Welcome to the February 28, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Bletchley Park Turing Archive Saved After Campaign
V3.co.uk (02/25/11) Ian Thomson
The Bletchley Park Trust has successfully purchased a collection of Alan Turing's most important works due to an online campaign to raise the funds, which included a $100,000 donation from Google. The collection consists of 15 of Turing's 18 published papers, including his first published paper and his preliminary plans for computing and artificial intelligence. The campaign was led by Bletchley Park Trust CEO Simon Greenish. The documents will be placed in a secure, climate-controlled section of Bletchley and will go on display in the coming months. The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) "was set up in memory of those who have given their lives for the UK, and this grant will now ensure that this extremely rare collection of Turing's work stands as a permanent memorial to the man and to all those who paid the ultimate price in service to this nation," says NFMF chairman Dame Jenny Abramsky.
Crowdsourced Translations Get the Word Out From Libya
New Scientist (02/25/11) Jim Giles; Jacob Aron
Alive in Libya has developed a unique system of information gathering that has brought credibility to several Web-based news sources and shed light on the events in Libya. Google recently developed machine-translation software that converts voice messages left on a special phone line into text messages that are automatically published to Twitter. Alive in Libya picks up the tweets and translates them into English. The Web site has translated and republished more than 100 individual reports since its launch on Feb. 19. Similar techniques were used in Haiti following the earthquake in 2010, and other "Alive in" projects are active in Egypt and Bahrain. However, machine translation is still an imperfect science that is prone to mistakes, and many researchers want to develop a universal translation system that will enable online material to be read in any language. Such a system could be close to being realized, as new sites such as Medeen, a social network designed to facilitate debate between Arabic and English speakers, can translate between the two languages and enables users to modify the translations as necessary. Meanwhile, Carnegie Mellon University's Luis von Ahn has developed Duolingo, an educational translation service designed to help users learn a new language while also generating translations for crowdsourcing Web sites.
IT Graduates Not 'Well-Trained, Ready-to-Go'
Network World (02/25/11) Michael Cooney
Information technology (IT) employers are not satisfied with the skills that college graduates have, according to a study, which found that just eight percent of hiring managers rated recent graduates as prepared to help run an IT department. The study, which surveyed 376 IBM Share and Database Trends and Applications member organizations, found that almost 40 percent of respondents reported that new hires had insufficient preparation to perform job within their companies, while 44 percent found noticeable gaps in the new hires' skills. Organizations are looking for institutions to teach new skills to their future graduates, such as programming, database, analysis and architectural, and problem-solving skills, which are needed by 77 percent, 82 percent, 76 percent and 80 percent of the organizations polled, respectively. However, the lack of skills has not kept these companies from hiring recent graduates, with about half of the respondents hiring new IT employees straight out of college. The respondents say they are seeking programmers, developers, systems programmers, systems analysts, database professionals, and architects.
BBC Develops 3D Technology to Enhance Sport Broadcasts
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (02/24/11) Andrew Czyzewski
The BBC's research and development team is developing technology that will superimpose live sporting footage onto a three-dimensional rendering of a stadium, in preparation for the 2012 London Olympics. The Viewers' Situational and Spatial Awareness for Applied Risk and Reasoning (VSAR) project will be tested internally as a tool for producers and directors at the Wimbledon 2011 tennis tournament. The researchers also are developing a Flash-based Web browser plug-in for viewers. "With Wimbledon we might have camera feeds for five or six main courts," says BBC engineer Graham Thomas. "You could add overlays of who was playing and what the current score was, then you could fly between the courts." The other institutions working on the VSAR project include the National Physical Laboratory, BAE Systems, and the Center for Advanced Software Technology. The BBC team also is developing a surround video system, which involves footage being shot with a normal high definition (HD) camera, but also with a second fish-eye camera that captures a 180-degree view. The central shot is viewed on an HD TV, while the fish-eye view is projected around the room onto the walls.
Building Better Roombas--and Other Machines
University of California, Irvine (02/24/11) Kathryn Bold
Georgia Tech professor Rebecca Grinter is a pioneer in the field of human-computer interaction, publishing various papers and winning multiple awards for her research. "I'm looking at ways people become personally engaged with technology so we can design robots and other machines--particularly computers--to better fit into the social experience," Grinter says. In one study, Grinter found that Roomba owners become very attached to their vacuuming robots, giving them names and treating them like pets. "One important responsibility of my work is to give a better understanding of how technology is a human experience--we're connecting people, not just machines," she says. In another paper, Grinter and co-author Leysia Palen found that teens use instant messaging because they do not have the freedom to meet up with friends, mostly due to busy schedules and a lack of viable transportation. "The Internet is a good way for them to work around different boundaries and find time to socialize, which is crucial to the teen experience," Grinter says. In a 2005 study of iTunes in the workplace, Grinter found that co-workers often judge one another by their playlists, with some subjects exhibiting "playlist anxiety" over what songs to share. "Our goal is to make technologies more usable and useful," she says.
The Next Operating System
MIT News (02/24/11) Larry Hardesty
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's project Angstrom aims to develop an energy-efficient multicore computing system, including a chip architecture, programming languages, and a new operating system. A multicore system needs to be more self-aware and have more control of the operations executed by the hardware in order to combat and fix problems that arise within the system, says Angstrom project leader Anant Agarwal. Each core in the Angstrom chip will feature a thermometer so that the system will know if any part of the chip is overheating. The Angstrom system also has a factored operating system, which will enable programmers to set performance goals for their applications. Professor Martin Rinard's research team has been studying instances in which accuracy can be traded for speed and developed a technique called loop perforation, which is an operation that skips a few steps in order to save energy when analyzing data. Meanwhile, professor Saman Amarasinghe is developing tools that enable programmers to specify different algorithms for each task a program performs, and the operating system automatically selects the one that works best under any given circumstances. In addition, professor Frans Kaashoek has developed a way to execute primitive operations using multiple cores that have access to each other's caches.
Intel Launches High Speed Thunderbolt Connector
BBC News (02/24/11)
Intel researchers have developed Thunderbolt, a high-speed technology for connecting computers and peripherals that can transfer data twice as fast as USB 3.0. The copper-based technology, previously known as Light Peak, offers data transfer rates of 10 Gbps, but has the potential to achieve 100 Gbps when using fiber-optic wiring. Apple plans to use Thunderbolt on its MacBook Pro computers, but its widespread adoption as a new standard is not guaranteed. "This isn't an innovation that consumers have been asking for, but it's one they'll appreciate," says Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rottman Epps. "Especially when transferring video, as that's when [USB] starts to feel slow." Thunderbolt also will lower the number of cables needed to connect devices to PCs since it can transmit multiple signal types simultaneously, allowing power, display, and peripherals to use a single cable. Apple is expected to gradually move away from USB and FireWire and switch to a single connector standard. "In the long run there will be no need for Apple to support these multiple formats with individual ports--existing products can run through an adaptor," says Macworld UK's Karen Haslam.
IBM's Watson Boosts Global Supercomputing Effort
InformationWeek (02/24/11) Paul McDougall
The number of individuals who contribute computing power to the World Computing Grid has risen by more than 700 percent since the IBM Watson supercomputer's victory in Jeopardy! IBM plans to donate $500,000 to help various research projects tap into the World Computing Grid. The supercomputer recently bested Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, but the advanced artificial intelligence program also showed it was fallible at times, such as when it answered Toronto to a question under the category U.S. Cities that asked which city was home to airports named after a World War II hero and a famous World War II battle. The error may have been the result of training, IBM says in its Smarter Planet blog. "Watson, in his training phase, learned that categories only weakly suggest the kind of answer that is expected, and therefore the machine downgrades their significance," IBM says. The supercomputer simultaneously runs natural language processing, information retrieval, knowledge representation, and reasoning algorithms to determine the intent of questions and to provide the best answers. IBM notes that much of Watson's technology has been commercialized for applications such as economic modeling, weather forecasting, the prediction of disease vectors, and the tracking of trends in financial markets.
Researchers Help Blind 'See' Facebook Photos
State Press (AZ) (02/24/11) Kortney Tenaglia
The visually impaired could more fully experience social networking by using technology that would allow them to "see" the images of faces on computers. Arizona State University professor Baoxin Li is developing the technology with several students. "Imagine if a blind user can now get an idea what his [or] her Facebook friends 'look like' by touching tactile pictures made from their photos," Li says. The idea is to use tactile printing to enable the visually impaired to explore a graphical image of a human face with their fingertips and to experience what the person looks like. The team has developed computer-based image-analysis techniques for identifying major facial features, such as the eyes and nose, and for converting them into tactile form. The technology could be used in different ways, such as "its use as a software component for tactile printer manufacturers ... or a software package for a user at home," Li says.
Engineering Professor Works to Speed Up the Internet
Columbia University (02/23/11) Beth Kwon
Columbia University professor Keren Bergman is researching fiber-optic network's configurations and how they can be made more efficient. Bergman says that current optical fibers cannot recognize what kind of data is passing through, and when congestion hits they cannot prioritize traffic. She has developed an alternative model, utilizing a smart switching system that can read data and direct it depending on what it is. For example, Bergman's system could prioritize the hundreds of gigabytes transmitting a medical videoconference over the kilobytes of routine emails. Although her model has only been tested on a small scale, Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs and AT&T Research have started collaborating with the Columbia team to determine if the system could work on a larger scale. Bergman's research team is a primary member of the Center for Integrated Access Networks, a consortium of nine colleges and universities that is based at the University of Arizona and is working to solve high-data transfer problems.
What's Still Missing in the HTML5 Spec
InfoWorld (02/23/11) Paul Krill
The HTML5 specification will be officially finalized July 2014, and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recently announced that its last call for feature-completeness will be in May. Refining the HTML5's multimedia capability is the last remaining hurdle to be cleared before the W3C can advance to the final stage of HTML5 development, which includes finalizing the technical specifications, getting final comments, and creating test suites for interoperability with other technologies, says W3C's Ian Jacobs. The main multimedia capability component that needs to be solved is multitracking for audio and video, which the W3C will not commit to having in the final HTML5 spec. One technology left out of HTML5 is a standard video codec because developers have not been able to find a legitimate open source codec to use. In an effort to promote the open Web ideal, HTML5 has been combined with other specifications, including CSS and WebSocket for two-way Web communications. However, July 2014 is not a hard deadline for HTML5, since the system was originally supposed to be launched in 2010, according to 2007 estimates, notes Forrester Research's Jeffrey Hammond.
University of Oklahoma Researchers Tapping the Potential of Radar Technologies to Advance Emerging Discipline of Aeroecology
University of Oklahoma (02/22/11) Jana Smith
University of Oklahoma researchers are using radar technologies to advance the field of aeroecology, which combines atmospheric science, earth science, geography, ecology, computer science, computational biology, and engineering. "Recent advances in radar hardware and signal-processing methodologies coupled with innovations in computer and networking technologies have presented us with many opportunities for biological studies that were not available in the past five years," says Oklahoma professor Phillip Chilson. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Kenneth Howard has helped create a suite of visualization and analytical tools that help understand biological patterns in the United States. "Investigating behavior and ecology of airborne organisms in the aerosphere presents significant challenges and requires collaboration across multiple scientific disciplines to utilize technological advances for increasing ecological understanding," says University of California, Santa Cruz's Winifred F. Frick.
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