Welcome to the October 31, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Technology Group Promises Scientists Their Own Clouds (The Data Kind)
The Chronicle of Higher Education (10/29/14) Rebecca Koenig
The nonprofit Internet2 organization is now offering researchers the opportunity to create clouds that will be connected by its network. The group has developed software that partitions the Internet2 network into private sections, and has launched two projects, CloudLab and Chameleon, to provide frameworks for creating clouds. Computer scientists will gain complete visibility into the clouds, which should help support efforts to improve network-management systems. "What this does is allow computer science researchers to look at new ways of potentially designing networks that could influence how the Internet itself works," says University of Utah professor Richard Ricci, the program's primary investigator. Ricci says the projects are similar to "how we buy telescopes or genome sequencers that give the astronomy or genetics community tools they need to do their research." He says computer scientists will be able to come up with a better way to support scientists with large data transfers. In addition, computational scientists and researchers in other fields will be able to use the clouds to conduct research across disciplines. Ricci also notes Internet2's approach to cloud capabilities could help level the research playing field.
Projecting a Robot's Intentions
MIT News (10/29/14) Jennifer Chu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed measurable virtual reality (MVR), a new visualization system that combines ceiling-mounted projectors with motion-capture technology and animation software to project a robot's intentions in real time. The new system could help speed up the development of self-driving cars, package-delivering drones, and other autonomous, route-planning vehicles. "If you can see the robot's plan projected on the ground, you can connect what it perceives with what it does to make sense of its actions," says MIT researcher Ali-akbar Agha-mohammadi. MVR's creators mounted 18 motion-capture cameras on the ceiling to track multiple robotic vehicles at the same time. They then developed computer software that visually renders "hidden" information, such as a robot's possible routes and its perception of an obstacle's position. This information was then projected on the ground in real time as the robots moved around. The new system allowed researchers to identify problems in the underlying algorithms and make improvements much faster than before. "Now we have the capability to show low-level information in a physical manner, so you don't have to go deep into your code, or restructure your vision of how your algorithm works," says MIT researcher Shayegan Omidshafiei.
Saving Lots of Computing Capacity With a New Algorithm
University of Luxembourg (10/29/14)
University of Luxembourg researchers have developed an algorithm that could revolutionize the control of modern infrastructure, such as intelligent power grids, that need lots of computing capacity. The new software allows researchers to forego the use of massive amounts of computing capacity, leading to a process called micro mining. The algorithm no longer has to continuously analyze the state of the system to be monitored the way conventional techniques do. Instead, the new program seamlessly moves between state values that were measured at different points in time. "In particular the operation of distributed installations such as power grids of today will benefit from our program," says researcher François Fouquet. The software stores only the changes of the system state at specific points in time, and automatically identifies suitable measurement values from the past, according to researcher Thomas Hartmann. "It therefore pulls the correct measurement values from the archive to carry out a correct analysis of the current state--thereby essentially jumping back and forth in time," and this "translates into an enormous reduction in computing overhead and thus an increase in computing efficiency for the same standard of security and dependability," Hartmann adds.
Stanford Libraries Unearths the Earliest U.S. Website
Stanford Report (CA) (10/29/14) Gabrielle Karampelas
Stanford Libraries has launched Stanford Wayback, a customized version of an open-source platform that enables long-term access to archived Web assets. The Stanford researchers identified the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which was created in 1991, as the earliest known website in the United States. "Thankfully, a handful of staff at SLAC who worked on the early Web fortuitously saved the files, along with their timestamps, associated with the first and several subsequent versions of their website," says Stanford Libraries Web archiving service manager Nicholas Taylor. Stanford Wayback brings early websites back to life, as well as thousands of historical SLAC Web pages and related Web assets from 1991-1999, providing users with a snapshot of the Web's evolution. "The early pages of the Web may seem rudimentary and visually dull to today's user; however, they offer great insight into Web history, functionality, changes and trends," Taylor says. Stanford Wayback is part of Stanford Libraries' Web archiving initiative, which aims to collect, preserve, and provide access to Web content that is at risk of being updated, replaced, or lost. "In order to fulfill our mission it is imperative that we curate and make accessible for current and future generations Web-based content on topics that matter to our community," says Stanford University librarian Michael Keller.
Taking the Census, With Cellphones
Science (10/27/14) Jia You
A new study by Belgian researchers, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that big data analytics can turn cellphone records into highly granular population density data. Geographers and data scientists from the Université Libre de Bruxelles and Université Catholique de Louvain obtained aggregate, anonymized call records from major cell carriers in France and Portugal. The data, containing records on more than a billion calls, included information such as the originating and receiving phone towers, call length, and user identifier. The researchers used the call records to develop a model for estimating population density around every cell phone tower, accounting for variations in phone usage in high- versus low-coverage areas. The model revealed several clear, if not terribly surprising, trends in population dynamics: holidays saw the cities largely empty out, with tourist destinations such as Disneyland Paris and coastlines seeing a population boom. During weekdays people concentrated in cities for work, but many returned to rural areas on weekends. The researchers found the method was comparable to remote sensing technologies that use satellite imagery to estimate population density. However, the cellphone method was able to provide information on more granular time scales, down to the hour.
Hack the Gender: Women's Hackathon Aims to Show Young Women a Future in Tech
TechRepublic (10/29/14) Erin Carson
West Virginia University's Reed College of Media and PBS MediaShift recently hosted the "Hack the Gender: A Women's Hackathon on Wearables," an event focused on how women and the media can play a role in the development of wearable technology. The event marked the launch of the school's new media innovation lab and emerged from the school's focus on wearable technology, its role in reporting, and vice versa. "Wearables pose a real opportunity for women to get in on a conversation from the very beginning, before the market is saturated, and before the major players have been established," said Maryanne Reed, dean of Reed College of Media. The event opened Oct. 24 with a Google Hangout featuring a panel of female leaders in tech and media including Facebook's Jane Schachtel, Google's Aminatou Sow, and Mother Jones' Tasneem Raja, and moderated by media futurist Amy Webb. Next, there were short lectures and hands-on projects. The participants broke into groups to brainstorm ideas for wearable devices that ranged from wearable microphones for professors to a smart bra that could perform breast examinations. The winning group proposed a health sensor mesh insert that could measure important female biomarkers like iron, potassium, and vitamin D levels.
Scientists Use Supercomputers to Search for Innovative Answers to Rare-Earth Supply Needs
U.S. Department of Energy (10/29/14) Sandra Allen Mclean
Rare-earth metals are not particularly rare--rather, they are costly and scarce because current mining and extraction processes are complex, often toxic, and expensive in time and money. In addition, rare earths are difficult to separate from each other because they are chemically very similar. Now, Ames Laboratory's Critical Materials Institute (CMI) researchers are looking for innovative answers to rare-earth supply problems, with the goal of diversifying the global supply, discovering substitutes, and inventing new ways to re-use and recycle the materials. The CMI researchers used data produced during 5 million core hours of research conducted on Titan to design ligands, which are molecules that attach with a specific rare earth, and allow metallurgists to extract elements with minimal contamination from surrounding minerals. This method simplifies processing, saves times and labor, and increases the availability of rare earths. CMI researchers are also studying chemical substitutions to reduce the amount of rare-earth elements needed to make permanent magnets for vehicles, wind turbines, speakers in cell phones and head phones, and cordless tools. Ames Laboratory researchers recently were given up to 45 million core hours on Titan to look at multi-element materials. "We finally have the computing capability to explore greater complexities using quantum mechanics--greater numbers of atoms, the possible crystal structures, and their properties," says Ames Laboratory researcher Bruce Harmon.
Dundee University Eye Test Could Identify Alzheimer's
Evening Telegraph (UK) (10/27/14)
University of Dundee researchers have developed Vampire, software that can identify the warning signs associated with the early stage of Alzheimer's disease. Previous research suggests that changes in the patterns of ocular veins and arteries can be linked to other diseases, such as stroke and cardiovascular disease. "If you can look into someone's eyes using an inexpensive machine and discover something which may suggest a risk of developing dementia, then that's a very interesting proposition," says University of Dundee professor Emanuele Trucco. The researchers will compare measurements of thousands of images with medical histories stored at Dundee's Ninewells Hospital to determine if a relationship can be established. "The Vampire software interface allows researchers to take these measures repeatedly, reliably, and efficiently even when working with a large number of images," Trucco says. Meanwhile, the Dementias Platform UK is bringing together researchers and drug development companies to discuss better diagnosis initiatives, treatments, and understanding of its progression. The platform will examine the causes of dementia across a range of neurodegenerative conditions. "The Government's commitment to investment in dementia infrastructure and research is vital if we are to maintain the U.K.'s position as a world leader in life sciences and get patients earlier access to new treatments," says Life Sciences Minister George Freeman.
Oxford University's Big Data and Internet of Things Project to 'Create the NASA of Biomedicine'
Computing (10/27/14) Danny Palmer
Treatment for cancer patients within England's National Health Service (NHS) will be significantly improved through the use of such technologies as big data, informatics, and Internet of Things, according to a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the U.S.-based Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine. The plan has the support of the U.K. government. Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman says, "This is a project to sequence the full genome of 100,000 patient volunteers in the NHS and combine it with the hospital clinical data." The aim is to develop the world's first at-scale dataset of the genome, says Freeman, adding that, "It's about integrating clinical assets--the NHS has a huge historical reservoir of long-term studies of patients at scale--and we want to put these databases up so we're able to look at scale at clinical elements." Patrick Soon-Shiong, founder and chairman of the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine, says examining the genome of a single patient represents half a terabyte of data, so gathering and analyzing data from many thousands of patients calls for the resources of a supercomputer. Newly developed infrastructure lets researchers reduce the time needed to examine the genome of one patient from 11 weeks to mere seconds, Soon-Shiong says. "We need to address the issue of informatics, the connection of the Internet of Things where you have wearable devices which can capture your vital signs," he says, while cautioning that tracking such data must occur within conditions of the highest security.
Black Man in the Lab
Chronicle of Higher Education (10/27/14) Stacy Patton
African-American men have seen their rates of participation in STEM fields double by some measures over the last 20 years. The proportion of black men holding STEM Ph.D.s, for example, doubled over that period. However, this doubling was from 1 percent to 2 percent, an increase that can easily be seen as more discouraging than encouraging. The reasons for this are many, start early in life, and compound from there: African-American men are more likely to born into poor communities lacking access to high-quality education and more likely to be surrounded by violence. They also face powerful negative stereotypes that dog them through all levels of education, stereotypes that are reinforced by the low achievement rates they help to create. Efforts have long been underway at the national level to combat those achievement rates and increase African-American men's participation in STEM fields. The National Science Foundation, for example, has provided nearly $400 million in research funds since 1998 to better understand the problem and develop strategies to help African-American men succeed in STEM fields. However, many African-American Ph.D. holders say that one simple way to improve participation in the STEM fields is to accentuate the positive, focusing on success stories rather than narratives of struggle and failure.
Anne Condon: Computer Scientist. Passionate Academic. Triathlete.
Tech Republic (10/27/14) Lyndsey Gilpin
Women were far more well represented in computer science when Anne Condon first decided in high school the subject sounded interesting, despite never having used a computer. Decades of theoretical computer science work later, Condon, who now serves as head of the computer science department at the University of British Columbia, is dedicated to helping young women find their way in the field. Condon joined the Computing Research Association's Committee on the Status of Women in 1994 and for three years before her term ended in 2007, she headed a project to encourage undergraduate women to pursue computer science by matching them with research mentors. "Ever since then I've been eager to find ways to convince women to pursue research careers," said Condon. She is continually researching ways to make computer science curricula more accessible and attractive to female students. Another method for increasing female engagement is creating a supportive campus environment. This year Condon received the Grace Hopper Celebration Technical Leadership ABIE Award. Condon's true love, however, remains theoretical computer science. "It forces you to think deeply and it's elegant, it's beautiful. I love that kind of work," she says.
Faster Switching Helps Ferroelectrics Become Viable Replacement for Transistors
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (10/26/14) Sarah Yang
Ferroelectric materials could become strong candidates for use in next-generation computers. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and University of Pennsylvania say they have developed an easy way to improve the performance of ferroelectric materials, making them viable candidates for low-power computing and electronics. "Our discovery opens up the possibility for faster switching and new control over novel, never-before-expected multi-state devices," says Berkeley professor Lane Martin. He says ferroelectrics could be used in next-generation computers to enable the retention of information so the data would be there if a system loses power and then is restored. "If we could integrate these materials into the next generation of computers, people wouldn't lose their data if the power goes off," Martin says. The researchers found that by applying an electric field to a thin film of lead zirconate titanate so it was not parallel to the up-down axis, they could change the polarization reorientation pathway, which opened up a faster, alternate route for electrical charges to follow. "These experiments showed that there's an easy method of increasing the operational speed for ferroelectric materials," Martin says.
Powerful New Software Plug-in Detects Bugs in Spreadsheets
University of Massachusetts Amherst (10/23/14)
University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst computer science doctoral student Daniel Barowy recently released a new data-debugging software tool at the Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications (OOPSLA) conference in Portland, OR. Developed as a plug-in for Microsoft's Excel program, CheckCell automatically detects errors in spreadsheets. Barowy's team decided to build the tool after a UMass economist and colleagues found spreadsheet data errors in a paper by Harvard economists. His team wondered whether software could find errors automatically. CheckCell combines data analysis and program analysis. The tool immediately flags suspicious data points that deserve a second look, using statistical analysis and data flow analysis. Hidden, high-impact data points are marked in red, and spreadsheet designers are asked to check them. "It's like having a helper who says, 'pay attention to these cells, they really matter,'" says Barowy's advisor, Emery Berger, a professor in UMass' School of Computer Science.
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