Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the April 29, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


IBM Claims Advance in Effort to Build Reliable, Large-Scale Quantum Computer
IDG News Service (04/29/15) Agam Shah

IBM researchers say they have made a major breakthrough that could help pave the way to building a "universal" quantum computer capable of running a wide range of applications. One of the persistent problems of developing quantum computers is predicting the behavior or state of qubits, the basic units of quantum computing, once they begin interacting with one another. Predicting their states can be difficult, especially because those states can be upset by something as simple as electromagnetic radiation. However, IBM says it has developed an error-correction technique that can maintain the integrity of computations performed by qubits. The technique enables IBM to detect multiple types of data errors simultaneously in a square quantum-computing array of four qubits. IBM says its error-detection technique can detect bit-flip errors, in which a qubit switches from a one to a zero state or vice versa, and phase-flip errors, which could be applied to superpositioned qubits. The technique has been successfully tested on a four-qubit circuit in a lattice structure and IBM believes it will now be able to connect such lattice structures into a larger array.


U.S. Is Faulted for Risking Edge in R&D
The Wall Street Journal (04/27/15) Robert McMillan

A new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is faulting the U.S. government for failing to maintain and grow its investments in basic scientific research, even as European and Asian nations are dramatically increasing their research and development (R&D) spending. Andrew Lo, a finance professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and one of the report's authors, says the cutbacks in basic research could have a high cost in both national prestige and long-term economic opportunity. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. spent 9.1 percent of the federal budget on R&D in 1968. However, that percentage has fallen to just 3.6 percent of the federal budget today. The report, "The Future Postponed," warns reduced R&D spending is coming at the same time U.S. companies have largely stopped doing basic research of the type that at one point yielded innovations such as lasers and the personal computer. Meanwhile, Europe and Asia are increasing their basic R&D spending. In 2013, the Battelle Memorial Institute and R&D Magazine predicted that by the early 2020s China would be spending more than $600 billion on basic research. The U.S., by comparison, allocated $134.2 billion to R&D in the 2015 budget.
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Tackling the Fastest and Most Powerful Computing Systems on the Planet
University of St. Andrews (04/28/15)

The ParaPhrase project, a four-year research collaboration established to address the challenges presented by the world's fastest and most powerful computing systems, united academic and industrial experts from across Europe to improve the programmability and performance of modern parallel computing technologies. "The technologies we have developed in ParaPhrase make it possible now to really exploit the power of these new systems," says University of St. Andrews professor Kevin Hammond. The ParaPhrase researchers developed a method that enables large parallel programs to be constructed out of standard building blocks called patterns, which, using a refactoring tool, can be reassembled in optimal ways without changing the functionality of the overall program. The researchers also developed tools that enable the program components to make best use of the available processors, maximizing throughput and minimizing run time of large programs. The project has produced several new software tools and programming standards to support the global parallel programming community. "In the future, parallel programs will need to self-adapt to computing architectures we haven't even thought of yet," Hammond says.


Online Fact-Checking Tool Gets a Big Test With Nepal Earthquake
Technology Review (04/28/15) Mike Orcutt

Standby Task Force is a group of volunteer "digital humanitarians" that takes action after disasters at the request of international agencies and local relief organizations. The group is using Verily, an experimental Web platform, to crowdsource rumor verification as quickly as possible in response to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday. Users go to Verily's website and read short tutorials on simple, established ways to verify data such as the source of an image or the date and location of a report on a social network. Users answer yes-or-no verification questions about reports, provided they supply evidence supporting their answer. The Standby Task Force uses the evidence posted by Verily users to pass along confirmed information to relief organizations. However, tools such as Verily are only powerful if a lot of people use them. Building a large user base has been the biggest challenge in the wake of the Nepal disaster, according to Standby Task Force president Justine Mackinnon. Over the past couple of days, the group has been teaching about 200 Nepali volunteers how to use the platform, with the expectation they can then recruit others from their personal networks.


One Way to Reduce Email Stress: Re-Invent the Mailing List
MIT News (04/27/15) Adam Conner-Simons

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a prototype system called Murmur they hope will improve the experience of using email mailing lists by incorporating popular social media features such as upvoting, following, and blocking. CSAIL Ph.D. student Amy Zhang presented a paper on Murmur at last week's ACM CHI conference in Seoul, Korea. Zhang says it is surprising that email mailing lists have retained their popularity and have changed so little since their inception decades ago. The basic thrust of Murmur is to enable users to customize the ways they interact with mailing lists. One of the new system's features is the ability to post messages to specific mailing list members and not others, which Zhang says could help encourage people who want to contribute but worry about "spamming" people. Recipients will be able to give these messages the equivalent of a Facebook "Like," such that it automatically spreads to more list recipients. Users also will be able to customize how much content they receive, for example by "following" certain users or specifying how many emails with certain tags they wish to receive in a given day or week.


Why Coding Is Your Child's Key to Unlocking the Future
The Wall Street Journal (04/26/15) Christopher Mims

An increasing number of educators and activists are pushing to make programming a part of all children's basic education. Most argue programming should be viewed as a foundational element of a modern education, the same as math or reading. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Mitchel Resnick, who is leading the effort to develop the child-friendly Scratch programming language, says in addition to granting them an important and marketable skill, coding helps children learn to think about processes in the world. Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org, says computer science helps promote analytical skills, problem solving, and creativity. Many activists point to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projection that there will be 1 million unfilled programming jobs by 2020 as evidence of the growing market for such skills. Partovi thinks this could be a significant underestimate. However, programming is still not taught in the vast majority of U.S. schools, so many are looking to find ways of teaching children to code outside of the classroom. Some, such as Bryson Payne, author of "Teach Your Kids to Code," are seeking to teach children to code as early as possible. Many say the most effective way of teaching children how to code is to have them design games or to treat coding as simply another form of play.
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NASA Exploring Half-Million Dollar Fast Computing Challenge
Network World (04/27/15) Michael Cooney

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) wants to create a public competition for developing fast, powerful computers that would help support advanced applications. "Opportunities exist to reduce time to solution by orders of magnitude by exploiting algorithmic developments in such areas as grid adaptation, higher-order methods, and efficient solution techniques for high performance computing hardware," according to NASA. "A potential prize challenge will require that speed gains are to be achieved primarily by algorithmic enhancements, not by hardware (i.e., scaling to larger number of cores)." The challenge, if made official, will provide selected base geometries and flow conditions and the time it takes to perform simulations using NASA's FUN3D code, a research code developed in the late 1980s. The idea is that a problem that now takes 3,000 wall-clock hours on 3,000 cores, for example, will be reduced to 30 or three hours for a 100-fold or 1,000-fold speed up, respectively. The prizes for demonstrating 100-fold or 1,000-fold speed increases are planned to be $225,000 and $500,000, respectively.


Computer Cooling System Could Save U.S. $6.3 billion in Electricity a Year
UAH News (04/27/15) Jim Steele

University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) researchers have developed a computer processor cooling system they say could save U.S. consumers more than $6.3 billion a year in energy costs. The system uses convection to circulate an electronic cooling liquid, which is colorless, odorless, biologically inert, chemically stable, nonflammable, and has a boiling point of 133 degrees Fahrenheit, through channels in a computer's processor and then into a heat sink that serves as an external radiator. The researchers say an industry-wide adoption of their technology could save computer manufacturers $540 million annually in manufacturing material costs by eliminating fans and associated wiring. The energy and materials savings are based on a future with an estimated 300 million machines in the U.S equipped with the system. In the new system, heat from the computer's processor vaporizes the cooling liquid. The vapor moves to a heat exchanger, releases its heat into the environment, and condenses into a heavier liquid, which then moves to a holding tank and then back onto the processor to complete the cycle. "When you look at the power transistors required for the smart grid, for example, this system could have application there, and there are other applications in that area, too," says UAH professor James E. Smith Jr.


Zero Downtime for GNSS Applications
CORDIS News (04/24/15)

The CALIBRA project team has developed new solutions to counter the impact of the phenomenon known as ionospheric disturbance, which can affect the positioning of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). Solar flares can cause a sudden increase in radio-wave absorption that will delay the propagation of signals and ultimately impact high-accuracy GNSS techniques. The CALIBRA team first confirmed ionospheric scintillation and variations in total electron content (TEC) directly impact the functioning of GNSS Precise Point positioning and Real Time Kinematic (RTK) positioning, and then characterized the disturbances with a suitable metric. The project produced a short-term empirical model for forecasting TEC and scintillation and tested it using a network of monitor receivers that collect more than 10 million observations on global navigation systems daily. The team tested the algorithm in actual precision agriculture and offshore operations. The software offers visualization and mining techniques, and the data has benefited users in more than 20 countries. The researchers say the RTK engine and other solutions should help reduce downtime and financial losses caused by ionospheric disturbance.


Team Develops Faster, Higher Quality 3D Camera
Northwestern University Newscenter (04/24/15) Amanda Morris

Northwestern University researchers have developed a three-dimensional (3D) capture camera they say is inexpensive, produces high-quality images, and works in all environments. The camera is modeled after the way the human eye works, only scanning parts of the scenes that have changed, making it much faster and higher quality than previous 3D capture systems, such as the Microsoft Kinect. In addition, the laser on the new camera can be sensed in the presence of the sun because it is much brighter than ambient light. A 3D camera is only useful if it can be used in everyday, normal environments, and "outdoors is a part of that, and that's something the Kinect cannot do, but our Motion Contrast 3D scanner can," says Northwestern professor Oliver Cossairt. He says the new camera system has many applications for devices in science and industry that rely on capturing the 3D shapes of scenes, such as in robotics, bioinformatics, augmented reality, and manufacturing automation. He notes the device also could be used for navigation purposes, since it can be installed on cars and motorized wheelchairs, and the researchers also received a Google Faculty Research Award to integrate their technology onto an autonomous vehicle platform.


Big Data Must Haves: Capacity, Compute, Collaboration
Government Computer News (04/23/15) Mark Pomerleau

Big data researchers, network engineers, CIOs, and technology leaders are set to discuss ways to collaborate to advance research capabilities in IT infrastructure and applications this week at the Internet2 Global Summit, which takes place in Washington, DC. Clemson University professor Alex Feltus will showcase how his research team is leveraging the Internet2 infrastructure, including its Advanced Layer 2 Service high-speed connections and perfSONAR network monitoring, to accelerate genomic big data transfers and transform collaboration. Feltus says the way data is stored and transferred will need to change as DNA datasets get bigger and research increases. He notes bigger boxes are needed as well as faster ways to put content into them. "There is a serious data transfer bottleneck at the network-hard-drive interface," Feltus says. "Thus, we need faster, reasonably-priced storage that can keep up with the advanced networks such as the Internet2 network." Researchers might have access to supercomputers, but will not be able to use information stored in remote data repositories without a network such as Internet2. "You can process data on the fastest nodes in the world, but it's pointless for real-time applications if the supercomputer is hooked up to a slow pipe," Feltus says.


Using Smartphones to Avoid Spatial Disorientation of Elderly
Technical University of Madrid (Spain) (04/22/15)

Researchers at the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) have turned to network operating technologies to locate and send alerts to elderly people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) during episodes of disorientation.  The UPM researchers developed a location-awareness service using smartphones that examines such information as seniors' proximity to their homes or places of interest, whether that person is with a relative or using public transport, and certain time intervals.  When a disorientation episode occurs, the service puts the person in touch with their nearest contact to verify if they require help.  In the study, researchers established safety areas for each user consisting of a series of geographical locations called hotspots, which include the home of the person with MCI or places they typically visit.  Safety areas show where the person conducts their daily life, to distinguish between potentially unfamiliar areas where a situation of spatial disorientation could occur.  The location service uses a technology called an IP multimedia subsystem, which can be reused by any installed application on a smartphone.  The locating service also can store static information through the profile of each registered user.


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