Welcome to the August 10, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
University of British Columbia (08/08/11)
University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers have developed several technologies for computer animation and simulation, high dynamic range three-dimensional displays, and text-art design tools, all of which were showcased at the 2011 ACM SIGGRAPH conference. UBC professor Alla Sheffer developed a computerized digital design tool that combines images with readable, meaningful text, known as micrograms. The tool automatically creates readable micrograms with a high level of user control. UBC professor Michiel van de Panne developed a physics-based simulation of canine motions, including walking, pacing, trotting, and jumping over obstacles. The real-time simulation tool can develop life-like canine characters for games, films, and simulations. UBC professor Robert Bridson developed a method for constraining a high-resolution liquid simulation that is faster than current methods and can be integrated with a standard fluid simulator. UBC professor Dinesh Pai developed a framework for accurate simulations of massively constrained systems of rigid bodies and strands. Pai also developed an algorithm that improves the simulation of viscoelastic solids undergoing deformations during a collision, which can be used to simulate different contact scenarios and volumetric models.
On Its Own, Europe Backs Web Privacy Fights
New York Times (08/09/11) Suzanne Daley; Rachel Chaundler
European regulators are increasingly embracing the concept of giving people the right to be forgotten on the Web by providing them with greater control over their Internet data. Spain, for example, has ordered Google to cease indexing information about 90 citizens who formally complained to its Data Protection Agency. Meanwhile, Google released a statement warning that requiring search engines to ignore some information "would have a profound chilling effect on free expression without protecting people's privacy." European courts diverge from U.S. courts in their support of Web privacy, with Georgetown University professor Franz Werro noting that Europe recognizes the need to balance freedom of speech and the right to know against an individual's right to privacy or dignity. A recent European Union poll found that 75 percent of Europeans expressed concern about how Internet companies used their data and wanted the right to erase personal data at any time. Experts say that Google and other search engines view some of these court cases as a threat to already established legal precepts that search engines are not accountable for the information they aggregate from the Web.
Computers Synthesize Sounds--From Fire to Frictional Contact--to Go With Graphics
Cornell Chronicle (08/08/11) Bill Steele
Cornell University professor Doug James led the development of algorithms that can simulate realistic sounds of hard objects colliding with each other and the roar of fire. The software calculates the forces virtual objects would exert if they were real, how those forces would make the objects vibrate, and how those vibrations would transfer to the air to make sound. However, the algorithm only simulates a fraction of the vibrations needed to synthesize the sound, which accelerates the process and reduces costs. "We identify a small set of physically faithful contacts, the simplest set that will get the job done," James says. Fire is animated by mimicking the chemical reactions and fluid-like flow of burning gases. "We can simulate the low-frequency sound for flame animations, but not all the fiery details, so we rely on models based on real fire sounds to paint the fiery details onto the low-frequency sound," James says. The researchers demonstrated their system at the 2011 ACM SIGGRAPH conference with a fire-breathing dragon statue, a candle in the wind, a torch swinging through the air, a jet of flame injected into a small room, and a burning brick.
New Way to Manage Energy in the Smart Grid
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (08/09/11) Joyce Lewis
University of Southampton researchers have developed a decentralized control mechanism for managing micro-storage in the smart grid that can produce savings of up to 16 percent in energy costs for consumers. The approach uses agent-based techniques to enable energy suppliers to manage the demand for their consumers, which allows them to reduce their wholesale purchasing costs. Smart computerized agents are used to control energy storage devices in the home. The mechanism involves using a real-time pricing scheme that is broadcast to consumers ahead of each daily period, then computerized agents buy, sell, and store energy on their behalf to minimize their net electricity costs. By adjusting pricing to match the conditions on the wholesale market, the supplier is able to ensure that consumer agents converge to a stable and efficient equilibrium where costs and carbon emissions are minimized. "We see this as an important step to showing that the adoption of widespread, supplier-managed home energy micro-storage is a practical desirable technology to develop for the benefit of both suppliers and consumers," says Southampton researcher Thomas Voice.
Body-Mounted Cameras Turn Motion Capture Inside Out
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (08/08/11) Byron Spice; Jennifer Liu
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research, Pittsburgh (DRP) have developed a method for motion capture that can occur at a much broader range of locations, including large areas and outdoors. The researchers equipped subjects with outward-facing body-mounted cameras that captured activities such as running and swinging on monkey bars. "I think anyone will be able to do motion capture in the not-so-distant future," says DRP's Takaaki Shiratori. The wearable camera system enables researchers to reconstruct the relative and global motions of a subject using a process known as structure of motion (SfM). The researchers used SfM to estimate the pose of the cameras, which were calibrated with respect to a reference structure, on the person. Each subject performed a range-of-motion exercise that enabled the system to automatically build a digital skeleton and estimate the positions of the cameras. SfM calculates the position and orientation of the limbs as a subject moves through an environment, collecting three-dimensional information that can provide context for the captured motion.
IBM, NCSA Abandon Petascale Supercomputer Project
IDG News Service (08/08/11) Joab Jackson
Unforeseen complexities and greater-than-anticipated costs have prevented IBM and the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) from continuing plans to build a petaflop-speed supercomputer. The first version of the system was expected to be delivered as early as 2012. "The innovative technology that IBM ultimately developed was more complex and required significantly increased financial and technical support by IBM beyond its original expectations," according to a joint statement. "NCSA and IBM worked closely on various proposals to retain IBM's participation in the project but could not come to a mutually agreed-on plan concerning the path forward." The U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Illinois funded the Blue Waters project, which aimed to build a Power7 processor-based supercomputer capable of a quadrillion floating point operations per second. IBM contributed software, hardware, and personnel for Blue Waters, which proved too costly, and may have needed to redefine the project to take advantage of the latest techniques for ramping up computing to petascale heights, says Envisioneering Group's Rick Doherty.
Los Alamos Builds Time Machine to the Way the Web Was
Government Computer News (08/08/11) Henry Kenyon
Researchers at the Los Alamos Research Library and Old Dominion University have developed Memento, a technical specification that embeds the concept of time into Internet applications and could enable users to see Web pages as they appeared at any point in time. Memento uses a protocol that enables users to search across all existing Web archives, according to Los Alamos researcher Herbert Van de Sompel. Memento works by time stamping a page that can then be referenced at a later date. One application could be in content management and version control systems, through the use of a universal resource identifier (URI), Van de Sompel says. Memento also can search through dates using a slider graphic. Users can search different archives with an HTTP-based search tool by entering a site's URI into Memento. The system automatically searches all of the Internet's Web archives and sends the user to the archived copy. The researchers hope to make the time-searching capability a standard Internet protocol, but until then they have developed a Firefox plug-in and a mobile version for the Android operating system, according to Van de Sompel.
Tracking Crime in Real Time
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (08/08/11)
Tel Aviv University researchers are using digital activities to catch criminals and strengthen homeland security efforts against terrorists. The researchers developed context-based search algorithms that analyze digital data in real time. The algorithms take pieces of information, such as phone calls, emails, or credit card transactions, and reduce them to a set of random variables. All of the communications are actually pieces of a longer message waiting to be decoded, according to Tel Aviv University professor Irad Ben-Gal. Once the various information pieces are entered into the system, the algorithm can assess patterns of crime to predict future movements and create a probability map showing the criminals' possible locations. The probability map is divided into zones where the subject is likely to operate. Each zone is given a statistical likelihood of the subject's presence, and each new piece of information can instantly change a zone's probability. The algorithms can help officials wisely use any available information, Ben-Gal says.
Rice Discovery Points Way to Graphene Circuits
Rice University (08/04/11) David Ruth; Jade Boyd
Rice University researchers have developed a method that could enable nanoelectronic engineers to use common chemical procedures to control the electronic properties of alloys that contain both white and black graphene, which could make it easier to build graphene-based electronic circuits. The researchers found a direct correlation between the useful properties of the final product and the chemical conditions that exist while it is being made, according to Rice's Boris Yakobson. "The beauty of the finding is that we can precisely predict the electronic properties of the final product based solely upon the conditions--technically speaking, the so-called 'chemical potential'--during synthesis," Yakobson says. The researchers were able to determine the exact distribution of energy transferred between each atom during the formation of the alloys, which allowed them to develop a direct link from synthesis to morphology and to a useful product. A five-student group recently returned from Tsinghua University in Beijing, which is collaborating with the Rice researchers on the graphene study.
IEEE to Create Anti-Malware 'Packer' Validation System
CSO Online (Australia) (08/04/11) Liam Tung
The IEEE has launched a system for tracing the output of all certified binary packers to verify which license was used to create an executable file. IEEE now needs contributors to catalogue the users of the software tools, which are often used by malware writers to hide executable files from antivirus products. The Industry Connections Security Group (ICSG) released the request for proposals for building the software libraries at the recent Black Hat Technical Security conference. The software catalog would enable the IEEE Software Taggant System, built by ICSG, to identify users of software packers and then blacklist misused license keys. As a result, antivirus vendors would be able to focus more on non-compliant packers. "We think the IEEE Software Taggant System will drive malware developers away from compliant packers, which would both improve our chances of catching rogue operators and allow antivirus software to more efficiently process legitimate executable files created by packer software," says Symantec's Mark Kennedy.
Wireless Network in Hospital Monitors Vital Signs
Washington University in St. Louis (08/04/11) Diana Lutz
Washington University in St. Louis researchers launched a prototype sensor network in Barnes-Jewish Hospital, with the goal of creating a wireless virtual intensive-care unit in which the patents are free to move around. When the system is fully operational, sensors will monitor the blood oxygenation level and heart rate of at-risk patients once or twice a minute. The data is transmitted to a base station and combined with other data in the patient's electronic medical record. The data is analyzed by a machine-learning algorithm that looks for signs of clinical deterioration, alerting nurses to check on patients when those signs are found. The clinical warning system is part of a new wireless health field that could change the future of medicine, says Washington University in St. Louis computer scientist Chenyang Lu. In developing the system, the researchers were focused on ensuring that the network would always function and never fail. The relay nodes are programmed as a self-organizing mesh network, so that if one node fails the data will be rerouted to another path. At the end of the trial, the researchers found that data were reliably received more than 99 percent of the time and the sensing reliability was 81 percent.
IT Solution to Improve Hospital Workflow and Schedules
Queensland University of Technology (08/03/11) Sandra Hutchinson
Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and GECKO have successfully tested an information technology system designed to improve the scheduling of resources and workflow in surgical settings. "This positive assessment by the Hetzelstift clinicians is backed up by clinicians from another hospital to whom the system was demonstrated on a single laptop, but without deploying the system in the hospital's environment," says QUT's Chun Ouyang. The solution is based on an automated workflow system known as YAWL, which is one of QUT's largest open source initiatives, and improved management of surgery-related resources. "The benefit of this system, over a human-run system, is that it is more accurate, efficient, and quicker and is able to adapt to any changes in the availability of staff, equipment, or delays immediately," Ouyang says. The system has the potential to help save time, enabling hospitals to serve more patients, and help save money on equipment purchases.
Clearing the Decks
MIT News (08/02/11) Jennifer Chu
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed the Deck operations Course of Action Planner (DCAP), a computer interface for tracking incoming flight data and creating deck operation schedules for aircraft carriers. The system could reduce the number of crew members needed to staff the deck, decreasing crowding and the risk of accidents. The researchers, led by MIT professor Mary Cummings, first identified the factors that influence flight-deck traffic, such as aircraft fuel levels, flight schedules, and the status of deck machinery. They then developed a planning algorithm that creates an optimal schedule based on different scenarios. The DCAP interface includes a side panel that lists the type and number of aircraft in line to land and launch and their flight schedules, and a bottom display that tracks machinery and issues alerts when failures occur. For the system to work on an actual aircraft carrier, the crew, the equipment, and the aircraft would have to be equipped with radio-frequency identification tags. The U.S. Office of Naval Research's Mark Steinberg says DCAP could be used to manage a growing fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles.
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