Welcome to the October 31, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
China Has Homemade Supercomputer Gain
New York Times (10/28/11) John Markoff
China announced that last month it installed the Sunway BlueLight MPP at the National Supercomputer Center, its first supercomputer based on Chinese microprocessor chips. The Sunway system can process a petaflop per second, ranking it among the 20 fastest supercomputers in the world. The system, which consists of 8,700 ShenWei SW1600 microprocessors, features a water-cooling system that could be a significant advance in the design of the fastest machines. University of Tennessee computer scientist Jack Dongarra says China's announcement is "a bit of a surprise," and notes that Sunway's theoretical peak performance is about 74 percent as fast as the Jaguar supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S.'s fastest system. The U.S. Energy Department plans to build three supercomputers that would run at 10 to 20 petaflops. The U.S. also is working to develop an exaflop-scale supercomputer by 2020. Convey Computer chief scientist Steven Wallach is impressed with Sunway's cooling system. "This cooling technology could scale to exaflop," Wallach says. "They are in the hunt to win."
Massively Parallel Computer Built From Single Layer of Molecules
Technology Review (10/27/11)
Researchers at the National Institutes for Materials Science recently unveiled a new molecule, called 2,3-dichloro-5,6-dicyano-p-benzoquinone (DDQ), which can exist in four conducting states, depending on the location of trapped electrons. In addition, the researchers say they can switch the molecule from one state to another using voltages of different strengths. A single DDQ molecule can connect with up to six neighboring molecules. When one molecule changes state, the change ripples to the neighboring molecules, forming and reforming circuits as the change travels. The Japanese researchers have set up 300 DDQ molecules on a gold substrate, initializing the system so that it calculates the way heat diffuses in a conducting medium. The researchers note that since the entire layer is involved in the calculation, the system is a massively parallel computation. "Generalization of this principle would ... open up a new vista of emergent computing using an assembly of molecules," says National Institutes for Materials Science researcher Anirban Bandyopadhyay.
Cybersecurity Mainly Male Domain, Geek Image Deters Girls
Reuters (10/27/11) Tabassum Zakaria
Experts say the lack of women in the cybersecurity industry reflects the broader high-tech industry's struggle to attract young women to information technology (IT) careers. More than 50 percent of the overall workforce is women, but they make up just 25 percent of IT jobs, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Both the U.S. government and the private sector want to draw more women into the IT field to increase the size of the talent pool and boost its diversity. "Today, if you look at countries like China and India they have so many more people than we do that it is going to be very, very hard for us to out-people them," says former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) official Richard George. "So we have to be more creative and more innovative. And you're not going to get there if you are not going to recruit from half your population." Although the public and private sectors want to recruit more women, there just are not enough in the pipeline. Programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, and Microsoft, among others, are designed to get young women interested in computer science and IT at a young age.
DARPA Offers $50,000 Prize If You Can Figure Out These Shredded Puzzles
Network World (10/27/11) Michael Cooney
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced the $50,000 Shredder Challenge, which asks participants to devise new methods or techniques for piecing together a series of shredded documents. DARPA wants to gain new insight into techniques that are quicker and more efficient than the currently used manual assembly or automated algorithm approaches. The challenge consists of five individual puzzles, each composed of one or more single-sided, hand-written documents. The pages for each puzzle have been shredded separately, but the shredded pages for each individual puzzle have been mixed together. In addition, each puzzle could contain extra pieces or missing pieces. To score points, participants must download the puzzles from the Challenge Web site and submit the correct answers by Dec. 4, 2011. "We are looking to the Shredder Challenge to generate some leap-ahead thinking in this area," says DARPA's Dan Kaufman.
The Making of Arduino
IEEE Spectrum (10/28/11) David Kushner
Arduino is a low-cost microcontroller board developed by Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (IDII) professor Massimo Banzi that lets novice engineers create their own systems. Users can connect Arduino to different types of sensors, lights, motors, and other devices, using easy-to-learn software to program how the device will behave. Arduino is based on a designer-friendly programming language called Processing, which allows inexperienced programmers to create complex data visualizations. Arduino's success can be attributed to its easy-to-use integrated development environment. "The philosophy behind Arduino is that if you want to learn electronics, you should be able to learn as you go from day one, instead of starting by learning algebra," says Arduino telecommunications engineer David Cuartielles. To test the system, Banzi gave 300 blank printed circuit boards to IDII students, and Arduino allowed those with no previous electronics experience to create original hardware. Banzi's Arduino team is now exploring how to integrate the system into education, from grade schools through colleges and universities.
To Diagnose Heart Disease, Visualization Experts Recommend a Simpler Approach
Harvard University (10/27/11) Mureji Fatunde
Harvard University researchers have developed HemoVis, a method for visualizing human arteries that, in clinical testing, increased diagnostic accuracy from 39 percent to 91 percent. HemoVis creates a two-dimensional (2D) diagram that is more effective than the traditional three-dimensional, rainbow-colored model. The researchers say their visualization method offers insight to clinicians, imaging specialists, engineers, and others in a wide range of fields who need to explore and evaluate complex, branching structures. "Our goal was to design a visual representation of the data that was as accurate and efficient for patient diagnosis as possible," says Harvard researcher Michelle Borkin. HemoVis utilizes 2D, circumference-adjusted cylindrical cross sections arranged in tree diagrams, leading to consistently fast, accurate results. The system uses a graded single-color scheme that can represent placement along a continuum, fading from red to black. "This approach to visualization design and validation is broadly applicable in medicine, engineering, and science," says Harvard professor Hanspeter Pfister.
Stanford Software That Models Human Motion Travels to Museum
Stanford Report (CA) (10/27/11) Andrew Myers
Stanford University professor Scott Delp has developed OpenSim, software that helps medical professionals and bioengineers study, diagnose, and correct abnormalities in how people move. The OpenSim system is currently on display at the Leonardo museum in Salt Lake City as part of an exhibit exploring human movement. The exhibit is divided into two sections. In one section, visitors walk across a pressure-sensitive floor and are presented at the other side with color-coded printouts of their weight distribution, showing imbalances that could be putting stress on certain limbs or joints. The second section is an interactive soccer game in which the real-world player adjusts the strength of two leg muscles on the simulated soccer player to generate enough force to score a goal. The researchers hope that OpenSim helps develop new, more sensitive prosthetics that can read and interpret electrical impulses to control the devices. "By putting this powerful software in the hands of as many people as possible, we are setting in motion a self-perpetuating research ecosystem that will build upon itself to push the field forward," Delp says.
Researchers Create Transistors From Natural Cotton Fibers
Cornell Chronicle (10/26/11) Farhan Nuruzzaman
Cornell University professor Juan Hinestroza was part of an international team that recently developed transistors using natural cotton fibers. "Creating transistors from cotton fibers brings a new perspective to the seamless integration of electronics and textiles, enabling the creation of wearable electronic devices," Hinestroza says. He says the technology lays the foundation for more complex devices, such as cotton-based circuits, which would enable fabrics to analyze body temperature, track heart rate or blood pressure, and monitor physical effort in athletes. The new technique involves conformal coatings of gold nanoparticles along with semiconductive and conductive polymers being used to tailor the electronic behavior of natural cotton fibers. The research involved an interdisciplinary, collaborative effort between fiber scientists from Cornell, physicists from the University of Bologna, electrical engineers from the University of Cagliari, and materials scientists from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Saint-Etienne.
New Tool Clears the Air on Cloud Simulations
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (10/26/11) Anne M. Stark
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers and international collaborators have developed the Cloud-Feedback-Model Intercomparison Project Observation Simulator Package (COSP), which will enable scientists to better represent clouds observed in the sky in climate models. Accurately representing clouds is difficult for climate models because of their spatial resolution limitations. Global climate models typically have a 100-kilometer resolution while meteorological models have a 20-kilometer range, but the scale needs to be in the 500-meter resolution to 1-kilometer range to accurately represent clouds as seen in satellite measurements. COSP facilitates the apples-to-apples comparison between clouds simulated in a climate model and the cloud properties retrieved from satellites. "Our tool will better connect with what the satellites observe--how many clouds, their levels, and the reflectivity," says LLNL's Stephen Klein. "The COSP eliminates significant ambiguities in the direct comparison of model simulations with satellite retrievals." Most of the major models for climate and weather prediction are now using the tool.
Internet Responsible for 2 Percent of Global Energy Usage
New Scientist (10/26/11) Jim Giles
The Internet is responsible for 170 to 307 gigawatts of global energy consumption, according to the University of California, Berkeley's Justin Ma and the International Computer Science Institute's Barath Raghavan. That amount is not as much as it sounds when compared with energy use across all sectors. Worldwide energy consumption stands at 16 terawatts, and the Internet accounts for less than 2 percent of that total, according to the researchers. To come up with the total, Ma and Raghavan used previously published research to conduct a rough Internet census. They estimate that there are 750 million laptops, 1 billion smartphones, and 100 million servers. The also estimate the energy that it costs to manufacture each of these devices and the period each is used before being replaced. The figure also includes an estimate of the energy that cell towers and optical switches use when transmitting Internet traffic, and similar calculations for Wi-Fi transmitters and cloud storage devices.
Computer Scientist Seeks the Real Meaning of Language
Columbia University (10/25/11) Meghan Berry
Researchers at Columbia University and the City University of New York (CUNY) are developing computational methods to detect deception in English, Mandarin Chinese, and Arabic speakers. The researchers, led by Columbia professor Julia Hirschberg, hope that the work can lead to the development of lie-detection technology that is more accurate than the polygraph test. As part of the study, 32 subjects were asked to complete random, unrelated tasks such as tying knots, stacking quarters on their elbows, hopping on one foot, and singing, all of which were tasks they were told the U.S.'s top 25 entrepreneurs also were tested on. All of the participants were told they had failed to perform as well as the entrepreneurs, but that they must try to convince an interviewer that they had performed just as well, pressing a hidden pedal when they lied and another when they told the truth. Using the data, the researchers built classifiers using machine learning that were about 70 percent accurate in determining truth from lies, while human judges were only about 58 percent accurate.
Analysis: Agreement Seen Distant at London Cyber Conference
Reuters (10/26/11) Peter Apps
The upcoming London Cyber Summit will convene ministers, officials, tech executives, Internet activists, and security experts to discuss cyberspace management, and some experts suggest that a closed session on international security could be an initial step toward some type of ultimate cyberarms control. However, such an effort could be years in the making and require much greater trust internationally. "We need to have a much more focused debate about cyberspace and the issues that are involved," says U.K. summit representative John Duncan. "The discussions we will have ... provide a framework which will allow this debate to go forward in a more structured manner." Some experts and officials caution that it could take 10 years or longer to arrive at true global agreement. Still, the Royal United Services Institute's John Bassett says the summit will be worthwhile if the participants find enough common ground to initiate a dialogue between governments and other players. Many experts say the immediate challenge is reining in hacking and establishing accountability for perpetrators. Although some summit participants say that anxieties over cyberwarfare are exaggerated, there seems little doubt that a deliberate assault on infrastructure could spur a dangerous escalation of hostilities.
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