Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 14, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Ten Greatest Media Web Sites: Communications of the ACM
BtoB (09/11/09) Griffin, Marie

The new Web site for Communications of the ACM (CACM) was named one of 10 Great Media Web Sites and won the award for best new site by Media Business. The new CACM site debuted in May and provides daily news, the current magazine issue, an expert blog, a Careers section, a searchable digital library, and CACM's complete 50-year archive. The Web site's daily news is provided by ACM technical and staff writers as well as various news feeds. "Our goal is to ensure that the content enables readers and browsers alike to gain essential insights into industry information that are invaluable for their professional development," says CACM editor-in-chief Moshe Vardi in a statement released by ACM. The Web site has been very successful, says Scott Delman, group publisher of the ACM Media Group. "The Communications Web site has triggered dynamic dialogues within the computing community as a trusted resource for computing professionals worldwide that goes beyond the print edition," he says. The Web site enables users to comment on news items or share them with others using more than 60 social media services. "Having the ability for people to interact online on a real-time basis was very important," Delman says. Future plans for the site include building out its multimedia capabilities. "There is video very deep within some of the sections, but it's in our plans to put video on the front page," he says.

PM Apology After Turing Petition
BBC News (09/11/09)

British prime minister Gordon Brown apologized for the way the government treated Alan Mathison Turing after convicting the computer pioneer of gross indecency for admitting he had a sexual relationship with a man. "While Mr. Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him," Brown says. "So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work, I am very proud to say: We're sorry, you deserved so much better." Computer scientist John Graham-Cumming came up with the idea for a posthumous government apology, and the campaign was backed by author Ian McEwan, scientist Richard Dawkins, and gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell. Thousands signed a petition on the government's Web site. Turing received experimental chemical castration as a "treatment," and the removal of his security privileges meant he could no longer work for the U.K. Government Communications Headquarters. The mathematician killed himself two years after his prosecution in 1952. Turing is known for his efforts to crack messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines during World War II, and he also helped lay the foundation for the fields of artificial intelligence and computing. The A.M. Turing Award, ACM's most prestigious technical award, is named after him and is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of computing.

Capsules for Self-Healing Circuits
Technology Review (09/11/09) Bourzac, Katherine

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) researchers are developing a material that could enable a computer circuit to repair itself. The researchers have created capsules, filled with conductive nanotubes, which break apart under mechanical stress, releasing the nanotubes to bridge any breaks on the circuit. The capsules could be placed on a circuit board in failure-prone areas. The researchers also are developing capsule additives designed to fix failures in lithium-ion battery electrodes to prevent short-circuiting, which can sometimes cause a fire. The ability for circuitry to repair itself may become even more important as flexible electronics, which are subject to significantly more mechanical stress, are developed and released, says UIUC professor Paul Braun. To make the self-healing material, the researchers encapsulated carbon nanotubes inside polymer spheres about 200 micrometers in diameter. Carbon nanotubes were chosen because of their high electrical conductivity and their elongated shape. In a proof of concept studies, the researchers opened the capsules and placed the mixture between the tips of two electrical probes. The nanotubes successfully formed a bridge to complete the circuit between the probes. The researchers are currently working on techniques to precisely position the spheres and other tests for the capsules.

Virtual Maps for the Blind
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (09/10/09)

BlindAid, developed by Tel Aviv University's Orly Lahav, is a new program that helps the blind navigate through unfamiliar locations. BlindAid digitally maps real-world places and, with the help of a pre-existing three-dimensional haptic device, enables blind users to navigate them virtually before visiting them in person. The program uses a joystick that produces different sensations under a user's fingertips. "Walking" around a virtual room, blind users can feel a digital wall ahead when the stick tenses; it also recreates the feeling of grass, sidewalks, asphalt, and tiled floors. Moreover, the device replicates sounds, such as the hiss of an espresso machine to indicate a nearby coffee shop, or the ringing of phones for a customer service desk. Lahav gave the program to several volunteers from the Carroll Center for the Blind. After three or four uses of BlindAid, a partially blind woman successfully visited 12 unknown, real-world locations while wearing a blindfold. Lahav says that blind users "get feedback from the device that lets them build a cognitive map, which they later apply in the real world. It's like a high-tech walking cane." She says that with the help of a geographic information system, the program could help blind users explore any unknown area virtually before visiting it alone in the real world.

SC09 Draws Many New Faces to World's Premier Supercomputing Event
Business Wire (09/09/09)

Approximately 11,000 researchers, scientists, engineers, and computing experts from around the world are expected to attend SCO9 high-performance computing (HPC) conference, which takes place Nov. 14-20 in Portland, Ore. More than 275 organizations have signed on as exhibitors, including 40 first-time exhibitors. "This is an amazing testimony to the importance of the SC conference series as the premier gathering of HPC ecosystem stakeholders who assemble each year seeking education, technology, and science information, and networking with colleagues, peers, and industry leaders," says Wilf Pinfold, general chair of SC09. The conference's lineup of featured speakers includes Intel's Justin Rattner, who will give an opening address; Leroy Hood, president and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, invited plenary speaker; and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who is a conference keynote speaker. The theme of SC09 is "Computing for a Changing World," and there will be special focus discussions on bio-computing, sustainability, and the three-dimensional Internet.

Findings Could Lead to Improved Lip-Reading Training for the Deaf
University of East Anglia (09/09/09)

Machine lip-reading technology could help lip readers improve their ability to read others' lips. A University of East Anglia team led by Sarah Hilder contrasted the success rate of a machine lip-reading program with that of human lip readers. Machine readers had a success rate of 80 percent, while humans had a success rate of only 32 percent. Machines also could use an abstract face shape to interpret lips, while humans needed a video of a real person. Researchers gave volunteers with weak lip-reading skills a chance to try a new training program that improved their ability to interpret monosyllabic words in a few hours. The program, which is video-based, enabled users to see moving lips and gestures as opposed to two-dimensional drawings. "With just four hours of training, it helped them improve their lip-reading skills markedly," Hilder says. "We hope this research will represent a real technological advance for the deaf community." One possibility would be free online video lessons, says Royal National Institute for Deaf People campaign manager Agnes Hoctor.

Hewlett-Packard Funds Purdue Work to Recruit, Retain Engineering Students, Develop New Teaching Model
Purdue University News (09/09/09) Venere, Emil

Purdue University has received a Hewlett-Packard grant to develop and test a new teaching approach designed to improve the academic success of underrepresented minority students in engineering programs. The grant will fund Purdue's new Reaching Excellence in Academic Achievement (REACH) program, which will help students learn in a cooperative and collaborative environment, says Purdue professor Jan Allebach. A major element of REACH is the use of group-based learning and modularized coursework to assist and mentor students. The cohort approach focuses on sophomores and juniors by encouraging collaborative learning and mentoring through small groups. REACH students take fewer classes, but the classes they take are more focused and concentrated. "Many studies have shown that group-based learning improves acquisition and retention of information, higher-level thinking skills, interpersonal and communication skills, and self confidence," Allebach says. "Group-based learning is also effective in retaining underrepresented minorities and women, and it can be expected to benefit all students--underrepresented minorities, women, and non-minority men." The project also will establish a digital classroom with 30 tablet PCs designed for collaborative learning and a design laboratory for student collaborations that features 16 large-screen monitors.

Digital Contacts Will Keep an Eye on Your Vital Signs
Wired News (09/10/09) Chen, Brian X.

University of Washington (UW) researchers are developing a contact lens with a wirelessly powered light-emitting diode (LED) in the hope that the device can be used for augmented reality (AR) functions that include monitoring the wearer's vital signs. UW professor Babak Parvis says the contact lens design dovetails well with personal health monitoring because of the wealth of bodily information that can be extrapolated from the eye. Parvis says an AR-enabled contact lens would greatly advance personal health monitoring because the eye's surface can be used to quantify much of the data that can be read from blood tests. The device also has the potential to create a new interface for social networking, gaming, and general reality interaction. In addition to the LED, the lens integrates miniature antennas, control circuits, and radio chips, and the researchers hope these elements will eventually feature hundreds of LEDs to digitally overlay images. A number of issues must be resolved before the lens is ready for humans, including ensuring that it is safe for people to wear. Georgia Tech professor Blair MacIntyre says the device also will need to be enabled to track the movements of the eye to guarantee that the digital overlay is properly oriented to the wearer's field of vision. Parvis says that when the lens technology advances to support more processor-intense AR applications, it likely will have to draw power from a companion device such as a smartphone.

Researchers Track 3,000 Pieces of Seattle Trash
Associated Press (09/13/09) Le, Phuong

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) SENSEable City lab are tagging roughly 3,000 pieces of Seattle garbage with an electronic tracking device in the hope that when people see what becomes of garbage they will be encouraged to change their behavior so that they recycle more. The battery-operated smart tags employ cell phone technology to transmit data back to MIT computers, letting researchers as well as the public monitor the material in real time as it progresses to its final destination. "Seeing where your trash goes allows you to change your behavior," says project leader Assaf Biderman. "Will you refill a cup instead of throwing away a disposable one?" He says the initiative will enable researchers to study the efficiency or inefficiency of the trash removal system. About 790,000 tons of material is thrown away in Seattle annually, with about 50 percent being reused, recycled, or turned into compost. About 66 percent of the material that ends up being dumped is recyclable. Seattle wants to recycle 60 percent of its trash within three years, while the national recycling rate stands at about 33 percent. Biderman says that Seattle was chosen for the project because of its advanced trash disposal system and its reputation for recycling.

Novel Way to Cool Data Centers Passes First Test
IDG News Service (09/10/09) Niccolai, James

A new system that could make the cooling of data centers vastly more efficient has been tested by a team of engineers led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The engineers fed temperature readings from sensors built into most contemporary servers directly into the data-center building controls, enabling the air conditioning system to maintain just the right temperature to keep the servers cool. An end-user study says that more than three-quarters of data centers use a cooling method in which information technology (IT) and facilities management systems are managed independently, with Computer Room Air Handlers (CRAH) most often controlled using temperature sensors sited on or close by the CRAH air inlets. The engineers needed to develop software to convert the IT information into a protocol that the CRAH units can comprehend. "The main goal we had was to show that you could do this, that you could use the sensors in the IT equipment to control the building systems, and we achieved that," says Lawrence Berkeley program manager Bill Tschudi. One of the method's appealing aspects is the relatively low upfront costs. "We're using industry-standard technologies, so there's no special sauce that would prevent customers from employing this," says Intel's Allyson Klein.

Tech Ed: Women in IT
Computerworld Australia (09/09/09) Edwards, Kathryn

Microsoft developer Catherine Eibner recently hosted a Women in IT workshop at the annual Microsoft Tech Ed IT Forum in Queensland, Australia. It was the first all-women workshop that Tech Ed offered and was primarily concerned with promoting more strong female leaders in the IT sector. Its topic was particularly relevant considering the number of female attendants of the Tech Ed Forum--a mere 200 out of more than 2,500 IT professionals. "I'd like to see more support from the guys at the top--it's not all about them, it's about us too," says Tech Ed delegate Jennifer Chan. A much-discussed topic at the workshop was ways to contribute to a male-dominated industry. Successful female IT professionals had several suggestions for being heard, including preparing well in advance of meetings, anticipating how male co-workers may interpret their remarks, and projecting an air of confidence. "You have to prove that you're worth listening to," says IT leader Helen Benge. Many women see positive steps being taken in the IT industry; the number of female of attendants at Tech Ed has increased by 50 percent from the previous year, and some female professionals have said that they feel free to find their own solutions rather than conform their work methods to the status quo.

This Is Your Lifelog
BusinessWeek (09/14/09) No. 4146, P. 51; Baker, Stephen; Hesseldahl, Arik

Pioneering Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell has been recording and storing virtually every aspect of his daily life in an effort to build a searchable electronic memory for everyone, and he speculates that increasing numbers of people will be doing the same in the future. He envisions the practice of lifelogging as the logical next step up from social networking. The cell phone is already a rudimentary instrument for lifelogging, and support of the practice is increasing as phones add more features to record daily activities. Concurrent with this trend is the development of specialized devices and Web services geared toward lifelogging enthusiasts. For example, Zeo is a sleep-monitoring gadget that maps out the patterns and quality of each night's sleep, while an accompanying Web service helps users optimize their sleep habits. Livescribe, meanwhile, is a digital pen that converts notes and sketches into image files and records the sound of conversations, lectures, and conferences. Analyst Esther Dyson forecasts that markets will open for software to "extract order and meaning from the chaos of proliferating data."

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