Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the August 8, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Mars Rover Curiosity Will Phone Home on NASA's Interplanetary Internet
Government Computer News (08/06/12) Kevin McCaney

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Deep Space Network (DSN) will be key to what scientists learn about Mars. DSN, which functions like an interplanetary Internet, carries the data collected by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover about 139 million miles back to Earth. DSN comprises large dish antenna arrays at three locations approximately 120 degrees apart on Earth. Each complex has a 70-meter antenna and several 34-meter antennas that give strong signals and the ability to send and receive large quantities of information. Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will communicate with Curiosity primarily via orbiters about 250 miles above Mars. The rover can more easily connect with the orbiters using UHF software-defined radio. It also could send signals directly to Earth via its X-band transmitter but power limitations would limit this approach to about three hours a day. During an eight-minute period, Curiosity will be able to transmit about 60 megabits of data to the orbiter, which can then relay the information to Earth. NASA is working to improve transmission speeds through space and plans to use arrays of smaller antennae to achieve the highest possible data rates.

German Computer Scientists Join Forces to Make Interactive 3D Graphics Part of the World Wide Web
Saarland University (08/06/12)

Researchers at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence and Fraunhofer Institute are working to describe computer scenes in spatial detail directly within a Web site's code. The researchers have agreed on a common proposal to extend the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) to also include advanced graphics capabilities, which they say would allow for easily describable three-dimensional (3D) geometry, its material properties, lights, and virtual cameras as HTML elements. "By identifying a small core of essential building blocks from the existing prototypes and scene-graph standards for a interactive three-dimensional experience on the Web, we have made it as simple as possible for browser vendors to include the new technology but still offer Web developers the full flexibility for designing fully dynamic and interactive 3D Web experiences," says Fraunhofer's Johannes Behr. The researchers say their proposed HTML extension offers a high-level approach for Web developers. In the short term, the proposal will enable developers to start immediately, while native implementation integration within the browser will offer optimal performance and full functionality.

Jernej Barbic Releases Comprehensive 3D Deformable Object Library for Free
University of Southern California (08/06/12)

University of Southern California professor Jernej Barbic recently released Vega, a library of three-dimensional (3D) deformable modeling software, for free open source download. Vega enables users to model and move complex objects by bending, stretching, and twisting them in real time. Vega is optimized for speed and can animate the motion of any 3D solid object, under any user-specified forces. Vega's license allows anyone to freely use and modify its more than 50,000 lines of software code, whether for academic research or commercial applications. “A lot of this kind of research code goes up on the Web, but the software is often either too specific, or too complex and inter-tangled,” Barbic says. "Vega is now general purpose, well documented, and highly modular, with its components independently reusable." Vega operates out of a standard computer system for representing 3D objects, dividing their interiors into tetrahedrons. Barbic says Vega can quickly simulate both geometrically simple objects as well as complex objects consisting of hundreds of thousands of tetrahedra.

Sensor Uses Body's Electrical Signature to Secure Devices
Network World (08/06/12) Michael Cooney

Dartmouth University researchers have developed Amulet, a security sensor device that authenticates mobile and wearable computer systems by analyzing users' unique electrical properties to verify their identity. Amulet is a "piece of jewelry, not unlike a watch, that would contain small electrodes to measure bioimpedance--a measure of how the body's tissues oppose a tiny applied alternating current--and learns how a person's body uniquely responds to alternating current of different frequencies," according to the Dartmouth researchers. The system uses a recognition algorithm to determine whether the user matches the measured bioimpedance. "We expect that the necessary electronics and skin-contact sensors for bioimpedance could easily be integrated into an Amulet-like device," the researchers say. Amulet is designed to ensure the security of the increasing amounts of mobile and wearable systems used for monitoring health conditions and lifestyle-related conditions. "Existing recognition schemes for such mobile applications and pervasive devices are not particularly usable--they require active engagement with the person [such as the input of passwords], or they are too easy to fool," the researchers note.

A New Effective Approach for Image Stylization as Proposed by Researchers from China
Science in China Press (08/04/12) Li Ping

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Beijing Institute of Technology have developed a structure-aware image stylization method to create the effects of artistic drawing and painting using single digital images as input. They also applied hardware graphics-processing unit (GPU) parallelism to allow for real-time non-photorealistic rendering for more efficient processing. In addition, the researchers created an image structure map to naturally model the fine structure details in the original images to preserve the image structure between the original and stylized images. The researchers note that structure-aware stylization usually requires less time for picture recognition, and they found that stylization exhibits more attractiveness to the people viewing the test images. The new GPU-based structure-aware image stylization method preserves the fine structure between the original and stylized images while avoiding salience information loss caused by contrast abstraction. The new method also applies an image structure map to naturally model the detailed image structure present in the original images. The image structure map systematically models the boundary information within the imagery and accentuates the underlying inner structure detail for further stylization.

An Augmented Reality Welding Helmet
Technology Review (08/03/12) David Zax

University of Toronto researchers are developing the EyeTap welding helmet, which consists of a circuit board with two HDMI camera inputs, one for each eye. The system, which is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, will be shown at the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference. The helmet places two cameras right where the eyes normally are to capture and stream the visual information of welding. "Our goal ... is to show the future development of high dynamic range eyeglasses as a seeing aid and how such technology can be used to enhance human vision in [an] extreme dynamic range scene such as welding," the Toronto researchers say. EyeTap aims to remove the difficulties of recording tungsten welding, which is almost impossible with a digital camera, as it cannot properly adjust itself to capture an image of the site of welding, given the excessive brightness of the brights and the darkness of the darks. The researchers say their system presents the visual information more clearly to the user than an unassisted eye could.

Computer Scientist Seeks to Improve Portability of Mobile Device Applications
Virginia Tech News (08/03/12) Lynn Nystrom

Virginia Tech computer scientist Eli Tilevich is working to solve the problems of porting applications across mobile devices and platforms. Tilevich, who received a Microsoft Research Software Engineering Innovation Foundation Award for his research on mobile device portability, will use the award to focus on porting Android applications to run on Windows phones. "To seamlessly port the applications across mobile platforms requires a systematic and automated approach that is called device-independent mobile applications," Tilevich says. He notes these applications could potentially run on any smartphone and could "represent a revolutionary development model for smartphone applications, reducing software development costs and maximizing profits." Tilevich also plans to generalize his model approach in an attempt to make it functional for all major mobile applications. He points out that the smartphone market is characterized by fragmentation, with a spate of distinct models competing to dominate the field. "As a result, successful smartphone applications must often be ported between different mobile devices and platforms, incurring great costs for the makers of mobile software," Tilevich says.

Touch Your Philodendron and Control Your Computer: Technology Turns Any Plant Into an Interactive Device
Disney Research (08/03/2012)

Disney Research scientists have developed Botanicus Interactus, technology that enables houseplants to control a computer or other digital device. Once a single wire is placed anywhere in the plant's soil, the technology can detect if and where a plant is touched. Botanicus Interactus is based on capacitive-touch sensing, the same principle underlying touchscreen technology. However, Disney's technology uses the Swept Frequency Capacitive Sensing technique to monitor capacitive signals across a wide range of frequencies, which makes it possible to detect how and where the plant is being touched. Machine-learning algorithms are used to recognize frequency changes associated with touches in particular locations on the plant. "Giving plants a voice, a possibility to respond and engage us, could lead to new forms of entertainment, enhance our lifestyles, and create a new computational platform that could be used for both education and entertainment," says Disney Research scientist Ivan Poupyrev. The Disney researchers will demonstrate Botanicus Interactus at the SIGGRAPH 2012 conference.

New Generation of Virtual Humans Helping to Train Psychologists
American Psychological Association (08/03/12)

University of Southern California professor Albert Rizzo has created virtual humans who can interact with therapists via a computer screen and realistically display the symptoms of a patient with clinical psychological disorders. "As this technology continues to improve, it will have a significant impact on how clinical training is conducted in psychology and medicine," Rizzo says. The technology includes two virtual patients, one of which is a 16-year-old with a conduct disorder who is being forced by his family to participate in therapy. The other virtual patient is a sexual assault victim who was designed to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Rizzo eventually plans to create a comprehensive computer training module that has a wide range of virtual patients with numerous diagnoses for use by psychiatric and psychology educators and trainees. "What’s so useful about this technology is novice clinicians can gain exposure to the presentation of a variety of clinical conditions in a safe and effective environment before interacting with actual patients," Rizzo says.

Vipin Kumar to Receive 2012 ACM SIGKDD Innovation Award
CCC Blog (08/06/12) Erwin Gianchandani

University of Minnesota professor Vipin Kumar will receive ACM's Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD) 2012 Innovation Award at the 18th international ACM SIGKDD Conference. The award is given to "one individual or one group of collaborators whose outstanding technical innovations in the KDD field have had a lasting impact on advancing the theory and practice of the field." SIGKDD notes that "professor Kumar has made numerous significant and impactful contributions to a wide range of core data mining areas including graph partitioning, clustering, association analysis, high performance and parallel data mining, anomaly/change detection, and data-driven discovery methods for analyzing global climate and ecosystem data." Kumar's research group has been at the forefront in the development of data driven discovery methods for analyzing global climate and ecosystem data. SIGKDD also praises Kumar's work on change detection in spatio-temporal data, which has advanced the current state of the art in the monitoring of global forest cover using satellite data. Global-scale application of these techniques has yielded comprehensive histories of large-scale ecosystem changes caused by fires, logging, droughts, flood, and farming that help to understand how such disturbances correspond with global climate variability and human activity.

Detecting Thyroid Disease by Computer (08/02/12)

Computerized screening can be used to discover undiagnosed thyroid problems, according to the PSNA College of Engineering and Technology's Jaganathan Palanichamy and Rajkumar Nallamuthu. The researchers developed an approach to apply screening to the classification of a raw dataset from patient records. The approach makes use of a screening algorithm and increases the accuracy of detecting thyroid disease to nearly 93.5 percent. Earlier tests for diagnosing thyroid disease had 92 percent confidence or less, which means 15 more patients are given either a false positive or a false negative for every 1,000 in the screened dataset. The researchers say their approach would enable healthcare networks to correctly identify significant numbers of people with a thyroid problem based on patient records rather than on performing specific thyroid function blood tests. Doctors in a clinical setting could use the screening approach to assess patients with a range of symptoms and determine whether there is a need for a thyroid test and subsequent drug intervention.

The 'Intelligent Textbook' That Helps Students Learn
New Scientist (08/01/12) Michael Reilly

The Inquire system aims to be the world's first intelligent textbook. The system, being developed by Vulcan, is an electronic version of Campbell Biology. It includes a machine-readable map of all the concepts covered in the printed textbook, as well as information on how they are related. When a student asks a question, the system converts it to a structured query, and then uses the question to search and find results from the concept map. The researchers recruited 72 De Aza College students to test the system. Students were either presented with the full Inquire system, the Inquire system with the query function deactivated, or a paper copy of Campbell Biology. They were then asked to spend an hour reading a section of the textbook, 90 minutes on homework problems, and to take a 20-minute quiz. Those students who used the full Inquire system scored a grade better on a quiz than the students who did not. "Our students could use Inquire as a tool and ask it questions that they might be embarrassed to ask a teacher in person because it makes them feel stupid," says high school teacher Debbie Frazier.
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Program Supports Women Enrolled in STEM Programs
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (08/02/12) Laura Raines

Women in Technology (WIT) has launched a program designed to serve as a support system for female college students enrolled in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. WIT on Campus will offer events, internships, scholarships, and mentoring and networking opportunities. WIT has selected the Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Gwinnett Tech, Kennesaw State University, and Spelman College as the pilot campuses for WIT on Campus. Gwinnett Tech's Philip Gibson notes WIT has long supported high school students and women working in technology, but the new program fills a gap by focusing on women in college. Atlanta has a number of female executives working in science and technology, says Cedric Stallworth, assistant dean of Georgia Tech's College of Computing. "Having them mentor our students would be meaningful to young women who are trying to figure out how to make career, marriage, and family all work," he says. Stallworth says women in STEM fields face many challenges, such as gender bias and cultural stereotypes. He notes they also often lack knowledge about STEM fields and the opportunities they offer.

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