Welcome to the April 19, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Citizen Surveillance Helps Officials Put Pieces Together
Wall Street Journal (04/17/13) Geoffrey A. Fowler; Joel Schectman
The proliferation of surveillance technology to popular commercial products such as smartphones is proving to be a boon for criminal investigations, as evidenced by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation using video surveillance from department store and restaurant cameras, along with photos from citizens, news organizations, and others, to help identify a suspicious individual at the Boston Marathon. Forrester Research says video surveillance technologies have been adopted by 68 percent of public-sector and 59 percent of private-sector companies, with another 9 percent planning to adopt them in the next two years. Furthermore, more than 1 billion people now own camera-equipped, Web-linked smartphones. Integrating forensic data from professional and personal sources has helped with earlier investigations, although a lack of full-frontal images makes facial recognition problematic in large probes. Moreover, collecting and sifting through the data is a major challenge, as Boston has one of 77 nationwide intelligence fusion centers used to pool data and conduct analysis, notes the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center's Mike Sena. Meanwhile, researchers at Boston's Northeastern University have organized a 10-person social media research team to run a project that would let people upload video from the marathon bombing to tag clues.
Competition Designed to Spread Basic Technologies
New York Times (04/18/13) Eric Pfanner
The World Bank has organized the Sanitation Hackathon, a competition designed to identify promising solutions to address the discrepancy in access to high and low technologies in developing countries. The three winners of the competition are set to be honored on Friday in connection with the annual meetings of the bank and its sister organization, the International Monetary Fund. The hackathon took place over two days in which more than 1,000 developers gathered in 40 cities worldwide to work on their projects. The winners of the hackathon will travel to Silicon Valley for meetings with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who are interested in the issue. "We would love it if Silicon Valley could take some of these applications and build them into sustainable businesses," says the World Bank's Chris Vein. Because six billion of the world's seven billion people have mobile phones, while only 4.5 billion have access to toilets, mobile technology is being used to help address problems in the developing world. For example, one of the hackathon winners developed mSchool, a reporting system that lets teachers, students, or parents report problems with sanitation facilities at any of Senegal's more than 2,000 schools.
Scientists Demonstrate Key Component of Quantum Machine
Computerworld Australia (04/18/13) Byron Connolly
University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers have demonstrated a quantum bit based on the nucleus of a single atom in silicon, a breakthrough they say could lead to the mass production of powerful quantum computers within 10 years. The advance is a significant step forward from the creation of the world's first quantum bit in September 2012. "The previous quantum bit, although demonstrated, didn’t have the accuracy necessary to do reliable calculations; now we have a quantum bit that can do that," says UNSW professor Andrew Dzurak. Having more accurate quantum bits will enable researchers to make more viable quantum machines. "We achieved a read-out fidelity of 99.8 percent, which sets a new benchmark for qubit accuracy in solid-state devices," Dzurak says. The discovery describes how information is stored and retrieved using the magnetic spin of a nucleus. "We have adapted magnetic-resonance technology, commonly known for its application in chemical analysis and MRI scans, to control and read out the nuclear spin of a single atom in real time," says UNSW professor Andrea Morello. "Our nuclear spin qubit...[is] in a silicon chip and can be wired up and operated electrically like normal integrated circuits."
Google’s Vint Cerf Explains How to Make SDN as Successful as the Internet
GigaOm.com (04/16/13) Stacey Higginbotham
Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf believes that software defined networking (SDN) could benefit from some of the Internet's design flaws and lessons learned in creating the Internet. For example, open standards should be implemented, with differentiation stemming from branded versions of standard protocols rather than from patented protocols. Interoperability is essential for stable networks, and that requires standards, notes Cerf. As companies create SDNs, they also should take into account the successful design features of the Internet, including the loose pairing of underlying equipment instead of a heavily integrated solution, the modular approach, and open source technologies. However, he says SDNs can improve on the Internet's traffic routing, which now relies on sending packets to a physical port. Instead of this physical port, the OpenFlow protocol changes the destination address to a table entry, enabling a new type of networking that is better suited to the collaborative Web of the future. Another option could be content-based routing, in which the content of a packet determines its destiny. SDN's basic principal, dividing the control plane and the data plane, should have been incorporated into the Internet's design, Cerf notes. In the future, SDN could improve controlled access to intellectual property to help prevent piracy, and could bring together various existing networks.
Super-Powered Battery Breakthrough Claimed by U.S. Team
BBC News (04/17/13) Leo Kelion
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign say they have developed a battery that could revolutionize the way consumer electronics and vehicles are powered. The researchers used three-dimensional electrodes to build "microbatteries" that are either much smaller than commercially available options or the same size but much more powerful. The batteries also can be recharged 1,000 times faster than conventional technology. The breakthrough involved finding a new way to integrate the anode and cathode of the battery at the microscale. "Because we've reduced the flowing distance of the ions and electrons we can get the energy out much faster," says University of Illinois professor William King. The battery cells were fabricated by creating a lattice made out of tiny polystyrene spheres and then filling the space in and around the structure with metal. Then the spheres are dissolved to leave a 3D-metal scaffold onto which a nickel-tin alloy is added to form the anode, and a mineral called manganese oxyhydroxide to form the cathode. "Today we're making small numbers of these things in a boutique fabrication process, but while that's reliable and we can repeat it we need to be able to make large numbers of these things over large areas," King says.
I School 'Drone Lab' Reimagines Drones' Possibilities
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (04/16/13)
School of Information students at the University of California, Berkeley are experimenting with drones’ capabilities and possible future applications. The students, who refer to their team as the “Drone Lab," are writing open source software for the drones, which they are testing around campus. “Drones have a pretty bad reputation,” says Drone Lab member Dave Lester. “We're interested in the technical capabilities of drones, but also thinking through the socially good things that we can use drones for.” The students are working with the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, a commercially-available quadcopter that comes with both forward- and downward-facing cameras, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a magnetometer, two ultrasound altimeters, a rechargeable battery, and a Linux-based processor. A smartphone app can control the AR.Drone, and users also can install their own software to enable the drone to fly autonomously. The students customize tasks for the drone by uploading specific instructions. The Drone Lab has thought of many potential applications for the drones, such as using it to deliver objects on demand, programming the device to recognize hand gestures and respond, using sensors in building science to gather temperature profiles for extremely tall spaces, and flying around the city to collect pollution data.
'Survival of the Fittest' Now Applies to Computers
Stony Brook News (04/16/13)
Researchers at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have shown that the evolutionary theory of "survival of the fittest" also applies to technological systems. The researchers compared the frequency with which components "survive" in bacterial genomes and operating systems on Linux computers. The researchers examined the frequency of occurrence of genes in genomes of 500 bacterial species and found significant similarity with the frequency of installation of 200,000 Linux packages on more than 2 million computers. The most frequently used components in both the biological and computer systems are those that allow for the most descendants, meaning that the more a component is relied upon by others, the more likely it is to be required for full functionality of a system. "We found that we can determine the number of crucial components--those without which other components couldn't function--by a simple calculation that holds true both in biological systems and computer systems," says BNL computational biologist Sergei Maslov. For both the bacteria and computing systems, the square root of the interdependent components is used to determine the number of key components that are so important that not a single other piece can be sustained without them.
MIT and Haiti Sign Agreement to Promote Kreyol-Language STEM Education
MIT News (04/17/13) Peter Dizikes
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Haiti have entered into an agreement to push Kreyol-language education in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields in an effort to help educate Haitians in the tongue they are most familiar with. The project will involve the translation of MIT-developed and technology-based open education resources into Kreyol, one of Haiti’s two official languages (in addition to French), followed by the materials' dissemination in Haiti and the assessment of their effectiveness. MIT linguistics professor Michel DeGraff cites the marginalization of Kreyol in Haitian schools, and he says its perception as a hybrid language, in comparison to French or English, is unfair. DeGraff says the MIT-Haiti initiative does not intend to supplant French, but rather to help Kreyol-speaking students “build a solid foundation in their own language.” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe says his country desperately needs new educational resources, especially following the earthquake in 2010. He notes that Kreyol-language educational tools will help supply “access to quality education for all,” since nearly 100 percent of Haitians speak Kreyol. MIT and the U.S. National Science Foundation will finance the effort, and MIT provost Chris Kaiser says the project embodies MIT's “desire to do good in the world.”
Women Are Making Gains in Booming Tech-Consulting Market
InfoWorld (04/15/13) Ted Samson
Technology-consulting positions are increasing, with women claiming a relatively high proportion of these jobs, according to Dice.com data based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment statistics. Meanwhile, the average technology worker unemployment rate is now 3.5 percent, compared with a national average of 7.7 percent, but the rates differ by job title. Web developer unemployment is just 1 percent, while the rate for programmers is about 6.3 percent. Since March 2004, U.S. companies have created 543,500 new technology consulting positions; March 2004 also marks the last time the unemployment rate for IT workers was higher than the national average. Dice.com notes the first quarter of this year has added 17,200 new consulting positions. The increase in consulting jobs stems from that fact that "companies want to remain flexible because there continues to be a fair amount of economic uncertainty," says Dice's Jennifer Bewley. "Shortages in particular fields also drive companies to utilize consulting firms to push projects through." Over the past nine years, the number of women in consulting has grown by 156,100, with about 46 percent of the new consulting positions created in the first quarter going to women.
NASA Launches Next Space Apps Challenge
InformationWeek (04/15/13) Elena Malykhina
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has scheduled its second International Space Apps Challenge for April 20 and April 21. The contest will present 50 challenges to developers from around the world, created by NASA and 150 partners, including the European Space Agency, TechShop, and the U.S. National Science Foundation. Participants will be placed on teams to develop apps for space exploration missions. For example, as part of the Hitch a Ride to Mars challenge, teams will design a CubeSat, a small research satellite that produces its own power and transmits signals, for an upcoming Mars mission. About 2,000 developers, designers, and scientists from 17 countries participated in last year's event. They developed more than 100 unique solutions, including the Predict the Sky and Planet Hopper apps and the preliminary design for a NASA Open Data application programming interface. "All solutions were developed in a completely open source environment, and each have their own unique potential to go even further to address world and space technology challenges," says NASA's Nick Skytland.
Free Web-Based Photo Enhancement Tool Developed by UT Austin Scientists
University of Texas at Austin (04/15/13)
Research into animal and human visual systems serves as the basis for a free image-processing website from the Center for Perceptual Systems at the University of Texas at Austin. The site enables users to enlarge everyday photos, and tools to de-noise images, such as removing imperfections resulting from low-light conditions, will enable them to do so without losing picture quality. The approach, called image processing with natural scene statistics, is based on the analysis of thousands of images. Center director Wilson Geisler and colleagues measured the statistical properties of the images and created an algorithm that determines what is or is not noise in any given photo. The algorithm makes corrections based on what it has learned from examining so many images. Geisler says the tools could be used to enlarge and enhance everything from archival photos to satellite images. "Compared with other photo-enhancement algorithms, we believe this is the best in the world for reducing noise and enlarging images, and also about 50 times faster," he says.
CSIRO Keeps the Past in the Future With World's First 3D Mobile Mapping Project
CSIRO (Australia) (04/13/13) Dan Chamberlain
Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the University of Queensland recently launched a joint initiative designed to collect detailed 3D maps of historic sites in Moreton Bay. The researchers have collected data from several heritage sites, including the 19th century Brisbane River defenses at Fort Lytton and Peel Island's leper colony buildings. The project involves laser-scanner technology called Zebedee that swings back and forth on a spring to capture millions of detailed measurements. "Zebedee has allowed us to capture a detailed record of several key cultural heritage sites ranging from those which are fragile and at risk of damage through natural disasters to those which are remote and difficult to get to," says Queensland professor John Macarthur. In the future, the researchers want to use the maps to create an archive of data about cultural heritage sites, which researchers could analyze without costly and time-consuming hand measuring, Macarthur notes. "It can often take an entire research team several weeks or even months to map a site with the accuracy and detail of what we can produce in a few hours," notes Jonathan Roberts with CSIRO's Autonomous Systems Lab.
Virtual Traveller: Beam a Live, 3D You Into the World
New Scientist (04/11/13) Catherine Brahic
Bauhaus University researchers have developed a virtual reality system that combines 3D glasses and a hack of Microsoft's Kinect to enable the life-sized images of up to six people to be beamed to distant locations and recreated in a virtual space. The users must wear 3D glasses and stand in front of a large screen, onto which 3D images are projected. The system accounts for every user's position relative to the display. Sensors on the glasses track each individual's location, movement, and tilt of the head. In a demonstration of the system, the participants inspect a full-size projection of Michelangelo's David, and each person only sees the perspective that is appropriate to their location. The participants also can see each other and interact with the display together. "The key thing is that because it's 3D, if one person points at an object, the others have to have their own unique 3D view to get what he's pointing at," says University College London's Anthony Steed. The technology also is being used as part of an archeology project that is documenting tens of thousands of figurines that were carved into rock faces in Italy between 10,000 and 2,000 years ago.
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