Welcome to the September 17, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Despite a Slowdown, Smartphone Advances Are Still Ahead
New York Times (09/16/12) Nick Wingfield
Apple's new iPhone 5 has faster chips and a bigger screen, but these improvements lack the dramatic impact the first iPhone had in 2007. However, analysts say breakthroughs in smartphone materials, software, and batteries could lead to substantial changes in how smartphones look and function in the near future. "Five years of incremental change can be very substantial change five years later," notes Harvard University professor David Yoffie. For example, while Apple continues to improve its Siri voice-activated virtual assistant, Google is developing its own voice search products. Another new technology from Google is Project Glass, eyeglass-like frames that can display texts, emails, and other information from a smartphone on a miniature screen in front of the user's eye. Analysts say wearable computers could lead to a new category of applications known as augmented reality. "A lot of people are thinking about augmented reality as a possible game changer in mobile computing," says University of California, Santa Barbara professor Tobias Hollerer. Several companies also are developing fuel-cell technology that could keep smartphones charged for weeks. "Whenever it comes into being in a shape and form that’s implementable for smartphones, that will be a dramatic shift," says analyst Chetan Sharma.
Intel Seeks to Eliminate Computer Passwords With Wave of Hand
Bloomberg (09/13/12) Ian King
Intel researchers recently demonstrated a system that has the potential to do away with computer passwords. The system is designed to recognize the pattern of veins in the palm of a hand as it is waved over a sensor, eliminating the need for a string of numbers and letters to gain access to computers, Web sites, and phones. "Nobody likes passwords," says Intel's Justin Rattner. "This completely removes this deeply inconvenient notion of passwords." Rattner notes the system is a work in progress, but he says it goes further than other biometric identification devices commonly in use today. Rattner says that once a computer identifies a user, embedded hardware and software connects with all the other protected services, such as online banking, that the person would normally access. Moreover, future devices will include additional sensors that detect when a user has stepped away and will automatically lock down access to all connected devices and sites.
Talking Cars Help Each Other See Around Blind Corners
New Scientist (09/13/12) Hal Hodson
A communication system for autonomous vehicles would eliminate blind corners by enabling robotic eyes to perceive any unseen obstacle or person. With CarSpeak, developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, human drivers approaching blind corners would not need to slow and prepare for the unexpected. CarSpeak is designed to provide an autonomous vehicle with a continuous three-dimensional (3D) view of the area based on information captured by other cars, or by a sensor fixed in place to help with the blind spot. The 3D view would consist of a cloud of millions of points generated by onboard laser-mapping equipment, but the system would allow cars to request specific sections of the area they are unable to see themselves. Other cars on the road would forward the information to the requesting vehicle. CarSpeak will determine which regions face the most demand and assign more bandwidth to those sections as needed, which will accelerate the process. In a test in Singapore, golf buggies running CarSpeak navigated the test environment more than twice as fast as those using simple wireless to relay data, and were 14 times less likely to collide with an unseen obstacle.
Online Mentors to Guide Women Into the Sciences
New York Times (09/16/12) Tamar Lewin
Harvey Mudd College president Maria Klawe recently launched the Women in Technology Sharing Online (WitsOn) project, which organizes hundreds of prominent women working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industries to become online mentors for college students. The project is part of a six-week program to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM fields. "Getting more women into STEM is my passion in life, and every institution that’s set up mentorship programs for young women has been successful at increasing their numbers, so I think this can make a real difference," Klawe says. The program aims to connect young students with accomplished women working in STEM fields. Several universities have contributed mentors and publicized the program to students. Klawe has lined up six prominent women to serve as lead mentors, including Mae C. Jemison, the first black female astronaut, California Institute of Technology chemistry chairperson Jacqueline K. Barton, and Cisco chief technology officer Padmasree Warrior, as well as about 300 other mentors. The mentors will answer questions submitted online by students at any of the universities participating in the project. WitsOn could help improve the confidence of women who think differently from their male classmates, says Kettering University professor Jacqueline El-Sayed.
Vanadium Oxide Bronze: A New Material for the Computing Industry?
UB NewsCenter (09/13/12) Charlotte Hsu
University at Buffalo researchers have found that vanadium oxide bronze, which contains unusual electrical properties that increase the speed at which information is transferred and stored, could one day replace silicon to make computing faster. The researchers created nanowires made from vanadium oxide and lead, which when exposed to an applied voltage near room temperatures, transform from insulators that are resistant to carrying electricity to metals that more easily conduct electricity. "The ability to electrically switch these nanomaterials between the on and off state repeatedly and at faster speeds makes them useful for computing," says Buffalo professor Sambandamurthy Ganapathy. However, the researchers caution that although the nanomaterial holds great promise, its environmental impact still needs investigating. "Silicon computing technology is running up against some fundamental road blocks, including switching speeds," says Buffalo professor Sarbajit Banerjee. "The voltage-induced phase transition in the material we created provides a way to make that switch at a higher speed." The researchers note that one interesting characteristic of the new material is that it only exhibits valuable electrical properties in nano form.
EHR Data Often 'Inaccurate,' Columbia University Research Finds
eWeek (09/13/12) Brian T. Horowitz
The information in electronic health records (EHRs) has aided clinicians in their efforts to successfully treat patients, but it can produce distorted results if EHRs are naively used for research. Columbia University researchers found that EHRs data is often inaccurate or missing. "The EHR is not a direct reflection of the patient and physiology, but a reflection of the recording process inherent in health care with noise and feedback loops," the researchers say. However, Columbia professor George Hripcsak says "there is a path forward, and it involves studying EHRs, understanding how the data is recorded, and using both common sense and sophisticated techniques to account for the biases" in data sets. Hripcsak says new models of learning from data could lead to more efficient EHR use. He notes that to better comprehend EHR data, collaboration among researchers in informatics, computer science, statistics, physics, mathematics, epidemiology, and philosophy will be necessary. A recent IDC report predicted that the EHR adoption rate among healthcare organizations will reach 80 percent by 2016.
Researchers Develop Rapid Method to Measure Carbon Footprints
Columbia University (09/13/12) Kevin Krajick
Researchers at Columbia University's Earth Institute have developed software that can rapidly calculate the carbon footprints of thousands of products simultaneously. The project's original aim was to evaluate and help standardize PepsiCo's calculations of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when a product is made, packaged, distributed, and discarded. The Columbia researchers developed three new techniques that work together, enabling them to calculate thousands of footprints within minutes, with minimal user input. Columbia's Christoph Meinrenken says the key component was a model that generates estimated emission factors for materials, eliminating the manual mapping of a product's ingredients and packaging materials. He says automatically generated factors enable non-experts "to calculate approximate carbon footprints and alleviate resource constraints for companies embarking on large-scale product carbon footprinting." PepsiCo's Al Halvorsen notes "the newly developed software promises to not only save time and money for companies like PepsiCo, but also to provide fresh insights into how companies measure, manage, and reduce their carbon footprint in the future."
At 100 Gbps, ESnet Puts Network Research on Fast Track
HPC Wire (09/12/12)
The U.S. Department of Energy's 100 Gbps testbed provides a facility for researchers to solve the near-term challenges associated with deploying and operating science networks, while the dark fiber testbed can be used for research into disruptive technologies and approaches that are still not ready for production use. The testbeds are operated by the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet), which is managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "Originally part of the now-completed Advanced Networking Initiative, the testbed features a set of fast end hosts at [the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center] and Argonne, with a dedicated 100 Gbps connection linking them," says ESnet's Brian Tierney. He notes that 100 Gbps research is important because with more experimental facilities coming online and others receiving major upgrades, the datasets are only getting bigger and harder to manage and share with other researchers. He says there have been three separate projects testing Remote Direct Memory Access Over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), all of which are exploring ways RoCE can work over a wide area network at 10 Gbps and 40 Gbps.
Predicting If Scientists Will Become Stars
Northwestern University Newscenter (09/12/12) Marla Paul
Universities could more accurately predict the future success of young researchers by using a formula developed by researchers at Northwestern University, who say the formula accurately predicts a young scientist's success up to 10 years, and is more than twice as accurate as the h index. The formula considers factors such as the number of articles written, the current h index, the years since publishing the first article, the number of distinct journals one has published in and the number of articles in high-impact journals. The formula, developed in professor Konrad Kording's lab, is targeted to scientists at the level of assistant professor who are within five to 15 years of writing their first paper as a Ph.D. student. Kording and colleagues based and tested the formula on data from 3,293 scientists for whom they constructed a publication, citation, and funding history. "The algorithm could be useful for hiring and tenure decisions as well as funding decisions, particularly at a time when funding agencies and hiring committees are dealing with vast number of applications," Kording says.
Have Hackers Won?
Digital Communities (09/12/12) Wayne Hanson
Columbia University professor Steven Bellovin, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's new chief technologist, predicted three years ago that buggy code will remain the oldest unsolved problem in computer science—and his viewpoint has not changed. In an interview, Bellovin addresses the issue of whether there will ever be a complete solution to computer security and answers other questions. "I think we need to build systems with different architectures, ones that are designed under the realization that there will be security failures," Bellovin says. He calls buggy code an intractable problem because of the intellectual difficulty of managing the complexity of programs, given that problems can start when someone comes along later and makes changes to code without knowing what was previously done. Beyond that, programmers are sometimes careless when writing code. "The problem is that other than 'write better code,' there aren't great ideas on what to do about the complexity problem," Bellovin says. Internet Protocol version 6 offers some minor advantages, but Bellovin says cryptography is not going to solve the buggy code problem.
U.S. Collaborators to Make Higgs-Hunting Tech Available
Brookhaven National Laboratory (09/10/12) Justin Eure; Peter Genzer
University of Texas (UT) at Arlington researchers are working with Brookhaven and Argonne national laboratories to develop a universal version of PanDA, a workload management system designed to process large amounts of data from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. The project aims to boost science and engineering research that relies on big data. UT Arlington and Brookhaven researchers reconfigured PanDA for use by the ATLAS collaboration, which includes 3,000 researchers from more than 170 institutions. The hardware associated with ATLAS is located at 100 computing centers around the world that manage more than 50 petabytes of data. PanDA links the computing centers and enables scientists to efficiently analyze the tens of millions of particle collisions taking place at the Large Hadron Collider every day. The Obama administration recently announced the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, a $200 million investment in tools to manage large volumes of digital data needed to facilitate science and engineering discoveries. PanDA was cited as an example of successful technology already in place.
European Commission Deploys Crack Computer Emergency Response Team
V3.co.uk (09/12/12) Alastair Stevenson
The European Commission (EC) announced that it has deployed its anti-hacker Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-EU) on a permanent basis to combat the growing number of cyberthreats it faces. CERTs are increasingly common within private and public sector organizations, and the European Union (EU) chose to test the use of CERTs to help protect its parliament, commission, and council organizations from increasing cyberthreats. "It is a very successful example of what the EU institutions can achieve when they work together," says EU vice president Maros Sefcovic. "We want our CERT to be among the best, closely cooperating with the rest of the CERT community and contributing to cybersecurity for all." The EC has urged other member state governments to follow its example and create their own CERTs. "Cybersecurity is a priority for Europe's welfare and competitiveness," says EC's Neelie Kroes. "The EU institutions can now count on a permanent CERT to deal with increasingly sophisticated cyberthreats against them."
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