers that incorporate different ways of responding to the situation, notes Sandia's Chris Forsythe. AEMASE also utilizes speech recognition technology to assess how effectively teams communicate.


Project Aims to Build Online Hub for Archival Materials
Chronicle of Higher Education (05/13/12) Jennifer Howard

The Social Networks and Archival Context Project (SNAC), developed by Daniel V. Pitti at the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, seeks to build an online central clearinghouse for archival records. SNAC's prototype Web site permits visitors to search for the names of individuals, corporate entities, or families to find related archival context records. SNAC's radial-graph feature enables researchers to probe an individual's social and cultural environment by generating a manipulable web of a subject's links as revealed in archival records, which fits with the project's core goal of visualizing social networks within which archival records were created. To ensure that its data is good, SNAC in its first phase tapped thousands of finding aids from various sources. The second phase of the project will involve 13 state and regional archival consortia and more than 35 U.S., British, and French university and national repositories contributing records. The Encoded Archival Context-Corporate Bodies, Persons, and Families standard was applied to SNAC's records, which "provides connections to this wealth of material that's out there," says the California Digital Library's Rachael Hu. SNAC's large-scale demonstration of the viability of this strategy could inspire the widespread adoption of the standard by archives.


Japanese Researchers Break Record for Terahertz Wi-Fi Transmission
Techworld (05/17/12) Sophie Curtis

Researchers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology have set a new record for wireless transmission in the terahertz band. The team has achieved a data transfer rate of 3 Gbps at a frequency of 542 GHz, which is 20 times higher than most current Wi-Fi connections. The researchers used a wireless radio no bigger than a penny, a tiny device known as a resonant tunneling diode than can reduce voltage as current increases. The researchers tuned the current correctly, and were able to make the diode oscillate and distribute signals in the terahertz band, which sits between the microwave and infrared regions of the spectrum and ranges from 300 GHz to just under 3 THz. In theory, terahertz Wi-Fi could support data rates up to 100 Gbps--about 15 times faster than 802.11ac, the newest Wi-Fi standard available to consumers, according to the report in Electronics Letters. The researchers now will focus on improving the proof-of-principle device and extending its range deeper into the terahertz band.


Computer Field Wide Open for Women
Montreal Gazette (Canada) (05/11/12) Jason Magder

McGill University recently started hosting the 4 Girls workshops, which are dedicated to bringing together girls who are interested in technology. Women currently make up about 25 percent of all workers in information technology and the percentage of women enrolling in university technology programs has either held steady or declined in the last 10 years. McGill undergraduate computer science student Genevieve L'Esperance and Microsoft Canada researcher Susan Ibach worked at 4 Girls, teaching the students ways of interacting with computers, including using a mouse, a keyboard, a touchscreen, or motion gestures. Ibach says women often are hesitant to choose a technical field because of the lack of women already in those fields. "When you don’t have momentum of enrollment, I think that lowers the number of people that will want to enter that field," she says. The 4 Girls program is just one of several efforts being made by Canadian elementary schools, high schools, and universities to promote technology as a career choice for women. L'Esperance says programs such as 4 Girls are helping to remove the stigma about technology for women. “I think slowly, but surely people will start to realize how much fun it is,” she says.


Center Seeks to Transform Teaching Practices
U.S. News & World Report (05/17/12) Marlene Cimons

Although spatial reasoning is a great predictor of talent in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, these skills are not taught adequately in the educational system, says Temple University professor Nora Newcombe. She is principal investigator for the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center, which was established to develop the science of spatial learning and to find new ways to help children and adults acquire spatial skills in order for them to be successful in STEM fields. The center consists of research partners from Temple University, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers at the center want to encourage classroom teaching that incorporates methods that "spatialize" information, such as using diagrams in science instruction. "Understanding how external symbol systems function in human cognition is crucial to using them effectively in education," Newcombe says. For example, Northwestern University professor Kenneth Forbus is developing CogSketch, software that enables college geology and engineering professors to use sketching in the classroom with immediate feedback from the computer. "The idea is that you can have a tablet computer on which you can sketch, and the artificial intelligence aspect will be able to give you feedback," Newcombe says.


Internet Usage Patterns May Signify Depression
Missouri University of Science and Technology (05/16/12)

Missouri University of Science and Technology researchers have found that students who show signs of depression use the Internet differently, and professor Sriram Chellappan says the research provides new insights on the association between Internet use and depression. The researchers found that about 30 percent of the students in their study met the minimum criteria for depression. "The study is believed to be the first that uses actual Internet data, collected unobtrusively and anonymously, to associate Internet usage with signs of depression," Chellappan says. The researchers found that depressed students tended to use file-sharing services, send email, and chat online more than the other students. Depressed students also tended to use higher "packets per flow" applications, such as online videos and games, and used the Internet in a more random fashion, frequently switching among applications. The researchers plan to develop software that can help individuals determine if their Internet usage patterns indicate depression. "The software would be a cost-effective and an in-home tool that could proactively prompt users to seek medical help if their Internet usage patterns indicate possible depression," Chellappan says. The software also could be used to help diagnose other mental disorders.


You Can't Play Nano-Billiards on a Bumpy Table
UNSW Newsroom (05/14/12) Bob Beale

An international team of researchers led by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) recently published a paper showing that small bumps can have an unexpectedly large impact on the paths that electrons follow. The team has developed a major redesign that enables these bumps to be ironed out. "Scaled down a million-fold from the local bar variety, these microscopic pool tables are cooled to just above absolute zero to study fundamental science, for example, how classical chaos theory works in the quantum mechanical limit, as well as questions with useful application, such as how the wave-like nature of the electron affects how transistors work," says UNSW professor Adam Micolich. University of Oregon professor Richard Taylor notes "we found that we can 'reconfigure' the warping by warming the table up and cooling it down again, with the electron paths changing radically in response." The researchers used the new billiard design to remove the silicon dopants, eliminating the associated warping, and enabling the electron paths to stay the same each time they cool the device down for study.


Meet the Man Who Invented the Instructions for the Internet
Wired News (05/18/12) Cade Metz

In an interview, Steve Crocker, chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), discusses how he created Requests for Comments (RFCs), the documents that described how the precursor to the Internet would work, as well as how ICANN came into being. Crocker, who at the time was a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), notes that RFCs were developed after he and his fellow researchers discussed how ARPAnet, the forerunner to today's Internet, would be set up in the late 1960s. Those discussions were necessary because there was no formal plan for the nodes that would be connected to the network, nor were there detailed specifications about how the interface message processors were going to be connected to the hosts. Crocker says he wanted to emphasize the informal nature of the notes, so he called them Requests for Comments. Crocker says he believed the notes would be discarded once formal documentation for ARPAnet was drawn up, although the notes persisted and became the primary mode of documentation for the network. Crocker eventually left UCLA and gave the responsibility of handling the RFCs to another member of the group, John Postel, who oversaw the creation of the domain name system and became responsible for assigning top-level domains to countries around the world.


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