Welcome to the June 24, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Beyond Silicon: Transistors Without Semiconductors
Michigan Tech News (06/21/13) Marcia Goodrich
Although electronic devices continue to shrink, transistors based on semiconductors can only get so small. "At the rate the current technology is progressing, in 10 or 20 years, they won’t be able to get any smaller," says Michigan Technological University's Yoke Khin Yap. He also notes that semiconductors waste a lot of energy in the form of heat. He is working to develop semiconductor-less transistors using a nanoscale insulator with nanoscale metals on top. Yap and Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers found that the method allowed electrons to jump very precisely from gold dot to gold dot, a phenomenon known as quantum tunneling. When sufficient voltage is applied, the transistor switches to a conducting state. When the voltage is lowered and turned off, the transistor returns to its natural state as an insulator. In addition, no electrons from the gold dots escaped, thus keeping the tunneling channel cool. The key to the gold-and-nanotube device is its submicroscopic size. "The gold islands have to be on the order of nanometers across to control the electrons at room temperature," notes Michigan Tech's John Jaszczak.
Stanford Tries to Improve 'Do Not Track' Browser Privacy
CSO Online (06/20/13) Antone Gonsalves
Stanford University recently launched the Cookie Clearinghouse, an online privacy initiative designed to complement the Do Not Track Internet privacy development effort. The Cookie Clearinghouse is expected to improve browser reliability in determining whether a cookie planted by a site is meant only for tracking. The goal behind Do Not Track is to give users the option of not having their movements on the Web logged by a Web site or ad network. The clearinghouse will create an "allow" list and a "block" list that browsers can incorporate to more accurately distinguish between cookies, according to Stanford's Center for Internet and Society director of privacy Aleecia M. McDonald. Eventually, the World Wide Web Consortium is expected to adopt standards for implementing a mechanism for Do Not Track in browsers and websites. McDonald notes that although cookies remain the primary means for tracking, the growing use of HTML5 is expected to spawn new technologies for logging the travels of Web users. "You could imagine extending the Cookie Clearinghouse to address those technologies," she says. "But for the moment, we will focus on normal cookies, because that's where the bulk of things are today."
A New Method that Is 700 Times Faster Than the Norm Is Developed to Magnify Digital Images
Basque Research (06/21/13) Victoria Alfonso Seminario
University of Navarre researchers say they have developed an algorithm that can magnify images 700 times faster than other conventional methods. "Magnification techniques are very useful when we send images from one device to another or when we upload them to the Internet, since in order to make the transmission faster we tend to send a reduced version of the image which, when it arrives at its destination needs to be enlarged to make it available in its original size," says University of Navarre's Aranzazu Jurio-Munarriz. Magnification also is used in cases in which the resolution of the image is poor, such as with closed-circuit TV surveillance cameras. The researchers have developed a magnification method for gray-scale images and another for color images. The researchers also developed two thresholding algorithms. The first is designed to work with fingerprint images. "In the thesis, we proposed a way of measuring the homogeneity of each zone of the image, in other words, to see how similar all the pixels in a region are," says Jurio-Munarriz. The second is focused on brain images obtained from MRI scans, with the goal of studying the differences in the shapes of certain areas of the brain in patients who are suffering their first psychotic episodes.
Protection for Whistleblowers: Computer Science Professor Working on System That Would Allow for Secret Data Transfer
Free University of Berlin (06/20/13)
Whistleblowers will be able to send data over the Internet without being observed using a system from a project called AdLeaks. Free University of Berlin professor Volker Roth and Stevens Institute of Technology professor Sven Dietrich have designed the AdLeaks system to rob the connection data of their significance. The system utilizes small programs, embedded in popular websites, to automatically encrypt and transmit empty messages to the AdLeaks server, whenever such a website is viewed. Whistleblowers can use a modified browser that encrypts confidential messages instead of empty messages. An observer monitoring the Internet would not be able to distinguish between the two from the connection data because all Internet users transmit the same type of data and no intention can be presumed. There is no need to download the necessary software because it is distributed in a similar manner to all users. The source code for AdLeaks, which is being developed in conjunction with the EU CONFINE project, is available for downloading.
Making Memories: Practical Quantum Computing Moves Closer to Reality
Dartmouth College (06/19/13) John Cramer
Researchers at the University of Sydney and Dartmouth College have developed a new way to design quantum memory, which they say brings quantum computers a step closer to reality. "Our new approach allows us to simultaneously achieve very low error rates and very long storage times," says the University of Sydney's Michael J. Biercuk. Although quantum computing promises to revolutionize information processing, issues such as keeping quantum information available and accessible for long periods have held back the technology's development. The researchers work addresses a practical issue providing small access latencies, enabling on-demand retrieval with only a short lag to extract stored information. The new method is based on techniques to build in error resilience at the level of the quantum memory hardware, notes Dartmouth College professor Lorenza Viola. "We've shown that with our approach, a user may guarantee that error never grows beyond a certain level even after very long times, so long as certain constraints are met," Biercuk says.
Cheap, Color, Holographic Video
MIT News (06/19/13) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab have developed a way to create holograms that could significantly lower the cost of color holographic-video displays and boost conventional 2D display resolution. Media Lab graduate student Daniel Smalley created an optical chip that costs about $10, which he is using to create a prototype color holographic-video display with a resolution that approximates that of a standard-definition TV. He says the display will update video images 30 times per second, creating the illusion of motion. Smalley's work builds on Media Lab professor Stephen Benton's Mark-II display, which uses acousto-optic modulation to send carefully engineered sound waves through a tellurium dioxide crystal. Smalley uses a much smaller crystal of lithium niobate, and creates microscopic channels called waveguides just under the crystal's surface, with a metal electrode on each waveguide. The waveguides confine the light traveling through them, and each waveguide corresponds to a row of pixels in the final hologram. Red, green, and blue light travel down the waveguide, with acoustic wave frequencies traveling through the crystal determining which colors continue and which are filtered out. Smalley's work improves the space-bandwidth product by a factor of 500, which "has the potential to be a game-changer," says University of Arizona professor Pierre Blanche.
Danish Chemists in Molecular Chip Breakthrough
University of Copenhagen (06/19/13) Jes Andersen
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have created a graphene-based transistor made from just one molecular monolayer that can work on a computer chip, a development they say could lead to smaller, faster, and more sustainable electronic devices. The first advantage of the graphene-based chip will be to ease the testing of coming molecular electronic components, says Copenhagen professor Kasper Norgaard. "Graphene has some very interesting properties, which cannot be matched by any other material," Norgaard says. "What we have shown for the first time is that it’s possible to integrate a functional component on a graphene chip." He notes that by using the chip, researchers can place their molecules with great precision, which makes testing the functionality of molecular wires much faster and easier and enables chemists to know whether they need to develop new functional molecules. "Because the graphene scaffold is closer to real chip design, it does make it easier to test components, but of course it’s also a step on the road to making a real integrated circuit using molecular components," Norgaard says.
Linux Continues to Rule Supercomputers
ZDNet (06/18/13) Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols
Linux continues to dominate the list of the world's fastest supercomputers and there is no reason to think that will change anytime soon. The latest Top500 supercomputer list reveals that 476 of the fastest machines run some version of Linux, including the top 43 on the list. The 44th fastest supercomputer, the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts box, runs IBM's AIX Unix variant. Three supercomputers run Windows, with the fastest being the Magic Cube at the Shanghai Supercomputer Center, at 187th. The real surprise is that the Tianhe-2 in China came in with more than twice the performance of the top-rated system at the end of November 2012, and did it on Intel chips. Tianhe-2 had a performance of 33.86 petaflop/s on the Linpack benchmark, and is powered by 32,000 of the 12-core Intel Xeon Ivy Bridge processors, and 48,000 Intel Xeon Phi co-processors, with a total system power of 17.8 megawatts. Intel has not held the top spot since 1997. More than 80 percent (403) of the supercomputers use Intel processors.
Microsoft Revs Speedier, Smarter Speech Recognition for Phones
CNet (06/17/13) Jay Greene
Microsoft researchers say they achieved meaningful improvements in the accuracy and speed of speech technology recognition for smartphones. The researchers say the acoustic model in Microsoft's speech recognition technology has been replaced with a computation model that mimics the way the brain works. The novel approach applies deep neural networks to speech recognition. Microsoft says users in the United States who are composing a text message or searching via Bing with their voices will see results twice as fast as they did with its previous technology. The method also improves accuracy by 15 percent. "For a normal sentence, you will have one less word to correct," says Microsoft's Michael Tjalve. Internal testing also showed that the word-error rate declined from 16 percent to 13.5 percent, and the speed with which speech is translated to text is nearly instantaneous. Microsoft began rolling out the update to data centers in April and expects to complete the process within the next few weeks.
Graphical Tools Help Security Experts Track Cyberattacks in Real Time
eWeek (06/17/13) Wayne Rash
New graphical tools are emerging that show data visualizations of cyberattacks in progress, offering significant improvements to security experts in their efforts to detect and prevent incidents. For example, Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology has developed the Daedalus Cyberattack alert system that shows vast quantities of real-time data. "We've managed in the past from rows and columns, then bar and pie charts," says Deloitte & Touche federal chief innovation officer J.R. Reagan. However, he says better tools are needed to combat today's rapidly unfolding cyberattacks, due to the limitations in a person's ability to compare numbers and data in event logs. "Maybe see the attack on a map, put it into more of a 3D spatial look, spider chart or 'bread crumbs' to see where it leads," Reagan says. Systems such as Daedalus portray attacks as dots clustered around servers, and also display geography and IP addresses. Predictive analytics allow experts to see relationships between people as attacks build. Most security experts are not well-versed in analytics, but they should improve these skills to leverage the advanced analytics and visualization tools that are capable of fighting increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks.
Purdue Builds Nation's Fastest Campus Supercomputer
Purdue University News (06/17/13) Steve Tally; Greg Kline
Purdue University recently unveiled Conte, the highest-ranking campus supercomputer on the latest Top500 list of international supercomputers. Conte surpasses the U.S.'s previous fastest university-owned leading machine, Carter, which was built in 2011 and is still in operation at Purdue. "The reason we do this is because our faculty have a constantly growing need for more and faster computational resources," says Purdue professor Gerry McCartney. Conte recorded a sustained, measured maximum speed of 943.38 teraflops and a peak performance of 1.342 petaflops. Conte will be used for several different research projects, including one on atmospheric gases that contribute to global warming. "The more of those interactions you account for in your calculations, the closer it gets you to the real interactions in the atmosphere," says Purdue professor Joseph Francisco. Conte is different from previous Purdue cluster-type supercomputers because of its heavy use of parallel processing. The supercomputer possesses 580 servers with 9,120 standard cores and 68,400 Phi cores, for a total of 77,520 cores. Indiana University's Big Red II was the second-fastest university-owned supercomputer on the Top500 list, followed by the University of Southern California's HPCC, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's BlueGene/Q, and Clemson University's Palmetto2.
Sandia Hosts Annual Robot Rodeo
Sandia National Laboratories (06/17/13) Stephanie Hobby
Sandia National Laboratories recently hosted the seventh annual Western National Robot Rodeo and Capability Exercise, an event that draws civilian and military bomb squad teams from across the United States to see who can most effectively defuse dangerous situations with the help of robots. The 10-event technical competition provides an opportunity to practice using robots and new technology in a low-risk, but competitive environment. "We want them to experience a variety of situations so they can be prepared when they’re called upon to handle a dangerous situation," says Robot Rodeo coordinator Jake Deuel. Past events have asked participants to identify, locate, and dispose of suspected hazardous material stored in a residential garage, locate and move simulated fuel rods from a nuclear reactor damaged by a tornado, and remove simulated explosives placed by a terrorist in the overhead rack of an airplane or near a water tank. "Every year since its inception, the Robot Rodeo coordinators have made the scenarios increasingly complex, so it gives us a great chance to practice our skills and introduce new members of our team to different situations," says New Mexico state police bomb squad commander Sgt. Jose Salazar.
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