Welcome to the August 24, 2009 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Mining the Web for Feelings, Not Facts
New York Times (08/24/09) P. B1; Wright, Alex
Opinions expressed on the Internet can determine the eventual success or failure of a product, and tools stemming from the emergent field of sentiment analysis could not only help businesses bolster their revenues, but ultimately facilitate a transformation of the experience of searching for information online. For example, Jondage provides a service aimed at online publishers that enables them to incorporate opinion data gathered from more than 450,000 sources, including mainstream news sources, blogs, and Twitter. The service uses a sophisticated algorithm that assesses sentiments about specific topics while also identifying the opinion holders with the most influence. Jondage's early investors include the National Science Foundation, and it is presently developing an algorithm that could tap opinion data to anticipate future occurrences, such as projecting the effect of newspaper editorials on a company's stock price. Meanwhile, the Financial Times' experimental Newssift program tracks sentiments about business topics in the news, combined with a specialized search engine that lets users organize their queries according to topic, organization, place, person, and theme. The simplest sentiment analysis programs scan keywords to interpret a statement as positive or negative based on binary analysis, but important subtleties of human language--irony, sarcasm, slang, etc.--are overlooked. "We are dealing with sentiment that can be expressed in subtle ways," says Yahoo researcher Bo Pang. She has created software that analyzes several different filters, including polarity, intensity, and subjectivity, to determine a statement's actual intent.
Social Network Research Nets U of T Student Big Prize
University of Toronto (08/21/09) Thorne, Tammy
University of Toronto student Stratis Ioannidis received the second place prize in the graduate category at the recent annual ACM Awards Banquet for his work, "On the Distribution of Content Updates over a Mobile Social Network." The ACM Student Research Competition (SRC), which is sponsored by Microsoft Research, enables students to share their research results and ideas with other students, judges, and conference attendees. Ioannidis was one of three graduate students who qualified for the SRC Grand Finals. "The main premise behind this work is that more and more people want to access online content on their cell phones," Ioannidis says. "Modern devices, like Windows smartphones or the iPhone make this possible: users surf the Web, read news sites or blogs or learn about road traffic on their way to work." Because of the large number of people accessing content on their cell phones there is a major opportunity to get information from other cell phone users. For example, someone nearby may have already downloaded the same piece of information another user wants, and downloading that information from a user, instead of the service provider, reduces the traffic load and costs of the service provider. Ioannidis says the challenge is for service providers to decide which devices should receive updates, which could be determined based on the number of contacts a user has. "The service provider needs to understand what the social network formed by mobile users--the 'mobile social network'--looks like," Ioannidis says. "This challenge intrigued me because it showed that social networks can affect, in very concrete way[s], a real-life application."
Millionths of a Second Can Cost Millions of Dollars: A New Way to Track Network Delays
University of California, San Diego (08/20/09) Kane, Daniel
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Purdue University have developed the Lossy Difference Aggregator, a method for diagnosing delays in data center networks in as little as tens of millionths of seconds. Delays in data center networks can result in multimillion dollar losses for investment banks that run automatic stock-trading systems, and similar delays can hold up parallel processing in high performance cluster computing applications. The Lossy Difference Aggregator can diagnose fine-grained delays in as little as tens of microseconds, and packet loss as infrequent as one in a million at every router within a data center network. The researchers say their method could be used to modernize router designs with almost no cost in terms of router hardware and no performance penalty. The performance of the routers within the data centers that run automated stock-trading systems are large and difficult to monitor. Delays in these routers, called latencies, are what can add microseconds to a network's time and potentially cost millions of dollars. The traditional way of measuring latency is to track when a packet arrives and leaves a router. However, instead of tracking every packet, the new system randomly splits incoming packets into groups and adds up arrival and departure times for each group. As long as the number of losses is smaller than the number of groups, at least one group will provide an accurate estimate. Subtracting the two sums, from groups that have no loss, and dividing by the number of messages, provides the estimated average delay. By implementing this system on every router, a data center manager could quickly identify slow routers. The research was presented at the recent ACM SIGCOMM 2009 conference. Purdue University professor Ramana Kompella says the next step will be to build the hardware implementation.
Grid Computing, the New Commodity
ICT Results (08/24/09)
The European Union-funded GridEcon project has developed a platform for trading computing resources and buying and selling standardized computing resources. GridEcon's commodity market platform allows users to bid on available computing capacity, or establish a tender for a specific computing time slot. The GridEcon platform is open, enabling users to buy and sell computing capacity as needed. For example, if a company has spare capacity, it can sell it to other users, but it also can buy additional capacity during busy times. The GridEcon project has created a virtual trading floor for computing resources, a platform for validating new market-based services, and has published studies on the economics and mechanics of computing resource marketplaces. In addition, because of its open source design, if a company wants to develop another mechanism they can plug new functionality into the platform, enabling it to be used in a variety of potential market types. "Our role was to build the platform and test it--and the results of our testing phase were indeed positive with respect to functionality and response times," says GridEcon project coordinator Sonja Klingert from the International University in Germany. "But it is there for somebody else to turn it into a commercial venture."
NSF Defers to Universities on Ethical Standards
Chronicle of Higher Education (08/20/09) Basken, Paul
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has published rules in the Federal Register that would make universities responsible for providing ethics training. Under the America Competes Act, which was designed to improve U.S. competitiveness in mathematics and science, all NSF grant recipients must be trained in the "responsible and ethical conduct" of research. The rules would require institutions to certify that they have provided ethics training, but they would not be routinely asked to describe the actual content of the instruction. However, universities would be subject to review upon request. The NSF plans to provide some guidelines for teaching ethics, including workshops and online resources, but they would not involve specific content standards. "Training needs may vary depending on specific circumstances of research or the needs of students," the NSF says.
Robot With Bones Moves Like You Do
New Scientist (08/24/09)
Human anatomy could serve as the blueprint for humanoid robots and enable them to interact with their environment in a more human manner, according to the European team behind the Eccerobot project. The researchers are building a robotic anatomy based on the way human bones, muscles, and tendons are linked together and work. The robot has plastic bones that resemble biological shapes, and the kite-line used to move them is tough, like tendons. The team uses elastic cords to give the robot's muscles some bounce. "We want to develop these ideas into a new kind of 'anthropomimetic robot' which can deal with and respond to the world in ways closer to the ways that humans do," says project leader Owen Holland from the University of Sussex. The robot also will be built with some human-like artificial intelligence.
Brighter Idea for Bendy Displays
BBC News (08/21/09)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor John Rogers has led the development of a new technique for manufacturing tiny inorganic light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that enables them to be attached to materials such as glass or rubber. The new manufacturing method "enables new kinds of 'form factors' that would allow you to put lighting sources on curved surfaces or in corners, places where you can't put light sources nowadays," Rogers says. The breakthrough means that technology currently used in large video billboards can now be used in flexible and transparent displays to create a variety of products, such as brake lights that fit the curves of a car or medical diagnostic equipment that can be wrapped around a patient like a blanket. The majority of consumer electronics use inorganic LEDs, which are 400 times brighter per square centimeter than organic LEDs. Organic LEDs (OLEDs) are easier to manufacture but are not as robust as LEDs, and must be encapsulated because they are sensitive to oxygen and moisture. Rogers and his colleagues have developed a method that creates bright, robust inorganic LEDs that can be processed en masse. Their approach produces thin inorganic LEDs in high quantities that are then cut into small pieces by soaking them in a strong acid. The pieces can be picked up with a stamp, with holes cut precisely to size for the elements, and placed on a variety of surfaces, including glass or rubber. The pieces also can be placed sparsely enough that a bright layer of them is almost transparent. "Because you can get away with very low coverage by area, it opens up the possibility of making something that's see-through," Rogers says.
W3C Bridging Knowledge Organization Systems to Linked Data
InfoWorld (08/19/09) Krill, Paul
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has introduced a new standard designed to make it easier to search for documents and information. The Simple Knowledge Organization System (SKOS) serves as a model for expressing basic structure and content of concepts such as classifications, thesauri, and taxonomies. Managers of large collections of items would be able to use the standard to link vocabularies to the Semantic Web. The U.S. Library of Congress uses SKOS for subject headings, enabling the linked data community to search for books on Chinese literature by "Chinese drama" or "Chinese children's plays," for example. SKOS will provide organizations with new categories for describing and discovering information. "Active participation from the library and information science community in the development of SKOS over the past seven years has been key to ensuring that SKOS meets a variety of needs," says Thomas Baker, co-chair of W3C's Semantic Web Deployment Working Group, which published SKOS. "One goal in creating SKOS was to provide new uses for well-established knowledge organization systems by providing a bridge to the linked data cloud."
Towards Healthiier Communication
University of Southampton (ECS) (08/20/09)
Quick communications via social networking tools could have a positive impact on the well-being of people over time, according to University of Southampton researchers. Southampton professor Monica Schraefel and Ph.D. student Paul Andre have set up healthii to determine whether people would embrace an application that would make it easier to convey information about how they are doing personally and socially. "For instance, if I can tell people 'I am reading an interesting paper' and add a compressed version of my well-being at that time, with a code like '#healthii(3321),' then I am not only saying what I am doing, but adding a rich context around that activity," Schraefel says. "In this case, the code says I am busy, enjoying what I am doing, not too stressed, but feeling under the weather." Healthii can be used in Facebook or desktop applications, and both can input from and output to Twitter. People have been using the application for self-reflection and group awareness, and the feedback has convinced one person who worked non-stop for a week that it was time to take a break. The results of the research should provide a better understanding of how conveying information about busyness, enjoyment, health, and stress levels would impact group behavior.
Software Quality Has a New Name: CISQ
eWeek (08/20/09) Taft, Darryl K.
The Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and the Object Management Group (OMG) are sponsoring the creation of the Consortium of IT Software Quality (CISQ), an industry-led initiative to address the measurement of IT applications quality attributes. CISQ will unite industry executives, system integrators, outsourcers, and vendors to address the challenge of standardizing the measurement of IT software quality and to promote a market-based ecosystem to support its deployment. One of CISQ's first objectives will be to develop an industry standard to automate the measurement of quality attributes. "For several years IT executives have complained that there are no industry standards for measuring the quality of business application software," says OMG CEO Richard Soley. "CISQ will enable us to benchmark the effectiveness of internal development, evaluate the quality of applications acquired from external sources, and predict the quality and cost of IT services to the business." CISQ's five primary objectives include developing standard measurements for evaluating software quality and multi-tier IT application risk, proposing methods for using quality measures in negotiating and managing the acquisition or maintenance of IT application software, and developing and promoting professional licensing for providers of services to assess the quality of IT application software. "Unless we address the quality challenges of these systems, business and government operations will be placed at unacceptable risk," says CISQ director Bill Curtis.
Red Hat, IBM, Novell Major Contributors to Exploding Linux Kernel Development
Network World (08/19/09) Fontana, John
The Linux Foundation reports that 2.7 million lines of code have been added to the Linux kernel over the past 16 months. The open source project now has more than 11.5 million lines of code. The number of lines added, removed, and changed each day has increased 70 percent, 68 percent, and 32 percent, respectively, from the previous report in April 2008. And the number of developers contributing to each kernel release cycle, which comes every two to three months, has risen about 10 percent. More than 5,000 individual developers from nearly 500 companies have contributed to the kernel, and the greatest support continues to come from Red Hat, IBM, and Novell. Participation from the individual development community has doubled over the past three years. The increasing rate of change and jump in contributors is a sign of a "vibrant and active community, constantly causing the evolution of the kernel in response to a number of different environments it is used in," the report says. The foundation also suggests the pace of development will continue to accelerate.
Hong Kong Center Aims to Put China at the Forefront of RFID Growth
RFID Journal (08/18/09) Friedlos, Dave
The Hong Kong Logistics and Supply Chain Management Research and Development Center (LCSM R&D) intends to place China at the vanguard of the rapid adoption of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in Asia Pacific countries. Roles the center fills include performing industry research, supplying technology and market intelligence, offering a platform for the sharing of intellectual property and technology, promoting technology development, transfer and knowledge dissemination, and aiding in technology commercialization. LCSM provides financial support to about 30 RFID projects involving more than 100 businesses and local universities. CEO Chung Jen Tan says the organization's objective is to fortify Hong Kong's economic competitiveness and augment its technology leadership in the logistics and supply chain management sector. Projects sponsored by the LCSM run the gamut from tracking air freight using RFID to monitoring personnel in mines to electronic seals to secure ocean cargo containers. LCSM is funding research and development into inexpensive, lightweight RFID reader chips customized for near-field applications, with a proprietary secured communication engine. RFID tagging is becoming crucial in product packaging, and in 2008 the center supplied $1.66 million for a project to develop product-specific RFID labels that are tuned and optimized for the packaging materials, and then incorporate the tags into packages. Another LCSM-backed project is the Integrated Shenzhen-Hong Kong Food Safety and Supply Chain Management Public Information Platform, which uses RFID technology to track food across the supply chain from Shenzhen to Hong Kong and supplies information related to food safety.
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