Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the November 10, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Quantum Computers a Step Closer to Reality Thanks to New Finding
Imperial College London (11/09/10) Laura Gallagher

Quantum computers could have a much higher threshold for error than previously thought, according to Sean Barrett from Imperial College London and colleague Thomas Stace from the University of Queensland in Australia. Their new research reveals that a quantum computer could still be made to work if up to a quarter of the qubits are lost. "Just as you can often tell what a word says when there are a few missing letters, or you can get the gist of a conversation on a badly connected phone line, we used this idea in our design for a quantum computer," Barrett says. They were able to correct for missing qubits by using a system of error-correcting code, which examines the context provided by the remaining qubits to correctly decipher the lost information. The findings also suggest that quantum computers may be easier to build than previously thought. Barrett notes that scientists will need to find a way to scale the computers to a sufficiently large number of qubits to be viable. "At the moment quantum computers are good at particular tasks, but we have no idea what these systems could be used for in the future," he says.

Stage Set for Showdown on Online Privacy
New York Times (11/09/10) Edward Wyatt; Tanzina Vega

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Commerce Department are planning to release separate and possibly conflicting reports regarding online privacy. Commerce favors letting the industry regulate itself, according to department officials, while the FTC prefers a stricter standard that requires a "do not track" option on a Web site or browser. "I hope they realize that what is good for consumers is ultimately good for business," says the Consumer Federation of America's Susan Grant. The major online companies prefer that the industry continue to regulate itself. "Targeted ads are helpful and ad competition is helpful," says Google CEO Eric E. Schmidt. The Obama administration wants to protect consumers while also making U.S. companies more competitive in the world market. The White House also wants to ensure that any restrictions do not impede law enforcement and national security efforts. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have recently contacted online companies to account for intrusions and consumer privacy breaches. A "do not track" system could be built into a Web browser or function as a plug-in, instructing Web sites, content providers, and advertisers that the user does not want to be tracked, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Lee Tien.

Human-Computer Music Performances Use System That Links Music and Musical Gestures (11/09/10) Lisa Zyga

University of Victoria researchers have developed a new method for capturing musical gestures and mapping them to sounds. The researchers' method is a hybrid of the direct acquisition method, which involves the use of sensors to create hyper-instruments, and the indirect acquisition method, which involves using a microphone and signal-processing algorithms. The Victoria team temporarily attached sensors to an instrument to capture musical gestures and a microphone to capture sound. The data was analyzed and the team developed a surrogate sensor, which determined the musical gestures based only on the analyzed sound captured from the microphone. "The main advantage of the method is that it allows large amounts of training data for machine-learning algorithms to be acquired without human annotation simply by playing an instrument enhanced with sensors," says Victoria computer scientist George Tzanetakis. The system improves on previous methods because it does not hinder performers or their instruments when playing, and it does not require large amounts of processing and analysis.

Taking Movies Beyond Avatar
University of Abertay Dundee (11/08/10) Chris Wilson

University of Abertay Dundee researchers have developed a technique that builds on the virtual cameras used in the movie Avatar by using home computers and motion controllers. The technique, called Motus, links the power of a virtual camera using a motion sensor, which the researchers say enables completely intuitive, responsive camera actions within any computer-generated world. "Using a new Sixense electromagnetic motion controller, we can now manipulate a virtual camera in any virtual environment--be it a film, an animation, a computer game, or a simulation tool for teaching," says Abertay's Matt Bett. He says Motus allows complex films and animations to be produced at a very low cost. "This tool could completely change the way people interact with computer games, and the way computer-aided learning is delivered to students around the world," says Abertay researcher Erin Michno. The tool uses electromagnetic sensors to capture the controller's position precisely and works even when other objects are in the way.

Why There Are So Few Women in Tech
BusinessWeek (11/09/10) Vinita Gupta

Women with engineering or computer science degrees face a tricky career path at technology companies and often leave their jobs just as they near their career peaks, writes Digital Link founder Vinita Gupta. The National Center for Women and Information Technology has found that women with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees often do not make it to the top of their career fields. Of the top 100 tech companies in 2008, women accounted for just six percent of chief executives. Of companies that raised venture capital in 2006, only seven percent were founded by women. In addition, only 18 percent of college graduates with computer science degrees in 2008 were women. Fewer women in STEM fields has been attributed to a lack of female role models, less encouragement from parents and teachers, and the personal decision to start a family. But Gupta says confidence also is a critical factor for women in the technology industry, and can be traced to parents who unwittingly "retard the development of the confidence that girls need to master the critical thinking required in a rigorous math and science curriculum." She says women need that confidence when they enter the business world and must face a male-dominated conference room or boardroom.

Quantum Computing Reaches for True Power
New York Times (11/08/10) John Markoff

Researchers have recently made significant advances in quantum computing. IBM has assembled a research group consisting of Yale University and University of California, Santa Barbara alumni that will conduct a five-year research project to develop quantum computing technologies. "IBM is quite interested in taking up the physics which these other groups have been pioneering," says IBM's David DiVencenzo. "We're at the stage of trying to develop these qubits in a way that would be like the integrated circuit that would allow you to make many of them at once," says Yale physicist Rob Schoelkopf. Although the number of qubits is increasing slowly, the amount of control over quantum interactions has greatly increased. Several new approaches to quantum research are being pursued. Cambridge University researchers have developed light-emitting diodes coupled with a custom-formed quantum dot. Other scientists have built qubits from ions that are trapped in electromagnetic fields. D-Wave Systems has built a system with more than 50 quantum bits, and has contacted Google about developing a quantum computing facility based on the technology.

Imec Leads Development of Stretchable Electronic Fabrics
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (11/08/10) Siobhan Wagner

Imec is leading a smart textiles project that is focusing on making electronic packages conform to the properties of textiles, rather than weaving rigid electrical components into fabrics. This new type of electrical component integration, which builds on the results of the European Union-funded stretchable electronics development program, could lead to high-volume manufacturing of smart textiles, says Imec's Johan De Baets. The integrating Platform for Advanced Smart Textile Applications (PASTA) project will demonstrate a conductive fiber with small micro-machined silicon dyes integrated into the yarn. The fabric will include a stretchable interposer that will serve as a stress-relief interface between the rigid component and elastic fabric, and also will feature stretchable electrical interconnections. PASTA will use the technology in light-emitting diode integrated fabrics for safety signs, in strain-gauge embedded textiles for safety monitoring, in bright light shirts for visibility when cycling, and for humidity-detecting hospital bed sheets.

Wising Up on STEM Completion
Inside Higher Ed (11/08/10) Allie Grasgreen

Arizona State University researchers recently unveiled CareerWISE, a Web site designed to increase the retention of women pursuing degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by addressing the various challenges they face. "We aim to reduce these women's decisions to leave their programs, if that decision involves discouragement," says Arizona State professor Bianca L. Bernstein. The Web site is an important component to addressing problems in Ph.D. policies and environments, says Daniel Denecke, director of the Council of Graduate Schools, which found that women take 7 percent to 10 percent longer to complete their STEM doctorates than men do. "A lot of these obstacles that this resource is preparing students to face and to conquer are the very obstacles that we're also trying to resolve on the institutional side," Denecke says. Arizona State researchers hope to strengthen women's ability to manage the personal and interpersonal challenges they encounter while completing graduate degrees and beginning their careers. The site features a four-step problem-solving model, modules to help users understand how they should react in certain situations, and a library of video clips in which women in STEM share their personal experiences.

Adding Cabbie Know-How to Online Maps
Technology Review (11/05/10) Kate Greene

Microsoft researchers developed an online mapping system by analyzing global positioning system (GPS) data from 33,000 Beijing taxis. The system, called T-Drive, aims to develop faster driving routes that would be practical for all users. "These factors are very subtle and difficult to incorporate into existing routing engines," says Microsoft researcher Yu Zheng. The routes suggested by T-Drive are faster than 60 percent of the routes suggested by Google and Bing maps, according to Microsoft researchers. Other projects also are working to improve online maps. For example, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Nokia collected GPS data from drivers' cell phones to provide traffic information about side roads. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's CarTel project uses data from drivers' phones and from probes on taxis. A Silicon Valley startup called Waze enables people to share their driving paths with their online social networks. "You can probably assume routes taxi drivers take are more optimal, and it's a good idea to learn more optimal routes by looking at them," says Waze's Ehud Shabtai.

Mining Data Streams for Nuggets of Truth
Montreal Gazette (Canada) (11/05/10) Asmaa Malik

Computer scientist and artist Jonathan Harris has developed several data visualization tools that search and display Internet data. WordCount is an interactive tool that shows the 86,000 most popular English words in the British National Corpus, ranked and sized in the order of how often they are used. Harris also developed a search function for WordCount that evolved into a new Web site called QueryCount, which strings together the most frequently searched for words on WordCount. QueryCount showed that users' interaction with WordCount data made the information more fluid, and they were able to make their mark on the data through their selections. Harris also developed the We Feel Fine project, a data visualization tool that searches blogs and Web sites for phrases that describe emotion and categorizes them according to age, location, feeling, gender, weather, and date. The result is an interactive experience with star-like dots of every color and size representing human emotion. "If you design a system that is simple enough, people will find a way to use that for human expression," Harris says.

A Review of NITRD
Computing Community Consortium (11/04/10) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) has approved a draft report review of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program. Completed over the summer, the report recommends new long-term, multi-agency basic research initiatives for health information technology (IT), energy and transportation, and cybersecurity. The report highlights new frontiers, such as high-performance computing, privacy and confidentiality, large-scale data analytics, human-computer interaction, graphics and visualization, robotics, scalable systems, and software development. Moreover, the report also notes the importance of educating the next-generation workforce. In a recent public session of PCAST, Ed Lazowska, co-chair of the working group that conducted the review, and PCAST member David Shaw noted that networking and IT have enhanced the U.S.'s economic competitiveness and accelerated discovery in all fields.

European Commission Invests $31 Million in Symbian Foundation
Fierce Mobile Content (11/03/10) Jason Ankeny

The European Commission-backed Artemis Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) will invest $30.8 million in the Symbian Foundation, a nonprofit organization that oversees the Symbian smartphone platform, which the initiative says is essential for Euro-based mobile software development. Artemis JTI will fund the launch of the Symberose consortium, which will be led by the Symbian Foundation. The consortium brings together 24 organizations from eight European countries, including mobile device manufacturers, hardware service providers, integration service providers, consumer electronics companies, mobile network operators, application developers, universities, and research institutions. "New opportunities will arise from the principle that all mobile, Internet-connected devices share a number of common requirements on their underlying software system," says the Symbian Foundation's Richard Collins. "The Symbian platform is in a strong position to benefit in this emerging world of embedded devices by supporting new types of hardware." Collins also says the Symberose initiative will focus on concepts such as cloud computing and multicore processing.

Cyber Storm Drill to Yield New Lessons, Feds Say
Government Technology (11/05/10) Hilton Collins

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently concluded Cyber Storm III, its third cyberwar simulation, connecting thousands of participants from the state, federal, and private sectors in a week-long drill to assess the cyberdefensive capabilities of government agencies and corporations. The U.S. National Cyber Security Division's Brett Lambo says an analysis of the exercise will involve receiving input and experiential information from participants. DHS says Cyber Storm III is the largest exercise to date, with Lambo pointing out that the drill was run by about 100 exercise planners or "string pullers," while the other players performed their roles as crises were simulated at sites worldwide. The simulation was established to evaluate stakeholders' ability to identify ongoing attacks in real time and manage computer compromises and vulnerabilities. The scenario was designed to simulate contemporary, sophisticated digital threats that include targeted attacks. "The exercise--it's a tool you can use to stress people, to lay yourself bare a little bit to say, 'Look, we don't want to find these things out when there's a real crisis, so let's try to find where we need to improve in a risk-free environment,'" Lambo says.

Broadband Coming Wirelessly to the Bush
CSIRO (Australia) (11/03/10) Nic Svenson

CSIRO has developed wireless broadband technology for people who live in rural areas beyond the reach of optical-fiber networks. The first half of the Ngara technology is a system that will allow multiple users to upload information simultaneously without reducing the data transfer rate of 12 Mbps. "They'd be able to upload a clip to YouTube in real time and their data rate wouldn't change even if five of their neighbors also started uploading videos," says CSIRO's Ian Oppermann. The 12 Mbps, six-user system works in the space of one TV channel, which is 7 MHz wide. Oppermann says the spectral efficiency of 20 bits per second per Hertz is the really impressive aspect of the system. CSIRO researchers say they have achieved a spectral efficiency that is three times that of the closest comparable technology and the data rate is more than 10 times the industry's recently declared minimum standard. Gartner's Robin Simpson says the reuse of old analog TV channels is the most promising part of the technology. "This means any rural property or business that can currently receive TV signals could in the future connect to high-speed Internet just by using a new set-top box," Simpson says.

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