Welcome to the April 6, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
'Citizen Scientists' Help Search for Tomb of Genghis Khan via Photos of Mongolia
Washington Post (04/04/11) Sindya N. Bhanoo
Research conducted by scientists and amateurs is gaining traction and scope, aided by the Internet and social networking. One such project is Valley of the Khans, an effort to find the tomb of Genghis Khan and other significant Mongolian archeological artifacts through examination of satellite images by more than 7,000 citizen scientists around the world. University of California, San Diego scientist and project leader Albert Lin says that making the research experience fun and game-like is the key to getting unpaid amateurs interested. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Zoo initiative enables volunteers to help classify thousands of galactic images captured by a robot telescope, using a crowdsourcing tool. Another project that employs citizen scientists is EteRNA, a joint Carnegie Mellon University/Stanford University venture that lets participants manipulate nucleotide bases and create synthetic RNA designs in an effort to accelerate biomedicine discoveries. In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey's project to digitize the massive Bird Phenology Program into a central database enlists volunteer citizen scientists to study shifts in bird populations and the possible relationship between climate change and birds and their habitats.
Microsoft Researchers: NoSQL Needs Standardization
InfoWorld (04/05/11) Joab Jackson
The growing number of non-relational structured query language (NoSQL) databases needs standardization in order to thrive, according to Microsoft researchers. "Programming, deploying, and managing NoSQL solutions requires specialized and low-level knowledge that does not easily carry over from one vendor's product to another," write Microsoft's researchers Erik Meijer and Gavin Bierman in the April issue of Communications of the ACM. The researchers developed coSQL, a mathematical data model and standardized query language that could be used to combine NoSQL and SQL data models. The researchers say that NoSQL could benefit from the same type of standardization that SQL experienced in the early 1970s. "Just as Codd's discovery of relational algebra as a formal basis for SQL ... propelled a billion-dollar industry around SQL, we believe that our categorical data-model formalization and monadic query language will allow the same economic growth to occur for coSQL key-value stores," the researchers write.
Body Sensors Are Joining the Future Internet
University of Oslo (04/04/11)
University of Oslo researchers working on the Smart Environment Technology project are developing sensors that can communicate wirelessly and reduce energy consumption, with the goal of eventually connecting them to the Internet. "Computer programs can search for suitable sensors and employ them without upfront knowledge about which sensors are actually available," says Oslo professor and project leader Thomas Plagemann. The Smart Environment Technology project aims to combine nanoelectronics, digital-signal processing, and distributed multimedia systems research. The researchers say that connecting sensors to the Internet will enable computers to control the sensor information to find the best way to use the sensors. They are developing a sensor that works under the skin to measure blood glucose levels, as well as a wireless energy transfer system between a battery-equipped bracelet and the device. The researchers want to connect the glucose body sensor to the Internet. The researchers also are studying how the sensors can be used in automated home care for the elderly or mentally ill. In addition, Plagemann's team is developing a high-level description of diverging behavior, which will integrate different sensors within the home.
A New Device Enabling a Computer to Identify Whether the User Is a Man or a Woman
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (04/04/11) Eduardo Martinez
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid researchers Juan Bekios-Calfa, Jose M. Buenaposada, and Luis Baumela have developed a system that analyzes a video signal to determine the gender of faces pictured in the images in real time, enabling computers to monitor whether users' faces belong to men or women. The new technology can be used to gather demographic information for TV and advertising purposes. Another application is interactive kiosks with a virtual vendor, as the algorithm automatically extracts information about the user, which can improve interaction. The researchers also say the technology demonstrates that linear techniques can be just as effective as support vector machines in identifying gender.
Secure, Synchronized, Social TV
MIT News (04/01/11) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are using network coding technology in wireless social TV applications. In traditional networks, packets of data are sent from source to destination by a series of routers. However, with coding networks, the data from different packets are mixed together, which can save network bandwidth. Previous MIT research used network coding to increase the data capacity of a wireless network by about 300 percent. At a recent demonstration of the technology, MIT professor Muriel Medard showed how the technology could be applied to social TV, which involves multiple people using different devices to watch and discuss onscreen events. In the demonstration, a small group of people watched the same streaming video on handheld devices. Just one of the devices was connected to a cellular network and it broadcast hybrid data packets to the other devices, reducing the overall load on the network. The technology could have applications where several users in one location wanted to teleconference with a distant relative, says NBCUniversal's Sheau Ng.
Twitter Analysis Provides Stock Predictions
TU Munchen (04/04/11)
Investor sentiment in Twitter messages develops similarly to the stock market and even leads the exchange by a day, according to researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The researchers used automatic text analysis methods to evaluate 250,000 daily Twitter messages related to S&P 500 listed companies written over a six-month period. The researchers found that an investor who purchased stock based on Twitter sentiment in the first half of 2010 would have achieved an average rate of return of up to 15 percent. "If a Twitter user often gives good stock recommendations, he will, as a rule, have more followers and will be 'retweeted' more often by other users," says TUM's Timm Sprenger. "Hereby, tweets with good recommendations are affirmed and receive greater weight in the overall analysis." The researchers have developed a Web site, TweetTrader.net, and say they can predict individual stock trends for all S&P 500 listed companies.
Bot Shows Signs of Consciousness
New Scientist (04/01/11) Celeste Biever
University of Memphis researchers led by Stan Franklin have developed a Learning Intelligent Distribution Agent (LIDA) bot equipped with software that incorporates key features of the Google Web Toolkit in an attempt to reconstruct human cognition. LIDA works on the theory that consciousness consists of a series of tiny cycles that are split into unconscious and conscious stages. First, LIDA scans the environment, copying the information into its sensory memory, and then feature detectors scan the sensory memory looking for specific data to send to a software module, which recognizes the data as objects or events. Finally, the data is strung together and compared with the contents of LIDA's long-term memory to determine if the new information is relevant or urgent. Franklin believes that these cognitive cycles are similar to some features of human consciousness. He says LIDA is functionally conscious, but is not yet phenomenally conscious. "The architecture is right for supporting phenomenal consciousness if we just knew how to bring it about," Franklin says.
Calculations With 14 Quantum Bits
University of Innsbruck (04/01/11) Christian Flatz
University of Innsbruck physicists have set a world record by controlling the entanglement of 14 quantum bits, which they say represents another step toward developing a quantum computer. The researchers almost doubled the previous record of eight qubits by confining 14 calcium atoms in an ion trap, which enabled them to manipulate the atoms with laser light, similar to the way a quantum computer might work. The internal states of each atom formed single qubits and produced a quantum register of 14 qubits, representing the core of a future quantum computer. "Our current findings provide us with a better understanding about the behavior of many entangled particles," says Innsbruck's Thomas Monz. The researchers also found that the decay of the atoms is proportional to the number of the qubits, which means the system's sensitivity increases significantly when several particles are entangled. "This process is known as superdecoherence and has rarely been observed in quantum processing," Monz notes.
Using Adjacent Phone Antennas Could Improve Data Transfer
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (03/31/11) Stephen Harris
Researchers at the University of Bristol's Center for Communications Research are studying multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology, which uses several antennas to transmit and receive data, in order to make mobile phones transfer data faster. The researchers created a virtual MIMO system involving a smartphone, a laptop, and a bicycle-helmet-mounted antenna linked with a short-range wireless connection. "The concept of virtual MIMO has been around for a little while," says Bristol professor and project leader Mark Beach. "We wanted to understand the impact of different form factors [devices] when you’re moving." During testing, the researchers found that a virtual MIMO system could boost data transfer rates by 50 percent. "One of the things we found was that the detuning by somebody holding the device makes quite a significant difference to the operation of a MIMO system," according to Beach. He says that "this would be of benefit to a network operator because you're making the whole communications process much more efficient, using much less channel resource."
The Future Is Now: Webinos Aims to Deliver Seamless, Secure Exchange of Data Across Multiple Platforms
Fraunhofer FOKUS (03/31/11)
The webinos project is a multi-organization research collaboration that aims to enable different devices and applications to work together in a secure, seamless, and interoperable manner. "The result of the webinos project is an open source platform that allows the safe exchange of data services across multiple devices," says Fraunhofer FOKUS consortium leader Stephan Steglich. The tools provided through the platform will enable software designers to create Web applications and services that can be used and shared over a wide range of converged and connected devices. "It is already clear that the opportunities for new business models are endless, especially as the webinos project is targeting a standardized interactivity platform for software and application developers to design secure, personalized, and innovative apps," says webinos technical coordinator Nick Allott. The webinos platform is embedded with features that put sensitive data and functions under strict user control. The developers expect the first prototypes to be completed by the end of 2011.
Simulating Medieval Warfare on Supercomputers
Technology Review (03/31/11) Christopher Mims
Computer scientists, archeologists, and historians at the University of Birmingham are collaborating on the Medieval Warfare on the Grid project, which involves using grid computing for agent-based simulations of the Byzantine Army as it marched into battle. Agent-based simulations model complex societies by simulating the ways that individuals in that population interact. The simulation works because the behavior of large groups of humans is very similar to that of insects, birds, and most other animals. Although the agent-based simulator does not simulate the actual battles, it does model how the army moved from one location to another, an achievement that requires substantial parallel processing power. The researchers aim to demonstrate a multi-agent model based approach to early military logistics, as well as explore infrastructures and algorithms for building very large multi-agent models.
Blood Simple Circuitry for Cyborgs
Indian scientists have made a memristor from human blood, and they say the research could one day lead to the development of a cyborg interface. S.P. Kosta of the Education Campus Changa and colleagues built the electronic device by using a small test tube filled with human blood held at 37 Celsius, and inserting two electrodes. The team attached measuring instruments, which demonstrated that resistance varied with applied voltage polarity and magnitude, and this memory effect was sustained for at least five minutes in the device. The researchers then tested for the same behavior in a device through which blood was flowing. The team successfully observed this effect as well. Kosta and colleagues say the next step will be to develop a micro-channel version of the flow memristor device and to integrate several to carry out particular logic functions. This stage of research is still a long way from developing an electronic to biological interface.
Researchers Make the Leap to Whole-Cell Simulations
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (03/30/11) Diana Yates
University of Illinois researchers have developed a computer model of the interior of a bacterial cell that accurately simulates a living cell's behavior. "We're looking at the influence of the whole cellular architecture instead of modeling just a portion of the cell, as people have done previously," says Illinois researcher Elijah Roberts. The researchers based their study on the work of the Max Planck Institute's Wolfgang Baumeister, which located all of a bacterium's ribosomes. The researchers asked Baumeister to repeat the experiment with E. coli bacteria, and then combined the new ribosome data with other studies that described the size distribution of the rest of the molecules inside the cell. The researchers were able to create a three-dimensional model that showed the degree of molecular crowding inside a typical E. coli cell. "In fact there are a lot of obstacles in the cell, and that is going to affect how individual molecules move around and it's going to affect the reactions that occur," says Illinois professor Zaida Luthey-Schulten.
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