Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the July 29, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Emerging Technologies at SIGGRAPH 2013 Could Yield New Markets Tomorrow
iMedia Connection (07/28/13) Neal Leavitt

More than 17,000 artists, research scientists, gaming experts and developers, filmmakers, students, and academics from 77 countries attended this year's SIGGRAPH conference in Anaheim, Calif. The conference featured SIGGRAPH 2013 Studio, which provided an opportunity for attendees to explore a wide array of new techniques and media, including three-dimensional printing, modeling, and animation software. "Studio is a stand-out program at SIGGRAPH," says SIGGRAPH 2013 Studio chair Patricia Clark. "Attendees have the chance to see how experienced professionals are making the technology work for them in real life." For example, the Enhancing Mobility project, led by researchers from Paris-based CEA List, is a full-body exoskeleton designed to help quadriplegics. University of British Columbia researchers have developed Light-in-Flight, a device that enables inexpensive and fast transient imaging using photonic mixer devices. Carnegie Mellon University researchers developed WAYLA, an eye-tracking technology integrated into a video game. And University of Southern California researchers debuted Skyfarer, a mixed-reality shoulder exercise game designed for preventing and treating should pain for individuals with spinal-cord injuries.


Speed Limit Set for Ultrafast Electrical Switch
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (07/28/13) Andy Freeberg

Researchers at Stanford University's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory say they have recorded the fastest possible electrical switching in magnetite, a result that could lead to faster, more powerful computing devices by enabling the development of new transistors that control the flow of electricity across silicon chips. The researchers found that it takes only one trillionth of a second to flip the on-off electrical switch in samples of magnetite, which is thousands of times faster than in conventional transistors. "This breakthrough research reveals for the first time the 'speed limit' for electrical switching in this material," says SLAC's Roopali Kukreja. The researchers first hit each sample with a visible-light laser, which fragmented the material's electronic structure at an atomic scale. They then used an ultrabright, ultrashort X-ray pulse, which enabled them to study the timing and details of changes in the sample excited by the initial laser strike. By slightly adjusting the interval of the X-ray pulses, the researchers precisely measured how long it took the material to shift from a non-conducting to an electrically conducting state, and observed the structural changes during this switch.


NMSU Camp Aims to Spark Girls' Interest in Computer Science
Las Cruces Sun-News (NM) (07/25/13) Isabel A. Rodriguez

New Mexico State University this summer is offering its Young Women in Computing program, with the goal of encouraging more women to enter the field of computer science. In four sessions coordinated by the university's computer science department, the program teaches participants coding skills and offers training on a range of software platforms and programs. "Diversity is critical in every field, and women currently only make up 18 percent of all computing industry fields in the U.S.," says program coordinator Becca Galves. "Girls and women are avid users of technology but severely underrepresented in its creation. Technology increasingly permeates every aspect of society and provides the foundation for most modern innovation. Girls' lack of participation in this important and growing area has serious consequences, not only for them but for the future of technical innovations." Young Women in Computing began in 2006 with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, and has reached 5,000 young women in over 150 workshops and sessions. In addition, the program has sponsored 23 teams in competitions and paid for 30 women to attend conferences.


Computer Can Infer Rules of the Forest
Cornell Chronicle (07/26/13) Anne Ju

Cornell University researchers have published a study describing a computer algorithm that enables machines to infer stochastic reaction models without human intervention or prior knowledge of the nature of the system being modeled. Stochastic inference is the process of determining the set of rules, including unpredictable factors, that lead to particular outcomes. This reverses the much simpler stochastic prediction, which uses known rules with uncertain elements to simulate possible outcomes. The researchers say their algorithm could help uncover elusive laws that govern fields ranging from chemistry to molecular biology. Using intermittent samples, such as the number of prey and predating species in a forest once a year, the algorithm can infer probable reactions that caused the result. The researchers applied the algorithm to microorganisms in a closed ecosystem, and found reactions that correctly identified the predators, the prey, and the dynamical rules governing their interactions. "This is a tool in a suite of emerging 'automated science' tools researchers can use if they have data from some experiment, and they want the computer to help them understand what’s going on--but in the end, it's the scientist who has to give meaning to these models," says Cornell professor Hod Lipson.


Notre Dame Researchers Develop System That Uses a Big Data Approach to Personalized Health Care
Notre Dame News (07/25/13) William G. Gilroy

University of Notre Dame researchers have developed Collaborative Assessment and Recommendation Engine (CARE), a computer-aided method that uses electronic medical records to provide rapid advances toward personalized health care, disease management, and wellness. "Health care informatics and advanced analytics, or data science, may contribute to this shift from population-based evidence for health care decision-making to the fusion of population- and individual-based evidence in health care," says Notre Dame professor Nitesh V. Chawla. CARE features a collaborative-filtering method that captures patient similarities and produces personalized disease risk profiles for individuals. The system uses big data science to generate predictions focused on other diseases that are based on big data from similar patients. "We believe that our work can lead to reduced re-admission rates, improved quality of care ratings, and can demonstrate meaningful use, impact personal and population health, and push forward the discussion and impact on the patient-centered paradigm," Chawla says. He believes CARE can be an effective new method because of changes in health care, reimbursement, reform, meaningful use of electronic health care data, and a mandate for patient-centered outcomes. "There is an increased focus on preventive care, well-being, and reducing re-admission rates in the hospital," Chawla says.


Emergency Alert Study Reveals Metadata’s Better Side
IEEE Spectrum (07/24/13) Mark Anderson

Cellphone metadata offers real-time information in emergency situations that could help first responders and protect the public, according to a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, the Technion, and Ben-Gurion University. Although the collection of cellphone metadata is controversial, particularly following recent leaks about the U.S. National Security Agency's collection programs, the researchers say many productive uses exist for the information. The researchers had access to 12 billion anonymized cellphone calls over a three-year period. Cellular providers could not analyze all of the metadata on their networks in real time, but real-time analysis is essential to finding emergency events. The researchers decided to sample subsets of network metadata without analyzing call or text message content. An algorithm called the Social Amplifier aids in locating emergency events, for example, by tracking sudden changes in a node’s centrality that could occur when a person places numerous phone calls and sends many text messages in rapid succession. Although the algorithm has not yet used any geolocation information, when sufficient spikes occur in centrality over enough densely connected nodes, the algorithm notifies network administrators, who can verify whether the activity stems from a single part of a city.


Feds Want Cars to Talk to Each Other
Computerworld (07/24/13) Lucas Mearian

Motor vehicles should be equipped with "connected technology" that could help drivers avoid accidents, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The call comes in a report NTSB filed following an investigation into a deadly collision between a Mack truck and a school bus at an intersection in New Jersey last year. NTSB concludes that connected vehicle technology, or machine-to-machine (M2M) communication tools, could have provided active warnings to the bus driver and possibly prevented the crash. Researchers currently are developing M2M communication technology that would enable vehicles to exchange data and know what is taking place around them. For example, researchers at Intel and National Taiwan University are developing M2M vehicle technology that makes roads safer and more predictable by using algorithms and predictive modeling to determine the skills of nearby drivers. "We're even imagining that in the future cars would be able to ask other cars, 'Hey, can I cut into your lane?' Then the other car would let you in," says Intel's Jennifer Healey. Meanwhile, NTSB is working with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on connected vehicle technology research and the creation of a radio spectrum to be used for vehicle-to-vehicle communication.


Supercomputing Heads for the Cloud
The Australian (Australia) (07/23/13) Stuart Kennedy

A new cloud computing facility in Australia will be used for research in areas that require big-data analysis, such as climate change and earth system science. About $2.3 million will be spent to move Australia's National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) at the Australian National University to the cloud-based resource. A Dell 3200-core system will power the NCI research computing cloud, and the system will use Intel central processing units optimized for floating-point calculations, high-performance solid state memory modules, and a 56Gbps Ethernet interconnect. The Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia, and eight universities will be among the users. The project forms the Canberra node of the Nectar Research Cloud, which has seven other nodes across the country. The science cloud will stand alongside existing supercomputer and storage equipment. "We estimate all the kit will arrive here about Aug. 15 and we will go live around Oct. 15," says NCI's Joseph Antony.


MSU Collaboration Aims to Recruit More Women Into Engineering, Computer Fields
MSUToday (07/19/2013)

The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) will provide Michigan State University (MSU) with consulting assistance on bolstering the low number of female students in computing and engineering programs. NCWIT will develop a two-fold strategic plan for retaining more female students in computer science and recruiting more female students into computer, electrical, and mechanical engineering fields. "The goal of this launch is to immediately increase the visibility and raw numbers of women in these programs," says NCWIT CEO Lucy Sanders. Encouraging young women to pursue tech careers is a workforce issue and also is about fairness, considering these fields offer a lot of good jobs, says MSU professor Laura Dillon. She notes the two-year partnership will be distinguished by its focus on data analysis. "We think this data-driven approach, along with outreach at national conferences dedicated to this topic, will improve our intervention capabilities," Dillon says.


Feather-Light Sensors Are as Comfy as a Second Skin
New Scientist (07/24/13) Paul Marks

University of Tokyo scientists have developed plastics-based circuitry that is lighter than a feather and just one micrometer thin. The diaphanous plastic sheet peppered with sensors is a soft, skin-like material, but also is flexible and tough. The technology could be used to make unobtrusive medical implants or sensing skins for prosthetic limbs or robots. The team, led by Takao Someya and Martin Kaltenbrunner, worked with colleagues in Austria to deposit a very thin layer of aluminum oxide on a sheer polymer foil at room temperature. They attached circuit components to the oxide substrate, such as transistors made from carbon-based, organic compounds and touch or temperature sensors. The researchers demonstrated a circuit with organic touch sensors in a 12-by-12 array, which weighed only three grams per square meter and could be made very stretchy by placing the electronic components on a pre-stretched polymer. "The electric and mechanical performance was practically unchanged even when stretched by up to 233 percent," Someya says.
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Google Boosts Handwriting Feature in Google Translate
CNet (07/24/13) Dara Kerr

With Google Translate's new handwriting tool, users can draw an unfamiliar word or character on their Android smartphone or tablet and immediately get a translation. "Handwriting input lets you translate a written expression, even if you don't know how to type the characters," says Google's Xiangye Xiao. "For example, suppose you see [a] Chinese expression...and want to know its meaning in English, but have no idea how to type these characters. Using the new handwriting input tool, you can simply draw these characters on your screen and instantly see the translation." The application is especially useful when encountering words that use alphabets not based on the Latin alphabet, such as Chinese, Russian, or Arabic. Google initially acquired the first phase of the handwriting tool for Android in January 2012 and has been developing the technology for the past year. In February, it updated the input features by adding new virtual keyboards and transliteration tools. The handwriting tool now supports 45 languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Lao, and Yiddish.


Using Bluetooth to Track Crowds at the Paleo Music Festival
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (07/22/13) Jan Overney

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne's Elisaveta Kondratieva has developed a more accurate way to track the flow of crowds by analyzing cellphone data and statistics. Kondratieva used an extensive dataset gathered at the 2010 Paleo music festival by 10 "agents" who were part of the crowd. The team members used special mobile phones to pick up and store the identity of all detectable Bluetooth devices in their vicinity, but the data were not enough to differentiate between different nearby locations at the festival. Kondratieva applied statistics to concert schedules, a map of the event grounds, and other sources of information to fill in the gaps between separate detections and provide likely estimates of the exact locations of individuals. "Using an approach based on Bayesian statistics, that is by taking into account certain pieces of available information, the accuracy of the outcome can be improved," she says. Kondratieva notes the approach worked because a significant percentage of the audience had their Bluetooth devices set to be detectable. The researchers also say the quality of the results largely depended on how effectively the team fanned out across the festival grounds.


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