Welcome to the March 18, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Also, please download our new ACM TechNews iPhone App from the iTunes Store by clicking here and our new ACM TechNews iPad App by clicking here.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Visualization Pioneer Creates Virtual Worlds
Medill Reports (IL) (03/16/11) Annie Koval
The University of Illinois at Chicago's Dan Sandin, along with Tom DeFanti, co-founded the Electronic Visualization Lab, a graduate research laboratory that is designed for advanced visualization, networking technologies, and technological art. In the early 1990s, Sandin helped develop the Cave, an immersive virtual reality cubicle with three imaging walls that responds to the user's movements. Sandin's most recent project, the StarCave, is a five-sided virtual reality room that projects animations in stereo, meaning users can experience it in three dimensions, with a combined resolution of more than 68 million pixels. An important aspect of the StarCave is that it allows the user to be the narrator of their own experience, Sandin says. In Sandin's art, the audience is always in control of what they see, when they see it, and when they want to move on to a new scene. "My medium has always been technologically involved and has always had to do with exploiting new media as those characteristics became available, because that was allows me to combine more of my being," Sandin says.
Digital Gaming Goes Academic
Education Week (03/17/11) Katie Ash
Digital gaming is being tapped to cultivate academic skills, and part of the appeal is that the games offer personalized, real-time feedback. For example, in partnership with CBS and several academic institutions, Rice University created a game based on the popular CSI TV show franchise as a tool for introducing middle school students to forensic science in the hope of inspiring them to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. Rice's Leslie Miller says the game outlines the academic standards it covers and was designed to fulfill learning goals. Ron Tarr with the University of Central Florida's Institute of Simulation and Training says the top priority is concentrating on outcomes, or what educators want students to take away from the games. "Games in education ... would be wonderful if we really had a good handle on what our objectives are, and we were prepared to standardize curriculum," Tarr says. Determining how to quantify achievement against learning goals is part of the challenge of designing effective games for K-12 students, he notes.
Intel Ramps Hardware-Software Codesign Research
EE Times (03/17/11) Peter Clarke
Intel Labs Europe (ILE) says a hardware-software codesign project is going very well. Led by researchers based in Barcelona, Spain, and Intel's center for many-core processor research in Braunschweig, Germany, the project was limited to 50 engineers within ILE, but has since been expanded to 200 engineers across the company globally. "With 200 engineers, you can get a lot done," says ILE director Martin Curley. ILE is believed to be focusing on formalizing original specifications for systems and automating the elaboration of the design through behavioral descriptions and on down to more familiar structural design tools. Intel could use the research to support the development of many-core system-on-chip integrated circuits, Curley says.
Clinton Urges ICANN Attendees to Keep Internet Young
Wired News (03/17/11) Ryan Singel
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN's) meeting in San Francisco on March 16 and discussed the need for ICANN's decision-making process to continue to be open and inclusive. Clinton also said that ICANN members need to focus on areas in which they agree and to use their consciences in deciding whether their decisions would create "positive interdependency" or create conflicts between people. Clinton also warned that ICANN had to be careful not to become too complacent, thereby joining the long list of institutions and arrangements throughout human history that have grown "long in tooth." He noted that ICANN needs to make sure that the Internet stays "forever young" and not to be more interested in "maintaining the present than creating the future." Finally, Clinton discussed the role that the Internet could play in aiding people in developing countries, such as helping people learn new skills or better ways to raise their children. However, Clinton said that these goals cannot be accomplished simply by giving computers to poor people in developing countries, since many of them live in places where it is not possible or even feasible to go to school or learn new skills.
The Psychology of Collaboration
Technology Review (03/16/11) Jodi Slater
IBM fellow Irene Greif, the director of collaborative user experience at IBM Research, says that some of the toughest collaboration problems have little to do with technology. Greif helped found the field of computer-supported cooperative work, which built on the work done by anthropologists studying office dynamics. The researchers found situations in which communication breaks down because there was too much automation involved. "Mostly that happened because the automation was online, people were not involved, and personal conversations were eliminated," Greif says. However, today's organizations link formal workflows and informal information, and there is an opportunity to act instead of just worry, she says. Moreover, social software is now connecting people in much more natural ways. At IBM headquarters, Greif says the company takes ideas that work on the Internet and applies them to its office culture, such as Dogear, which is based on the Internet bookmark sharing site Delicious. In the future, Greif says new collaboration tools will rely on technologies that are resilient to managerial controls.
Computer Simulations Illustrate Scope of Japanese Disaster
HPC Wire (03/16/11) Michael Feldman
Computer simulation technology has aided in the tracking and analysis of the devastation wrought by the March 11 earthquake off Japan's east coast. For example, the Method of Splitting Tsunami model for tsunami forecasting employed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Tsunami Research and others was used to produce an animation of the quake, and the resulting tsunami's propagation across the Pacific Ocean in real time. The models projected the timing and intensity of the waves as they spread to North and South America's western coastlines. Another consequence of the quake is the emission of radioactive clouds from a Japanese nuclear power plant damaged in the catastrophe. These clouds are being tracked by the Viennese Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, which has simulated the dispersal of radioactive Iodine and Cesium as it drifts across the Pacific. Japan is unable to execute much of the disaster modeling by itself due to damage to its power plants as a result of the quake. After the stabilization of the power situation, Japanese supercomputers will likely be employed to run aftermath simulations of the tsunami and nuclear plant disasters.
New Linux Kernel Gets a Speed Boost
IDG News Service (03/16/11) Joab Jackson
Linux has announced an update to the Linux operating system kernel just 10 weeks after releasing version 2.6.37. Linux creator and manager Linus Torvalds says kernel 2.6.38 includes deep changes that will enhance performance, especially for running databases and other programs that demand maximum resources from servers. Linux 2.6.38 features automatic process grouping, in which the process scheduler groups all processes with the same session ID as a single entity. The new approach will enable programs to divide processor time more equitably, which should improve overall performance. Transparent huge pages is a new technology that increases the cache size for storing frequently consulted memory addresses, which will enable heavier workloads to cache more often and reduce their execution times. Linux 2.6.38 also offers revamped directory cache and path lookup mechanisms that should make multithreaded workloads more scalable and single-threaded workloads execute faster for the virtual file system. Other new features include support for Better Approach To Mobile Ad-hoc Networking, the ad-hoc mesh protocol that can relay packets before a networking path has been fully established.
Building a Brain in a Supercomputer
Highlight Health (03/16/11) Walter Jessen
The Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne's (EPFL's) Henry Markram is building a realistic computer model of the human brain in a project called Blue Brain. The project involves using supercomputers to study the brain's architectural and functional principles, simulating precise cellular detail and neural activity. Blue Brain hopes to reverse engineer a human brain in order to better understand brain function and dysfunction. Eventually, Blue Brain might reveal insights on the nature of consciousness. In a 2009 address, Markram described a theory of brain function whereby the brain generates a version of the universe and projects it all around us. Blue Brain can test this hypothesis with brain modeling and ask systematic and stringent questions about the theory. Blue Brain is one of six proposals selected by the European Commission to compete for two flagship projects that will apply information and communication technologies to social problems.
Hatfield University Researchers Develop New Tool
St. Albans Review (03/15/2011) Manisha Mistry
A computer-based tool could revolutionize the way children who suffer from physical and neurological impairments are assessed, according to researchers at the University of Hertfordshire. The team is developing wireless electrode headsets for testing cognitive ability in children with conditions such as cerebral palsy. An electroencephalography (EEG) headset would be easier to use than previous brain-sensing technology. The research is part of a three-and-a-half year project, which also is focusing on enabling children to control a computer without moving. "There may be a way that they can do this by simply using a gesture like a smile to control the switch," says Hock Gan, a Hertfordshire Ph.D. computer science student who is working on the project. "Children will benefit through enhanced learning, clinical professionals through having a more accurate assessment tool, and parents will have reduced stress levels and a better quality of life with their children."
On a Screen Near You, the History of the World
University of Sydney (03/15/11) Chris Rodley
New mapping software from a Sydney University geophysics team and international collaborators will provide visualizations of how the earth's tectonic plates, continents, and oceans evolved over hundreds of millions of years. "It's a little bit like having Google Earth with a time slider," says Sydney professor Dietmar Muller of GPlates, which is available for free. Users also will be able to reconstruct the topography of the continents and oceans, then use the data for a range of computer simulations, such as recreations of past climates or the evolution of the Earth's hot interior. The developers of GPlates already have used the software to investigate the evolution of Australia's monsoons, the formation of the Rocky Mountains, and the breaking away of New Zealand from the Australian continent about 100 million years ago. The software could potentially be used to help find oil, natural gas, and mineral deposits below the earth's surface. "In the long term, our goal is to expand its capability even further, linking the desktop software to remote databases and allowing it to automatically download a diversity of geodata and detailed map images depending on how far the user zooms in," Muller says.
NRC Tapping Tech for Better Analysis of Nuclear Accidents
Computerworld (03/15/11) Jaikumar Vijayan
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) researchers have launched the State-of-the-Art Reactor Consequence Analyses (SOARCA) project to understand how nuclear reactors behave in extreme accidents and how released radiation could affect the surrounding area. SOARCA uses computing resources and modeling software to generate accurate and realistic accident simulations, in addition to examining extremely rare accidents that could have significant impact. SOARCA models also take into account new accident mitigation technologies and strategies that are deployed in nuclear power plants. As part of SOARCA, the NRC has run computer modeling and simulation tools to study at least two operating U.S. nuclear power plants over the past couple of years. A key component of SOARCA's tests is a software tool developed by Sandia National Laboratories called Methods for Estimation of Leakages and Consequences of Releases (MELCOR), which can be used to model the progression of severe accidents in light-water reactor nuclear power plants. "MELCOR is designed specifically for the purpose of predicting the response of nuclear power plants to severe accidents that might be initiated by low-frequency events involving multiple safety system failures," says Sandia's Randall Gauntt.
Goal-Line Technology Brought Closer by Latest Academic Research
Guardian (United Kingdom) (03/14/11) Lucy Tobin
University of Surrey researchers led by professor Adrian Hilton are helping develop the next generation of visual media technology. The researchers work in video analysis, computer graphics, and animation techniques. Recently, the Surrey team collaborated with the BBC on the iview project, which allows sports broadcasters to analyze matches from a wide variety of angles in order to get the best view. The project involves using the cameras in a stadium, normally between eight and 12 devices, to "reconstruct a [three-dimensional (3D)] model of the scene, like a computer graphic, which commentators can use to render any viewpoint," Hilton says. The Surrey researchers also are working with the BBC on technology for fans of other sports, developing a way to measure athletes' movements using footage from just one camera. "The aim is to allow overlay of 3D skeletal motion on the video footage and provide analysis of actor movement," Hilton notes. The researchers recently started working on methods to support the creation of digital avatars of actors in film production. "Our research has contributed advances at the leading edge of this field over the past decade, pioneering a number of new technologies," says Hilton.
New CEO Wants Faster, More Relevant W3C
CNet (03/14/11) Stephen Shankland
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) CEO Jeff Jaffe says that his group is "creating a Web platform--building a distributed operating system to work across all platforms agreed to by all vendors." He says that in the last year the W3C has engaged in more active dialogue with the industry. Among the Web standard efforts the W3C is striving to lead are those revolving around the concepts of augmented reality and the retooling of HTML. Jaffe expects the pace of Web standards adoption to pick up, and he sees a continuation of the balance between native applications and Web applications. Jaffe is confident that the Web's role in entertainment will grow, and says the W3C is demonstrating leadership in making the Web platform increasingly robust. In terms of the correspondence between the W3C and the Web Hypertext Applications Technology Working Group (WHATWG), Jaffe says that "there were aspects of what was going on at W3C that were not being met that were met by WHATWG. Going forward, my objective is to meet those kind of needs within the W3C." Jaffe notes that community groups can help solve the W3C's difficulty to incubate ideas within itself, although such groups are not operational yet.
Abstract News © Copyright 2011 INFORMATION, INC.
To submit feedback about ACM TechNews, contact: [email protected]
Current ACM Members: Unsubscribe/Change your email subscription by logging in at myACM.