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Welcome to the February 4, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Tech, Telecom Giants Take Sides as FCC Proposes Large Public WiFi Networks
Washington Post (02/03/13) Cecilia Kang

The U.S. Federal Communications Committee (FCC) recently submitted a proposal to create super Wi-Fi networks across the country that would enable users to make calls or surf the Internet for free. Although the wireless industry has launched a strong lobbying effort to convince policymakers to reconsider the idea, companies such as Google and Microsoft are campaigning for the proposal, saying that it will spark an explosion of innovations that will benefit most Americans. “For a casual user of the Web, perhaps this could replace carrier service,” says analyst Jeffrey Silva. “Because it is more plentiful and there is no price tag, it could have a real appeal to some people.” The airwaves the FCC wants to use for the public Wi-Fi networks would be much more powerful than conventional Wi-Fi networks, but because the major wireless carriers own much more spectrum, their networks would still be much more robust. It also would take several years to set up. "Freeing up unlicensed spectrum is a vibrantly free-market approach that offers low barriers to entry to innovators developing the technologies of the future and benefits consumers," says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.


David Gelernter: Bring on the 'Stream Browser'
CNet (02/03/13) Jonathan Skillings

In the 1990s, Yale University professor David Gelernter predicted a "lifestream" phenomenon on the Internet, which has manifested itself in today's RSS feeds, blogs, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds. Gelernter recently predicted the end of current Web and search technology as the focus shifts from a space-based Web to a time-based "worldstream." "By adding together every timestream on the net--including the private lifestreams that are just beginning to emerge--into a single flood of data, we get the worldstream: a way to picture the cybersphere as a whole," Gelernter says. Since millions of separate lifestreams will exist in the future cybersphere, basic software will become the stream browser, which will be similar to today's browsers, but designed to add, subtract, and navigate streams, according to Gelernter. He says the main function of the stream browser will be to help users tune into information. Gelernter notes the millions of Web streams will need to "share the same interface for the stream browser to draw on."


Toward Practical Compressed Sensing
MIT News (02/01/13) Larry Hardesty

Compressed sensing can significantly cut the expense and power consumption of imaging- and signal-processing applications, and research in this area has flourished over the past decade. Aiming to increase the commercial potential of compressed sensing, researchers at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) developed a mathematical framework to evaluate compressed-sensing schemes that factor in the real-world performance of hardware components. Four RLE members applied the methodology to spectrum sensing, in which wireless devices scan airwaves for unused frequencies to increase data rates, and to wireless sensor data transmission from electrocardiogram (EKG) leads to wired base stations. The spectrum-sensing application offered minimal power savings, but the wireless-sensor application cut power consumption by battery-powered wireless leads by 90 percent. The difference in power savings stems from the signal used, which in wireless sensing alternates between high and low values in a random pattern, whereas in spectrum sensing the input signal frequency is so high that power savings are consumed when it mingles with a second signal. However, spectrum sensing still has commercial potential, and MIT is working on a chip that will use an algorithm called the sparse Fast Fourier Transform to change the signal to improve resolution and power savings in compressed-sensing systems.


U.S. Weighs Tougher Action Over China Cyberattacks
Associated Press (02/01/13) Lolita C. Baldor; Bradley Klapper; Michael Lietdke

The Obama administration is mulling a range of options to address persistent Chinese cyberattacks, according to officials. Two former U.S. officials say the administration is readying a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that will characterize the cyberthreat, especially from China, as a growing economic danger. One official says the NIE also will point to the Chinese government as a major orchestrator of cyberespionage. The official also says the estimate will highlight the administration's worries about that threat, and place greater emphasis on plans for narrower diplomatic and trade sanctions against China's government. Actions could include threats to invalidate certain visas or subject major purchases of Chinese goods to national security reviews. “We have to begin making it clear to the Chinese that the United States is going to have to take action to protect not only our government’s, but our private sector, from this kind of illegal intrusions,” says outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She stresses the need for the U.S. to build a global anti-cyberthreat alliance, and notes the country is working on various measures “in the event that we don’t get some kind of international effort under way.”


Holograms Seen as Tools to Teach Future Generations About Holocaust, Retell Survivors’ Stories
Washington Post (02/02/13) John Rogers

University of Southern California (USC) Shoah Foundation researchers are working on the New Dimensions in Testimony project, which involves developing three-dimensional holograms of nearly a dozen people who survived Nazi Germany's concentration camps. The goal is for the survivors to live on in perpetuity, telling future generations about the horror they witnessed and offering thoughts on how to avoid repeating the tragedy. As early as next year, visitors at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. could have the chance to talk face-to-face with a three-dimensional hologram of a holocaust survivor. "Within the next decade or so there won’t be many survivors alive anywhere in the world," notes Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Marvin Hier. The USC researchers are developing voice-recognition software so the holograms will be able to tell their stories and recognize questions and answer them succinctly. In the future, holograms could be used to teach classes and provide expert opinion on subjects when real people are unavailable, says USC professor Paul Debevec.


Finding More STEM Students
Inside Higher Ed (02/01/13) Alexandra Tilsley

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has announced Next Generation Connecticut, a plan to dedicate $1.5 billion to improving the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs at the University of Connecticut. The money will be used to hire more faculty members, enroll more students, build new STEM facilities and dorms, and create new doctoral fellowships and STEM honors program. If the plan passes the state legislature, it would increase the number of engineering undergraduates enrolled at the university by 70 percent and the number of STEM graduates by 47 percent. The program is based on the assumption that future jobs will be primarily in technology- and science-based fields. Texas A&M University has launched a similar program, the 25 by 25 initiative, which aims to increase engineering enrollment at the university to 25,000 by 2025; the university's School of Engineering will fund the program's gradual expansion with the extra money that growing enrollment generates. Instead of recruiting potential engineering students from other states, Texas A&M's program intends to create and nurture those students who are already enrolled.


Software Predicts Tomorrow’s News by Analyzing Today’s and Yesterday’s
Technology Review (02/01/13) Tom Simonite

Researchers at Microsoft and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed software that predicts when and where disease outbreaks might occur, based on 22 years of New York Times articles and other online data. Microsoft's Eric Horvitz says the system could help aid organizations be more proactive in fighting epidemics or other problems. In tests involving forecasts of diseases, violence, and significant numbers of deaths, the system's warnings were correct 70-90 percent of the time. The performance is good enough to suggest that a more refined version could be used in real settings, for example, to assist experts at government aid agencies involved in planning humanitarian response and readiness, Horvitz notes. "One source we found useful was DBpedia, which is a structured form of the information inside Wikipedia constructed using crowdsourcing,” says Technion-Israel researcher Kira Radinsky. “We can understand, or see, the location of the places in the news articles, how much money people earn there, and even information about politics." The information used to create the predictions provides context that is not available in news articles, and which is necessary to determine the general rules for which events precede others.


The Ecological Badminton Robot
Youris.com (01/29/13) Hannah Schmidt

Researchers at the Flanders' Mechatronics Technology Center have developed software for conducting an energy efficiency analysis of mechatronic systems and optimizing energy efficiency in machine design. The researchers have tested the software on the first robot ever to play badminton. Researcher Wim Symens reports that his team was able to identify areas where most energy was being wasted and make changes that reduced energy consumption by 50 percent. Symens says that this type of energy efficiency analysis is of interest to industry. For example, PICANOL adapted the software to its weaving machine production line and was able to reduce energy consumption 10-15 percent. The researchers say the software also could help engineers in other industries, and they could use the tool even before machines are built by performing a virtual analysis at an early stage. "You can even simulate strange conditions; very fast or very high temperatures," says consultant Tom Boermans. "In real life, those tests are very expensive."


New Semiconductor Research May Extend Integrated Circuit Battery Life Tenfold
RIT News (01/23/13) Michelle Cometa

A tunneling field effect transistor is the key to a breakthrough in reducing power in integrated circuits. Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), SEMATECH, and Texas State University used a process to build and test vertical Esaki tunnel diodes smaller than 120 nanometers in diameter. The team measured hundreds of diodes per sample, and was able to experimentally observe currents much larger than previously reported tunneling currents. The researchers used the Esaki tunnel diodes to create a map showing output tunnel currents for a given set of material systems and parameters, and for the first time established a single reference for comparing results from the micro- to the mega-ampere range. The team reports that its methods can extend battery life up to 10 times longer for mobile applications compared to conventional transistors. "The tunneling field effect transistors have not yet demonstrated a sufficiently large drive current to make it a practical replacement for current transistor technology, but this work conclusively established the largest tunneling current ever experimentally demonstrated, answering a key question about the viability of tunneling field effect transistor technology," says RIT professor Sean Rommel.


University of Twente Researchers Find Faults in IT Systems
University of Twente (Netherlands) (01/31/13) Janneke van den Elshout

University of Twente researchers are developing model-checking techniques to help remove the faults from computer systems and make them error-free. Model checking is an advanced mathematical method for checking computer systems. "We want the world to know that we have made great advances in this area, and that the business community, and also the government, can ultimately benefit from our research," says University of Twente professor Arend Rensink. The researchers are developing systems that enable programmers to guarantee the reliability of their software. "If we are always warned in advance of everything that could go wrong, then we can predict the future, so to speak," Rensink says. "That might sound like a very grand claim, but with our research it can be achieved. We then actually have the solution before the problem arises, and that is essential for reliable software.” The researchers have developed a predictive model for all areas in which computers are used, notes University of Twente Ph.D. candidate Eduardo Zambon.


Social Whodunit Competition Launches in India
New Scientist (01/31/13) Jim Giles

Microsoft on February 1 will launch its WhoDunit? Challenge in India to demonstrate how people in developing countries rely on technology to solve time-sensitive problems with geographically remote partners. Participants call a Microsoft number, which in turn sends a text message to the caller containing one of five clues. Only one clue will be sent to each phone, and some clues will be extremely rare, so that participants have to collaborate with an estimated 500 others to solve the problem, for which there is a $2,000 reward. Microsoft is not dictating how participants should share clues, but U.S. competitors in a similar event in 2009 used a Web site and email, neither of which are widely accessible in India, where only 10 percent of the population has Internet access. Social networks centered around work or school are likely methods of collaboration, and Microsoft is interested in learning whether participants turn to strangers as they did in the United States or whether existing social connections predominate. Competitors' methods of sharing information could be employed by local governments in other types of searches, such as for missing persons. "This will demonstrate the power of crowd," says Microsoft's Rajan Vaish.


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