Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the September 30, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Wanted: Home Computers to Join in the Research on Artificial Life
New York Times (09/29/09) P. D3; Markoff, John

The EvoGrid is a project that seeks to harness a network of small computers to analyze data using pattern recognition software as part of a research effort looking for indications of artificial life generated by a cluster of high-performance computing systems. The purpose of EvoGrid is to recognize evidence of self-organizing behavior in computerized simulations that have been built to model the first emergence of life on Earth. EvoGrid was conceived by computer scientist Bruce Damer, who believes the coupling of powerful computers to potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of PC-based data analyzers could facilitate the detection of emergent behavior. "The main challenge is not the generation of some kind of novel molecular interaction," he says. "Rather, it's the analysis and trying to see what's going on." EvoGrid relies on a pair of open source software projects, one of which is Gromacs, which simulates digital evolution through modeling of molecular interactions. The other software project is the U.S. National Science Foundation-funded Boinc, which uses the Internet to allow scientists to leverage free computing cycles available on network-connected computers.
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Full Web Access Is Pegged at $20 Billion
Wall Street Journal (09/30/09) P. A2; Schatz

In an effort to provide basic broadband Internet access to the three million to six million U.S. homes currently without it would cost as much as $20 billion, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC also says it could cost as much as $35 billion to provide faster Internet service to the 10 million U.S. homes that currently only have access to slower Internet connections. The FCC is preparing a national broadband plan, which may involve new regulations for Internet service providers in an effort to boost U.S. broadband availability and service. That plan is due in February, but so far the agency has not said how it would be financed or whether the federal government would provide funding. About two-thirds of U.S. residents now subscribe to an Internet service, and just four percent of U.S. homes lack access to broadband service. The U.S. stimulus plan provides $7.4 billion to help U.S. citizens that cannot afford Internet service, and the FCC will begin to award grants as soon as November. One source of funding for the broadband plan is the $7 billion government grant that promotes phone services for rural and low-income U.S. residents, but previous attempts to use this grant have failed. FCC officials also are trying to find ways to maximize the number of airwaves that Internet services use and are studying why nearly one third of U.S. citizens choose not to have Internet access at all.

Discovery Brings New Type of Fast Computers Closer to Reality
UCSD News (09/28/09)

A team of physicists at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) have created integrated circuits based on excitons that operate at minus 234 degrees Fahrenheit. Excitons are pairs of electrons and positively charged "holes" that require very cold temperatures to function. When the two parts are rejoined, the exciton breaks down and its energy turns into a flash of light. An integrated circuit powered by excitons is faster than a traditional one because it skips a step in the process. Normal devices must use electrons for computation and only then convert them into light for communication, but excitons can transition between the two almost instantly, says UCSD professor Leonid Butov. "Our transistors process signals using excitons, which like electrons can be controlled with electrical voltages, but unlike electrons transform into photons at the output of the circuit," Butov says. "This direct coupling of excitons to photons allows us to link computation and communication." Last summer the researchers developed an integrated circuit that could work at minus 457 degrees Fahrenheit, but one that operates at warmer temperatures is more useful. Instead of requiring resources only found in special laboratories, the circuit can be kept cool with liquid nitrogen, which is roughly the same price as gasoline.

U.S. To Share Internet Review Amid Worldwide Growth
Associated Press (09/30/09) Jesdanun, Anick

The United States has announced that it intends to give other governments and businesses increased oversight in the governance of ICANN. While the U.S. government has not cut ties with ICANN entirely, it will establish advisory panels for the organization made up of public- and private-sector representatives from across the globe. "The Internet is on a long-term arch from being 100 percent American to being 100 percent global," says ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom. "This is a significant step along the arch to becoming more global." Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant U.S. commerce secretary for communications and information, says the agreement is part of ICANN's evolution. "In the early years we were focused on building ICANN as an institution," Strickling says. "We now are about to turn our attention to focusing on ICANN's performance." Critics of U.S. oversight, including European Union Internet chief Viviane Reding, saw the expiration of ICANN's joint project agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce as an opportunity to change the way Internet governance operates. Under the compromise in the new agreement, which does not have an expiration date as previous agreements did, the review panels are to issue reports on ICANN's performance every three or four years. The makeup of the panels will primarily be the responsibility of ICANN's CEO, who is American. However, its chairman is from New Zealand and the chairman of the Governmental Advisory Committee is currently a Latvian.

Industry Body Forming to Address IT Graduate Skills
Computerworld Australia (09/28/09) Edwards, Kathryn

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is creating the Open Web Education Alliance (OWEA), a new body designed to help ensure that educational institutions around the world are providing Web professionals and information technology graduates with the skills the industry needs. OWEA co-chair John Allsopp says students might learn things that are relevant to their role in the industry, but the fast-evolving nature of the Web often requires Web practitioners to teach themselves new skills. "The goal is to create a sustainable organization to promote best practices in education for Web professionals, working to both develop curricula itself and promote this within universities, colleges, private education providers, and inside large organizations," Allsopp says. "There's a strong belief within the industry that something like this is really needed and we are currently investigating different models of sustainability for the organization." OWEA, which is expected to launch in 2010, is preparing a white paper on its operational plans for the W3C. A dozen international Web professionals are involved with OWEA, which also is backed by Microsoft, Adobe, and Opera Software.

NSF Awards $7 Million to TACC for Remote Visualization and Data Analysis
University of Texas at Austin (09/28/09) Singer-Villalobos, Faith

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has won a $7 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a three-year effort to supply a new compute resource known as Longhorn and a suite of visualization and data analysis (VDA) services to the open science community. "The capabilities of VDA resources have not kept pace with the explosive rate of data production leading to a critical juncture in computational science," says TACC principal investigator Kelly Gaither. "Interactive visualization, data analysis, and timely data assimilation are necessary for exploring important and challenging problems throughout science, engineering, medicine, national security, and safety, to name a few important areas." Longhorn is designed to deliver unprecedented VDA capabilities and will facilitate the national and global science communities' interactive visualization and analysis of datasets of near petabyte scale. TACC will join the University of Utah's Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, the Purdue Visual Analytics Center, the National Center for Atmospheric Research's Data Analysis Services Group, and the University of California, Davis in the provision of leadership in offering advanced services to the national open science community. The initiative will support the scheme for leading researchers to collaborate and analyze their terascale datasets while still providing entry and usability with few restrictions.

Spanish Scientists Develop the First Intelligent Financial Search Engine
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (09/29/09)

Researchers from Carlos III University of Madrid (UCM3), the University of Murcia, and the Business Institute have jointly created SONAR, a new search engine that examines financial news using semantic technology. The researchers say the program offers a more limited Web search based on specific terms. SONAR also can use logic to link news, prices, and share valuations. The search engine gathers information from Internet and intranet sources, compiles the data in an archive according to category, and then retrieves the information for individual searches. SONAR uses both an interference engine and a natural language processor, which prevents the search results from being too broad and disorganized. The researchers say that because SONAR analyzes a wealth of financial data in a short amount of time, it will prove a useful tool for industry professionals. UC3M's Juan Miguel Gomez Berbis says that SONAR "will be especially useful to the finance departments of banks and saving banks or to add to an existing search engine added value over its competitors." The researchers are adding more features to the program and have been asked to develop other industry-specific search engines, such as ones on transportation or biotechnology.

Japanese Researchers Downplay Super CPU Effect
ZDNet Asia (09/29/09) Yeo, Vivian

Japanese researchers led by Waseda University computer scientist Hironori Kasahara will spend the next year planning for a project to develop a new software standard for multicore processors. The researchers will use Kasahara's energy-saving software to study multicore processors in the hopes of creating a universal standard for a wide range of technological equipment, including cell phones and global positioning systems. If the research team's three-year research proposal is approved, they will develop multicore processor architectures, a "parallelizing compiler with power reduction capabilities," and an application programming interface (API). "We are developing a software de facto standard or API for multicore processors for consumer electronics and real-time embedded systems, [such as those used in] automobiles," Kasahara says. "Our targets are for consumer electronics and real-time embedded systems like cell phones, digital television sets, car navigation systems, robotics, and automobiles." He denies that the new project is a threat to Intel, arguing that its processor focus is different and that the team is not interested in standardizing hardware. However, Kasahara says that if his research proposal is approved, he would want to develop a test microprocessor by 2012 that uses the parallelizing compiler and API.

Software Could Pave the Way to End Tune Plagiarism
Goldsmiths, University of London (09/25/09) Austin, Peter

A researcher from Goldsmiths, University of London, and an expert on cover versions and music re-mixes from the Institute of Musicology at the University of Hamburg have used cognitive similarity algorithms to predict the outcome of court cases involving music plagiarism. Goldsmiths' Daniel Mullensiefen developed software with Hamburg's Marc Pendzich that correctly predicted 90 percent of court decisions during tests involving 20 U.S. cases. The software uses a number of similarity algorithms to model court decisions for cases involving allegations of melodic plagiarism. Mullensiefen and Pendzich believe the software could potentially replace a jury and expert witnesses in court. "Also, on a very popular level, you could claim that the software can detect melodic plagiarism in popular music automatically," Mullensiefen says. "Thus, in principle, we could develop this into a business where songwriters and music publishers submit songs and we test against a database whether there are any highly similar pre-existing melodies in it." Mullensiefen and Pendzich plan to study more U.S. plagiarism lawsuits and also test the software on cases in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Intelligent Vehicles Tested Across European Roads
EuroFOT (09/24/09) Brusselmans, Ariane

A European-wide research project slated to begin in 2010 should offer some answers about the real benefits that advanced driver assistance systems provide to drivers. As part of euroFOT, at least 1,000 vehicles will be outfitted with eight intelligent in-vehicle systems, including a system that provides warnings on potential side and front-end collisions. Other advanced systems to be tested by real drivers on Europe's roads for about one year include Curve Speed Warning, Fuel Efficiency Adviser, and human-machine interaction with navigation systems. The results will give the collaborating universities, research centers, and other stakeholders a better understanding of how the systems impact the safety, efficiency, and comfort of drivers. "This is the first-of-its-kind-large-scale field operational test that is carried out across brands in Europe," says euroFOT project coordinator Aria Etemad.

Code Breakthrough Delivers Safer Computing
University of New South Wales (09/25/09) Trute, Peter

Computer researchers at the University of New South Wales and NICTA say they have proven that an operating-system kernel was 100 percent free of bugs. The team verified the kernel known as the seL4 microkernel by mathematically proving the correctness of about 7,500 lines of computer code in a project taking an average of six people more than five years. "What we've shown is that it's possible to make the lowest level, the most critical, and in a way the most dangerous part of the system, provably fault free," says NICTA researcher Gernot Heiser. The research could potentially improve the security and reliability of critical systems used by the medical and airline industries as well as the military. "The verification provides conclusive evidence that bug-free software is possible, and in the future, nothing less should be considered acceptable where critical assets are at stake," Heiser says.

Mobile Apps Give Students Instant Access to Information
Columbus State University News (09/24/09)

Columbus State University (CSU) has given its students access to the Google Apps Education Edition through their mobile phones, using on-campus Gmail, calendars, and other programs. CSU says it is the first university to provide its students with so many mobile applications. Students can use mobile phones with Web access to look up their academic status, class and on-campus bus schedules, financial aid and personal account information, student events, and a map of campus. The mobile applications are so popular that students recently voted to increase technology fees to get the best service available. "Our ultimate goal is to duplicate all of the services that we now provide to students through our university portal," says CSU's Robert Diveley. Diveley will write about the development of these applications on the Google Enterprise Blog as its weeklong guest writer. He also will give a joint lecture with CSU chief information officer Abraham George on the same topic at the national Educause conference.

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