Welcome to the April 6, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Digital Images Reveal the Secrets of Roman Painting
University of Southampton (ECS) (04/03/09)
Researchers from the University of Southampton, the University of Warwick, and the Herculaneum Conservation Project are using the latest imaging techniques to digitally restore a 2,000-year-old Roman statue. They are using Polynomial Texture Mapping (PTM) to determine the texture and color of the painted surfaces of the statue, which was found in the ruins of town of Herculaneum in 2006 and is believed to depict an Amazon warrior. The team has also developed a rig, camera structure, and custom software that allows for the fast acquisition of PTM data. The scanning process has given the team a series of images, and a single PTM file has been produced using the PTM fitter software. The researchers can move a virtual light source across the virtual scene, and also vary lighting intensity, add more lights, derive surface models, and perform edge detection and other image processing tasks. "Our work at Southampton bridges the gap between computing and archaeology in bringing the best that colleagues in engineering, electronics, and computer science have to offer to unique artifacts from our past," says Graeme Earl of the university's Archaeological Computing Research Group.
Project to Support Minority Students in Science Is Working, Report Says
Chronicle of Higher Education (04/01/09) Kolowich, Steve
The number of minority scientists is increasing, concludes a report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate program. The National Science Foundation-funded (NSF) program facilitates the recruitment, retention, and advancement of underrepresented minorities in higher-level programs at 66 participating institutions. From 2001 to 2008, the number of doctoral degrees awarded to African Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Pacific Islanders at participating institutions increased 34 percent in scientific and technical fields, and in natural sciences and engineering the increase was about 50 percent. The report is more optimistic than other studies on the same issue. For example, a report from the Council of Graduate Schools found that from 1993 to 2004 African-American and Hispanic-American students often struggled to complete doctoral programs compared to White and Asian-American students. NSF's James H. Wyche says that in 2005-2006 the 66 institutions participating in the program accounted for 56 percent of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics doctorates awarded to underrepresented minority students.
New Virus-Built Battery Could Power Cars, Electronic Devices
MIT News (04/02/09) Trafton, Anne
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers led by professor Angela Belcher have developed batteries by genetically engineering viruses to build the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery. The batteries have the same energy capacity and power performance as the state-of-the-art rechargeable batteries under consideration for use in plug-in hybrid cars, and could be used to power a variety of electronic devices, according to Belcher. The batteries could be manufactured inexpensively and in an environmentally friendly manner. The synthesis of the virus takes place at below room temperature, does not require any harmful organic solvents, and the materials used in the battery are non-toxic. In normal lithium-ion batteries, lithium ions flow between a negatively charged anode, normally graphite, and a positive cathode, normally cobalt oxide or lithium iron phosphate. Previous research by Belcher resulted in viruses capable of building an anode by coating themselves with cobalt oxide and gold, and self-assembling to form a nanowire. The most recent work focused on creating a highly powerful cathode to work with the anode. Building cathodes is more difficult because they must be very conductive to be a fast electrode, but most cathode candidate materials are highly insulating. To solve this problem, MIT researchers genetically engineered viruses that coat themselves with iron phosphate and connect to carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material. By recognizing the binding to certain materials, specifically carbon nanotubes, the iron phosphate nanowires can be electrically "wired" to conducting carbon nanotube networks. The viruses used are a common bacteriophage, which infect bacteria but are harmless to humans.
New Methods and Tools for the Development of Embedded Systems
VTT Technical Research Center (04/03/2009)
Research institutions in Europe have created a uniform methodology for developing embedded systems that lowers costs and improves quality. The methodology includes a modeling process that supports platform-based development and a modeling language and techniques for modeling applications and the platform. The pan-European project uses an architectural style that enables the methodology to be applied in different fields. The methodology can be used in the aircraft, automobile, industrial automation, electronics, and telecommunications industries, and for distributed embedded systems such as distributed control, measurement, and communication systems in homes, offices, industry, or urban environments. The methodology has a reference architecture template that offers a set of pre-defined core services and domain-specific services for implementing the execution platform. "The savings are achieved when the results of the expensive development work of platform services can be utilized more than once in different application fields and when flaws and deficiencies can be corrected before the system's actual implementation," says Eila Ovaska, research professor at VTT Technical Research Center in Finland. The reusable methods and tools help maintain the same quality in developing systems.
Carnegie Mellon Tries to Buck Sliding Trend of Women Studying Computer Science
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (04/02/09) Cronin, Mike
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) computer science education graduate student Leigh Ann Sudol says computer science suffers from the lack of female participation and increasing the number of female computer scientists is crucial. "Otherwise, we're losing a huge percentage of smart people in the country to other interests," Sudol says. That loss is not an option in a society that depends on computers, says Brina Goyette, a CMU robotics master's student. CMU and the University of Pittsburgh are working to get more women interested in computer science, including launching organizations and hosting events to generate interest among young women. For example, during Computer Science Day, high school students, undergraduates, and graduate students can meet potential employees, play games, and compete in events. CMU and Pittsburgh professors and students have become more active in showing girls the opportunities computer science can provide, says Pittsburgh professor Diane Litman, who coaches girls in middle school during robotics competitions. "The more we can bring computer science activities to younger students, the more kids will get excited about entering the field," Litman says.
Talking in Color: Imaging Helps Social Skills
Reuters (04/01/09) Lawsky, David
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign computer scientist Karrie Karahalios has developed a technique to digitize conversations and represent them as images, which enables people to "see" their own conversations on computer monitors. Karahalios says the technique provides real-time feedback and can act as a social mirror, allowing people to observe and adjust their own conversations. Conversations appear on a computer terminal as vibrant colors. The colors expand if a voice is talking loudly and overlap when multiple people are talking at the same time. The program, which Karahalios calls a "conversation clock," has been tested with low-functioning autistic children and in marriage counseling. It also is being adjusted for use with people with Asperger's Syndrome. People with Asperger's typically possess sophisticated vocabularies but have difficulty with social interactions, often lecturing or monologuing instead of engaging in open conversation. Giving people with Asperger's visual feedback during conversations can help them learn to change their conversational patterns by balancing the colors on the computer screen. Karahalios also has conducted research on using computer interfaces with low-functioning autistic children to get them to be more vocal and use sounds that are the basis of speech, instead of screams or grunts. The system has been successful in getting children to say multiple words.
Purdue, Rutgers Will Lead $30 Million U.S. Homeland Security Research Center
Purdue University News (04/02/09) Fiorini, Phillip
Purdue University and Rutgers University will lead an international research and education group in a six-year, $30 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security project dedicated to creating methods and tools for the analysis and management of massive amounts of information generated by missions in all areas of homeland security. Homeland Security's new Center of Excellence in Command, Control, and Interoperability will include Purdue and Rutgers teams, which will contribute to developing new methods to assist Homeland Security personnel in preparing for, detecting, preventing, responding to, and recovering from terrorist attacks and natural and man-made disasters. Purdue and 14 other universities will focus on visualization sciences, and Rutgers will explore data sciences. Already the center has formed partnerships with local, state, and national groups to provide university researchers with real-world examples to test and refine technology. Purdue professor and center director David Ebert says turning vast amounts of data into manageable information is vital to homeland security. "For example, in the event of a catastrophe such as a chemical spill, natural disaster, disease outbreak or a terrorist attack, information will be coming from many sources, including camera images, data from sensors and simulations, and text documents from police and health-care agencies," he says. "The amount of information gathered during a crisis can be crushing if not managed correctly." Ebert says his team will expand on previous work by the Purdue University Regional Visualization and Analytics Center.
Behind the Scenes at Gmail Labs
Computerworld (03/31/09) Hoover, Lisa
Google's Gmail Labs is constantly developing new features and applications, and while many of the projects and releases may appear to be casual or random, the Lab's Todd Jackson says there is a method to the madness. "Labs is for Gmail to experiment with new features when we're not really sure if they'll be a hit," Jackson says. "It's a place where we can throw stuff out there, see what sticks." Launched last June, Gmail Labs has added about one new Lab feature per week, with ideas coming from individual engineers and developers in the company, instead of from corporate offices as part of a business plan. Some Lab applications, such as Tasks and Forgotten Email Attachment, are designed to be useful to Gmail users, while others are designed for fun and novelty. So far, no applications have graduated from the Lab section in Gmail and become a standard email tool, but Jackson says some could be released soon. "The criteria for release is really a collection of things," he says. "Primarily we look at user feedback, including how many users have installed the Lab and how many people continue to use it." Jackson says because all Google employees use Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs, bugs and problems are usually caught well before an application reaches the consumer. He says the added pressure of knowing that coworkers are relying on the stability of the product is a major motivator to ensure the product is strong.
Research to Determine Whether Art Is in the Eye of the Beholder
University of Manchester (03/31/09) Haile, Deborah
University of Manchester researchers, working with the Manchester Art Gallery, are collaborating on the Visual Serialisation for Auditory Sequencing (ViSAS) project, a study to determine if reactions to art are a common experience and whether people experience art in the same manner. The researchers will use infra-red technology to determine the order in which people look at different elements in a series of 12 paintings, and the length of time they spend looking at them. The technology will be used to track the movement of viewers' eyes through the reflection of light. Eye movement will be mapped to a network of lines and dots, showing the movement of the eye and any time periods spent focused on a single point. The researchers say their findings could affect how Web sites and other content are designed. "This is exploratory work in which we are looking for patterns in the way people look at different visual elements," says project leader Caroline Jay. "We can't yet say if there's a definitive order that people look at things. But this may help us to understand how and why people focus on particular areas in sequence, what attracts them, and what is the deciding factor for this sequencing." The findings of the ViSAS research could be particularly useful to converting Web pages into an auditory format for blind users or for use on mobile devices. "Common sense suggests that sighted and blind users of the World Wide Web do not share similar user experiences," says study researcher Simon Harper. "However, we propose the opposite and suggest that the user experiences of these two groups are directly linked."
Researchers Find Better Way to Manufacture Fast Computer Chips
Ohio State University Research News (03/31/09) Gorder, Pam Frost
Ohio State University engineers are developing a technique for the mass production of computer chips made from graphene, a sheet-like form of the carbon used in graphite pencils. Experts say that graphene could be the key to making smaller and faster electronics. However, most researchers could only create graphene devices one at a time using traditional silicon oxide substrates, and they were unable to control where they placed the devices on the substrate. OSU professor Nitin Padture has developed a technique for accurately stamping multiple graphene sheets onto a substrate. "We designed the technique to mesh with standard chip-making practices," Padture says. "The industry has several decades of chip-making technology that we can tap into, if only we could create millions of these graphene structures in precise patterns on predetermined locations, repeatedly," he says. "This result is a proof-of-concept that we should be able to do just that." Padture and his colleagues carved graphite into different shapes and stamped those shapes onto silicon oxide surfaces. The graphite stamp can be used repeatedly on multiple substrates, potentially creating a mass-production method.
White House Working Group Releases Strategy for Digital Scientific Data
Government Computer News (03/25/09) Jackson, William
The United States should develop a strategic policy for digital preservation of and access to scientific data, concludes a report by the National Science and Technology Council's (NSTC's) Interagency Working Group on Digital Data. The report urges the creation of interagency and agency-specific policies for the management of data generated by or for government throughout its life cycle. "Our nation's continuing leadership in science relies increasingly on effective and reliable access to digital scientific data," said John H. Marburger III with the president's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). "Researchers and students who can find and re-use digital data are able to apply them in innovative ways and novel combinations for discovery and understanding." Newly appointed federal CIO Vivek Kundra has proposed a central online repository for scientific information at data.gov, which OSTP is reportedly working to deploy. The report recommends bringing together the growing corpora of digital data with the people who will be using and exploiting it, and outlines a vision to "create a comprehensive framework of transparent, evolvable, extensible policies and management and organizational structures that provide reliable, effective access to the full spectrum of public digital scientific data." The study recommends the establishment of a NSTC subcommittee for digital scientific data preservation, access, and interoperability; platforms for agency digital scientific data policy being set down and made accessible by appropriate departments and agencies; and promotion by the agencies of a data management planning process for projects that generate data that should be saved.
The Internet's Librarian
Economist Technology Quarterly (03/09) Vol. 390, No. 8621, P. 34
Technologist and entrepreneur Brewster Kahle's ambition is to produce a free, online corpus of human knowledge called the Internet Archive that is bigger than any other digital library. The archive's most famous component is the Wayback Machine, a repository of digital copies of Internet sites that "gives us access to what people were producing at different points in time," says Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the University of Michigan. The Internet Archive also includes an audio library with more than 300,000 MP3 files, a live-music archive with recordings of more than 60,000 concerts, and a moving-images archive with 150,000-plus films and videos--all freely available to anyone with Internet access. Kahle has enlisted 135 libraries in openlibrary.org, whose goal is to produce a catalog of all published books that includes links to each book's full text where available. The archive digitizes more than 1,000 books daily, and the fees libraries pay for this service partly funds the archive. Kahle is a strong advocate of openness, going so far as to assert that the archive's Scribe scanning machine and its PetaBox machine must be open source. The Internet Archive's book-scanning activities are limited to works in the public domain, whereas most of the books digitized by Google's BookSearch project are still protected by copyright, which means that users can only view small excerpts of the text. The nonprofit Internet Archive and the for-profit Google BookSearch may ultimately complement each other.
White House Says U.S. Needs H-1B Visas to Avoid 'Competitive Disadvantage'
Computerworld (03/03/09) Thibodeau, Patrick
President Barack Obama has already reversed several actions and policies established by President George W. Bush, but has shown little interest in revising a rule that has come under attack from H-1B opponents. The Bush administration increased the amount of time foreign nationals with degrees in engineering, science, and technology can work in the United States on student visas from one year to 29 months, which prompted in the Programmers Guild, the American Engineering Association, Bright Future Jobs, and several other technology workers groups to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J., last May. The lawsuit claims that the policy is a backdoor increase in the H-1B visa cap. Though the lower court rejected the case, an appeal has been filed before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. In a filing with the court last month, the Obama administration defended the H-1B visa program, and reiterated many of the arguments from the Bush administration. "The inability of U.S. employers, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to obtain H-1B status for highly skilled foreign students and foreign nonimmigrant workers has adversely affected the ability of U.S employers to recruit and retain skilled worker and creates a competitive disadvantage for U.S. companies," the administration argued. New Jersey U.S. District Court Judge Faith Hochberg did not comment on the merits of the H-1B program, but rather argued that the opponents of the student visa extension could not legally challenge the case because they were not directly affected by the rule change.
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