Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the March 25, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


European Computing Network of Excellence Sets Course for the Future
HiPEAC (03/20/13)

The HiPEAC European Network of Excellence recently laid out the direction of computing systems research in Europe as it released its latest computer systems roadmap. The HiPEAC Vision for Advanced Computing in Horizon 2020 roadmap includes analysis, challenges, and recommendations for Horizon 2020, a research and innovation program the European Commission will launch in 2014. Mobile, embedded, and data-center computing are critical strategic areas, and energy consumption, system complexity, and dependability will pose significant challenges, the roadmap says. Succeeding in strategic areas and surmounting challenges will require transcending system and application boundaries, reevaluating hardware and software interfaces, and exploring the effects of technology and application evolution on algorithms and methodologies. “We believe the next-generation of ‘killer applications’ will come from the convergence of mobile and embedded human-centric interface devices and data-center computing,” says HiPEAC network coordinator Koen De Bosschere. “This convergence will enable applications to dynamically redistribute computation and communications, operating at a scale that can handle millions of global users and the processing of enormous data sets. By developing the infrastructure and techniques to develop applications that span these three converging layers of computing, we will all benefit from the available data, interactivity, and compute power.”


Viewing Research Bandwidth Through a New Prism
UCSD News (CA) (03/20/13) Doug Ramsey

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is working on the Prism@UCSD project, which will create a cyberinfrastructure at the La Jolla campus that can transport data that might otherwise bring down the main campus network. The U.S. National Science Foundation has provided $500,000 in funding for researchers in UCSD's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) and San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) to construct the network. Researchers in data-intensive scientific fields such as genomic sequencing and electron microscopy will use the new network to handle huge volumes of data generated by scientific instruments such as sequencers, microscopes, and computing clusters. The Prism Big Data network also will establish a high-capacity "data freeway" to campus, national, and international networks. UCSD holds a large chunk of data for the Large Hadron Collider, for example, and the university's network must be able to transmit terabytes of data without bringing down the regular campus network. "By the time Prism is built out, we will have expanded the SDSC-Calit2 link from 50 to 120 Gbps, and it won’t cost very much to get it to 160 Gbps,” says Prism@UCSD principal investigator Philip Papadopoulos.


China to Create Home-Grown Operating System
BBC News (03/22/13)

The Chinese government is working with Canonical to develop Kylin, an open source operating system customized for Chinese users, which is expected to be available in April. China wants to rely less on Western software, according to many observers. Kylin will be a version of Canonical's Ubuntu operating system, and the first version will be intended for desktop and laptop computers, feature Chinese character sets, reflect the nation's date conventions, and do more to support the way Chinese people interact with computers. Future versions will offer tools for using Chinese Web services and applications directly from Ubuntu's main screen. Canonical engineers and several Chinese research and development agencies will create the code at a laboratory in Beijing. A version of Kylin also will run on servers so websites, online shops, and hosting firms can adopt the software.


How to Find the Right Twitter User in a Crisis
New Scientist (03/22/13) Hal Hodson

Arizona State University researchers have developed a way to find people on Twitter who are tweeting useful information during a crisis. The team analyzed nearly 13 million tweets from several Middle East countries during the Arab Spring in 2011, dividing the tweeters based on their location and what they talked about, with a preference for users closest to breaking news events. The researchers ran an automatic process to discover the main topics of the tweets, then went through them manually to uncover the most relevant to the uprising. People looking to hone their Twitter feed will want to follow tweets about relevant topics from users who are near the action. The most useful tweeters will likely have a smaller number of followers and little influence outside the crisis, writes lead researcher Shamanth Kumar in a paper the researchers will present at the upcoming ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media in Paris.
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Swiss Supercomputer Aims to Predict Mountain Weather With Help of GPUs
IDG News Service (03/20/13) Loek Essers

The Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) is preparing to upgrade its Cray XC30 supercomputer with NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs) to more accurately predict the weather in the mountains of the Swiss Alps. The upgrade will enable the MeteoSwiss national weather service to accurately predict the weather in small valleys that cannot be covered by the current models, says CSCS associate director Thomas Schoenemeyer. Over the course of the year CSCS will extend the computer's current 750 teraflops computing power to reach speeds that will be at least one petaflop. The machine will employ NVIDIA Tesla K20X GPU accelerators to "dramatically expand the breadth and depth of the center's research and discovery in climate and weather modeling," as well as an array of other disciplines, including astrophysics, materials science, and life science, according to NVIDIA. The upgraded supercomputer also will be used to simultaneously run 30 slightly different weather forecasting models to get a more accurate average result, Schoenemeyer says. When the upgrade and expansion are completed, the system will be the first petascale supercomputer in Switzerland and the fastest hybrid GPU-accelerated supercomputer in Europe, Schoenemeyer notes.


Robot Meets World
MIT News (03/21/13) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed a mathematical framework for analyzing the results of a robot's limb striking an object or moving through free space. They say their work could lead to more efficient and reliable robotic-control systems and ensure the stability of control algorithms developed through trial and error as well as new algorithms. A robot's behavior can be expressed with a few equations when limbs move through free space, but equations fall apart when limbs contact an object. To prove a control system's stability for a robot making contact with objects, every possible point of the contact configuration as well as every possible solution of the resulting equations must be determined. The researchers accomplished this by describing opposed possibilities for the state of a robotic system with algebraic expressions. For example, as the foot of a walking robot approaches the ground, either the force exerted by the ground or the distance to the ground is equal to zero. A few equations of this type allowed the researchers to establish boundaries around possible solutions, which do not describe how a robot will behave in any situation, but are sufficient to guarantee stability.


Robots to Spur Economy, Improve Quality of Life, Keep Responders Safe
Georgia Tech News (03/20/13) Liz Klipp

Georgia Tech researchers recently completed a report outlining the progress of robots in multiple industries over the last five years and identifying goals for the coming decade. The report is based on research from more than 160 university, industry, and governmental experts who came together for five workshops over the last year to fully assess the use of robotics across various applications and to create a roadmap for the future. The researchers said using robots in manufacturing could help generate production systems that are economically competitive to outsourcing to countries with lower wages. Manufacturing automation will not lead to job losses for U.S. workers, but will create new high-value jobs, says Georgia Tech professor Henrik Christensen. "Some jobs will be eliminated, but they are the 'dirty, dull, and dangerous' jobs," he says. "Those jobs will be replaced with skilled labor positions." Robots also are helping businesses improve logistics and reduce delivery costs. In addition, they are being used in the agriculture industry to precisely deliver pesticide onto crops, reducing unnecessary exposure of chemicals on produce. "We hope this report will help foster the discussion on how we can build partnerships and allocate resources to move the robotics industry forward," Christensen says.


UW’s IT Academy Expands Statewide to Native American Youth
Wisconsin Technology Network (03/20/13) Joe Vanden Plas

A University of Wisconsin-Madison technology program for area public school students that promotes diversity now plans to expand to disadvantaged Native Americans and partner with organizations such as the Madison Urban League. The University of Wisconsin's Information Technology Academy (ITA) program serves UW-Madison's goal of increasing diversity and expanding educational opportunities for all students. "Diversity is very important for IT leaders as a way of reducing risk and improving the overall strength of the teams we have working together," says UW-Madison's Bruce Maas. ITA provides four years of technology access and training for a diverse mix of students attending Madison-area public schools. Incoming students attend a two-week summer technology training camp at UW-Madison, and those who successfully complete the camp are invited to join the four-year program and receive a desktop computer and printer on loan. The focus is on academic preparation, technological literacy, leadership, and community service, and the time commitment is significant, says ITA's Kyara Moss. “Due to the-ever changing world of IT, what students will be learning in the program the next four years will be even more advanced than what current students are learning,” Moss notes.


Humanoid Robot Helps Train Children With Autism
Research News @ Vanderbuilt (03/20/13) David Salisbury

Vanderbilt University researchers have developed NAO, a system of sensors, computers, and robots designed to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The researchers used the system to demonstrate that robotic systems may be worthwhile tools for enhancing the basic social learning skills of children with ASD. During testing, the researchers found that children with ASD paid more attention to the robot and followed its instructions almost as well as they did those of a human therapist in standard exercises used to develop joint attention skill. "This is the first real-world test of whether intelligent adaptive systems can make an impact on autism," says Vanderbilt professor Zachary Warren. NAO has been programmed with a series of verbal prompts and gestures that imitate those used by human therapists in joint attention training. The researchers tested the relative effectiveness of the robot-based system and human therapists in joint attention training with a dozen children, six with ASD and a control group of six typically developing children. The researchers found that children in both groups spent more time looking at the robot than they spent looking at the human therapist. One of the system's key elements is how it automatically adapts its behavior to each child depending on their responses.


Fewer Women Pursue Jobs in Science Because They Have More Career Options
University of Pittsburgh News (03/19/13) B. Rose Huber

New research examines whether math and verbal ability might play a role in the gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. Working with colleagues at the University of Michigan, a team from the University of Pittsburgh reports that greater career options are more of a factor than less ability in math and science. The researchers examined data from 1,490 college-bound U.S. students drawn from a national longitudinal study, who were surveyed in 12th grade and again at 33 years old, with data on several factors highlighted, such as their SAT score, motivational beliefs and values, and occupation. Students with high verbal abilities--a group that contained more women than men--were less likely to have chosen a STEM occupation than those who had moderate verbal abilities, says Pittsburgh professor Ming-Te Wang. Meanwhile, participants who were more confident in their math abilities were more likely to end up in STEM-related jobs. The findings suggest "educators and policy makers may consider shifting the focus from trying to strengthen girls' STEM-related abilities to trying to tap the potential of these girls who are equally skilled in both mathematics and verbal domains," Wang says.


A Screen at Your Fingertips
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) (03/19/13) James W. Manning

A fingernail-based display could revolutionize the way people use devices such as smartphones. National Taiwan University researchers have developed NailDisplay, a prototype 1-inch organic light-emitting diode screen that attaches to a ring that is worn on the thumb. The researchers eventually hope to coat fingertips in organic light-emitting materials and wirelessly beam content directly to the nail. NailDisplay is designed to enable people to see what is on the screen of their device when their thumbs cover up the display. The fingernail display aids in reading tiny text because it can enlarge an area of the screen as you move your thumb over it. The technology also could create screens for devices that do not have one, such as the iPod Shuffle. The technology includes an accelerometer, which will enable different content to be displayed using different finger gestures.


From Complex Living Systems to Smarter Computers
Center for Genomic Regulation (03/19/13)

The European Commission is funding a project in Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands that will study complex living systems and apply its findings to technological systems, particularly robot swarms. The SWAM-ORGAN project aims to understand systems such as cells creating an organ and technologically replicate their ability to cope with the unexpected. The project focuses on systems containing many simple, autonomous agents that collectively organize themselves into complex spatial arrangements despite each agent having only local awareness. Such agents handle conflict or damage by acting locally in the best interest of the system as a whole. The researchers will investigate gene regulatory networks as a control method for these systems, aiming to develop a theoretical framework about distributed adaptive control. “Although we originally came from the biological questions of embryo development, I’ve been increasingly fascinated by the potential similarities between multicellular organs and robot swarms,” says project coordinator James Sharpe. “The plan is that this project will be equally relevant to both fields, by focusing on the underlying organizational principles.”


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