Welcome to the November 18, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Chinese Supercomputer Still No. 1, ORNL's Titan No. 2
Oak Ridge Today (11/18/13) John Huotari
China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer, which is housed at that nation's National University of Defense Technology, placed first on the Top500 supercomputer rankings released today at the SC13 Conference in Denver, and the U.S.'s Titan system housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory ranked second, mirroring the top two spots from the previous rankings in June. The most recent rankings found that Tianhe-2 can perform at 33.86 petaflops, while Titan can achieve 17.59 petaflops. Titan also is one of the most energy-efficient systems on the list, consuming a total of 8.21 megawatts and delivering 2.143 gigaflops per watt. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Sequoia system ranked third on the Top500 list, Fujitsu's K computer ranked fourth, and Argonne National Laboratory's Mira ranked fifth. Swiss National Supercomputing Center's Piz Daint system is a new entry in the Top10, with a peak performance rating of 627 petaflops. Piz Daint also is the most energy-efficient system in the Top10, consuming 2.33 megawatts and delivering 2.7 gigaflops per watt. Texas Advanced Computing Center's Stampede system ranked seventh, Forschungszentrum Juelich's JUQEEN ranked eighth, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Vulcan ranked ninth, and Leibniz Rechenzentrum's SuperMUC ranked tenth.
A Computer Academy in France Defies Conventional Wisdom
The New York Times (11/15/13) Scott Sayare
French telecommunications executive Xavier Niel has launched 42, a tuition-free computer academy that breaks with the rigid methods and philosophy of the government-run education system and aims to produce graduates who are more innovative, employable, diverse, and useful to the French economy. Public officials have acknowledged that existing institutions are failing to train students in skills that are in demand. The academy promotes the virtues of entrepreneurship and creative thinking, while the standard French approach traditionally relies on rote learning. The school marks "the French educational system's inability to address innovation, upward social movement, the emergence of new technologies and sectors," says Institut Montaigne historian and economist Nicolas Baverez. Prospective students, who are not required to have any programming background, take several hours of online logic tests before being admitted to the school. The school will focus on problem solving. "We need to grow more culturally accustomed to seeing private initiatives being born," says France's minister for small businesses and the digital sector Fleur Pellerin. She says 42 "corresponds exactly [with] the way we need to be training young people today for the digital economy."
Israel’s IDF Lures Female Recruits for Computer Corps
The Wall Street Journal (11/14/13) Joshua Mitnick
Israel's military is working to draw more women into its computer division and its efforts are showing promising results. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) distributes brochures encouraging 11th grade girls to join "the next generation of technological women" and runs several programs that identify and train promising female high schoolers in subsidized courses. The program has led hundreds of women per year to sign up for the army’s computer and communication corps, officers estimate. Women represent more than 50 percent of staff in IDF cyberdefense units. However, the number of women in research and development jobs is still "extremely low," according to a 2011 IDF assessment. The campaign to enlist more women in technical roles stems from the IDF's increasing use of technology and subsequent need for skilled personnel over the last two decades. The IDF's Hadarim program provides young women in their last year of high school with a year-long introductory computer course taught by Microsoft trainers. When program participants reach the army, the army's computer school teaches them network administration, systems management, programming, and cyberdefense. Some students continue in an IDF computing center that is known to train top programmers and startup CEOs, making graduates highly sought after in the workforce.
Building a High-Capacity, Faster Mobile Internet for Everyone
CORDIS News (11/14/13)
Europe has made mobile broadband expansion a top priority, as users seek access to the Internet, email, and workplaces from any location. The European Union's Beyond Next Generation Mobile Broadband (BUNGEE) project, completed in June 2012, came close to achieving its ambitious goal of increasing the capacity of the mobile network from the current 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps, or 1000 Mbps per square kilometer. Emerging technologies LTE and WiMAX only support 100 Mbps per square kilometer for regular cellular deployment, which is especially inadequate in dense urban areas with the greatest demand for wireless broadband access. BUNGEE researchers created a heterogeneous broadband architecture that merges licensed and open radio spectra. The effort produced a mobile radio system architecture, a high-capacity antenna system, and a deployment strategy based on below-rooftop access base stations. The BUNGEE researchers say the approach greatly reduces the cost per bit of data transmitted. The system was tested in a real-life mobile environment, and project partners say the resulting technologies have been promulgated as the new standard for high-capacity, radio-access broadband networks.
Microsoft Sees Huge Potential in Fuel Cells
Computerworld (11/13/13) Patrick Thibodeau
Microsoft recently released a study that investigated fuel cells as a centralized power source and as distributed power generation technology. The study touted the use of fuel cells to power data centers. "By integrating fuel cells with IT hardware, we can cut much of the power electronics out of the conventional fuel cell system," says Microsoft researcher Sean James. However, he notes that technical issues, such as the fuel distribution system, power management, and safety training remain to be resolved. The study examined running an entire data center on fuel cell technology and decoupling data centers from the electric grid. The study found that fuel cells are much less expensive than high-voltage switchgear, transformers, and copper cables, and have no moving parts, unlike generators. In addition, if the fuels are distributed in a data center and placed at the servers and racks, "we can completely eliminate the power distribution system in the data center, including the power backup generation," the report notes. James says fuel cells can double the efficiency of traditional data centers, and are environmentally friendly.
Fair Pricing Key to Node Sharing in HPC
HPC Wire (11/13/13) Alex Breslow
In the current high-performance computing systems pricing scheme, the user suffers from a decrease in utility caused by the increased job run time, as well as additionally associated surcharges. University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have targeted this problem and introduced contention-aware fair pricing, in which a user pays progressively less as their job is degraded more. The researchers note that implementing such a system is a challenge because it requires a non-intrusive mechanism that precisely measures individual application degradation caused by co-running applications. Therefore, organizations need a dynamic, lightweight runtime system or operating system service to detect such contention. To satisfy these objectives, the researchers developed the Persistent Online Precise Pricing Agent (POPPA), a low-overhead daemon that uses a fine-grained precise pricing shutter that can measure contention between applications with less than 1 percent overhead and with a mean absolute prediction error of 4 percent. The shutter mechanism alternates the execution environment of each application between one where contention from co-runners is present. POPPA achieves this by cyclically pausing all but one application in a round-robin fashion and measuring the spike in performance of the lone running application compared to when it was co-located. The UCSD researchers will discuss their work at this week's SC13 Conference in Denver.
Oak Ridge Gets Help to Manage Titan's Massive Data Stream
Government Computer News (11/13/13) John Breeden II
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers recently improved the Titan supercomputer by installing smaller supercomputers whose sole purpose is to sift through the massive stream of data being generated. One of the smaller supercomputers is Eos, which consists of a 744-node Cray XC30 cluster with a total of 47.6 terabytes of memory. Eos will support the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which awards time on supercomputers to researchers with large-scale computationally intensive projects that address grand challenges in science and engineering. "The machine initially will be used as an extra computing resource to help INCITE projects reach their goals," says ORNL's Suzanne Parete-Koon. In addition, the Rhea cluster, a group of 196 Dell PowerEdge C600 nodes, is coming online. The Rhea cluster will be dedicated to the post-processing analysis of visual data generated by Titan. ORNL researchers hope that both of the new clusters will help them better interpret Titan's data, and find solutions to problems more quickly than would be possible without the extra computing power.
Unmask Wikipedia Sock Puppets by the Way They Write
New Scientist (11/13/13) Gareth Morgan
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have developed a tool that could be used to uncover phony Wikipedia contributors. Companies often pay people to set up Wikipedia accounts and edit articles in their favor, and the algorithm is designed to analyze the way articles are written and spot if they are edited by the same person. Ragib Hasan and colleagues trained an algorithm on the editing notes for more than 600 investigations by Wikipedia into fake accounts, also known as sock puppet accounts. The algorithm scanned about 230 features of the writing, such as grammatical quirks, and could predict which accounts were puppet accounts with a 75-percent accuracy rate, defined as agreeing with the conclusion of Wikipedia investigators. "Sock-puppet investigations are incredibly time-consuming for Wikipedia editors, so anything that can help reduce the workload should be welcome," Hasan says.
Obtaining Data From the 'Brains' of Cars
SINTEF (11/12/13) Ase Dragland
Last year, the Nissan Group allowed SINTEF researchers to carry out direct logging of data from its Leaf cars. "We obtained access to invaluable data, and are now able to see into the very 'brain' of a car and measure such things as how much energy is consumed in propulsion and climate control, and how much is generated during braking," say SINTEF's Astrid Bjorgen Sund and Tomas Levin. The researchers equip drivers and vehicles with smartphones or Web tablets that enable them to collect valuable data for use in research. "We can identify problems covering larger geographical areas and with sufficient data we can provide a better foundation for the major transport-related decisions which must be made," Bjorgen Sund says. For example, on European Route E39, fuel and energy consumption will be strongly influenced by the design of the road, accounting for its curves, ascents and descents, toll stations and tunnels, and what sort of terrain it passes through. "Modern vehicles represent a goldmine of information about how cars are used and the infrastructure they utilize," Levin says. "If cars were able to Tweet everything they know, we could tackle many exciting challenges."
The Secret Ingredient in Computational Creativity
Technology Review (11/11/13)
IBM computer scientists are using big data on the Watson supercomputer to produce cooking results that could be called creative. "Creativity is the generation of a product that is judged to be novel and also to be appropriate, useful, or valuable by a suitably knowledgeable social group," say IBM's Lav Varshney and colleagues. Because creativity is subjective, human assessments are necessary, and thus professional chefs have judged the computer's results and offered positive feedback. "A computational creativity system has no meaning in a closed universe devoid of people," the researchers note. The team automated a plan for the creative process that involves finding a problem, gathering information, thinking about it, generating ideas, choosing the best ideas, and finally implementing those ideas. The process uses a collaborative model with humans performing some tasks, such as choosing the problem to create new recipes. The team also gathers information by downloading a huge variety of global recipes, as well as descriptions of regional cuisines. Using this data, the computer determines how to combine ingredients using a "novelty algorithm" that determines how unexpected the recipe will seem to an expert observer. Finally, the computer generates several novel recipes, and a human expert selects and prepares a dish.
Biometrics Researchers See World Without Passwords
Associated Press (11/12/13) Michael Conroy
Emerging biometric technologies could replace the use of passwords by computer users. Iris and fingerprint scans, as well as facial and voice recognition, can improve security while making lives easier, according to Stephen Elliott, director of the International Center for Biometrics Research at Purdue University, which tests the technologies. The technology can enable someone to log into a computer or activate a smartphone by swiping a finger over a sensor. Installed at a KFC restaurant in West Lafayette, IN, biometrics enables workers to punch in by placing a finger on a fingerprint scanner attached to their cash register. The technology eliminates the need to memorize or frequently change passwords. The scanners might look like something out of the movies to many people. "I think once people see the things in consumer's hands--the biometrics in there--then we'll just see people try to push other deployments of biometrics, because it's easier," Elliott says.
Researchers Look to Silicon Semiconductor Alternative
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (11/12/13)
Semiconductors made from aluminum and nitrogen to form aluminum nitride (AIN) could serve as a functional alternative to silicon semiconductors, according to researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. The researchers say that AIN can function at high temperatures, is stronger and more stable than silicon semiconductors, is piezoelectric, and is transparent to and can emit visible light. Neeraj Nepal and colleagues formed AIN layers using atomic layer epitaxy. Materials were grown layer by layer by sequentially employing two self-limiting chemical reactions onto a surface. The researchers say their technique offers a way to produce high-quality AIN layers with atomic-scale thickness and at half the temperature of other methods. The team produced a material with qualities similar to those synthesized at higher temperatures, but under conditions that allow it to be integrated in new ways for the fabrication of devices for technologies such as transistors and switches. The researchers say new advanced specialty materials potentially could have applications in next-generation, high-frequency radio-frequency electronics, such as those used for high-speed data transfer and cellphone services.
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