Welcome to the August 5, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
ACM SIGGRAPH Honors Rob Cook for Advances in Computer Graphics Imaging
ACM SIGGRAPH will present Rob Cook of Pixar Animation Studios with its 2009 Steven Anson Coons Outstanding Service Award during SIGGRAPH 2009. The award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to computer graphics and interactive techniques, will go to Cook for his pioneering research into generating computer synthesized images and for his work on the behalf of the SIGGRAPH community. Cook is the original author and co-architect of RenderMan, the industry standard tool for feature animation and visual effects rendering. He also invented programmable shading in the mid 1980s, when Pixar was known as Lucasfilm's Computer Graphics Research Group. Currently the vice president of advanced technology at Pixar, Cook won the first Oscar ever presented for software. He received the ACM Achievement Award in 1987, and has been named an ACM Fellow. SIGGRAPH 2009 takes place Aug. 3-7 in New Orleans.
Five Futuristic Interfaces on Display at SIGGRAPH
Technology Review (08/04/09) Knight, Will
ACM's SIGGRAPH 2009 conference will showcase a quintet of innovative interface models. University of Tokyo researchers have created a touchable holographic interface featuring virtual airborne objects that deliver a tactile sensation thanks to an ultrasound device positioned under the liquid crystal display and a mirror for projecting the objects. The conference also will feature Virtualization Gate, a virtual reality system from INRIA and Grenoble University that tracks users' movements with multiple cameras, facilitating interaction with virtual objects with a greater level of realism. Meanwhile, L'Ecole de Design student Frantz Lasorne's Scope augmented reality display automatically recognizes toys that have been mounted onto platforms covered with hexagonal patterns, which become virtual buttons that can be used to virtually modify the toy. A fourth interface to be highlighted at the event will be Carnegie Mellon University researcher Chris Harrison's scratch input technology, which transforms any surface into an instant input device by detecting the unique sound generated when a fingernail is dragged across it. Finally, University of Southern California researchers will demonstrate Headspin, a three-dimensional (3D) teleconferencing system that maintains eye contact between a 3D head and several participants on the other end of a connection. Images are captured via a polarized beam-splitter that positions the camera virtually near the speaker's eyes, while the 3D display projects high-speed video onto a rapidly rotating aluminum disk to produce an accurate image for each viewer.
Hot Story to Has-Been: Tracking News via Cyberspace
The New York Times (08/05/09) P. C1; Cohen, Patricia
Media Cloud, developed by researchers at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, is a system that tracks scores of newspapers, Web sites and blogs, and then indexes the information in a searchable format. Researcher Ethan Zuckerman says the database will eventually allow researchers to search for key figures, places, and events and determine exactly when, where, and how often they are covered. Harvard professor Yochai Benkler says many researchers have for a long time been using link analysis to map the spread of information, and he describes Media Cloud as one of "the next generation of tools that actually look at what people are saying." Benkler is using Media Cloud to see whether digital media is opening up the public sphere to a greater number of voices. He contends that Web sites that are "one link out" from the most visible are entering into the dialog. In another effort, Professor Jon Kleinberg, winner of the 2008 ACM-Infosys Foundation Award, and Cornell University researchers created Memetracker, which maps frequently used quotes and phrases to show how different stories compete for news coverage each day, and how certain stories persist while others fade quickly. Amy S. Mitchell with Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism says that although Media Cloud "offers the public a great opportunity to play around with looking at a wide swath of media at more of a surface level," it cannot actually encapsulate the subtleties of the news media's news agenda.
DNA Computation Gets Logical at the Weizmann Institute
Weizmann Institute of Science (08/03/09)
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have discovered a way to make biomolecular computers fashioned from DNA and other biological molecules more user friendly while executing highly complex computations and answering sophisticated inquiries. The first autonomous programmable DNA computer developed at Weizmann eight years ago could carry out simple computations such as checking a list of 0s and 1s to see if there was an even population of 1s. The latest program for biomolecular computers facilitates logical deduction through a system in which the computer is fed rules and facts that it applies to the answering of increasingly complicated queries. Concurrent with this was the creation of a compiler program for bridging between a high-level computer programming language and DNA computing code, enabling questions to be typed simply and succinctly. To compute the answer, various DNA strands representing the rules, facts, and queries were constructed by a robotic system and searched for a fit in a hierarchical process. The answer was encoded in a flash of green light by equipping some of the strands with a naturally glowing fluorescent molecule bound to a second protein, which keeps the light sheathed. A specialized enzyme, drawn to the site of the right answer, removed the sheath and let the light shine. The water drops containing the biomolecular databases could answer very intricate queries, and they glowed in a combination of colors representing answers.
A Systems Approach to Improving K-12 STEM Education
CRA Bulletin (07/31/09) Gandomi, Nathan
The improvement of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education via collaboration between public and private stakeholders in an urban K-12 system was the focus of a recent U.S. House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education hearing. A systems approach to STEM education was assessed by the hearing using the urban school district of Chicago. Wanda Ward with the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Education and Human Resources pointed out that NSF has played an essential role in aligning STEM priorities in the America COMPETES Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with four areas of focus: innovation; broad participation to enhance workforce development; enrichment of teacher education; and the cultivation of cyberlearning to augment STEM education. The importance of creating learning experiences in informal environments was emphasized by After School Matters chair Maggie Daly, who observed that her program facilitated successful interaction between hundreds of paid instructors and thousands of students in Block 37 initiatives where professionals address workforce trends with students and students confront workplace problems. The University of Illinois at Chicago's Learning Sciences Research Institute's Donald Wink discussed the relationships, leadership, and research required for the interaction between K-12 students and higher education to fortify STEM education. His recommendation was to concentrate work with existing products and on existing research and to embed K-12 data on student performance in universities. Among the insights gained from the Chicago effort was the need to team with universities for course support and classroom instruction, extend learning experiences outside the classroom, develop math and science focused schools, and nurture partnerships among schools, universities, and federal grants.
Top Cybersecurity Aide at White House Resigns
The Washington Post (08/04/09) P. A3; Nakashima, Ellen
Melissa E. Hathaway, the Obama administration's senior aide on cybersecurity, is stepping down from her role due to delays in the choosing of an administrator to lead the government's initiative to fortify the U.S.'s cyberinfrastructure. Hathaway, who was appointed by the Bush administration, had been a top choice for the cybersecurity coordinator job. But in an statement she said she was no longer applying for the job. "I wasn't willing to continue to wait any longer, because I'm not empowered right now to continue to drive the change," Hathaway said. "I've concluded that I can do more now from a different role," possibly working for a private company. Hathaway called President Obama out on his statement two months ago that he would hand pick a cybersecurity coordinator to spearhead the initiative. "We've made a lot of progress in the last 30 months that I've been in government, and now it's time to move on," Hathaway said. "It's up to the administration to take the next step." A former government official says the administration has interviewed 30 people for the job, and others have expressed frustration with the appointment's delays. The new cybersecurity coordinator will be responsible for developing a national cybersecurity strategy involving military, civilian, and intelligence agencies.
Computer Graphics Innovator Wins ACM SIGGRAPH Research Award
ACM SIGGRAPH will present Adobe scientist Wojciech Matusik with its 2009 Significant New Researcher Award during SIGGRAPH 2009. His original research shows how to capture and represent real-world data that portray material properties and human poses. Using data-driven material representation and innovative systems, Matusik created virtual humans that look, move, and interact in a realistic way. Also, computer graphics techniques can be used by larger audiences because of Matusik's mathematical and computational models. His research can be used in digital communications, materials science, and biomechanics, and usually involves systems for measuring properties in the real world. Matusik earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining Mitsubishi Electric Research laboratories. SIGGRAPH 2009 takes place Aug. 3-7 in New Orleans.
New Epidemic Fears: Hackers
The Wall Street Journal (08/04/09) P. A6; Worthen, Ben
Under the economic stimulus bill and other U.S. federal government proposals, hospitals and doctors' offices that invest in electronic records systems may receive compensation from part of a $29 billion fund. However, such systems can be vulnerable to security breaches. Last year health organizations publicly disclosed 97 data breaches, up from 64 in 2007, including lost laptops with patient data on them, misconfigured Web sites that accidentally disclosed confidential information, insider theft, and outside hackers breaking into a network. Because most healthcare organizations keep patients' names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and payment information such as insurance and credit cards, criminals often target these places for identity theft. "Healthcare is a treasure trove of personally identifiable information," says Secure Works researcher Don Jackson. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission says medical fraud is involved in about 5 percent of all identity theft. Smaller practices can become easier targets, as they rarely have a technology professional or security specialists, and often lack a security plan or proper tools. The government plans to release guidelines over the next year, as part of the stimulus bill, to illustrate a secure information system, but critics warn that data encryption and other security functions are worthless if they are not correctly used. "If you take a digital system and implement it in a sloppy way, it doesn't matter how good the system is," says World Privacy Forum executive director Pam Dixon. "You're going to introduce risk."
Computers Unlock More Secrets of the Mysterious Indus Valley Script
UW News (08/03/09) Hickey, Hannah
A team of Indian and U.S. researchers, led by University of Washington professor Rajesh Rao, is attempting to decipher the script of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. Some researchers have questioned whether the script's symbols are actually a language, or are instead pictograms of political or religious icons. The researchers are using computers to extract patterns from the ancient Indus symbols. The researchers have uncovered several distinct patterns in the symbols' placement in sequences, which has led to the development of a statistical model for the unknown language. "The statistical model provides insights into the underlying grammatical structure of the Indus script," Rao says. "Such a model can be valuable for decipherment, because any meaning ascribed to a symbol must make sense in the context of other symbols that precede or follow it." Calculations show that the order of the symbols is meaningful, as taking one symbol from a sequence and changing its position creates a new sequence that has a much lower probability of belonging to the language. The researchers say the presence of such distinct rules for sequencing provides support for the theory that the unknown script represents a language. The researchers used a Markov model, a statistical model that estimates the likelihood of a future event, such as inscribing a particular symbol, based on previously observed patterns. One application uses the statistical model to fill in missing symbols on damaged artifacts, which can increase the pool of data available for deciphering the writings.
Intel Taps Facebook Multitudes for Massive Research Efforts
TechNewsWorld (08/04/09) Morphy, Erika
Intel has launched Progress Thru Processors, a new Facebook application that provides users with an interface to donate their unused computer processing time to worthy causes. Progress Thru Processors runs as a background process on the user's computer and automatically directs idle processing power to the researchers' computational efforts. When a computer user needs more processing power the application automatically switches to idle mode. Intel is working with GridRepublic, a nonprofit organization that provides spare processing power donated by volunteers to projects in need of computing resources. The desktop client and application used in Progress Thru Processors are based on software developed by the BOINC project at the University of California, Berkeley, which was funded by the National Science Foundation. Intel's John Cooney says the application is unique in that it makes volunteer computing more attainable and user friendly. GridRepublic executive director Matt Blumberg says adding a viral element could help build awareness for volunteer computing. "By providing a widget that makes it easy for people to participate and that let's them update their friends, I would like to think that all or most of Facebook's users will at least become aware of it," Blumberg says. Initially, Progress Thru Processors will focus on only three research efforts, but Cooney says more may be added if the program proves popular. "We wanted a good cross section of project areas, but for our launch we needed to start out with a finite number," he says.
Behaviour of Building Block of Nature Could Lead to Computer Revolution
University of Cambridge (07/31/09)
Physicists from the Universities of Cambridge and Birmingham have demonstrated that electrons in narrow wires can split into two new particles called spinons and holons. Like-charged electrons repel each other and must adjust their movements to avoid getting too close to each other, and this effect is exacerbated in extremely narrow wires. It was theorized in 1981 that under these conditions and at the lowest temperatures the electrons would be permanently divided into spinons and holons. Accomplishing this required confining electrons in a quantum wire that is brought in close enough proximity to an ordinary metal so that the electrons in the metal could "jump" into the wire by quantum tunneling. The Cambridge and Birmingham physicists observed how the electron, on penetrating the quantum wire, split into spinons and holons by watching how the rate of jumping varied with an applied magnetic field. "Quantum wires are widely used to connect up quantum 'dots,' which may in the future form the basis of ... a quantum computer," notes Chris Ford with the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory. "Thus understanding their properties may be important for such quantum technologies, as well as helping to develop more complete theories of superconductivity and conduction in solids in general. This could lead to a new computer revolution."
Inexpensive Parallel Processing: Programming Tools Facilitate Use of Video Game Processors for Defense Needs
Georgia Tech Research Institute (07/31/09) Englehardt, Kirk J.; Toon, John
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology Research Institute (GTRI) are developing a programming tool that will enable defense industry engineers to use graphics processing units (GPUs) without having to learn to program them. "As radar systems and other sensor systems get more complicated, the computational requirements are becoming a bottleneck," says GTRI researcher Daniel Campbell. "We are capitalizing on the ability of GPUs to process radar, infrared sensor, and video data faster than a typical computer and at a much lower cost and power than a computing cluster." Georgia Tech professor Mark Richards is working with Campbell and graduate student Andrew Kerr to rewrite common signal-processing commands to run on a GPU. The researchers are writing functions defined in the Vector, Signal, and Image Processing Library (VSIPL), an open standard. Currently, the researchers are writing the functions in Nvidia's CUDATM language, but the underlying principles can be applied to GPUs developed by other companies, Campbell says. The resulting GPU VSIPL will enable engineers to use high-level functions in C programs to perform linear algebra and signal-processing operations, and recompile with GPU VSIPL to capitalize on the speed of GPUs. In the future, the researchers plan to develop other defense-related GPU function libraries and design programming tools to allow for the use of other highly-efficient processors, such as the Cell broadband engine processor used in the Playstation 3 game console.
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