Welcome to the November 24, 2010 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 Friday, Nov. 26. Publication will resume Monday, Nov. 29.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Top Scientist Urges 'Ambitious' U.S. Exascale Supercomputer Plan
Computerworld (11/24/10) Patrick Thibodeau
Peter Beckman, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Exascale Technology and Computing Institute, says the United States needs to make a sizable push to open up funding resources if the country is to have a chance of winning the race to build an exascale supercomputing system. An exascale computing platform's development costs are estimated in the billions of dollars, and Japan, China, and Europe are all engaged in the creation of such platforms. Beckman says an exascale system is necessary to meet high-performance computing challenges inherent in such projects as the tackling of basic science questions, designing more fuel-efficient automobiles, and creating new drugs. "In the exascale thrust, the DOE has said we're going to launch a series of co-design centers which will cover several applications areas, fusion, materials, chemistry, climate, etc., and those communities will then have a voice in speaking with the companies designing the platforms," Beckman says. Meanwhile, the International Exascale Software Project aims to bring together representatives from Europe, the United States, and Asia to concentrate on the software side of exascale computing. Beckman stresses that application codes must undergo a radical improvement if they are to exploit exponential growth in parallelism.
Shunned Profiling Method on the Verge of Comeback
Wall Street Journal (11/24/10) Steve Stecklow; Paul Sonne
The use of deep packet inspection, an intrusive Internet-based advertisement profiling and targeting technology, is on the rise two years after privacy advocates seemingly destroyed it. Deep packet inspection, which can read and analyze Internet data packets, can be more powerful than cookies and other online-tracking techniques because it can monitor all online activity, not just Web browsing. Two U.S. companies are hailing the technology as a way for Internet service providers (ISPs) to claim a share of the online ad market. The companies claim to protect users' privacy by getting their consent and by not reading email or analyzing sensitive online activity. "If you're trying to engage in one-stop-shopping surveillance on the Internet, deep packet inspection would be an awesome tool," says David C. Vladeck, director of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection. However, Vladeck says broadband providers must notify users and obtain their permission before enabling deep packet inspection. The companies using deep packet inspection to provide ad services think they have found a method that will appease privacy advocates and Internet users, including asking for permission up front and offering incentives to get targeted ads. Recent tests in North America, France, and the United Kingdom indicate that about 60 percent of users are willing to accept such a service for free in exchange for receiving targeted ads.
Georgia Tech-Led Team Wins Gordon Bell Prize for Supercomputing
Georgia Tech News (11/22/10) Stefany Sanders
A Georgia Tech-led team, which also included researchers from New York University and the U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), won the ACM Gordon Bell Prize for the world's fastest supercomputing application at SC10, the annual supercomputing conference. The researchers, led by Georgia Tech professor George Biros, developed a blood-flow simulation of 260 million red blood cells flowing in plasma. The team used 196,000 of ORNL's Jaguar supercomputer's 224,000 processor cores, pushing the machine to 700 teraflops. "We put this team together to tackle the mathematical and computational challenges associated with blood-flow simulation, and while our research is an important step, it is only a first step, which we hope to expand upon in the coming years," Biros says. The application's most significant achievement is simulating realistic cells that deform as they flow through blood plasma. "Our long-term goal is to investigate the design of diagnostic microfluidic devices and develop a quantitative understanding of blood clotting mechanisms," he says.
Technology Puts Mind Over Body
Bangkok Post (11/24/10) Suchit Leesa-nguansuk
Researchers working on Mahidol University's iThink2 project have developed a brain computer interface (BCI) that controls electronic devices with brain signals and could help quadriplegic patients improve their quality of life. The project is aimed at developing a visual remote control for home electronic devices such as TVs. A sensor on the remote control detects the user's gaze, and can determine instructions using electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes and an EEG amplifier. The process, called Pattern Recognition Algorithm, then sends the signals to the target devices. "We need to further develop the visual stimulation unit so that brain signals are strengthened and commands are processed quicker," says Mahidol's Yodchanan Wongsawat. The researchers also are developing a wheelchair that uses BCI technology. Preliminary testing found that a BCI-controlled wheelchair had an average usage time of one to two hours before users became tired or brain signals weakened. The researchers say BCI technology also can be used to develop writing programs, video games, and robotic arms.
Berners-Lee: Social Networks Are a 'Threat to the Web'
PC Advisor (11/22/10) Carrie-Ann Skinner
Social networks pose a threat to the Web because they capture and reuse users' information rather than share it with other sites, says Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He says large social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Friendster are silos of closed content that control user information. "The more this kind of architecture gains widespread use, the more the Web becomes fragmented--and the less we enjoy a single, universal information space," Berners-Lee says. He notes that Apple has similarly centralized and walled-off iTunes, which requires people to access the site through a patented link and traps them in a single store. Berners-Lee also believes that net neutrality regulations should cover both fixed Internet lines and mobile broadband. "It is ... bizarre to imagine that my fundamental right to access the information source of my choice should apply when I am on my Wi-Fi-connected computer at home but not when I use my mobile phone," he says.
Wyden Pledges to Delay Internet Anti-Piracy Bill
Washington Post (11/23/10) Cecilia Kang
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) vows to stop the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, an Internet anti-counterfeiting and piracy bill that he calls a "bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile." The bill contains provisions that would let the Justice Department remove domain names of Web sites that enable online copyright infringement and hold credit card companies liable. Wyden's promise to block the bill from passing during the current lame-duck Congressional session was applauded by anti-censorship groups, and will likely delay passage until the next Congress, according to experts. There are already mechanisms in place to battle online piracy and new rules will not give Internet sites due process, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF). "Under current law, Hollywood already has powerful tools to police online infringement, such as the DMCA takedown process, that were the result of years of negotiation and include protections against abuse," the EFF says. However, MacMillian president Brian Napack says third parties should be included in the bill because they are part of a system that supports online theft.
Taiwan Disease Simulation System Publicly Unveiled
China Post (Taiwan) (11/22/10)
Taiwanese researchers have refined a disease simulation system capable of predicting the spread of influenza. The disease simulator makes use of a revised algorithm for an updated database containing population and transportation data, as well as public health statistics. The new algorithm enables the disease simulation system to run 1,000 times faster than previous systems and generates more precise results, according to Wang Da-wei, a medical informatics specialist with Academia Sinica's Institute of Information Science. Moreover, the system can simulate the outcomes of different quarantine policies, which gives it a wide range of applications. The simulator was publicly unveiled in November, but researchers have been working on the system since 2007. The researchers tested the disease simulation system late last year during the H1N1 flu outbreak, and it helped health officials develop disease control and intervention policies.
Singapore's A*STAR Participates in Groundbreaking European Union Project to Jointly Create a Processor That Is the Size of a Molecule
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) (11/19/10) Eugene Low
The European Union will launch a project on Jan. 1, 2011, to build a single molecule processor chip. The Atomic Scale and Single Molecule Logic Gate Technologies (ATMOL) project will establish a new process for making a complete molecular chip. About 1,000 molecular chips would be able to fit into one of today's microchips, which suggests the creation of processors the size of a molecule. ATMOL will use three ultra-high vacuum (UHV) atomic-scale interconnection machines to build the chip atom by atom. The machines used for the fabrication process will physically move atoms into place one at a time at cryogenic temperatures. Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), which has a UHV machine capable of studying the performance of a single molecule logic gate and surface atom circuit logic gate, will work on the project. "The work in this project is extremely important in setting the stage for how computer chips and electronics may be made in the future," says A*STAR's Andy Hor.
When the Playroom Is the Computer
MIT News (11/22/10) Larry Hardesty
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed Playtime Computing, a system designed to keep children active while watching TV or playing video games. The prototype system is comprised of three panels backlit with projectors, a set of ceiling-mounted projectors, and a remote-controlled robot with infrared sensors. The three panels combine to form a window into a virtual world that is projected onto the floor space in front of it. When the robot heads toward the screen, it slips into a box and appears to continue rolling into the virtual world. "One of the things we're really excited about is having two of these spaces, one here and maybe one in Japan, and when the robot goes into the virtual world here, it comes out of the virtual world in Japan," says MIT graduate student Adam Setapen. The system's purpose is to give young children an opportunity to develop early experimentation with the symbolic reasoning and social roles that are crucial to cognitive development. Another system component is the Creation Station, a tabletop computer that children can use to arrange objects or draw their own pictures. The researchers also have equipped baseball caps with infrared light emitters to make the system more interactive by enabling onscreen characters to directly interact with users.
Efforts to Assess Local Effects of Global Warming Discussed at Computer Conference
New Orleans Times-Picayune (LA) (11/18/10) Mark Schleifstein
Researchers discussed using more powerful computing technologies to accurately measure the local and regional impact of global warming at SC10, the annual supercomputing conference. "When we actually note all these changes in greenhouse gases which are now considered the evidence of global warming, the models actually do very well in simulating the global temperature changes recently," says the U.K. Met Office's Terry Davies. He says scientists are working to develop models to identify the impact of climate change on regions and localities. The researchers divide the atmosphere and ocean into smaller boxes to determine activity in local climates. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's models use grids with boxes that range from 95 miles to 185 miles wide and 25 miles high, Davies says. The smaller grids require computers that are eight times more powerful than those used to study the global climate. The more acute models help national and local decision-makers that are trying to reverse climate change. "The most important thing is using this knowledge to determine what we can do to mitigate and adapt to climate change to avoid the worst impacts, because many of these mitigations are going to be costly," Davies says.
Distributed Computing in a Wireless Environment
Virginia Tech News (11/19/10) Barry James Whyte
Virginia Tech researchers have launched a proof-of-concept study to develop highly connected computer systems that work in a wireless environment. The study, backed the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), aims to create small handheld devices for military personnel that can work in a wireless network and combine computing and communication resources to collect intelligence and analyze information. "Our effort will focus on developing distributed computer systems that work in a cable-free environment, which will bring a new level of flexibility to users who need to work in rapidly changing, often challenging, mobile environments," says Virginia Tech professor Jeffrey Reed. The researchers also will examine the feasibility of using DARPA's Wireless Network after Next, a program that develops flexible and scalable communication networks that use inexpensive software radios. "Our effort to build distributed computer systems that operate in a wireless network will entail the development of new algorithms, software architectures, novel application programming interfaces, as well as other innovations that impact wireless distributed computer systems," says Virginia Tech's S.M. Shajedul Hasan.
Tech Issues May Move Forward in Split Congress
IDG News Service (11/18/10) Grant Gross
Technology issues aimed at improving the economy and creating jobs might pass in a split U.S. Congress next year if lawmakers decide to ignore controversial issues such as network neutrality, analysts say. Information Technology and Innovation Foundation president Robert Atkinson says that some tech issues could be exceptions to the governmental gridlock that is expected to begin in January when a democratic White House and Senate must work with a Republican-led House of Representatives. Although a Republican Congress and Democratic executive branch were able to pass several tech-related bills during the Clinton administration, it is not clear if tech groups can agree on congressional priorities in 2011. Atkinson says that Congress should focus on tech-related issues that have broad support, such as renewing a research and development tax credit, expanding high-skill immigration, and expanding research funding at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and other agencies. Google's Pablo Chavez says that tech groups need to collaborate to deal with tech issues in the new Congress. He says free trade agreements, anti-censorship provisions, and patent reform should all be priorities for Congress.
New IBM Architecture Doubles Analytics Processing Speed
eWeek (11/19/10) Darryl K. Taft
IBM recently revealed details about a new storage architecture design that it says can double analytics processing speed. IBM says the General Parallel File System-Shared Nothing Cluster (GPFS-SNC) architecture, dubbed Almaden, can convert terabytes of information into actionable insights twice as fast as previously possible. The architecture is mainly used for cloud computing and data-heavy applications such as digital media, data mining, and financial analytics. Almaden is designed to provide more availability through advanced clustering technologies, dynamic file system management, and advanced data replication techniques. "This new way of storage partitioning is another step forward on this path as it gives businesses faster time-to-insight without concern for traditional storage limitations," says IBM researcher Prasenjit Sarkar. The researchers say GPFS-SNC will make it easier and less costly to run complex calculations on petabytes of data, reducing the analytics workload burden by streamlining the process and reducing the amount of disk space needed.
Crossing the Uncanny Valley
Developers of robots and computer-generated films face the difficult task of making their creations as human as possible without looking too human, a perceptual gap that experts call the uncanny valley, a concept first proposed by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori. Mapping the uncanny valley would be very useful to filmmakers and engineers who hope to design social robots. Indiana University School of Informatics researchers are trying to cross the uncanny valley by studying the quality of eeriness. The researchers tried to isolate the factors that affect how people feel about simulated humans by showing volunteers five video clips of animations and five clips of robots. The test subjects were asked to apply ratings from several scales to each video. The researchers were able to identify four key characteristics--attractiveness, eeriness, humanness, and warmth. A robot that shows warmth and attractiveness will be easier to interact with than one that looks cold and ugly, according to Indiana researcher Karl MacDorman, while humanness and eeriness are needed to explain how to bypass the uncanny valley. MacDorman says he can generate a chart of the uncanny valley by plotting perceived humanness along one axis and eeriness along the other, using real data about people's feeling toward a specific robot or animation.
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