Welcome to the October 7, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please note: In observance of the Columbus Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Oct. 10. Publication will resume Wednesday, Oct. 12.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Steve Jobs Dies; Apple Co-Founder Was 56
Washington Post (10/06/11) Patricia Sullivan
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died Oct. 5, leaves behind a legacy of technological innovation, with his influence reflected in many landmark computing products such as the iMac, the iPhone, and the iPad. The Macintosh computer Jobs helped midwife created a sensation by focusing on home and creative professional users. Following his departure from Apple, Jobs founded the NeXT computer company, whose technology was used to create the World Wide Web. He also acquired a struggling computer animation firm and helped transform it into the prestigious Pixar company. Returning to Apple in his 40s, Jobs revived the company's flagging fortunes by making it a leader in innovation while scaling back the product line. In 1997 Jobs forged a partnership between Apple and Microsoft, which ultimately saved Apple by reassuring customers that the Mac could support Microsoft's Office software. Under Jobs' direction there followed a spate of game-changing products, such as the iMac desktop, the iPod portable music player, the iTunes application allowing consumers to legally purchase and download music, the iPhone, and the iPad tablet computer. All of these products were runaway bestsellers driven by Jobs' visionary design philosophy and marketing savvy, that included a genius for understanding the needs of consumers before they did.
Reverse Brain Drain
Inside Higher Ed (10/06/11) Elizabeth Murphy
A reverse brain drain is occurring in the U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields as U.S. immigration laws discourage foreign nationals who have earned advanced degrees at U.S. universities from staying in the country. At a recent U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary subcommittee hearing, legislators, academics, and private-sector leaders discussed how the system can be changed to help keep the United States competitive globally in STEM fields. Ideas for keeping more foreign nationals in the country included attaching green cards to advanced STEM degrees, increasing the number of employment visas available, and eliminating the annual visa cap. Duke University professor Vivek Wadhwa recommended offering temporary visas to foreigners who have bought homes meeting a certain price threshold, and offering green cards to those who start companies that employ Americans. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has co-sponsored a bill that would eliminate the employment visa cap over a four-year period. Another bill includes several visa changes, including making it easier for immigrants who create businesses and employ Americans to stay in the country.
Virtual Institutes to Support the Scientific Collaborations of the Future
National Science Foundation (10/05/11) Lisa-Joy Zgorski
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI), an effort to encourage collaboration between scientists and educators worldwide by establishing a new interactive paradigm for conducting research. SAVIs are built on relationships initiated by teams of NSF-supported researchers, research institutes, and universities. Representatives from three SAVIs attended the announcement and described their work. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Alhussein Abouzeid discussed a pilot project that provides a platform for building long-term research and education collaboration between countries with leading wireless networking researchers. Brown University's Jill Pipher discussed the Virtual Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, which is important to innovation in the modern data-centric world. University of California, San Diego's Herbert Levine described the Physics of Living Systems Student Research Network, which has network participants from 11 U.S. institutions and institutions from Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. "This is an exciting opportunity for international collaboration," says National Academy of Sciences president Ralph J. Cicerone. "It acknowledges the global nature of science and engineering, while giving researchers a new mechanism to work together."
Unleashing the Power of Green Data
Center for Sustainable Communication (10/05/11) Bernhard Huber
The KTH Center for Sustainable Communication has developed Footprinted.org, a Web-based service that makes environmental impact information accessible. Footprinted.org, the result of a collaboration with Sourcemap and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, makes use of the concept of open linked data. The results of quantitative environmental research are often found in closed and expensive databases that are based on proprietary software, and the information is presented in text documents that cannot be processed. With Footprinted, users will be able to create, present, share, and reuse environmental impact information. The data will be stored in a format that can be easily processed, and the information will be available for free. The beta version offers a repository of life-cycle assessments of different materials, products, and processes, but there are plans to include the footprints of individual consumer products.
Timing Is Right for SDSC Cloud
UCSD News (CA) (10/05/11) Jan Zverina
Due to a new U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) policy requiring researchers to submit a data management plan as part of their funding requests, managing data has become an economic challenge in addition to a technical one, says Michael Norman, director the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC). "Data management has become an even more challenging discipline than high-performance computing," Norman says. "The question used to be 'what's the essential technology?' but is now 'what's the sustainable cost model?'" He says the research infrastructure for data-enabled science has been thoroughly discussed at the NSF and has led to new data management sharing policy. "This document works across all the NSF Directorates and finally makes data-enabled science a first-class citizen," Norman says. However, he says researchers will never be able to save all their data, and should focus on saving and sharing only those data that are intellectually valuable, while creating a sustainable business model. "SDSC, like other data resource centers, has a long-term obligation to steward that data, and maintenance costs are needed to keep that data persistent," Norman says.
NASA to Run International Space Apps Challenge
CCC Blog (10/04/11) Erwin Gianchandani
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is gathering ideas on global issues that can be solved with its data as it prepares to launch the International Space Apps Challenge in 2012. The space agency plans to collaborate with its counterparts to engage scientists as well as citizens in developing new tools for addressing global challenges, such as climate change and the depletion of ocean resources. Scientists and citizens worldwide could use publicly released scientific data to develop solutions. "The International Space Apps Challenge provides new opportunities for governments to engage citizens in this exploration mission by leveraging their expertise and entrepreneurial spirit to help address challenges of global importance," says the Challenge Web site. "The event embraces the concept of 'open innovation' to improve performance, inform decision-making, encourage entrepreneurship, and solve problems more effectively." Complete details can be found at http://open.nasa.gov/appschallenge/.
Paper Patterns and Smartphone Foil Forgers
New Scientist (10/05/11) Jacob Aron
A smartphone and microscope offer an inexpensive and easy way to authenticate sheets of paper, say New York University researchers led by Lakshminarayanan Subramanian. The researchers have developed PaperSpeckle, a system based on the microscopic patterns of light and shadow that appear when light shines on paper. The patterns have been encoded with an equation known as Gabor transform, and this creates a unique fingerprint that allows the software to distinguish between a vast volume of different sheets of paper. The software runs on an Android smartphone, and the components cost about $100 each. The method analyzes the unique speckle pattern and generates a quick response (QR) code that corresponds to it. Users would be able to authenticate this if it is on the document, even if they do not have access to an online database. Someone could copy the QR code to another sheet of paper, but the speckles would no longer match. The same region of a document would have to be authenticated each time, and the team's solution is to mark a small section of the paper with a pen.
Monkeys "Move and Feel" Virtual Objects Using Only Their Brains
Duke University researchers recently conducted an experiment involving monkeys using brain-machine-brain interfaces (BMBIs) to control and receive feedback with virtual avatars. "Someday in the near future, quadriplegic patients will take advantage of this technology not only to move their arms and hands and to walk again, but also to sense the texture of objects placed in their hands, or experience the nuances of the terrain on which they stroll with the help of a wearable robotic exoskeleton," says Duke professor Miguel Nicolelis. The monkeys were able to use their electrical brain activity to direct the virtual hands of an avatar to the surface of virtual objects and differentiate their textures. The texture of the virtual objects was expressed as a pattern of small electrical signals transmitted to the monkeys' brains. "In this BMBI, the virtual body is controlled directly by the animal's brain activity, while its virtual hand generates tactile feedback information that is signaled via direct electrical microstimulation of another region of the animal's cortex," according to Nicolelis. He says the experiments provide further evidence that it could be possible to develop a robotic exoskeleton that paralyzed patients could wear to experience the world and move autonomously.
IEEE Conference Keynoters Lay Out Path to Exascale Computing
HPC Wire (10/05/11) Aaron Dubrow
Three keynote speakers addressed the challenges of exascale computing at the recent IEEE Cluster 2011 conference. The speakers described the obstacles and opportunities involved in building systems 1,000 times more powerful than today's petascale systems. Software developer Thomas Sterling discussed the need for a new paradigm in programming that will be adaptive, intelligent, asynchronous, and able to get significantly better performance than the current execution model. Exascale computers will likely have millions of cores, and could be developed by 2020. Cluster designer Liu GuangMing, who designed China's Tianhe-1A supercomputer, gave an overview of the system deployed at the National Supercomputer Center and followed with an analysis of the barriers facing the development of exascale systems. Chip architect Charles Moore discussed Advanced Micro Devices' new line of accelerated processing units, a class of chip that could power future exascale systems. He said that one advantage of the new line is that you "can use this chip for graphics or as a compute offload or both at the same time."
Smart Mobility, Smart Energy Grids, Smart Cities!
European Cooperation in Science and Technology (10/04/2011)
The recent COST Strategic Workshop on Smart Cities drew more than 50 participants, including 10 early stage researchers, for an opportunity to learn more about the impact of decision sciences and technologies on smart cities. Speakers from academia, industrial laboratories, and urban and regional authorities presented projects on smart mobility, smart energy grids, urban security, and the collection and use of information, and shared their ideas on the future of cities from a smart cities perspective. The workshop stressed the importance of improving services, utilities management, and sustainability within smart cities, and the need to create and design new ways to use services as well as develop new ways to use cities. Over the next few months, a COST Action will be pursued with the goal of strengthening the network of various stakeholders involved in smart cities projects around the world.
Texas Computer Scientist Outflanks Next-Generation Computer Viruses
SIGNAL Magazine (10/11) Max Cacas
University of Texas (UT) at Dallas researchers have developed a method for anticipating the actions of computer viruses, which could lead to a new generation of tools and strategies for fighting malware that attacks networks, servers, and personal computers. The tools utilize computing capabilities and instructions that are already built into a wide range of computer chips in the market. "What our research was looking at was could these viruses get worse by, instead of randomly mutating, mutating in a direct fashion, so they infect a machine, actively detect what sorts of defenses are on that machine, learn about them using advanced machine learning techniques, and then actively work to defeat those defenses in a network fashion," says UT Dallas researcher Kevin Hamlen. The research involves advanced algorithms that are used to apply programming-language research to software security. "We discovered that there's a way to automatically interrupt viruses at precisely the moment they de-crypted the malicious payload, but before it starts executing," Hamlen says. The researchers hope to continue studying which algorithms are the most effective in creating new anti-virus programs.
Advances in Reliable Computing Draw Recognition for Doctoral Student
ASU News (10/04/11) Joe Kullman
Arizona State University doctoral student Reiley Jeyapaul's research focuses on finding solutions to the problems that cause computers to crash, lose data, or behave erratically. Jeyapaul recently presented his work at the International Conference on Parallel Processing and at the International Conference on Compilers, Architectures and Synthesis of Embedded Systems. This year four of Jeyapaul's papers have been accepted for publication and presentation at prestigious computer design conferences, notes ASU professor Aviral Shrivastava. Jeyapaul currently is researching ways to keep computation reliable despite the ever-shrinking transistors that make computing systems more prone to malfunctions. As part of his research, Jeyapaul has been developing multi-core processors that can diagnose and fix problems without slowing down the cores, which allows computer systems to perform the check-and-correct function while computational activities continue at a normal pace.
NSF Seeks Cyber Infrastructure to Make Sense of Scientific Data
Federal Computer Week (10/04/11) Camille Tuutti
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently called on University of North Carolina (UNC)-Chapel Hill researchers to develop a national data infrastructure that will help scientists and researchers manage data, share information, and drive innovation in the scientific community. The project, called the Cyberinfrastructure for the 21st Century Initiative, will support collaborative multidisciplinary research and will democratize access to information among researchers and citizen scientists, according to NSF's Rob Pennington. "It means researchers on the cutting edge have access to new, more extensive, multidisciplinary datasets that will enable breakthroughs and the creation of new fields of science and engineering," he says. The national data infrastructure will provide a platform to start working meticulously on more long-term rugged solutions or robust solutions, according to UNC-Chapel Hill researcher Stan Ahalt. Many federal agencies are already using the integrated Rule Oriented Data System to implement a data management infrastructure. "The long-term goal of this effort is to improve the ability to do research," says UNC-Chapel Hill researcher Reagan Moore. The new infrastructure could mean more than just managing data or sharing information with different research communities, Ahalt notes.
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