Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the March 24, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Researchers Give Update on Road to Parallelism
EE Times (03/19/10) Merritt, Rick

University of Illinois researchers have taken several small steps toward developing new parallel programming models to tap the many-core processors of the future. The DeNovo project attempts to define a new and more rigorous way of utilizing shared memory. It is working concurrently with a separate effort to define a deterministic, parallel language primarily based on a parallel version of Java and eventually migrating to a parallel version of C++. The chip project that is nearest to testing is the 1,024-core Rigel processor architecture targeting high density, high throughput computing, which would be programmed through a task-level applications programming interface aimed at chores in imaging, computer vision, physics, and simulations. The Bulk Architecture chip design is testing the notion of atomic transactions.

Gender Discrimination Linked to Poor Project Management
Network World (03/22/10) Messmer, Ellen

A new Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) report suggests that technically oriented women may face gender discrimination in their jobs at high-tech firms in part because of mismanaged projects. The report says that tech firms rely on a "hero mindset" to save coding projects that are poorly organized, and employees with family responsibilities--often women--are sacrificed as a result. The report is based on a discussion that took place between 59 senior business and technical managers from major technology companies in a closed forum last fall. The report says it is common to find a kind of "good old boys network" in the high-tech world, where managers tend to hire "people who are like them." Another new ABI study found that women hold about four percent of senior-level technical positions and an estimated 25 percent of all technology jobs. However, at the higher levels, 36.9 percent of women end up in a manager job compared to 19 percent of men. ABI suggests that all women candidates should at least get an interview, and that a software tool could be created to weed out any unconscious bias against hiring or promoting technical women.

Spain Positioned in Europe as a Sponsor of Open Source Software
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (03/22/10)

The Spanish Software and Services Initiative Program's Vulcano Project is a collaborative effort between higher education institutions, technology transfer centers, and industrial partners to develop open source software with the reliability and quality of proprietary programs. Vulcano was modeled after other European efforts to develop open source software by adopting similar methodologies, processes, business models, and the latest technologies. The Vulcano project is based on three main pillars. The first is a project to create a collaborative environment based on the latest technologies. The second pillar is a pilot program to demonstrate how open source software can help develop new projects. The third is the deployment of a nationwide competence center, which will help businesses and local organizations learn how to use open source software, including information on licenses, collaborative development, and development processes.

3D Haptics to Help Surgeons Feel the Cutting Edge
The Australian (Australia) (03/23/10) Foreshew, Jennifer

Deakin University robotics engineer James Mullins is leading a research effort to develop haptics technology with the goal of making a simulation as realistic as possible for use in medical training exercises. Haptics "is very processor intensive for developing programs, so we're just starting to get computers fast enough to simulate stuff that makes it usable," Mullins says. So far the researchers have developed a three-dimensional input device that enables a user to feel virtual objects for tasks such as tele-surgery. "What we have developed is a way for nurses to pick up a syringe and inject it into a virtual body and feel what it feels like as it goes through the skin and the soft tissue underneath," Mullins says. He says the technology also can be applied to defense and policing. For example, the research team is working on a large defense project that would enable soldiers to remotely defuse bombs.

Move to Incorporate Computing in Math Curriculum
Dr. Dobb's Journal (03/23/10) Blake, Deirdre

The first official public draft of the Common Core State Standards Initiative's K-12 standards has been released by the National Governors Association's Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards, which seek to provide a clear framework to prepare U.S. children for college and the workforce, included computer science as a senior-level high school course for students who meet the "readiness level" by 11th grade. "Given the critical role of computing for our global information society in preparing students with the knowledge and skills they need for the 21st century, this inclusion in the draft Common Core Standards is a huge boost for the field and its future," says ACM CEO John White, who notes that one of the biggest challenges facing computer science education has been finding a place for it in a high school curriculum. "We are heartened by the inclusion of computer science in this draft," says White, and encourages "the advisory groups working on these standards to retain that reference in the final version, as well as add a description of what rigorous senior year computer science encompasses."

When Noise Becomes the Signal
ICT Results (03/23/10)

European researchers working on the SUBTLE project have developed a class of electronics that uses noise to enhance the signal, which they say could lead to better and faster electronic devices. "With increasing miniaturization of electronic circuits, an increasing fraction of the applied power is converted into nondeterministic signals that add to the ambient noise," says University of Wurzburg professor and SUBTLE project coordinator Lukas Worschech. "SUBTLE is a STREP project associated with nanoelectronic devices in which quantum-confined electron channels are so closely spaced to each other that tailored feedback action exists." The devices employ two phenomena--back action, which is like feedback in an audio system, on the channel gate; and noise-induced switching. The subsequent noise can be used to switch the circuit from one channel to another. The researchers say their work will enable smaller, cheaper, more power-efficient and complex circuits, and could be used to mimic neuron action in artificial networks and serve as sensors for signals usually hidden under the noise.

UW Students Develop Apps to Aid Disabled
KOMO News (WA) (03/15/10) Whitaker, Denise

Computer and engineering students at the University of Washington have developed five accessibility applications for mobile phones. Janet Hollier and her team developed Braille Learn, a virtual pet game designed to make learning Braille fun for blind children. Players use the touch pad and vibrations in the phone to choose the correct Braille symbols, and earn tokens that can be used to feed, exercise, or play with their pet and keep it happy. Jason Behmer led a team in using Google Maps to develop an application that can help people who are blind, deaf-blind, or have low vision determine their location, the direction they are going, and what points of interest or businesses lie ahead. Other applications include a daily task trainer and scheduler that uses the phone's camera to read characters for the blind, and the Where Am I? program, which can help blind or low-vision people find nearby people or places.

Legislators Propose International Cybercrime Cooperation Laws--With Teeth
Dark Reading (03/23/10) Wilson, Tim

The International Cybercrime Reporting and Cooperation Act, recently introduced by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would require the U.S. government to study the cybercrime policies of other nations and either aid or punish those countries according to the findings. The bill requires the president to annually report to Congress on the state of countries' employment of information technology (IT) in critical infrastructure, the scope of cybercrime based in each nation, the sufficiency of each country's cyberlaw enforcement systems, and countries' safeguarding of consumers and commerce online. Furthermore, the legislation would require that programs developed to fight cybercrime be prioritized to countries with low IT penetration in order to deter the creation of future cybercrime sanctuaries in these countries. Moreover, efforts to assist in the development of critical infrastructure would be encouraged to feature anti-cybercrime programs.

Intel Prototypes Low-Power Circuits
Technology Review (03/23/10) Bourzac, Katherine

Intel researchers have developed a prototype chip that operates in a low-power yet error-prone mode, but can detect and correct its errors. The researchers say this approach is 37 percent more power efficient compared with running in conventional mode and offers comparable performance. To compensate for the errors that occur while running at low voltage, Intel has developed a strategy known as resilient circuits. The prototype chip runs at low voltage, and when an error occurs, a calculation is done at high voltage to correct it. "When you have to correct an error, and reexecute a process more slowly, there is a tiny penalty," says Intel's Wen-Hann Wang. However, laboratory tests have shown the chip can either save 37 percent on power consumption, or operate 21 percent faster at a given power level. "They push it as close to the danger zone as they can, and things sometimes go bad, and they correct for it, which is very clever," says Rice University professor Krishna Palem.

A More Sensitive Sensor
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (03/17/10)

Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers are developing nano-sized sensors for microelectromechanical systems that are more sensitive and reliable than existing technology. The researchers say that more sensitive sensors could enhance video games and lead to better functioning prosthetic limbs, cars that can detect crashes before they occur, and missiles that can reach a target much more accurately. The researchers, led by TAU professors Yael Hanein and Slava Krylov, developed a method in which tiny carbon tubes that make up the sensors can arrange themselves on the surface of a silicon chip to accurately sense tiny movements and changes in gravity. "We've been able to fabricate a new device where the nano structures are put onto a big surface--and they can be arranged in a process that doesn't require human intervention, so they're easier to manufacture," Hanein says.

Nano-Based RFID Tag, You're It
Rice University (03/18/10) Williams, Mike

Rice University researchers, in collaboration with a Korean Sunchon National University team led by Gyou-jin Cho, have developed an inexpensive, printable transmitter that can be invisibly embedded in packaging. The technology is based on a carbon-nanotube-infused ink for use in ink-jet printers. The ink is used to make thin-film transistors that can be printed on paper or plastic. Cho and his team are developing the electronics and the roll-to-roll printing process that will minimize the cost of printing the tags. Cho anticipates that his roll-to-roll method, which uses a gravure process rather than ink-jet printers, will replace the bar codes found on almost all products. The researchers developed a three-step process to print one-bit tags--including the antenna, electrodes, and dielectric layers--on plastic foil. Cho's lab is developing 16-bit tags that would be much more practical and could be printed on paper as well as plastic.

Imperfections Are Perfect
Technical University of Denmark (03/16/10) Krull, Lotte

A research group at the Technical University of Denmark has achieved a major breakthrough in the use of photons for communications applications. The team purposely etched holes on optical chips in a disorderly manner, and found that the irregular arrangement of hole structure resulted in more effective capture and control of the movement of photons. Until now, researchers have focused on having a regular and ordered hole structure, assuming that the imperfect placement of holes would diminish or destroy the functionality of optical chips. However, the research suggests that disordered hole structure would be advantageous in a brand new type of optical chips. Solar cells and quantum computers could benefit from having optical chips with an irregular hole structure.

New Statistical Method for Genetic Studies Could Cut Computation Time From Years to Hours
UCLA Newsroom (03/17/10) Kromhout, Wileen Wong

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) researchers have developed a new computational strategy for genome-wide association studies, which enables the scanning of up to a million genetic markers in thousands of individuals and corrects for population structure. The new strategy, called Efficient Mixed Model Association Expedited, captured the complex mixture of both population structure and hidden relatedness, and corrected these relationships when creating a genetic map. "Capitalizing on the characteristics of complex traits in humans, we made a few simplifying assumptions that allowed us to dramatically increase the speed of computations, making our approach readily applicable to genome-wide association studies with tens of thousands of samples," says UCLA professor Eleazar Eskin. He says the method also could have a large impact on admixed populations, which are samples of individuals who have ancestry from multiple regions of the world.

Microsoft Researchers Test Microblogging Service
IDG News Service (03/19/10) Gohring, Nancy

Microsoft is preparing a small-scale pilot for OfficeTalk, an experimental microblogging service for business users developed by its OfficeLabs researchers. The pilot will allow Microsoft to study how businesses use OfficeTalk, which enables employees to share information in short messages similar to Twitter. "This concept test applies the base capabilities of microblogging to a business environment, enabling employees to post their thoughts, activities, and potentially valuable information to anyone who might be interested," according to a company blog post. OfficeTalk was one of the most popular concepts in OfficeLabs' internal tests. Use of the microblogging service quickly spread across informal networks, offering a unique and efficient collaboration experience, according to the blog post. "OfficeTalk isn't a product--it's a research project focused on learning how people might use social networking tools at work and in what ways both people and organizations realize their value," the blog post says.

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