Welcome to the November 30, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
General Electric Pitches an Industrial Internet
Technology Review (11/28/12) Jessica Leber
General Electric's (GE's) Research and Development division has coined the phrase industrial Internet, reflecting the company's hope that adding more sensors to machinery will result in a massive amount of data that will lead to greater efficiency out of industrial equipment. GE is investing $1.5 billion over three years to support research and development of a future industrial Internet. Most conventional sensors are still use reactively, measuring data such as temperature, pressure, and voltage. However, with products such as GE's GEnX engines, which will be used on the Boeing 757, the goal is to retain all the original readings from every flight, and transmit them from an airplane in real time, says GE researcher Anil Varma. GE researchers also are developing new user interfaces that can help visualize industrial data using maps, simulations, and Twitter-like social networks for equipment. Additionally, GE is working with New York City's Mount Sinai Medical Center to develop sensors and transmitters for hospital beds and equipment to keep track of which are in use. GE recently released a report estimating that a 1 percent gain in fuel efficiency could be worth $2 billion a year to the aviation industry and $4 billion a year to the power industry.
Java Inventor James Gosling Building Smart Marine Robots
Network World (11/27/12) Ellen Messmer
Java inventor James Gosling is using Java's security framework to design marine robots that can be sent across the ocean to gather weather data or carry out research projects. "I'm using all the crypto [application programming interfaces (APIs)] and the sandbox APIs and the Java DE [development environment] and NetBeans," Gosling says. He is helping design underwater robots that use satellite-based remote controls, as well as cellular signals when close to shore to cross the seas, sometimes for months at a time, to perform tasks such as the collection of weather data or the monitoring of pollution levels. One of the robots is being designed to be more aware about its environment so it can navigate more on its own without remote control or preprogramming. Gosling also notes that work is underway to optimize communications since satellite use can be costly and bandwidth-intensive. "It's all Java code, a new generation of robots that's all Java on the inside," he says. Although the original Java programming language has expanded its security structure over the years, it adheres to its basic principle of the security sandbox set of rules to battle hostile code and offer solutions to implement public-key infrastructure, authentication, and access control mechanisms.
Proving Quantum Computers Feasible
MIT News (11/27/12) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers say they have proven that even in simple spin chains, the degree of entanglement scales with the length of the chain, offering strong evidence that relatively simple quantum systems can offer substantial computational resources. The researchers showed that unbounded entanglement is possible in chains of particles with just up, down, and no spin states. Systems of such particles should be much easier to build than those whose particles have more spin states. The researchers showed that any chain with a net energy of zero could be converted into any other through a small number of energy-preserving substitutions, which proves that entanglement increases without bound in chains of three-spin particles. "It's been known that if the particles can have constant but rather high dimension, the entanglement can be pretty high," says University of California, Irvine professor Sandy Irani. "But the requirement is that these little particles have something like dimension 14, 15, 16." Irani says the MIT researchers "have shown that if you just step up from two to three, the entanglement can actually grow with the number of particles."
Privacy Professor to Try to Break Do Not Track Logjam
CNet (11/27/12) Stephen Shankland
Ohio State University professor and new World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) co-chair Peter Swire is attempting to create a standard way to let users stop Web sites from tracking their online behavior. As former W3C co-chair Aleecia M. McDonald recently stepped down as co-chair of the Do Not Track (DNT) standardization effort to join Stanford University's Center for Internet and Society, Swire's involvement is viewed as an attempt to save the DNT process. One major issue is whether DNT should be enabled by default in browsers. In a recent testimony before the Senate about DNT, Swire opposed the Digital Advertising Alliance's request for an exception to DNT restrictions involving market research or product development. "These exceptions are so open-ended that I have not been able to discern any limits on collection under them," Swire says. Calls for industry self-regulation are only effective when a real threat of governmental regulation motivates meaningful change, Swire notes. "I personally would not like to have an Internet where I believed that each moment of my browsing might easily be breached and shown to the entire world," he says.
Latin Americans Surge Into High-Tech Fields
National Journal (11/27/12) Rosa Ramirez
Silicon Valley is starting to attract a new wave of entrepreneurs from Latin America who have launched startups offering everything from digital wallets to video games for mobile phones. A recent article in Slate credits Argentine native Wenceslao Casares for bringing attention to the technology innovations in the region. Casares persuaded the former director of PayPal to take investors and startup executives on invite-only tours through Latin America. Immigrants lead 52.4 percent of high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, according to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation, but Chinese and Indian immigrants have historically led the way. Many Latin American innovators serve as a bridge between their native homeland and the United States. For example, the startup Interesante is a Pinterest-inspired social network. Singularity University's Vivek Wadhwa believes Brazil, with its nascent high-tech incubators, will produce the next Mark Zuckerberg. Meanwhile, CODE2040 has launched a pilot program offering summer internships with hopes of boosting the number of Latinos and blacks in Silicon Valley.
Keystroke-Logger Checks Your Identity as You Type
New Scientist (11/25/12) Hal Hodson
The telltale timing gaps between the letters typed by computer users could be used to continually secure computers, say Christopher Newport University's David Hibler and colleagues. The researchers presented their biometric authentication system at the recent Complex Adaptive Systems conference. The researchers designed software to use the average time between keystrokes to identify an individual. Called URIEL, the software learns a user's typing style by measuring the time between key presses over 10 areas of the keyboard as a user types, based on the way the user types words from a specific piece of poetry. In trials, URIEL did not allow access to a computer to the wrong person, but it did prevent a legitimate user from gaining access to a computer 17 percent of the time.
Fast Forward to the Past: NASA Technologists Test 'Game-Changing' Data-Processing Technology
NASA News (11/27/12) Lori Keesey
U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researchers believe an old computing technology could revolutionize everything from autonomous rendezvous and docking to remotely correcting wavefront errors on large, deployable space telescope mirrors. The technology is an analog-based microchip developed with support from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The microchip can accept inputs and calculate outputs that are between 0 and 1, directly representing probabilities, or levels of certainty. "The technology is fundamentally different from standard digital-signal processing, recognizing values between 0 and 1 to accomplish what would otherwise be cost prohibitive or impossible with traditional digital circuits," says NASA's Jonathan Pellish. The processor uses electronic signals to represent probabilities instead of binary 1s and 0s, which enables it to perform calculations more efficiently, with fewer circuits and less power than a digital processor. Pellish says the technology is ideal for computing fast Fourier transforms, especially the discrete Fourier transform, which is often used in digital-signal processing. The researchers will use the technology to assemble several custom circuitboards. "We’ll take the hardware and see what it can do with our data and applications," Pellish says.
Free Program Launched to Encourage Women to Code
V3.co.uk (11/27/12) Rosalie Marshall
Entrepreneur First will offer a free program next summer in the United Kingdom that will teach women how to code. The goal of the program, Code First: Girls, is to get female graduates to think more about becoming tech entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur First is a nonprofit organization that assists U.K. graduates in launching tech startups. About 30 women will participate in the first course, receiving four hours tuition a week, including in-person lectures and tutorials. They will be assigned a female mentor from the industry who will provide support and guidance. The nonprofit says it decided to launch the program because its Entrepreneur First initiative has attracted only a few female participants. "We have met women on campuses and often one of the things holding them back from starting up a business is a lack of tech skills," says Entrepreneur First's Alice Bentinck. "We want to show women that even if they graduate with an arts subject, they can still pick up coding fairly easily."
Ohio Women Prove that Tech Jobs Aren't Just for Men
Columbus Dispatch (OH) (11/26/12) Kevin Joy
Although nearly all women have adopted state-of-the-art technological gadgets and shown social-media savvy, they still only make up a fraction of U.S. computer science majors. From 2000 to 2010, the number of women earning computer science bachelor's degrees fell from 28 percent to 17.3 percent, according to the Computing Research Association. "The awareness is there, but making cultural shifts is hard," says Ohio State University (OSU) researcher Bettina Bair. As the demand for technology-oriented employees continues to rise, the opportunities are especially plentiful for those with skills gained from dual majors in a wide range of areas, Bair notes. "Programming builds a great foundation to move into other fields--analytics, the opportunity to look at leading teams, design," says Cardinal Health programmer Kimberly Kell. The OSU chapter of the ACM-W aims to boost mentoring and involvement for young students. In 2009, Olde Towne East-based Web designer Jen Myers founded a chapter of Girl Develop It, which is part of an international nonprofit that facilitates networking and hands-on instruction.
USTAR's New Virtual Hair 'Do'
Utah Pulse (11/25/12) Amie Parker
University of Utah professor and Utah Science Technology and Research initiative researcher Cem Yuksel is developing new video game and virtual environment technology, focusing on modeling physical systems and real-time and offline rendering techniques. "I focus on the elements of a real world phenomenon, such as the motion of water, and research and develop how you can recreate it in a virtual environment," Yuksel says. He has developed Hair Farm, a computer software plugin for 3ds Max, a three-dimensional modeling, animation, and rendering software package used by game developers and visual effects artists. The software helps create the geometric characteristics of hair, the complexity of light within the hair, and how the hair moves. The new method involves hair meshing, which helps model hair using a process similar to that used in modeling polygonal surfaces. "Most hair animation is time consuming, so it is all about how to simulate simplified physics in an efficient way and then creating an algorithm to generate high-quality results," Yuksel says. His most recent project involves teaching a computer how to knit a sweater or scarf in an efficient manner.
Star Trek Classroom: The Next Generation of School Desks
Durham University (UK) (11/23/12)
Durham University researchers are developing NumberNet, a multi-touch, multi-user classroom desk that can boost students' math skills. The desk has shown that collaborative learning increases both fluency and flexibility in math, and that using an interactive smart desk can have benefits over doing math on paper. The researchers found that 45 percent of students who used NumberNet increased in the number of unique mathematical expressions they created after using NumberNet, compared to 16 percent of students in the traditional paper-based activity. The Durham researchers designed software and desks that recognize multiple touches on the desktop using vision systems that see infrared light. The technology allows all students to participate instead of one individual dominating the lesson. The system includes a live feed of the desks that goes directly to the teacher, who can intervene if one student is struggling while allowing the group work to continue. "Technology like this has enormous potential for teaching as it can help the teacher to manage and to orchestrate the learning of individuals and groups of learners to ensure they are both challenged and supported so that they can learn effectively," says Durham professor Steve Higgins.
Homeless Health Check Prototype to Be Launched
Lancaster University (11/22/12)
Lancaster University researchers have developed the Personal Appointment Ticketing (PAT) service, a prototype device that allows homeless people to easily keep track of appointments with doctors and social workers using a wristband or plastic card. The system is currently being tested by case workers and service users from Signposts, a charity that supports homeless groups. The prototype was developed through an eight-month research project called Patchworks, which is part of a 1.9 million pound Sterling Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council project called Catalyst. "Unlike other projects of this kind, Patchworks depends on the imaginations, experiences, design and manufacturing skills of homeless communities themselves," says Lancaster researcher Rod Dillon. "We are not telling people what we can do for them, we are asking what they need and working with them to create it. " The goal is for the new tool to help users make more appointments because they have access to a different type of reminder system.
The Future of Computer Science: An Interview With Ken Calvert and Jim Griffioen
University of Kentucky News (11/19/12) Kel Hahn
Ken Calvert, chair of the University of Kentucky Computer Science Department, and Laboratory for Advanced Networking director Jim Griffioen say the greatest opportunities for computer science over the next several years reside in cloud computing, which brings with it computing power centralization. They note the cloud computing model also aligns well with virtualization and growing mobility in society, creating a need to develop technology that maximizes cloud benefits. The shrinking price of hardware will make software paramount, but this raises issues about information control and security. "We need to maximize the benefits of virtualization without the Big Brother risks," Calvert cautions. Griffioen sees positive development in industry's acknowledgment that software security is not an afterthought, while Calvert says there should be more collaboration between computer science and psychology experts so that systems are securely designed and users are educated on the impact of each data decision they make. Calvert contends that Moore's Law is still relevant, but it now yields advantages in terms of parallelism rather than faster sequential computation. Griffioen says there must be more educational focus on parallelism to accommodate this trend. Calvert concludes that it is educators' job to teach basic computing principles and let students adapt to the rate of technological change.
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