Welcome to the September 24, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Power, Pollution and the Internet
New York Times (09/22/12) James Glanz
The New York Times recently completed a yearlong examination of the information industry and found that most data centers consume large amounts of energy in an extremely wasteful manner. Online companies normally run their facilities at maximum capacity for 24 hours a day. This system can waste as much as 90 percent of the electricity that companies take in from the grid, the study found. In addition, to guard against power failures, the companies rely on banks of generators that emit diesel exhaust. Worldwide, digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, one third of which is accounted for by the United States. The inefficient use of power is driven by the relationship between users, who demand constant access, and the companies that put their business at risk if they fail to meet customers' expectations. Some companies are using extensively re-designed software and cooling systems to decrease wasted power. Although many of these solutions are widely available, most companies are reluctant to make far-reaching changes, according to industry experts. "It is absolutely a race between our ability to create data and our ability to store and manage data," says data storage expert Jeremy Burton.
Big Data Brings Big Academic Opportunities
Computerworld (09/21/12) Patrick Thibodeau
Many colleges and universities are developing advanced degree programs in analytics to manage big data. All of the programs require a strong quantitative background, which could include work in math, computer science, engineering, life sciences, finance, and other studies. North Carolina State University launched one of the first programs in 2007, and has enrolled 84 students in its class of 2013. The University of Texas is now accepting applications for its Master of Science in Business Analytics, which will begin in the fall of 2013. "There is lot of demand for people who can say something meaningful about the data that is accumulating," says University of Texas Department of Information, Risk, and Operations Management chair Prabhudev Konana. Northwestern University's Master of Science in Analytics began this fall with 32 students. The curriculum is a 15-month program and combines classes from information technology, data science, and business. New York University recently announced a new Master of Science in Business Analytics program that will begin in May 2013, while the University of Michigan-Dearborn launched a Master of Science in Business Analytics program this fall. In addition, Michigan State University, Loras College, and Louisiana State University also recently launched business analytics programs.
Breakthrough in Bid to Create First Quantum Computer
University of New South Wales (09/20/12) Miles Gough
University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers say they have created the first working quantum bit based on a single atom in silicon, which could lead to the development of ultra-powerful computers. The breakthrough enables researchers to both read and write information using the spin of an electron bound to a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon chip. "For the first time, we have demonstrated the ability to represent and manipulate data on the spin to form a quantum bit, or 'qubit,' the basic unit of data for a quantum computer," says UNSW professor Andrew Dzurak. The finding follows a 2010 study by the same UNSW researchers, who demonstrated the ability to read the state of an electron's spin. The discovery of how to write the spin state completes the two-stage process required to operate a quantum bit. The researchers achieved their result using a microwave field to gain control over an electron bound to a single phosphorous atom. "We have been able to isolate, measure, and control an electron belonging to a single atom, all using a device that was made in a very similar way to everyday silicon computer chips," says UNSW's Jarryd Pla.
A Step Towards Total Autopilot
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (09/20/12) Sarah Perrin
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne's (EPFL's) Real-Time Coordination and Distributed Interaction Systems Group (REACT), Computer Vision Laboratory (CVLab), and Distributed Intelligent Systems and Algorithms Laboratory (DISAL) are developing an automated aerial collision-avoidance system that could be used for missions deemed too dangerous for human pilots. "The multidisciplinary character of the project unites three laboratories from three different schools who have teamed up with a large company like Honeywell to remain as close as possible to industrial requirements," says EPFL's Michael Themans. The REACT researchers are developing algorithms that can predict the position and trajectory for aircraft occupying a specific segment of airspace based on the data from various devices and sensors. The CVLab researchers are developing a system to analyze images taken by high-definition cameras. The DISAL researchers are working on algorithms to network data with other nearby aircraft. "We will work on integrating trajectory prediction, avoidance, stability, vision, and data-exchange algorithms developed by various laboratories, and see how to get them working together in real time," says DISAL's Alcherio Martinoli.
New Server Cooling Technology Deployed in Pilot Program at Calit2
UCSD News (CA) (09/19/12) Doug Ramsey
The University of California, San Diego's (UCSD's) California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) recently developed Cool-Flo, cooling technology that could improve energy efficiency and enable higher-performance computing. The technology was installed in the Calit2 server room as part of ongoing research into energy-efficient data centers led by UCSD professor Tajana Simunic. The Cool-Flo servers monitor processor, random access memory, and chipset temperatures, in addition to the total power consumed by the system while running normal research loads. Cool-Flo is a server-agnostic, rack-based, direct-to-the-chip and leak-free liquid-cooling system that can be used to cool any server, and is based on rocket-cooling technology. Although the technology was initially developed as an energy-efficient solution, the researchers found that liquid cooling enabled faster processors and increased rack densities, both of which provide improved high-performance computing. "Cool-Flo is a good fit for Calit2’s server needs given the institute’s commitment to reducing the energy intensity of campus [information technology] and improving energy efficiency," says UCSD's Steve Harrington.
For Energy-Efficient HPC, Less Is More
HPC Wire (09/19/12) Ian Armas Foster
Intel researchers recently demonstrated their Near-Threshold Voltage (NTV) technology by operating an x86 microprocessor on just two milliwatts of power. The threshold voltage is the amount required to generate a minimum of current across a transistor. Intel researchers have found that the most efficient use of energy is to operate a circuit near that of its threshold voltage, although doing so is problematic. For example, although all transistors should perform to the same level, there can be billions of transistors on a given chip and some will perform worse than others, resulting in significant power loss. Another issue is that NTV decreases frequency substantially. As a result, although NTV would be impractical for general-purpose central processing units, high-performance computing's massively parallel computing environment could benefit from NTV technology. "Based on our analysis of these papers, [NTV] computing techniques are most applicable to highly parallel workloads," says Real World Technologies researcher David Kanter.
New Tool Gives Structural Strength to 3-D Printed Works
Purdue University News (09/18/12) Emil Venere
Researchers at Purdue University and Adobe Advanced Technology Labs have developed a program that automatically adds strength to objects before they are printed. "It runs a structural analysis, finds the problematic part, and then automatically picks one of the three possible solutions," says Purdue professor Bedrich Benes. The researchers presented their work at the recent SIGGRAPH 2012 conference. The software automatically strengthens objects by increasing the thickness of key structural elements or by adding struts, and it also reduces the stress on structural elements by hollowing out overweight elements. "We not only make the objects structurally better, but we also make them much more inexpensive," says Adobe research manager Radomir Mech. The tool automatically identifies grip positions where a user is likely to hold the object, and the technique requires less computing power than conventional finite-element modeling tools. "The [three-dimensional] printing doesn't have to be so precise, so we developed our own structural analysis program that doesn't pay significant attention to really high precision," Benes says.
Project Gives Computers a More Powerful Way to Detect Threats
UT Dallas News (09/19/12) LaKisha Ladson
University of Texas (UT) at Dallas researchers have developed "space travel," a technique that automatically enables one computer in a virtual network to monitor another for intrusions, viruses, or other malicious programs. The researchers say space travel bridges the gap between computer hardware and software systems. "Space travel might change the daily practice for many services offered virtually for cloud providers and data centers today, and as this technology becomes more popular in a few years, for the user at home on their desktops," says UT Dallas professor Zhiqiang Lin. The researchers programmed space travel to use existing code to gather information in a computer's memory and automatically transfer it to a secure virtual machine. "Using this machine, then the user or antivirus software can understand what’s happening, with the space traveled computer setting off red flags if there is any intrusion," Lin says. The researchers say space travel also could help the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation determine what is happening inside a suspect's computer even if they are physically far away. University of Michigan professor Peter Chen says the researchers "have developed an interesting way to take existing code from a trusted system and automatically use it to detect intrusions."
Walk This Way
National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom) (09/19/12) Tony Mansfield
The United Kingdom's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has developed a system that can track individuals based on the specific way they walk. NPL combined a computer model of the lab's building with feeds from closed-circuit TV cameras placed around the site. The system records a person's gait signature, checks to see where else that person has been in the building, and displays the results in a computer model. NPL used computer-aided design to create a virtual model of a monitored area, which included gait-recognition points linked with live video feeds from cameras monitoring the physical space. Each recognition point records a gait signature when an individual passes by them, and the signature separates a fixed background and moving subject during the natural cycle of walking to form silhouettes. The system measures the rise and fall of head height between each silhouette, and the pattern can be represented by a set of numbers. Standards for gait recognition can help sustain and develop critical security infrastructure, including coded access to buildings and monitoring security threats. The walking gait recognition system could help monitor airports and other high-security environments.
Cyber Security Competition Pushes Students to Test Security Mettle
THE Journal (09/19/12) Dian Schaffhauser
Cybersecurity students from around the world will test their skill in multiple activities in November during the Cyber Security Awareness Week, hosted by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. The competitions include the Kaspersky Lab North American Cup, which will have students write a paper on emerging threats, cloud security, corporate infrastructure security, raising security awareness, and related topics, and the best entrants will earn the authors cash awards and prizes. AT&T is hosting a similar contest that will focus on the application of security technology, implementation of systems, and lessons learned. In the Capture the Flag event, competitors will attack vulnerable applications and solve offensive challenges, and a forensics challenge will be the focus of a high school competition. The Department of Homeland Security Quiz and the Adobe Security Awareness Video Challenge are open to all students, from high school to graduate school. Although the events are free, participants must pre-register and submit their initial work in October. Finalists in events that involve papers may be asked to prepare a presentation for the three-day conference.
Reality Checker: How to Cut Nonsense From the Net
New Scientist (09/19/12) Jim Giles
Several organizations are developing technologies that can prevent falsehoods from spreading on the Internet. The tools are designed to flag errors in online content before they spread to a mass audience. For example, one organization has developed PolitiFact, a program that pays journalists to analyze 35 political statements a week, awarding each a Truth-o-Meter rating from "true" to "pants-on-fire." FactSpreaders aims to integrate PolitiFact's checks into Twitter. Meanwhile, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed TruthGoggles, a browser extension that alerts users when they come across questionable statements on the Internet. Another tool is called Hypothes.is, software that allows for the annotation of almost any assertion online. Hypothes.is also includes a browser extension that enables users to place layers of annotations onto a Web page. Hypothes.is will begin by focusing on a specific type of content, such as legislative documents or scientific papers. The tool involves a sophisticated ranking system that prioritizes insightful annotations.
Imec Demonstrates Electronics That Flex and Stretch Like Skin
IMEC (09/18/12) Hanne Degans
The University of Ghent's IMEC lab recently integrated an ultra-thin, flexible chip with bendable and stretchable interconnects into a package that can adapt to bending surfaces. As part of a recent demonstration of the technology, the researchers significantly thinned a commercially available microcontroller while preserving the electrical performance and functionality. This die was then embedded in a slim polyimide package and the ultrathin chip was integrated with stretchable electrical wiring. Then the package was embedded in an elastomeric substrate where the conductors act as two-dimensional springs, enabling greater flexibility while preserving conductivity. "Future electronic circuitry will stretch and bend like rubber or skin while preserving its conductivity," predicts IMEC researcher Jan Vanfleteren. "This breakthrough achievement demonstrates that flexible ultra-thin chip packages can be integrated with stretchable wiring, paving the way toward fully flexible applications."
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