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Welcome to the June 28, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Conversation Robot From Japan Ready for Outer Space
Associated Press (NY) (06/26/13) Azusa Uchikura

Japanese researchers have demonstrated a humanoid robot that has the ability to talk and eventually could be used to assist astronauts in space. The interest in having robots in space is primarily for doing things physically, says University of Tokyo professor and Robo Garage CEO Tomotaka Takahashi. "I think there is something that could come from focusing on humanoid robots that focus on communication," Takahashi notes. The Kirobo robot is only 13 inches tall and weighs 2.2 pounds because it does not need to perform physical activities. During the demonstration, when asked what its dream was, Kirobo answered: "I want to create a future where humans and robots can live together and get along." The launch of Kirobo from the Tanegashima Space Center is scheduled for Aug. 4, 2013. Kirobo's terrestrial counterpart, Mirata, can learn through the conversations it has.


U.S. Supercomputer to Model Renewable Energy Impact
InformationWeek (06/26/13) Patience Wait

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is launching the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), a new supercomputing facility to study ways to integrate electricity from renewable resources into the U.S. power grid. The new facility also will serve as a model of energy efficiency for other supercomputing centers. "We're not focused on any one particular energy source, but we're looking at how multiple energy sources might be integrated and done in a reliable and cost-effective way," says NREL's Steve Hammond. Modeling and simulation allow the researchers to explore a wide range of materials and operating conditions. ESIF will utilize warm water liquid cooling to keep the system cool. "It's a fairly typical high-performance computing cluster," Hammond notes. "The peak capability is just over a petaflop, [and it's] made up of the latest Intel IvyBridge and Xeon processors."
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The Internet of Cars Is Approaching a Crossroads
Technology Review (06/27/13) Will Knight

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) officials are planning to witness a demonstration of new technology that makes driving safer, less polluting, and less antagonistic, organized by University of Michigan (UM) researchers. The technology is a peer-to-peer communication network that can alert drivers and onboard computers about what is happening on the road, and what may be about to happen next. By the end of 2013, DOT will decide whether to mandate that future cars include some kind of vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology or leave it to market forces. The largest ever real-world vehicle-to-vehicle experiment, involving 2,800 vehicles, has been under way in Ann Arbor, MI, for the past 10 months. Each vehicle in the project is equipped with a transmitter and receiver capable of sending and receiving signals over a distance of 300 meters. The main goal of the experiment is to record data and to determine how effectively information is relayed between vehicles. "The connection itself is low-tech, but the intelligence and the value that it brings are extremely powerful and should not be underestimated," says UM researcher John Maddox. A recent DOT study suggests that 80 percent of road accidents involving non-impaired drivers could be affected by this technology.


More Women Pick Computer Science If Media Nix Outdated 'Nerd' Stereotype
UW News (WA) (06/25/13) Doree Armstrong

University of Washington (UW) researchers studied whether the stereotypical view of the geeky male nerd discourages women from pursuing computer science degrees. "These stereotypes are inconsistent with the female gender role, the qualities that are considered appropriate for women," says UW professor Sapna Cheryan. The researchers surveyed UW and Stanford University undergraduates and asked them to describe computer science majors. The survey found that students who were not computer science majors believed computer scientists to be intelligent but with poor social skills. "We were surprised to see the extent to which students were willing to say stereotypical things, and give us very specific descriptions," Cheryan says. However, women who had taken at least one computer science class were less likely to mention a stereotypical characteristic. In a second study, the researchers asked participants to read two newspaper articles, one of which stated that computer science majors no longer fit those stereotypes, and the other claiming that they still do. Women who read the article with non-stereotypical images were much more interested in majoring in computer science than women who read the other article. "If we could expose students to what computer scientists are really like and all the varied and interesting things they do, we can have a positive effect on participation in the field," Cheryan says.


Ranking the World's Best Big Data Supercomputers
Government Computer News (06/26/13) Kevin McCaney

High-performance computers increasingly are being used to analyze big data, and the Graph 500 project, which aims to determine which supercomputer architectures are best for analyzing data-intensive loads, recently released its latest rankings. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) Sequoia supercomputer is at the top of the Graph 500 list, focusing on performing analytic calculations on vast stores of data. The Graph 500 serves as a complement to the Top 500, which uses the Linpack benchmark to measure a computer's capacity to execute floating-point operations. The Graph 500 measures how fast a computer handles graph-type problems commonly used in cybersecurity, medical informatics, and other data-intensive applications. "The Graph 500 provides an additional measure of supercomputing performance, a benchmark of growing importance to the high-performance computing community," says LLNL's Jim Brase. He says Sequoia's top Graph 500 ranking highlights the IBM Blue Gene/Q system's capabilities. "Using this extraordinary platform, Livermore and IBM computer scientists are pushing the boundaries of the data-intensive computing critical to our national security missions," Brase says.


New Challenges Face the New Presidential Innovation Fellows
Federal Computer Week (06/25/13) Frank Konkel

The White House's Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program has undergone a major expansion for the second year of the initiative. The new class of 43 recruits from the private sector will serve six- to 12-month tours of duty across the country, working with government innovators to help save taxpayer dollars, spur job creation, and design solutions that could help save lives during disasters. Last year, 18 fellows tackled five inaugural projects, including RFP-EZ, a system that makes it easier to seek bids on certain IT services. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Office of Management and Budget have partnered with the General Services Administration (GSA) for the second round to better distribute the innovations to federal agencies. Some of the fellows will work on the second phases of last year's projects. Others will focus on new efforts such as Disaster Response & Recovery, Cyber-Physical Systems, MyData Initiatives, Innovation Toolkit, and 21st Century Financial Systems. "Through this new partnership with GSA, which already works with every agency in the federal government, the prototype solutions that PIFs build will spread more efficiently throughout government, enabling the program's positive outcomes to reach more people more quickly," say GSA's Jennifer Pahlka and Dan Tangherlini.


The Quest for Seamless, High-Quality Virtual Reality
The Atlantic (06/25/13) Chris Baraniuk

New virtual-reality (VR) peripherals are garnering attention as they enable users to feel truly present in a VR environment by addressing the challenge of movement. VR adoption has been restrained by hardware costs and the challenge of developing seamless, high-quality VR. VR presence is easily disrupted, resulting in "break in presence" (BIP), and many effects that offer advances result in more frequent BIP. However, movement is the greatest VR obstacle, due to the difficulty of correlating the virtual room to the live room. New peripherals such as the Omni and WizDish provide a stationary grooved dish and harness to let VR users walk and run, while always returning to their original position. However, the devices still restrict movement, with the Omni's harness, for example, preventing actions such as crawling. Another device, the VirtuSphere, enables natural walking in any direction, but users cannot position themselves near other players. However, the feeling of presence in VR does not require perfection, experts say. "If you can simplify things so that your mind thinks they're happening, your brain seems to be very plastic and very able to accept it," says WizDish inventor Julian Williams. Jaron Lanier says VR has the potential to convince users not only of being in another place, but also of possessing a different self.


Coding Camps for Kids Rise in Popularity
Associated Press (06/25/13) Christina A. Cassidy

Coding camps for children are becoming increasingly popular amid an expanding initiative to widen access to computer programming and inspire more youths to seek computer science degrees. For example, the iD Tech Camps have grown from 200 students in 1999 to 28,000 students this year. The camps use interest in gaming to build bridges to computer programming and other science, technology, engineering, and math careers. Beginning courses use photo, illustration, and gaming software to create simple arcade-style games. "We get it down to the basics so they can make their own game," says iD Tech Camps instructor Melissa Andrews. Courses for older children include designing apps and learning programming languages such as Java and C++. The goal is to build self-confidence and spark interest in learning how computers work. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama said programming should be a required course in high school. "Given how pervasive computers and the Internet is now and how integral it is into our economy and how fascinated kids are with it, I want to make sure they know how to actually produce stuff using computers and not just simply consume stuff," he said.


Remotely Controlled Roaches Could Search for Survivors
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (06/25/13)

North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers are working to guide cockroaches as efficiently as possible, with hopes of steering them in collapsed buildings to search for survivors. The team had already developed technology for remote steering, but it is now using Microsoft's motion-sensing Kinect system to develop an autopilot program and track the precise response of cockroaches to electrical impulses. The researchers have integrated the Kinect system into an interface that can control cockroaches. Wires attached to a cockroach's cerci, sensory organs on the abdomen, are used to spur it into motion. Wires attached to the antenna are used to send small charges that trick it into thinking the antenna are in contact with a barrier and steer them in the opposite direction. "We want to build on this program, incorporating mapping and radio-frequency techniques that will allow us to use a small group of cockroaches to explore and map disaster sites," says NCSU professor Alper Bozkurt.


Robo-Pets May Contribute to Quality of Life for Those With Dementia
Northumbria University (06/24/13)

Therapeutic robot companions improve anxiety and the quality of life for people with mid- to late-stage dementia, according to a pilot study conducted by researchers from Griffith and Northumbria universities and institutions in Germany. The group studied 18 patients in a residential aged-care facility in Queensland, Australia, interacting with a robotic harp seal called PARO, compared to the same patients participating in a reading group. After interacting with PARO and participating in the reading group, the researchers assessed clinical dementia measurements such as tendency to wander, apathy and depression level, and anxiety ratings. The researchers noted that PARO had a positive impact on quality of life, reduced anxiety, and increased contentment. Interaction with animals is known to benefit older adults, but animals present infection and injury risks in residential care settings. PARO appears to offer similar benefits without the challenges associated with live animals. The researchers plan to conduct further studies with a larger sample size to determine the value of investing in robotic companions for dementia patients.


An Exabyte a Month by 2016--Australia's Internet Future
iTWire (06/24/13) Graeme Phillipson

The volume of Internet traffic in Australia will reach one exabyte of data per month by 2016, according to Matt Roughan, a mathematician and Internet researcher at the University of Adelaide. He is developing new traffic matrices that will help network providers design more efficient Internet networks. However, Roughan also believes Australia needs to upgrade its aging telecommunications infrastructure with the National Broadband Network. While conducting research at AT&T a decade ago, he devised large-scale network traffic matrices to help plan network designs. "It was probably some of the best work I've done," Roughan says of the award-winning research. "We chose modeling assumptions about network traffic, which have survived the test of time and are still relevant today, despite the massive increases in Internet use." Roughan's analysis is based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data estimates that Australian Internet traffic has followed the trend predicted in 2004, doubling every 475 days. "We are looking at the maths behind the patterns of Internet traffic against which network designs can be tested for efficiency," Roughan notes. "But Australia also needs the physical infrastructure to support this rapid growth."


Carnegie Mellon Researchers Identify Emotions Based on Brain Activity
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (06/19/13) Shilo Rea

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed a method to identify which emotion a person is experiencing based on brain activity. The method combines functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and machine learning to measure brain signals to accurately read emotions in individuals. "This research introduces a new method with potential to identify emotions without relying on people's ability to self-report," says CMU professor Karim Kassam. As part of the study, 10 actors were scanned while viewing the words of nine emotions. Inside the fMRI scanner, the actors were instructed to enter each of these emotional states multiple times, in random order. The second phase of the study presented the participants with pictures of neutral and disgusting photos, and after the computer model had learned the emotion patterns from self-induced emotions, it could correctly identify the emotional content of the photos being viewed using the brain activity of the viewers. The researchers then took the machine-learning analysis of the self-induced emotions to guess which emotion the subjects were experiencing when they were exposed to the disgusting photographs. The research builds on previous work by CMU's Marcel Just and Tom M. Mitchell, which used similar techniques to create a computational model that identifies individuals' thoughts of concrete objects.


Microsoft TypeScript 0.9 Updates Compiler, Adds Generics Support
eWeek (06/19/13) Darryl K. Taft

Microsoft has released version 0.9 of its TypeScript programming language, which represents the largest update to the language to date. The new release delivers significant changes to the language, compiler, and tools, including highly requested new language features such as generics to a new compiler infrastructure that lays the foundation for TypeScript tools scalability, says Microsoft's Jonathan Turner. "Generics take advantage of the strong type inference that TypeScript already provides, allowing users to have better static error reporting and richer tooling, in many cases without any additional type annotations," he says. TypeScript 0.9 is designed to make it easier for developers to build large applications with the language. Microsoft's S. Somasegar says TypeScript enables application-scale JavaScript, providing high-fidelity interaction with existing JavaScript libraries and giving developers the direct power and flexibility of JavaScript from a language that supports advanced tooling and error detection. Somasegar notes that hundreds of developers are engaging with the project and more than a dozen editors now support TypeScript. "Along with important new language features and improved tooling capabilities in Visual Studio, we've done considerable work to scale the TypeScript language service for large application development, giving developers a smooth, interactive experience regardless of project size," he says.


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