Welcome to the September 25, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Study Shows Improvements in Quality of Open Source Code
IDG News Service (09/23/09) Kanaracus, Chris
Coverity reports that the number of defects in open source projects is on the decline. Coverity has created a Web site for analyzing the programming code of open source projects. Among the code submitted by open source projects and developers over the past three years, "defect density" has declined 16 percent and some 11,200 defects have been eliminated. Coverity assigns projects to a series of Rungs depending on how many defects they resolve. Defects in Samba, tor, OpenPAM, and Ruby discovered during Rung 1 and 2 have been resolved, and the projects have been granted top-level Rung 3 status. The Web site, which uses static analysis tools, has analyzed more than 60 million unique lines of code from 280 projects. Static analysis is often most helpful for finding "structural 'anti-patterns' in code, poor programming practices that can result in performance and security issues like memory leaks and buffer overflows as well as more exotic conditions like errors due to parallel execution of code in a multicore CPU environment," says Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond.
UK's Centre for Cyber-Security Opens at Queen's
Queen's University Belfast (09/23/09) McElroy, Lisa
The Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) recently opened at Queen's University Belfast. CSIT will create 80 new positions and serve as the United Kingdom's primary center for the development of technology to fight malicious cyberattacks. The research conducted at CSIT will help prevent Internet crime and protect the security and trustworthiness of electronically stored information. CSIT is one of the first Innovation and Knowledge Centers established in the U.K. The center is backed by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board, and more than 20 organizations have committed to supporting CSIT's work over the next five years. CSIT will unite research specialists from fields including data encryption, network security systems, wireless-enabled security systems, and intelligent video analysis. CSIT principal investigator professor John McCanny believes the new center will become globally recognized thanks to the breadth and depth of its technological capabilities, and because it represents a new international paradigm for innovation.
Supercomputers Often Run Outdated Software
Chronicle of Higher Education (09/23/09) Young, Jeff
Supercomputing experts discussed the issue of supercomputing software during a recent conference in Washington, D.C., celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation. Old software continues to be used to run supercomputers, and will become a problem as researchers pursue better weather models, medical simulations, and other applications on the latest supercomputers. Fortran remains a popular language for creating programs for supercomputers, and some college researchers are even patching up their old, homemade software to run their supercomputer projects. With the National Science Foundation focusing its grants more on assisting colleges with the purchase of supercomputers, some attendees said there is a lack of money to support the development of supercomputing software. Representatives from supercomputing manufacturers suggested that the market for software is too small. "It's so hard of a problem that no one wants to touch it," said Georgetown University's Jess Cannata.
New Russian Top50 Supercomputers List Released
HPC Wire (09/23/09)
The Research Computing Center of Lomonosov at Moscow State University (MSU) and the RAS Joint Supercomputer Center have released the latest Top50 list of the most powerful computers in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The top 20 computers on the list are unchanged from last year, led by the MVS100K supercomputer at the RAS Joint Supercomputer Center with a Linpack-measured performance of 71.28 Tflops. Second on the list is a SKIG MSU Chebshev supercomputer based on a blade system. The most recent list shows that minimal performance growth has occurred since the ratings started. The total actual performance of the systems is 387.1 Tflops, up from 382.6 Tflops six months ago. Only five of the Top50 systems on the list are new or were upgraded since the last list was issued. However, the number of supercomputers with an actual performance over 1 Tflop has grown from 47 to 49, with the minimum threshold of 978 Gflops now required for entry into the Top50 list. The number of systems used in science and education grew from 30 to 31, while the number of supercomputers used for research decreased from 10 to nine.
Bio-Computing a Major Focus of 22nd Annual SC Conference
Business Wire (09/23/09)
Bio-Computing is a special focus of SC09, the 22nd annual supercomputing conference, which will offer a Bio-Computing Thrust Area with a technical program featuring refereed technical papers, tutorials, invited speakers, panel discussions, and posters examining how high performance computing (HPC) is transforming the biological sciences. "Biological research today is driven by the acceleration of knowledge creation, explosion in data around the world, and growing interdependence of disciplines," says Peg Folta, head of the Bio-Computing Thrust Area. "New HPC solutions allow for far more comprehensive approaches to scientific investigation and enable a systems approach to understanding and predicting life, which is fundamental to the global challenges in medicine, energy, and defense." Presenters for the Bio-Computing Thrust Area include Amazon.com's Deepak Singh, who will discuss leveraging new paradigms and trends in distributed computing infrastructure and utility models. Jonathan Silverstein, associate director of the Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, will address HealthGrid issues and projects across clinical care, public health, education, and research. Computer modeling for vehicle crash safety, finite element modeling of blood flow dynamics, molecular theory, fighting swine flu through computational medicine, and scalable parallel solvers in computational electrocardiology will be discussed in other forums. SC09, co-sponsored by ACM, takes place Nov. 14-20 in Portland, Ore.
Wolfram's Search Goal: Compute All
Investor's Business Daily (09/24/09) P. A4; Deagon, Brian
Stephen Wolfram has set the ambitious goal of converting the global corpus of knowledge into a computable format through WolframAlpha.com, a computational knowledge engine rather than a search engine. WolframAlpha.com computes data and frequently renders query results into lists, charts, and graphs. "You get to ask WolframAlpha specific questions and it provides specific answers, rather than asking about some general topic and expecting it will do what search engines do, giving you a bunch of links about that topic," Wolfram says. He estimates that WolframAlpha can currently answer users' questions with more than 75 percent accuracy, and the system's linguistic comprehension capabilities are steadily improving. Wolfram says the long-term goal for WolframAlpha is to make as much globally accumulated knowledge computable as possible. One avenue being explored is the ability to upload one's own data to WolframAlpha and have it perform analysis on that data. "Another direction we are just starting to play with ... is being able to invent on the fly," Wolfram says.
What's Augmented Reality's Killer App?
Technology Review (09/23/09) Grifantini, Kristina
Augmented reality (AR) applications may soon become universal on mobile phones. Already, iPhone users can view augmented directions--the Layar program superimposes information from Wikipedia, Twitter, and Flickr on real-world areas, and Wikitude augments tourist hotspots with tips from Wikipedia. Wikitude creator Mobilizy just announced a new AR language called Augmented Reality Mark-up Language (ARML). Mobilizy CEO Alexander Igelsboeck hopes that ARML will become as common as HTML is on the Web. Columbia University professor Steven Feiner says that AR will be more compatible with mobile phones once developers improve object and gesture recognition as well as their adaptation to sunlight. Feiner says that AR goggles could help, so long as they are well made. "There's a very high bar of what people are willing to wear on their heads," he says. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate student Prana Mistry presented an AR device last year that consists of two parts--a Web camera and projector worn as a necklace, and markers worn on the fingers. The device, dubbed SixthSense, tracks the wearer's movements and projects information onto real-world objects. "Your world can be augmented without you having to change your behavior," says MIT professor Pattie Maes. "If my car stops working, I might open the hood and an expert might remotely see what I see and [then] project information in front of the engine," she says. Nokia plans to develop AR applications that use audio as well as video components to make them feel more natural. Nokia researcher Ville-Veikko Mattila says that AR could provide users with information on what friends think about a restaurant or help them remember the name of an acquaintance.
The Doctor Can Understand You Now
USC News (09/22/09) Mankin, Eric
University of Southern California (USC) researchers have received a four-year, $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant to create SpeechLinks, a computer system that automatically interprets between English and Spanish. USC professors Shrikanth Narayanan, Panayiotis Georgiou, and Margaret McLaughlin will work with AT&T and BBN researchers on SpeechLinks, which they say could become an essential tool for medical professionals in emergency rooms, ambulances, and clinics. In order to be successful, SpeechLinks must incorporate both spoken words and the gestures that accompany them. "We need to go beyond literal translation to rich expressions in speech and non-verbal cues," Narayanan says. Non-verbal factors include intonation, pauses, emphasis on certain words, and conversational flow. The goal is to provide users with an experience that is not computerized, but allows them to converse as naturally as possible. Researchers will insert clues into the system that will allow its computerized speech to sound more natural, such as answering questions with a different intonation than is used for asking questions. The researchers plan to use simple computers and inexpensive electronic devices to create the system. They also will not create a whole new translation technique, but instead will extend existing ones to non-verbal cues according to culture. The SpeechLinks system will rely on documented data as well, but concerning oral rather than written material. "Our system will not only be bilingual, but bicultural," McLaughlin says.
Robot Fish Makes Waves at Bath
University of Bath (09/21/09) Lee, Myra
University of Bath researchers have developed Gymnobot, a submersible robot that is powered by a fin, which runs along the underside of its body. The fin undulates to make a wave in the water, which propels the Gymnobot forward. The design is based on the Amazonian knifefish and should make the Gymnobot easier to control in shallow water near the shore where it could get tangled in weeds, and more energy-efficient than conventional submarine robots that use propellers. Keri Collins, a postgraduate student who developed the Gymnobot as part of her Ph.D., says that some fish create vortices when they move their tails one way and then destroy them when they move their tails back the other way. "By destroying the vortex they are effectively reusing the energy in that swirling bit of water," Collins says. "The less energy left in the wake when the fish has passed, the less energy is wasted." The Gymnobot could be used to film and study marine life near the seashore, detect pollution in the environment, or to inspect structures such as oil rigs.
GSU Prof to Use $1 Million Grant to Improve Computer Models for Fighting Wildfires
Georgia State University (09/22/09) Craig, Jeremy
Georgia State University professor Xiaolin Hu has received a four-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a method for merging several smaller simulation models into a larger one. The models, designed for firefighters to practice quelling wildfires, will encompass factors such as the weather, plant type, humidity, terrain, wind speed, and the number of firefighters and type of equipment available. Hu says the balance between these models is a delicate one. "Even with an update from a weather station each minute, the conditions are not going to be the same all of the time and across the whole area, and this is especially true in a wildfire situation," he says. "The weather is going to influence the wildfire, and the wildfire is going to influence the weather conditions. So, with this grant, we're trying to couple wildfire model with the weather model." The new model will find the best combating strategies for firefighters by referring to documented data on the speed of wildfires. It will then demonstrate the strategies' effectiveness to participants in the simulation. Hu will work with researchers from the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University to develop the models.
'Intelligent Car' Able to Learn From Owner's Driving and Warn in Case of Accident Hazard
Scientists from six European countries have designed a new automatic driving assistance program called DRIVSCO. The program studies the car owner's driving pattern over time and if the car moves unusually when approaching a curve, intersection, person, or other vehicle at night, DRIVSCO issues a warning alarm. DRIVSCO, which features a night vision system, assumes that a night-time driver cannot see the road well due to poor lighting and the limited range of low beams. According to the European Union Car Council, 42 percent of car accidents occur at night. DRIVSCO project leaders say that cars installed with night vision and a sophisticated driving assistance system will reduce the number of night-time accidents on the road. Initial tests of the system were successful. The DRIVSCO system features an electronic chip with artificial vision developed by University of Grenada researchers. The chip's system interprets images' outlines, depth, and movement. Because its hardware is reconfigurable, the chip could be used for other types of cars as well as other applications.
Michigan Students to Develop RFID-Enabled Robotic Guide Dog
RFID Journal (09/14/09) O'Connor, Mary Catherine
The Smart Cane is a prototype device developed by Central Michigan University (CMU) engineering students to help visually-impaired people navigate and avoid obstacles through its incorporation of radio-frequency identification (RFID) and ultrasonic technology. An ultrasonic sensor is mounted near the cane's handle for detecting objects in a user's path, while guidance is controlled by a RFID reader and antenna that the user carries in a messenger bag for detecting RFID tags embedded in the sidewalk. Also in the bag is a microcontroller that links the RFID interrogator, the ultrasonic sensor, a keypad, and the RFID and ultrasonic devices used to guide the user or warn him or her about impediments. The keypad is used to program a walking route, while the microcontroller tells users what direction to take through an audio speaker mounted on the messenger bag's strap. A glove that vibrates to tactilely relay directions or warn of obstructions is wired to the controller for users who are deaf as well as blind. The project is about to enter its second phase of design, in which the students will create a self-propelled robot tethered to the user to replace the messenger bag. The machine will roll along the pathway ahead of the user. CMU professor Kumar Yelamarthi has applied for a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to extend the project past the phase-two design with an eye toward commercialization. He says the long-term vision is "that retailers will offer blind or disabled consumers a way to download directions onto a device" that they can utilize to navigate through a store, using RFID tags and other sensor systems.
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