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Welcome to the December 26, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Cloud-Powered GPS Chip Slashes Smartphone Power Consumption
Technology Review (12/24/12) Kate Greene

Microsoft researchers have developed Cultivating the Long tail in Environmental Observations (CLEO), a cloud-based global positioning system that collects only a few milliseconds of the most important information from satellites, thereby dramatically reducing the power consumption of smartphones. Microsoft's GPS system collects data that is then combined with other information from online public databases, such as satellite trajectories and Earth elevation values, to calculate the device's past locations. However, the data fusion and location calculations happen on a remote server, which reduces the smartphone's power consumption. The researchers say CLEO can perform continuous GPS sensing for a year and a half efficiently enough to be sustained by just two AA batteries. CLEO was originally designed for an animal-tracking system that can acquire movement data over time. However, the approach also can be integrated into an Internet-capable device, saving power and time when GPS is in use, says Microsoft's Jie Liu. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, and the University of Southern California also are developing signal processing and other engineering strategies to make GPS-based location services faster and more energy efficient.


China Set to Surpass U.S. in R&D Spending in 10 Years
Computerworld (12/24/12) Patrick Thibodeau

If current trends hold steady, China will overtake the U.S. in spending on research and development in about 10 years, as federal R&D spending either declines or remains flat, according to Battelle's 2013 Global R&D Funding Forecast. U.S. federal and private sector R&D investment is expected to reach $424 billion in 2013, a 1.2 percent increase over 2012. China's overall R&D spending is projected to be $220 billion in 2013, an 11.6 percent increase over 2012. "China's investment as a percentage of its GDP shows continuing, deliberate growth that, if it continues, should surpass the roughly flat United States investment within a decade," says the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. In addition to China, other emerging economies are increasing their R&D spending. For example, India will invest about $45 billion in R&D in 2013, a 12 percent increase over 2012. However, given the U.S.'s budget issues, Congress is unlikely to boost R&D spending. "The fiscal climate right now is just not conducive to growth in federal research investments," says the Computing Research Association's Peter Harsha. "That's a disturbing trend, especially given the growing research capacity of our global economic competitors."


Revealed: NSA Targeting Domestic Computer Systems in Secret Test
CNet (12/23/12) Declan McCullagh

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has launched Perfect Citizen, a program to find security vulnerabilities in the computerized systems that control utilities. The research could be used to defend the U.S. against cyberattacks or to disrupt the infrastructure of other nations. Perfect Citizen conducts vulnerability exploration and research against the computerized controllers that operate large-scale utilities, including power grids and natural gas pipelines, according to recently released documents. U.S. officials for years have warned about the vulnerability of the electrical grid to cyberattacks. "I know what we [the U.S.] can do and therefore I am extraordinarily concerned about the cybercapabilities of other nations," says chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. The Perfect Citizen program focuses on sensitive control systems (SCS), which automate infrastructure processes. NSA's surveillance of SCS relies on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyberattack, according to a 2010 Wall Street Journal article. "Sabotage or disruption of these industries can have wide-ranging negative effects including loss of life, economic damage, property destruction, or environmental pollution," according to a recent NSA report.


China Makes Its Own 22-nm Transistor
EE Times (12/21/12) Peter Clarke

The Institute of Microelectronics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IMECAS) has built a high-K metal-gate MOSFET with a gate length of 22 nanometers. Xinhua reports IMECAS as saying the home-designed and built device shows "world-class performance and low power dissipation." IMECAS also notes that its 22-nm IC technology would save China money in importing foreign chips or process technology and boost China-made IC's competitiveness. Leading-edge 22/20-nm process technology has the ability to reduce power consumption of smartphones and tablet computers, and provide longer battery life. The construction of a 22-nm transistor puts China's internally developed technology two to four years behind the West. CoCom export regulations and the follow-on Wassennaar Arrangement prevented China from gaining access to leading-edge electronic manufacturing technology from external sources for many years. However, through a combination of licensing of external processes and self-education, China has been gradually catching up in recent years.
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All Systems Go for Highest Altitude Supercomputer
European Southern Observatory (12/21/2012) Douglas Pierce-Price

The U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory has installed and tested the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile. The special-purpose ALMA correlator has more than 134 million processors and performs up to 17 quadrillion operations per second. The European Southern Observatory served as the European partner in the ALMA project, providing a new and versatile digital filtering system allowing ALMA to see wavelengths of light that are 32 times more finely split than the initial design. “This vastly improved flexibility is fantastic; it lets us ‘slice and dice’ the spectrum of light that ALMA sees, so we can concentrate on the precise wavelengths needed for a given observation, whether it’s mapping the gas molecules in a star-forming cloud, or searching for some of the most distant galaxies in the universe,” says University of Bordeaux researcher Alain Baudry. The correlator is housed at the ALMA Array Operations Site Technical Building about 5,000 meters above sea level. At this altitude, the air is so thin that twice the normal airflow is necessary to cool the machine. Additionally, the region has common seismic activity, so the correlator was designed to withstand the vibrations associated with earthquakes. The ALMA system is set to be inaugurated in March 2013.


DRDO to Develop OS to Strengthen Cyber Security
The Times of India (12/20/12)

India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is working with other top institutes to develop an Indian operating system (OS). Speaking on the sidelines of NAVCOM-2012, the two-day International Conference on Navigation and Communication in Hyderabad, DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat said an Indian OS would enable India to have a robust cybersecurity system in place. The DRDO director-general said that India needs to have its own OS, rather than imported ones based on Windows or Linux, which are more vulnerable to malicious elements. The DRDO is about a year and a half into the project, and it will likely take another three years to get the Indian OS ready. "It is our Indian effort ... we are not having any foreign involvement in this," Saraswat said. He also spoke at the event, saying cybersecurity networking was important today because everything is network-centric and based on information technology.


Proving the Need for Quantum Computers
ABC Science Online (Australia) (12/21/12) Anna Salleh

University of Queensland researchers are searching for problems that prove quantum computers are really necessary. “Quantum computers generate so much excitement because they allow one to solve problems that you couldn't do efficiently using a conventional computer,” says Queensland's Matthew Broome. The researchers aim to prove the need for quantum computers by finding a problem that can be mathematically proven to be unsolvable by classical computers. One candidate for the proof is the boson sampling problem, which involves sending a number of single photons through a complex photonic network, and working out which outputs the photons exit. The researchers calculate that if 20 to 30 photons were put into the system, a classical supercomputer would have difficulty solving the problem. If an experimental proof verified this theory then the boson sampling problem could be used to prove the need for a quantum computer. The researchers built a boson sampling computer especially designed to solve the problem. They then sent three photons through six fiber-optic inputs to the computer, a system designed to be modeled and solved on a classical computer. Both the classical computer and boson sampling computer produced the same result; trying to solve the problem at a larger scale is the next step.


European Researchers Develop Techniques to Design More Robust Memory Chips
Polytechnic University of Catalonia (12/20/12)

The Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) is leading a European project to develop techniques to overcome the dramatic statistical variability in tera-scale embedded memories. The impact of the statistical variability slows supply voltage scaling, especially for SRAM and DRAM memories, and threatens the continuation of area scaling that helps drive integration targets for systems on chip. In investigating countermeasures, the Tera-scale Reliable Adaptive Memory Systems (TRAMS) project reports that runtime adaptability has been granted through novel two-level mechanisms, with the first level consisting of sensors placed within the memory, and the second level reconfiguring dynamically the memories based on the sensor data in order to meet the performance and power targets. The UPC researchers have proposed original memory variability-aware proactive adaptable structures. "Our implementation on memory circuits show that we can tolerate variability effects enlarging the life of the memory more than 400 percent," they say. The researchers also have investigated advanced fault-tolerating architectures. They say their research demonstrates the counterintuitive principle that it is possible to improve reliability by introducing forced noise in the input lines of the architecture.


IT Workforce Can't Meet Demand for Cloud Skills
CIO (12/19/12) Rich Hein

The information technology (IT) market is projected to grow as much as 2.7 percent through 2020, with most of the growth coming from cloud-related technologies. The demand for cloud computing skills will grow at six times the rate of IT skills overall, according to a recent IDC study. Finding employees with the right combination of cloud skills will be the primary IT challenge for companies in the near future. “Cloud-ready jobs are increasing as we head into 2013, but with this increase comes the harsh reality that workforces around the world are steps behind when it comes to attaining the skills necessary to thrive in the cloud computing industry,” says IDC's Cushing Anderson. Cloud jobs will most likely go unfilled because of a lack of training, a lack of certification, and a lack of experience among the potential employees, the IDC study says. Microsoft hopes to address the issue of cloud training by making changes in its certification programs for the cloud, including the upcoming certifications in Windows 8. Microsoft also recently launched the Microsoft Virtual Academy, which allows IT professionals to participate in free self-paced training resources. The Microsoft IT Academy also aims to prepare middle school, high school, and college students for careers in the future IT cloud environment.


Nanoscale Memory Device Uses Freely Moving Mechanical Shuttle to Improve Performance
A*STAR Research (12/19/12)

A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics researchers have designed a memory device that uses a loose and moving part to enhance performance. The loose part is a metal disk, or shuttle, that lies inside a roughly cylindrical metal cage, and adhesive forces between the disk and its metal cage determine its position. When the disk is stuck to the top of the cage, it completes an electrical circuit between two electrodes, causing current to flow. When the disk is at the bottom of the cage, the circuit is broken and no current flows. The disk is moved from top to bottom by applying voltage to a gate underneath the cage. The researchers use this binary system to encode digital information, and they found that high temperatures should actually increase the duration of data retention by softening the metal that makes up the shuttle memory's disk and cage, thereby strengthening adhesion. The shuttle system also takes up less area than other designs, and should not result in the mechanical fatigue associated with systems that use components that need to bend and flex. During simulations, the researchers found that the shuttle memory should be able to switch at speeds in excess of 1 megahertz.


Small, Portable Sensors Allow Users to Monitor Exposure to Pollution on Their Smartphones
UCSD News (CA) (12/18/12) Ioana Patringenaru

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have developed CitiSense, a network of portable pollution sensors that enable users to monitor air quality in real time on their smartphones. Data from the sensors can be used to estimate air quality throughout the area where the devices are deployed. The CitiSense sensors detect ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and the user interface displays the sensors’ readings on a smartphone by using a color-coded scale for air quality based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality ratings. In the future, the CitiSense sensors could be built into smartphones, says UCSD professor Charles Elkan. The researchers found that users were sharing CitiSense's information with family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. The researchers now want to build and deploy a wireless network in which hundreds of small environmental sensors carried by the public rely on cell phones to shuttle information to central computers, where it will be analyzed, anonymized, and delivered to individuals, public health agencies, and the community at large.


New Mobile App to Keep Us Safe
Swinburne University of Technology (Australia) (12/18/12) Shelley Markham

Smartphone users will be able to let their family and friends know they are safe with iStaySafe, an app developed by Swinburne University of Technology lecturers James Marshall and Bill Trikojus. By clicking a button, the app sends a picture of the smartphone user as well as a map showing their global positioning system location. Users can program the app to send automatic check-in reminder messages at set times, via email and short messaging services. The app also includes a feature that will enable users to send alerts during an emergency, and friends, family, and emergency workers will be able to track the location of the smartphone for the next 24 hours. The developers say the app could be used by teenagers, carers of people with disabilities, the elderly who live alone, long-distance travelers, and women who travel late at night. The disappearance and murder of an Australian woman prompted Marshall and Trikojus to fast-track the development of iStaySafe.


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