Welcome to the February 25, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Toward Computers That Fit on a Pen Tip: New Technologies Usher in the Millimeter-Scale Computing Era
University of Michigan News Service (02/22/11) Nicole Casal Moor
University of Michigan researchers, led by professors Dennis Sylvester, David Blaauw, and David Wentzloff, recently presented papers at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in which they discussed a prototype implantable eye pressure monitor for glaucoma patients and a compact radio that does not need to be tuned to find a signal and could be used to track pollution, monitor structural integrity, or perform surveillance. The research utilizes millimeter-scale technologies to create devices for use in ubiquitous computing environments. The glaucoma eye pressure monitor is slightly larger than one cubic millimeter and contains an ultra-low-power microprocessor, a pressure sensor, memory, a thin-film battery, a solar cell, and a wireless radio transmitter that sends data to an external reading device. "This is the first true millimeter-scale complete computing system," Sylvester says. Wentzloff and doctoral student Kuo-Ken Huang have developed a tiny radio with an on-chip antenna that can keep its own time and serve as its own reference, which enables the system to precisely communicate with other devices. "By designing a circuit to monitor the signal on the antenna and measure how close it is to the antenna's natural resonance, we can lock the transmitted signal to the antenna's resonant frequency," Wentzloff says.
Making the Web More Accessible to People With Disabilities and Special Needs
A paper by University of Szeged researchers published in the International Journal of Knowledge and Web Intelligence suggests theoretical and practical methods of employing metadata and screen and data structure to facilitate universal Internet accessibility. Szeged's Erzsebet Forczek says that access to the Internet and the retrieval and processing of Web-based information is essential for all members of society. "For information to become global, it is not sufficient merely for it to appear on the Web; it has to be searchable, and its contents identifiable and interpretable, since immediately available information is crucial in economic and business life, in education, in research, in health care, and in virtually every other sphere of life," Forczek says. The researchers are focusing on how the needs of those with visual and hearing impairments are addressed by Web sites. Forczek says that Web designers should aim for a syntactically and semantically correct Web page that is compatible with assistive software, and should correctly use metadata to make the information more readily available through searches.
Microsoft's Kinect: The New Mouse?
New York Times (02/22/11) Steve Lohr
Microsoft researchers say the company's Kinect technology, which recognizes gestures and voice commands, could be the beginning of a new way of communicating with computers. Microsoft's Craig Mundie says that Kinect is a natural user interface that could lead to computers that understand human speech and hand gestures in the future. Kinect is the "first incarnation of the next big thing in computing," Mundie says. Microsoft recently announced plans to release a software developer's toolkit for academics and enthusiasts that want to design their own applications using Kinect technology. Microsoft's Don Mattrick says the company is "embracing that community. This is the next step in that journey." Meanwhile, Microsoft's researchers are developing applications that take advantage of the Kinect's ability to recognize a wide variety of physical objects. They say Kinect technology could be used for inexpensive three-dimensional design and modeling, realistic human avatars, and smart displays.
Designing the Hardware
MIT News (02/23/11) Larry Hardesty
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is leading the Angstrom project, a multi-university research effort led by professor Anant Agarwal that is focusing on the development of multicore systems. The Angstrom project is aimed at improving communication between cores using light, instead of electricity, to move data. Although optical communications systems have been developed with rare materials, the Angstrom researchers want to create a system using more common components. In early 2010, Angstrom professor Lionel Kimerling developed a laser made from germanium, which is already used in many commercial chips and has much better optical properties than silicon. Angstrom researcher Vladimir Stojanovic is developing chips with polysilicon waveguides, ridges on the surface of a chip that can direct optical signals. Other Angstrom researchers are working on improving electrical signals between cores. Angstrom researcher Srini Devadas is researching chip designs in which the cores are connected by as many as 16 lower-capacity connections, each of which can carry data in either direction. Angstrom researcher Li-Shiuan Peh has developed a system that enables each core to have its own router, which makes the entire system more efficient.
Researchers Use Wi-Fi Mesh Network to Monitor Melting Glaciers
Cellular-News (02/23/11) David Ng
A Wi-Fi based network will be used to monitor the flow of glaciers in southeast Greenland. Researchers at Swansea and Newcastle universities developed the sensor network, which consists of Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receivers and Wi-Fi based relaying nodes. Obtaining detailed observations of iceberg formation has been problematic because it is difficult to position instruments on a heavily crevassed ice surface and because sensors would be lost during iceberg formation events. "However, the novel 'self-organizing' design of the network ensures that data can still be collected from the nodes that remain operational," says Swansea University professor Tim O'Farrell. The Wi-Fi based network will make use of expendable global-positioning system-based receivers. "These sensors will be connected to each other and to a base station via a network of expendable, low-power wireless transceivers and deployed on the Helheim Glacier," O'Farrell says. Software developed at Newcastle will enable the GNSS receivers to provide measurements accurate to a few centimeters, says Newcastle University's Stuart Edwards.
Computers Get in Touch With Your Emotions
Technology Review (02/24/11) Erica Naone
At the recent Blur human-computer interaction conference, many speakers discussed the emergence of tools that can measure a user's mental and physiological state and use that data to help devices better serve their users. Design Interactive's Kay Stanney says her company is developing a system that will place biological sensors on soldiers, and she says similar technology could be used in non-military conditions, such as sensors on air traffic controllers or baggage screeners that could help prevent errors. Design Interactive also is developing a system that would aid in training by using measurements such as electroencephalography, eye tracking, and heart-rate monitoring. "This will really come down to the art of the algorithm—what it is that we're trying to optimize," Stanney says. Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz has developed algorithms that monitor drivers to watch for drowsiness, and Stanney says that technology could be applied to computers users to identify rising frustration levels. EmSense's Hans Lee says there are many applications for systems that can determine a computer user's mood. For example, he says identifying and addressing a user's frustration with their computer could improve their productivity.
Quantum Simulator Accessible to the World
University of Innsbruck (02/24/11)
Researchers at the University of Innsbruck and Austrian Academy of Sciences have developed a comprehensive toolbox for an open system quantum computer, which will enable scientists to create more complex quantum simulations to study quantum physics problems. The researchers, led by Julio Barreiro, Philipp Schindler, and Markus Muller, used dissipation, which generally causes information loss in quantum systems, to trap ions in a beneficial way. "In our experiment, we use an additional ion that interacts with the quantum system and, at the same time, establishes a controlled contact to the environment," Schindler says. The experiment resulted in a system that could generate and intensify quantum effects, such as entanglement. The new system can be used to create many-body states, which until now could only be observed using a well-isolated quantum system.
Argon, the Augmented Reality Web Browser, Available Now on iPhone
Georgia Institute of Technology (02/22/11) David Terraso; Matt Nagel
Georgia Tech researchers working on the KHARMA project are developing Argon, a mobile Web browser that features augmented reality (AR) technology designed to bring the Web into the real world. "Our goal is to provide a foundation for millions of Web developers to begin writing applications so they can provide users with new experiences that are unique to the world of AR," says KHARMA project director Blair MacIntyre. The Argon AR browser can project any content that is displayed in the iPhone's Mobile Safari Web browser onto virtual billboards that appear in physical space in the real world. "With the KHARMA specifications, and the Argon browser, we want to put AR into the hands of the millions of people who know how to create Web sites, and hopefully take a step toward understanding the potential of AR," MacIntyre says. The developers plan to port Argon to Android and other mobile platforms.
'Fingerprints' Match Molecular Simulations With Reality
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (02/22/11) Morgan McCorkle
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have developed a way to bring supercomputer simulations and actual experimental results closer together by identifying common traits. The researchers, led by Jeremy Smith, studied different signals in experiments and computer simulations to enhance the analysis of moving molecules. Experiments usually lead to simple results because they only look at molecules in low resolution, while "data from a supercomputer simulation are complex and difficult to analyze, as the atoms move around in the simulation in a multitude of jumps, wiggles, and jiggles," Smith says. The ORNL method reconciles these views by calculating peaks within the simulated and experimental data, which can link the two data sets. "This method should allow major facilities like the ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source to be used more efficiently," Smith says. The technique also could help researchers studying in fields such as biofuels, drug development, materials design, and fundamental biological processes.
Iran Claims Two New Supercomputers
Computerworld (02/24/11) Patrick Thibodeau
The Iranian government announced that it has developed two new supercomputers with enough processing power to claim spots on the Top500 list of the world's most powerful systems. Although the larger of the two systems is still far behind China's top-ranked system, the U.S. embargo on Iran means that the country has to purchase many of its components on the black market. The announcement was made by top Iranian government officials, including president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as officials from the two Iranian universities where the systems will be housed. However, the announcement could not be verified, and some officials think it may be a fake, in an attempt to demonstrate technology prowess after the Stuxnet worm infiltrated the country's nuclear control systems. "The Iranian government is notorious for fabricating this kind of information," says Harrisburg University of Science and Technology professor Mehdi Noorbaksh. "When the government announces something like this, it is very difficult to confirm it." The reports include a claim that the top system is capable of 89 teraflops, which is far short of the top systems on the Top500 list, which now exceed one petaflop.
Cyberspace Wall Connects Real-Time Global Imaging, Conferencing, Data
Medill Reports (IL) (02/22/11) Frank Jackson; Annie Koval
The University of Illinois at Chicago's Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) uses an interactive program called Scalable Adaptive Graphics Environment (SAGE), which connects users and wall display systems in more than 50 locations worldwide. EVL researchers say the technology could revolutionize networked communication and visualizations in a variety of settings, including classrooms, business meetings, and research departments. "This is a way to turn our paper world into a digital world," says EVL's Ratko Jagodic. SAGE enables researchers from different institutions to collaborate more efficiently, which increases productivity. Users can download a SAGE application to their laptops that connects them to the wall display. The application enables users to transfer data and images from their laptop to the wall display, which at EVL involves a 20-foot wall consisting of 18 liquid-crystal displays. The SAGE application also gives each user an individual cursor, which can manipulate the wall's contents. "The software is set up so that no matter how big your display, if it is high definition or not, or how many computers are backing the system, SAGE is adaptable," Jagodic says.
DOE Research Group Makes Case for Exascale
HPC Wire (02/21/11) Tiffany Trader
The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research recently published an article stating that although exascale computing has the potential to lead to scientific breakthroughs, the technology will not be easy or inexpensive to develop. Exascale computing could lead to precise long-range weather forecasting, new alternative fuels, and advances in disease research, according to the DOE paper. However, creating an exascale system faces many obstacles, says Argonne National Laboratory's Rick Stevens. An exascale system will require billions of cores, so there needs to be an effective model that can take advantage of all of them, in what will likely be an extreme parallel system. An exascale system also would require more than a gigawatt of electricity, which could only come from its own power plant. Stevens says researchers are looking to graphics processing units as a way to minimize energy requirements. He also notes that computer reliability issues will be magnified a thousandfold in an exascale system. All of these issues will require government funding to solve, so "complex and coordinated [research and development] efforts [are required] to bring down the cost of memory, networking, disks, and all of the other essential components of an exascale system," Stevens says.
Work With Google to Boost Social Network Productivity
Cornell Chronicle (02/21/11) Bill Steele
Cornell University and Google are jointly studying the social and economic factors behind online social networks and developing design and management techniques to improve group interaction. Cornell professor Jon Kleinberg says current systems do not provide natural ways to represent the attitudes that people have toward each other or the roles that various individuals play in a person's life. "Current representations of online social networks are not able to capture the full richness of social interaction in users' real lives," he says. "There is still relatively little understanding ... of what distinguishes healthy, successful groups--those with productive discourse and beneficial interactions--from groups that are dominated by conflict or that tend toward inactivity." A Cornell interdisciplinary research team, including computer scientists, information scientists, communications researchers, sociologists, and economists, has been pursuing similar research. The team will now work with researchers from Google. They say the research could be used to shape the design of social networks and to build online knowledge resources. Google wants to apply the findings to future social networking applications.
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