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Welcome to the July 16, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Getting to the Bottom of Statistics
Technische Universitat Darmstadt (07/16/12)

Technische Universitat Darmstadt (TUD) researchers have developed the Explain-a-LOD tool, which accesses linked open data (LOD) and automatically formulates hypotheses regarding the interpretation of arbitrary statistics. The statistics to be interpreted are fed into Explain-a-LOD, which then automatically searches the troves of linked open data for associated records and adds them to the original set. Once that processing has been concluded, the system automatically formulates hypotheses based on the enhanced statistics. Users are presented with the resulting hypotheses in the form of phrases. The researchers have tested their approach on several sets of statistics, including Mercer's standard-of-living study and Transparency International's corruption index. "What one obtains are mixtures of obvious and surprising hypotheses, such as 'cities where temperatures do not exceed 21°C during the month of May have high standards of living,' 'capital cities generally have lower standards of living than other cities,' or 'countries that have few schools and few radio stations have high corruption indices,'" says TUD's Heiko Paulheim.

Lobster-Inspired Tech Helps Smartphones Navigate Indoors
New York Times (07/13/12) Brian X. Chen

University of Oulu researchers have developed indoor locator technology that uses a smartphone's built-in compass to scan for variations in the Earth's magnetic field inside a building. The information is transmitted to an online server for analysis and then used to form a virtual landscape of the structure. The system produces a map with a dot that follows the smartphone user in the building. The researchers, led by Janne Haverinen, say they were inspired by lobsters, which sense variations in magnetic fields to mentally map their surroundings. The researchers are currently working to provide a toolkit for application developers to create indoor maps for different purposes. For example, smartphone users could use the technology to find their friends indoors, or firefighters could use it to locate where a person is inside a burning building.

CISE Releases Solicitations for Core Programs
CCC Blog (07/13/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) recently issued new solicitations for its core programs, including Computing and Communication Foundations, Information and Intelligent Systems, and Computer and Network Systems. CISE also is encouraging the submission of "breakthrough proposals" to its core programs. "CISE encourages proposals that promise extraordinary outcomes, with a possibly corresponding increase in uncertainty in the research plan and overall risk of success relative to traditional submissions, such as: revolutionizing entire disciplines, creating entirely new fields, disrupting accepted theories and perspectives, and solving widely recognized, long-standing and important challenging problems," according to the announcement. CISE notes that breakthrough proposals can be submitted to any of the three core programs, and can be for small, medium, or large grants. The proposals are due later this fall.

Computer Scientists Reproduce the Evolution of Evolvability
Technology Review (07/13/12)

Modular systems evolve more easily than non-modular systems, but the evolution of modularity is a key open question for biology. However, Cornell University researchers led by Hod Lipson think they have solved the problem. "Modularity evolves not because it conveys evolvability, but as a byproduct from selection to reduce connection costs in a network," according to the researchers. They say examples of connection costs include the cost of manufacturing connections and maintaining them, the energy required to transmit information along them, and the signal delays that occur, all of which increase with the number of connections and their length. Lipson recently ran a simulation using two different criteria. The first was a measure of whether a network was better at recognizing the input pattern or not. The second took into account the cost of running the network, with more efficient networks being deemed more fit. Both fitness criteria produced networks capable of accurately identifying the input patterns after 25,000 generations, but the second criterion produced modular networks while the first did not. The researchers say that is evidence that modularity emerges when network costs are taken into account.

Would You Like to Play a Game? New AI Teaches Itself the Rules
Network World (07/11/12) Jon Gold

Paris Diderot University researcher Lukasz Kaiser has developed an artificial intelligence (AI) program that can watch two-minute videos of simple board games being played, learn the rules, and then challenge human opponents. The program is a set of subroutines that work in concert--a visual-analysis system provides data to a game-learning algorithm, and both are linked to the open source game engine Toss. The first tests of the AI program--on tic-tac-toe, Connect Four, Go-Moku, Pawns, and Breakthrough--were on a laptop with a single-core processor and 4GB of RAM. "My background is in logic and in finite model theory, so I'm mostly a theoretical computer scientist, but I was looking for applications of the finite model theoretic methods, so I looked toward AI," Kaiser says. "It turned out that, indeed, it is possible to apply some of the theoretic methods to get better results in learning and to illustrate it by game-playing programs." Although Kaiser says the program has no barrier in principle to learning how to play more advanced games, a more complex rule set would make it far more difficult.

New Notre Dame Research Raises Questions About Iris Recognition Systems
Notre Dame News (07/12/12) William G. Gilroy

Since iris recognition technologies were first developed, it has been assumed that a person's iris remained stable over their lifetime, which is known as “one enrollment for life.” However, Notre Dame University researchers have found that the iris is subject to an aging process that causes recognition performance to degrade over time. "Our experimental results show that, in fact, the false non-match rate increases over time, which means that the single enrollment for life idea is wrong," says Notre Dame's Kevin Bowyer. The false non-match rate is how often a system finds that two images are not a match even when they are from the same person. The researchers say they analyzed a large data set with more images acquired over a longer period of time than ever before. Bowyer notes the results of the study should not be viewed as a negative for iris recognition technologies and security systems going forward. "Once you have admitted that there is a template effect and have set up your system to handle it appropriately in some way, it is no longer a big deal," he says. The iris template aging effect will only be a problem for those who refuse to believe it exists, Bowyer adds.

NASA 3-D App Gives Public Ability to Experience Robotic Space Travel
NASA News (07/11/12) Dwayne Brown

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has developed an application that uses animation to show how spacecraft maneuver and manipulate outside components in three dimensions (3D). Spacecraft 3D, an augmented-reality app for Apple devices, makes use of computer models of spacecraft that were originally generated for the space agency's "Eyes on the Solar System" Web app. The 3D environment contains NASA mission data that enables users to explore the cosmos from their computer. "Like Hollywood directors sizing up their next shot, you move your camera-equipped iPad or iPhone in and out, up and down, and the spacecraft perspective moves with you," says NASA's Kevin Hussey. "It is a great way to study the 3D nature of NASA spacecraft." The Spacecraft 3D app currently features the Curiosity rover and the twin GRAIL spacecraft missions, but there are plans to add the Cassini spacecraft, Dawn spacecraft, and the Voyagers. NASA intends to make the free app available for other formats in the near future. "With Spacecraft 3D and a mobile device, you can put high definition, three-dimensional models literally into the hands of kids of all ages," says the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Stephen Kulczycki.

Cyberwarfare, Conservation and Disease Prevention Could Benefit From MU Researcher's Network Model
MU News Bureau (MO) (07/11/12) Timothy Wall

University of Missouri researchers have developed a computer model they say could have wide-reaching applications in cyberwarfare, conservation, and disease prevention. The researchers say their model could help military strategists create the most damaging cyberattacks while protecting the U.S.'s critical infrastructure. The model also could be used for other projects involving interconnected groups, such as restoring ecosystems, stopping disease epidemics, and halting smuggling. "Our model allows users to identify the best or worst possible scenarios of network change," says Missouri professor Tim Matisziw. "The difficulty in evaluating a network's resilience is that there are an infinite number of possibilities, which makes it easy to miss important scenarios." He says the new model could help design plans that efficiently use the smallest possible amount of resources to cause the most damage to trafficking networks, thereby reducing the flow of drugs, weapons, and other illegal materials. In addition, disease outbreaks could be controlled by identifying and blocking important links in their transmission. The model also can determine if a plan is likely to create the strongest network possible.

App That Allows Deaf People to Verbally Communicate Wins Imagine Cup
Computerworld Australia (07/11/12) Stephanie McDonald

First place in the 2012 Imagine Cup went to a Ukrainian university team that developed an application that enables deaf people to verbally communicate using sensory gloves and a smartphone. The sensory gloves include flex sensors that capture finger movements, and this data is transmitted to a microcontroller that normalizes the data and then sends it to a smartphone. The Enable Talk app is designed to correlate hand movement patterns with sounds, which would enable users to communicate with people who do not know sign language. More than 350 students from 75 countries participated in the competition covering software design, game design, and six other categories. A Japanese team took second place for developing a power-saving system that enables light-emitting diode lamps to communicate with each other and dim automatically if a room has more light than is needed. A Portuguese team finished third with a robotic cart designed to improve the mobility of people with special needs by using motors and sensors powered by Kinect. One finalist in the software design category, a team from New Zealand, developed an app that uses artificial intelligence to aid blind people.

HP Memristors Will Reinvent Computer Memory ‘by 2014'
Wired News (07/11/12) Caleb Garling

Within two and a half years, Hewlett-Packard (HP) says it will offer devices that store data using memristors, predicts HP's Stan Williams, although the company has yet to officially announced its plans. Memristors are an electrical building block that could lead to servers and other devices that are more efficient than today's systems. Although Williams says commercial memristor hardware will be available by the end of 2014 at the earliest, that is a year later than earlier projections, which had the company releasing products in summer 2013. “It’s sad to say, but the science and technology are the easy part,” he says. “Development costs at least 10 times as much as research, and commercialization costs 10 times as much as development." In May 2008, HP announced that it had developed a working memristor that could provide a more efficient form of non-volatile memory that significantly outperforms flash memory. "It’s simpler," Williams says. "It’s easier to make--which means it’s cheaper--and it can be switched a lot faster, with less energy."

Interview With Alan Kay
Dr. Dobb's Journal (07/10/12) Andrew Binstock

A.M. Turing Award winner Alan Kay says many programmers who code for money have a lack of awareness of the roots of their culture, to the point that they consider the Internet something akin to a natural resource rather than a man-made construct. He notes, for example, that Web pages are inferior to HyperCard, and contends that "the Web ... was done by people who had no imagination. They were just trying to satisfy an immediate need." In a similar vein, Kay says modern object-oriented systems do not align with his definition. "Objects were a radical idea, then they got retrograded," he comments. Kay cites a popular movement founded on pattern languages as the most catastrophic thing about programming. "Extracting patterns from today's programming practices ennobles them in a way they don't deserve," he maintains. "It actually gives them more cachet." In terms of programming education, Kay sees value in assessing children's skills at different developmental levels, with an emphasis on taking them forward rather than keeping them in one place. "Education is a double-edged sword," he stresses. "You have to start where people are, but if you stay there, you're not educating."

Roboticize Your World: Educational Kit Can Turn Artwork and Crafts Into Robots
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (07/10/12) Byron Spice

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed Hummingbird, an educational robotics kit that enables almost anything made out of paper, paint, and cardboard to be animated. Hummingbird consists of a customized control board and a variety of lights, sensors, and motors that can be connected to the controller without soldering. Users can program their devices using a free, easy-to-learn, drag-and-drop environment that requires no prior programming experience. "Hummingbird feeds a student's natural curiosity about technology by enabling her to incorporate robotics into something she is making that is meaningful or useful," says Carnegie Mellon professor Illah Nourbakhsh. Hummingbird is a part of the Arts & Bots program, which was designed to explore how to foster interest in technology at the middle school level, especially among girls. "The Hummingbird provides the students with the ability to make the robots unique not only in design, but in their function," says schoolteacher Zee Poerio. Hummingbird also ties into the increasingly popular "maker movement," the do-it-yourself approach to technology, notes BirdBrain Technologies director Tom Lauwers.

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