Welcome to the November 26, 2008 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please Note: In observance of the Thanksgiving holiday, TechNews will not publish on Friday, Nov. 28. Publication will resume on Monday, Dec. 1.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
High Speed Broadband Will Create Energy Bottleneck and Slow Internet, New University of Melbourne Study
University of Melbourne (11/25/08) Scott, Rebecca
A surge in energy consumption caused by the increased adoption of broadband will continue to slow the Internet, concludes a University of Melbourne study presented at the Symposium on Sustainability of the Internet and ICT. "Increased services like video on demand (VOD) will put pressure on the system and create an energy bottleneck," says Melbourne professor Kerry Hinton. The study is the first to model Internet power consumption and will enable Melbourne researchers to identify the major contributors to Internet power consumption as the adoption of broadband services grows in the coming years. Hinton says the exponential growth of the Internet is not sustainable. The results of the study show that, even with more efficient electronics, the power consumption of the Internet will increase from 0.5 percent of today's electricity consumption in Australia to 1 percent by 2020. The growing use of VOD, Web-based real-time gaming, social networking, peer-to-peer networking, and other advanced Web applications will drive the increase in power consumption. "To support these new high-bandwidth services, the capacity of the Internet will need to be significantly increased," Hinton says. "If Internet capacity is increased, the energy consumption, and consequently the carbon footprint of the Internet, will also increase." He notes that some major ICT and Internet-based companies are already experiencing difficulties due to the size and power requirements of servers, routers, and data centers.
Berkeley Lab Team Wins Special ACM Gordon Bell Prize for Algorithm Innovation
Berkeley Lab Research News (11/24/08)
ACM's Gordon Bell Prize for special achievement in high performance computing has been won by a team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for their work concerning nanostructures' energy harnessing potential. The scientists utilized the DOE's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Berkeley Lab, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facilities at Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Center of Computational Sciences (NCCS) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to test the Linearly Scaling Three Dimensional Fragment (LS3DF) technique. LS3DF presents a more efficient method for calculating energy potential because it is based on the observation that the total energy of a large nanostructure system can be divided into small fragments, and each fragment can be calculated independently. The LS3DF application attained a speed of 135 teraflops per second on NERSC's Cray XT4 system, 224 teraflops per second on Argonne's IBM BlueGene/P supercomputer, and 442 teraflops per second on a Cray XT5 system at the NCCS. The electronic composition of a 3,500-atom ZnTeO alloy was computed by the algorithm using the NERSC supercomputer, and the run confirmed that the code could be employed to compute properties of the alloy that previously had been experimentally observed. The model cleared the way for a projection of the alloy's efficiency as a new solar cell material, illustrating LS3DF's effectiveness as the first electronic structure code that runs efficiently on systems with tens to hundreds of thousands of cores. "Using a linear scaling algorithm, we can now study systems that would otherwise take over 1,000 times longer on even the biggest machines today," says Berkeley Lab researcher Juan Meza. "Instead of hours, we would be talking about months of computer time for a single study."
Europeana.eu Launches--Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well, But Temporarily Speechless
Information Today (11/24/08) Bjorner, Susanne
The European Union (EU)-funded Europeana portal offers free access to roughly 2 million digital objects from libraries, museums, archives, and audio-visual collections in 27 member European nations, although capacity problems have forced a temporary closure until mid-December. The Web site supports formats for multimedia material, including film, photos, sounds, paintings, books, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and archival documents. "We recognize that researchers and people learning about European history and culture need to explore all sorts of media," says Deutsches Filminstitut director Claudia Dillmann, and archival, library, audio-visual, and museum domains must cooperate so that the Internet can furnish integrated access to all these media formats. Europeana intends to provide direct access to 10 million digital objects and to be fully operational in all EU languages by the end of the decade. Europeana supplies a simple keyword search box and a connection to advanced search, which features a trio of search boxes for searching within title, creator, date, subject, or any field. Timelines, the format of objects, or ideas that "people are currently thinking about" also are searchable. Registrants can add tags to their retrieved items and store items in a personal MyEuropeana space, while content contributors are required to supply metadata about their resources in Dublin Core, which is used to construct a basic index for simple search. Europeana offers direct access to the digital object rather than to collection descriptions, so content providers are urged to provide more sophisticated metadata to allow users to get directly to the content. Many of the works currently accessible through the portal are pre-20th century due to unresolved copyright issues.
Medical Web Searchers and Escalating Fears
New York Times (11/25/08) P. B3; Markoff, John
Self-diagnosis using search engines frequently leads to users believing that their symptoms are the result of the worst possible scenario, concludes a study by Microsoft researchers. "People tend to look at just the first couple results," says Microsoft Research artificial intelligence researcher Eric Horvitz. "If they find 'brain tumor' or 'ALS,' that's their launching point." The study was conducted as part of an effort to add features to Microsoft's search service that could make it more of an adviser and less of a basic information retrieval tool. The Microsoft study is the first systematic examination of the anxieties people feel during health-related searches. Horvitz says many people treat search engines as if they can answer questions as well as a human expert. The researchers found that Web searches for symptoms such as headache and chest pain were just as likely to lead people to Web sites describing serious conditions as benign conditions, although the serious conditions are much rarer. For example, there was the same number of results linking headaches to brain tumors as to caffeine withdrawal, though the chance of having a brain tumor is significantly smaller. The study found that about 2 percent of all Web queries were health-related, and about 250,000 users, or about a quarter of the sample, engaged in at least one medical search during the study. About a third of users escalated their follow-up searches to explore serious illnesses.
Up Close and Personal Networks
ICT Results (11/24/08)
The Wireless World Research Forum predicts that within the next decade consumers could regularly use up to a thousand personal devices, including sensors and satellite navigation. European researchers working on the MAGNET Beyond project have developed a platform to manage users' personal devices, which will essentially form a network around each user. Such a platform will enable current and emerging devices to communicate with each other through a personal network (PN) and matching personal area networks. The MAGNET Beyond project focused on user needs and the technical requirements that must be fulfilled to meet those needs, says project technical manager Liljana Gavrilovska. The MAGNET Beyond project aimed to seamlessly provide services through self-managing and configuring technology. In one pilot test, users go to a gym and their phones automatically link with exercise machines, updating information to the users' exercise diaries, and enabling the phone to offer advice and help set goals. Another scenario, dubbed Icebreaker, tested social and professional networking on a MAGNET Beyond PN. The test involved a reporter and photographer attending a film festival. Accreditation was handled automatically by connecting personal devices to the festival network, which provided the attendees with information relevant to the festival, along with a virtual press pass and festival program.
Memristors Make Chips Cheaper
Technology Review (11/25/08) Greene, Kate
HP Labs researchers believe that the memristor will enable computing power to continue increasing for years, defying the common belief that improvements in computing speed are reaching an end as electronic components reach their size limitations. A memristor is a nanoscale device with unique properties, including a variable resistance and the ability to remember the resistance even when the power is turned off. HP Labs researchers, which built the first working memristor earlier this year, recently demonstrated how memristors can be integrated into functioning circuits. Memristors require fewer transistors, allow for more components and more computing power in the same space, and use less power than traditional circuits. Increasing performance has traditionally meant shrinking components so more can be put on a circuit, but the HP Labs researchers instead removed some transistors and replaced them with a smaller number of memristors. "We're not trying to crowd more transistors onto a chip or into a particular circuit," says lead researcher Stan Williams. "Hybrid memristor-transistor chips really have the promise for delivering a lot more performance." A single memristor can perform the same logic functions as multiple transistors, promising to increase computing power. Memristors also could be a faster, smaller, more energy-efficient alternative to flash storage. HP Labs is working on several practical memristor applications, and Williams' team has demonstrated a working memristor-transistor hybrid chip.
IETF: Should We Ignore the Kaminsky Bug?
Network World (11/20/08) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
The DNS Extensions working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is debating what to do about the Kaminsky bug, a flaw that opens up DNS servers to cache poisoning attacks and allows hackers to redirect traffic from legitimate sites to fraudulent ones. At IETF's recent meeting in Minneapolis, several participants urged the organization to take immediate action to address the Kaminsky bug because the threat posed by hackers who want to exploit this vulnerability is real. Among the participants urging action was a representative from Comcast, who said the company has seen "large numbers of cache poisoning attacks" attempted since August. Representatives from the National Institute of Standards and Technology also said that they have seen hackers try to take advantage of the flaw. Other participants, meanwhile, said IETF should use the publicity surrounding the July discovery of the Kaminsky bug to promote the deployment of DNSSEC, a solution that can prevent hackers from taking advantage of the flaw. The working group is split on what action to take, said Olafur Gudmundsson, one of the co-chairs of the group. However, Gudmundsson and the other co-chair, Andrew Sullivan, said they plan to make a decision on what to do about the bug before the group's next meeting in March.
Rational or Random? Model Shows How People Send E-Mail
Northwestern University News Center (11/19/08) Fellman, Megan
Northwestern University professor Luis Amaral and colleagues have created a mathematical model that shows people send email randomly and in cycles. The model is based on the emails sent and received from more than 3,000 email accounts at a European university over a span of three months. The data shows that non-random intervals when email is not sent might occur late at night, during the hours most people sleep, or on the weekend, especially in Europe, where many people do not have Internet access at home. The model reveals the cycles of use of certain services, and can predict when users will request services, which could benefit the services and other businesses. "If you know how people access that service, you can better plan how much capacity you need, when you need it, and how to best engineer your system to supply that capacity," Amaral says. "It also teaches you how to interact with the system--a good time to send an email is just about the time that the person has arrived at work."
UVM Researchers Develop Complex Systems Science
University of Vermont (11/18/08) Brown, Joshua E.
Researchers in the University of Vermont's (UVM's) Complex Systems Center are developing solutions to complex systems that raise difficult questions. "In its most simple form, a complex system is many distributed parts interacting in some distributed way," says UVM professor Peter Dodds, "giving rise to some interesting, often unexpected, macrophenomena." UVM Complex Systems Center director Maggie Eppstein says it is not possible to look at the rules each individual part follows to define what is happening in the system as a whole. "You've got to run the model or observe the whole to understand what happens at the next scale," she says. Eppstein and others at the center are working to develop the field of complex systems science, with the goal of bringing new approaches to some of the world's most puzzling problems, such as hurricane forecasts, understanding the effects of phosphorous pollution in watershed, slowing the spread of invasive species, making robots that can understand the intentions behind an action, and revealing the genetic and environmental traits that lead to heart disease. One application of their research could be better power grid management. UVM engineer Paul Hines says nobody is in charge of the electric grid, and there are hundreds of companies involved in supplying power to the United States. "Our goal is not to create a complex model, our goal is to create a useful model," Hines says. "A simple model that helps us understand a complex system."
Will Electric Professors Dream of Virtual Tenure?
Chronicle of Higher Education (11/28/08) Vol. 55, No. 14, P. A13; Young, Jeffrey R.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil foresees computer intelligence overtaking human intelligence by 2030, and such a milestone carries bold ramifications for campus life. California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology director Larry L. Smarr expects researchers' productivity to make huge gains with the upgrade in machine intelligence, and postulates that computerized research assistants may one day assume some of the duties of graduate assistants. "The whole fabric of how humans interact with each other and data is going to rapidly change," he predicts. Meanwhile, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence's Ben Goertzel anticipates that artificial intelligence will eventually surpass the pedagogical abilities of flesh-and-blood teachers, and that such virtual professors will offer individual attention to each student and possess vastly greater patience than their human counterparts. Goertzel speculates that computerized teachers will reduce the cost of a high-quality education enormously, and thus open up more educational opportunities. Scientists and business leaders are planning a new institution called Singularity University that is dedicated to the concept of computers eventually outthinking human brains. One of its objectives is to gain a better comprehension of the implications of smart machines prior to their arrival, in order to mitigate their negative aspects.
NASA Turns to Open-Source Problem-Tracking Databases
CNet (11/14/08) Terdiman, Daniel
The recent launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour will involve the first live test of new software that was designed to streamline the process of problem reporting and analysis. The Human-Computer Interaction Group at NASA's Ames Research Center developed the Problem Reporting Analysis and Corrective Action (PRACA) system, which will serve as a single database package for tracking problems with the shuttle and its infrastructure. Engineers attempting to diagnose problems with the shuttle will find previous reports on similar issues and how they were resolved. PRACA will replace more than 40 different database systems that had been used over the past 30 years. The Ames Human-Computer Interaction Group used open source Bugzilla tools to write PRACA, which saved NASA a significant amount of time and money. The use of the open source tools also means technicians can make changes to PRACA anytime.
Software for Safe Bridges
Fraunhofer Institute (11/08)
Inspectors might not have to examine bridges for visible damage directly on site as a result of new software that has been developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and scientists with the Italian company Infracom. The software makes use of an image processing program that detects irregularities in the bridge material. "The software automatically examines the photos of a bridge for certain characteristics and irregularities, for instance marked discoloration," says ITWM scientist Markus Rauhut. "Unlike a human, the tool doesn't miss any abnormalities--even minor damage is identified and signaled." The researchers used photographs of bridges to create metrics that include the characteristically elongated shape of a hairline crack, the typical discoloration in damp places, and the structures of the material, then created a database of the information. When a photo of a bridge is loaded into the program, the software compares the features of the new image with those of the saved images of the bridge. The software is designed to detect any irregularities and to mark the respective area on the photo, and inspectors can use the analysis to determine the degree of damage to a bridge. Engineers in Italy have been using the new software over the past six months to inspect bridges.
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