Welcome to the July 6, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Global Tech Leaders Promote Open Internet
InformationWeek (07/05/11) Elizabeth Montalbano
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has released a set of 14 policies designed to maintain the Internet as a forum for open communication and expression. The policies are similar to those set out by U.S. President Barack Obama, which aim to promote government transparency and accountability through the use of the Internet. The OECD policies want the Internet to continue to foster technological and economic innovation while "concomitantly meeting certain public policy objectives, including the protection of privacy, security, children online, and intellectual property," according to an OECD release. The policies were developed by leaders from 34 countries, including technology pioneers Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf. The OECD policies aim to promote and protect the free flow of information on the Internet and to maintain an open, distributed, and interconnected nature. Other policies that the group hopes will be adopted include promoting creativity and innovation, strengthening consistency and effectiveness in privacy protection at a global level, and fostering voluntarily developed codes of conduct for Internet behavior.
'Geeky' World of IT Loses Its Appeal as a Career Choice
Financial Times (07/06/11) Maija Palmer
Women increasingly are moving away from careers in technology, despite the presence of several women in high-ranking positions at some of the leading Internet companies. In the United Kingdom, women made up just 18 percent of technology professionals in 2010, down from 22 percent in 2001. "If you look at Facebook, Groupon, and Zynga, some of the fastest-growing technology companies at the moment, most of the customer base is female," says Moonfruit CEO Wendy Tan White. In the United States, women make up just six percent of the chief executives of the top 100 technology companies, and just 22 percent of the IT workforce overall, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). A culture of demanding work hours and a geekiness image are seen as the key factors in discouraging women from pursuing technology jobs, according to an Intellect survey. In the United Kingdom, just nine percent of computer science students are female, compared to 14 percent 10 years ago. In the United States, just 18 percent of undergraduate IT degrees awarded in 2009 went to women, down from 37 percent in 1985. NCWIT notes that tech companies with more women on their management teams have a 34 percent higher return on investment.
IBM Announces Computer Memory Breakthrough
Computerworld (06/30/11) Lucas Mearian
IBM announced the development of phase-change memory (PCM) chips that can store two bits of data per cell without data corruption, which could lead to the development of solid-state chips that can store as much data as NAND flash technology with 100 times the performance and a much greater lifespan. PCM retains data after its power supply is shut down, but it does not require that existing data be marked for deletion prior to new data being written to it, enabling it to sustain up to five million write cycles. IBM researchers have been testing a multi-level cell chip that is capable of storing two or three bits of data, indicating that it can achieve a level of reliability that can have practical applications in the cloud, says IBM's Haris Pozidis. PCM involves electrical charges that change areas on a glassy material from crystalline to random, using far less power than NAND flash to store data. IBM plans to license the technology to accelerate the production of the memory chips for enterprise applications, while other researchers are combining PCM with carbon nanotube technology to develop chips for mobile devices that could extend their battery life for weeks.
UCL Researchers Develop 'Darwinian' Software to Test Car Computers
Science Business (06/30/11)
Researchers from University College London's Center for Research on Evolution, Search, and Testing are collaborating with a team from Berner & Mattner on improving search-based testing techniques. The researchers are using Darwinian evolution to breed scenarios for testing automotive software. The car-testing scenarios then will compete with each other in a virtual world. The idea is to breed the strongest and most demanding testing scenarios for the task of reading through the up to 10 million lines of software code that modern cars now contain to make sure everything in the vehicles work correctly. "Search-based testing techniques have the potential to fully automate testing of embedded systems," says Berner & Mattner's Joachim Wegener. "This will allow significant cost savings and increased product quality." Further development of the evolutionary testing techniques would enable its use in industrial practice.
Vertical Cavity Quantum Switch Could Lead Us Away From Electronics-Based Computing
PhysOrg.com (06/30/11) Miranda Marquit
Researchers at Kobe University and the University of Sheffield are developing new systems that move away from electronics-based computers. "We are trying to demonstrate an all-optical switch that, at the first stage, could be used in ultrafast optical communication systems," says Kobe researcher Chaoyuan Jin. His proposed idea for a vertical geometry for an optical phase shifter using semiconductor quantum dots could revolutionize computer systems. "We're trying to use photonic devices for short-range functions within optical networks, from Internet routers towards inter-chip, or on-chip levels," Jin says. Energy consumption is a major concern for Internet routers, but an all optical-switch "could possibly cut off the additional energy consumption due to the [optics-electronics-optics] interface," Jin notes. All-optical switches also could reduce the overall size of computers. "You need many transistors, and you need power to operate them," Jin says. "That is one of the issues we have right now, since we want the power use to be relatively low." Quantum dots could be used to solve the energy consumption problems, he says.
Scientists Develop Sensitive Skin for Robots
Technische Universitaet Muenchen (06/29/11)
Technical University of Munich (TUM) researchers are developing a sensitive skin for robots that will provide tactile information, adding to their existing perception capabilities provided by camera eyes, infrared scanners, and gripping hands. The researchers say the technology enables robot self perception and will make it easier for robots to navigate their environments. The sensitive skin consists of five square centimeter hexagonal circuit boards, each of which contains four infrared sensors that detect anything closer than one centimeter, simulating the light touch sensation of human skin. The circuit boards also are equipped with six temperature sensors and an accelerometer, which enables the robot to accurately register the movements of its limbs. Also, it is easy to later expand the circuit boards to include other sensors, says TUM's Philip Mittendorfer. The signals from the sensors are processed by a central computer, which enables each sensory module to distribute its own information and serve as a data hub for different sensory components. The researchers say the sensitive skin technology could lead to other fundamental biological capabilities in robotic systems.
IBM Grabs Green Supercomputing Title
eWeek (06/30/11) Darryl K. Taft
Two prototypes of IBM's Blue Gene/Q supercomputer were ranked first and second on the latest supercomputing Green500 list, which ranked six IBM computers on the list of the top 10 most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world. The Green500 organization recognized Nagasaki University's DEGIMA Cluster as the greenest self-built supercomputer in the world, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology's TSUBAME 2.0 as the greenest production supercomputer in the world. The IBM Blue Gene/Q systems are expected to be deployed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Argonne National Laboratory in 2012. IBM notes that both labs helped it design the systems' hardware and software. Columbia University and the University of Edinburgh, which contributed the Blue Gene/Q's processor chip design, also plan to use the system to advance quantum chromodynamics research. IBM's Intrepid system also is ranked first on the Graph500 list, which measures data-intensive applications. Supercomputers using E.T. International's (ETI's) Swift Adaptive Runtime Machine system ranked sixth, eighth, and ninth on the Graph500 list, according to ETI officials.
Texas Advanced Computing Center (06/29/11) Aaron Dubrow
The Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery is researching the development of tunneling transistors, which are comprised of elements from the third and fifth columns of the periodic table (III-V) and consume less energy and can be made smaller than silicon without degrading. "III-V materials have been studied extensively," says Purdue University professor Gerhard Klimeck. "But they have not reached Intel or IBM because industry has been able to build transistors with silicon and it's expensive to completely retool." Klimeck is researching tunnel field-effect transistors (TFETs) as an eventual replacement for complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor-based chips because they can theoretically perform the same number of operations while using less power. TFET devices can swing from using nearly no current to full current with a very steep slope. Purdue researchers are using the Texas Advanced Computing Center's Ranger supercomputer and the National Center for Computational Science's Jaguar supercomputer to run simulations that have led to a greater understanding of the quantum and atomic-lever dynamics that effect III-V devices. "If you can switch from on to off in a smaller swing, you can reduce the whole swing from 0.9 volts, which we have today, to 0.5 or 0.4, volts, which is what we're aiming for," Klimeck says.
New Smartphone App Automatically Tags Photos
Duke University News (06/29/11)
Researchers at Duke University and the University of South Carolina have developed TagSense, a smartphone application that utilizes the phone's sensors to supply more information about pictures. "In our system, when you take a picture with a phone, at the same time it senses the people and the context by gathering information from all the other phones in the area," says Duke's Xuan Bao. The system can achieve a more accurate tagging of a photograph than just facial recognition technologies, using the phone's accelerometer, light sensors, weather application, and microphone to collect information about what is happening in a picture. For example, a phone's accelerometer can determine if the photo's subject is standing still or moving, while its light sensor can tell if the photo is being taken indoors or outdoors. "While facial recognition programs continue to improve, we believe that the ability to identify photographs based on the setting of the photograph can lead to a richer, more detailed way to tag photographs," says Duke's Romit Roy Choudhury. During testing, the researchers used Google Nexus One mobile phones to analyze more than 200 photos taken at different locations on the Duke campus.
Supercomputer Simulations to Help Predict Tornadoes
National Science Foundation (06/29/11) Ellen Ferrante
University of Oklahoma researchers are using supercomputers to assemble and analyze massive amounts of data on tornadoes, such as updraft, downdraft, and regions of spin, all of which could help develop advanced warning systems. The researchers, led by Oklahoma professor Amy McGovern, created tornado models and analyzed how storm variables interact to identify storms that lead to deadly tornadoes. "Long term, this will dramatically improve the prediction of tornadoes as we will better understand why some storms generate tornadoes and others do not," McGovern says. The researchers used observational data from a 20-year-old storm to develop more than 250 storm simulations. Then they used the University of Tennessee's (UT's) Kraken supercomputer to analyze the simulations, each of which produces about a terabyte of data. "Since each simulation generates 1 terabyte of data and we have 50 such simulations, we have too much data for a human to examine by hand," McGovern says. The researchers used UT's Nautilus supercomputer to perform the data mining, which enabled them to isolate and analyze variables that can help with tornado prediction.
Moore's Law Meets Exascale Computing
HPC Wire (06/29/11) Michael Feldman
Moore's law will end during the decade of exascale computing, predicts a new white paper. The document anticipates that complementary-symmetry metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which the semiconductors behind exascale computing will initially employ, will reach its limit sometime within the middle of the next decade when the size of transistors reaches roughly seven nanometers. One of the core recommendations of the white paper's authors is greater government funding to step up the assessment, research, and development of technologies to replace CMOS, as a forerunner to commercial production 10 to 15 years ahead. Simply switching technologies is not a cure for high-performance computing, as the growth in the peak performance of supercomputers has outpaced CMOS scaling. The addition of more chips will not compensate for CMOS scaling's inevitable end, and it is already assumed that the processor count, memory capacity, and other components will need to expand significantly to achieve exascale levels, and the higher failure rates will have to be addressed separately. The paper's authors stress that smarter utilization of processor circuitry must be pursued in order to deal with the issue of CMOS technology's power consumption.
Student Pursues Breakthrough in Supercomputing
Northeastern University News (06/28/11) Matt Collette
Northeastern University's Greg Kerr has developed a process that will make it possible for supercomputers running on the InfiniBand system to save their data part way through a computation, preventing the loss of progress due to a computer crash or bug that would normally require a machine to be restarted. Kerr says the system is scalable, and it can be used on small computer clusters as well as the most advanced supercomputers. "This is the networking technology behind some of the world's largest computers, and yet the number of people who understand the internals of the InfiniBand technology is very small, largely because it is relatively new," says Northeastern professor Gene Cooperman. Kerr's work could allow other researchers to more efficiently complete large calculations on sophisticated computers. This summer Cooperman plans to apply Kerr's process to computations done on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's supercomputers. "I think we're close," Kerr says. "We've got the main points proven and now we need the summer to iron everything out and work out the bugs."
The A-Z of Programming Languages: Shakespeare
Computerworld Australia (06/27/11) Chloe Herrick
In an interview, Swedish programmers Jon Aslund and Karl Wiberg said they created the Shakespeare Programming Language (SPL) in one night while they were studying at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Although SPL was not created for mainstream use, the programmers say it has experienced some popularity due to the fact that its source code resembles Shakespeare's plays. The programmers decided to base their programming language on Shakespeare's writing style because it was a structured, well-defined form that would not be expected to be used to design a programming language, yet was still recognizable to most people, according to Wiberg. SPL is part of a class of programming languages known as esoteric programming languages, which are not meant to be seriously useful. One major application was an SPL program enacted by humans, in the form of a video that featured an introductory presentation at HOPL-III, ACM's third History of Programming Languages Conference in 2007. Since SPL is an esoteric language, it represents a design experiment for people interested in programming languages, Wiberg says. Although the developers have not added to SPL since its creation, other users can add new features to the language. In the future, the developers hope that SPL will be used to inspire other new languages that become dominant in the industry by changing the way software is written.
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