Welcome to the November 16, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
SC2012: Top500 Expects Exascale Computing by 2020
IDG News Service (11/14/12) Joab Jackson
The first exascale computer could be built by 2020, according to the creators of the Top500 list, but system developers will face several hurdles in creating these advanced machines. Today's fastest supercomputers offer less than 20 percent of the capability of an exascale machine. According to the history of the Top500 list, supercomputers increase tenfold in power about every 10 years. If that rate of progress continues, exascale computing should be achieved by 2020, says University of Tennessee, Knoxville professor Jack Dongarra. An exascale machine will likely have somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 nodes and will be able to execute up to a billion threads. However, Dongarra says supercomputer makers will have to construct their machines so that their cost and power consumption do not increase linearly along with performance because they will become too expensive to purchase and operate. An exascale machine should cost about $200 million, and use only about 20 megawatts, with half of that cost dedicated to buying memory for the system. Dongarra notes exascale supercomputer designers also must deal with software issues.
The 'Silent Crisis' in Science and Technology Recruiting
NextGov.com (11/15/12) Brittany Ballenstedt
The American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council’s Institute for Innovation released a report focusing on the challenges federal agencies and industry face in the quality of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) candidates. The report says that although scientific innovation produces roughly half of all U.S. economic growth, the educational pipeline necessary to fill STEM jobs and make that economic growth possible is inadequate. The report also notes that jobs in STEM fields are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, but U.S. students are not entering these fields in sufficient numbers. About $3.4 billion was spent on STEM education, but only $312 million is targeted toward improving teacher effectiveness, and only $396 million is invested in K-12 education. The report says federal agencies should focus on STEM education activities by establishing a national challenge for STEM that includes increased public awareness campaigns, improved coordination efforts, innovative grant and tax incentive programs, and calls for more urgency to the STEM problem. Agencies also should create a permanent STEM education committee that focuses on coordinating all of the various STEM initiatives and establishing clear methods for measuring the outcomes of federal STEM initiatives.
Obama Signs Secret Directive to Help Thwart Cyberattacks
Washington Post (11/15/12) Ellen Nakashima
President Barack Obama has approved a secret policy directive that gives the military authority to take aggressive measures to foil cyberattacks on critical U.S. systems. The policy sets up a broad and stringent series of standards to guide federal agencies' anti-cyberthreat operations, and for the first time distinguishes explicitly between network defense and cyberoperations. The policy also outlines a process for reviewing any activities outside government and defense networks to ensure that Americans and foreign allies' privacy and data are shielded and that international laws of war are complied with. "Network defense is what you're doing inside your own networks," says a senior administration official. "Cyberoperations is stuff outside that space, and recognizing that you could be doing that for what might be called defensive purposes." The directive strives to resolve a long-standing debate among government agencies over who is authorized to take specific actions in cyberspace and with what level of consent. Administration officials emphasize that cyberoperations do not exist in isolation, but are an essential component of the coordinated national security initiative that includes diplomatic, economic, and traditional military approaches.
Department of Energy's ESnet Rolls Out World's Fastest Science Network
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (11/13/12) Jon Bashor
The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) operates the world's fastest science network, serving the entire U.S. laboratory system, its supercomputing centers, and its major scientific instruments at 100 Gbps. "ESnet is becoming something more than a network infrastructure--it's now an extension of the experimental facilities it serves, and a vital component in the process of discovery," says ESnet Policy Board member Vint Cerf, president of ACM. ESnet partnered with Internet2 to deploy its 100 Gbps network over a new, highly scalable optical infrastructure that the two organizations share for the benefit of their respective communities. "Through this key partnership, 100G technologies are extended throughout the national research infrastructure--creating a much richer and more robust national and global scientific collaboration environment--from which new innovations will be born, great challenges facing all of society will be confronted, and discovery will be accelerated," says Internet2 CEO Dave Lambert. The volume of data carried by ESnet will total more than 100 petabytes per month by 2016, according to analysis of its previous traffic and future plans.
Researchers Find Way to Boost Wi-Fi Performance 400-700 Percent
NCSU News (11/13/12) Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed WiFox, software that can expedite data traffic in large audience Wi-Fi environments. WiFox monitors the amount of traffic on a Wi-Fi channel and grants access point priority to send its data when it detects that the access point is developing a backlog. The size of the backlog determines the level of priority given the access point, and the longer the backlog, the higher the priority. During testing, the software improved data throughput performance by 400 percent when there were approximately 25 users and by 700 percent when there were about 45 users. Wi-Fi systems that use WiFox would be able to respond to user requests an average of four times faster than networks that do not use the software. "One of the nice things about this mechanism is that it can be packaged as a software update that can be incorporated into existing Wi-Fi networks," says NCSU Ph.D. student Arpit Gupta. The researchers will their research at the upcoming ACM CoNEXT 2012 conference.
Computer Memory Could Increase Fivefold From UT Research
University of Texas at Austin (11/13/12)
University of Texas at Austin researchers have developed a process that could increase the storage capacity of hard disk drives by a factor of five. The technique relies on self-organizing substances called block copolymers. "In the last few decades there's been a steady, exponential increase in the amount of information that can be stored on memory devices, but things have now reached a point where we're running up against physical limits," says University of Texas at Austin professor C. Grant Willson. If the surface onto which the block copolymers are coated already has some guideposts etched into it, the dots or lines will form into precisely the patterns needed for a hard disk drive, in a process known as directed self-assembly. The researchers say they have synthesized block copolymers that self-assemble into the smallest dots in the world. "We've had to develop an innovative spin-on top coat for neutralizing the surface energy at the top interface of a block copolymer film," says researcher Leon Dean. The top coat enables the polymers to achieve the proper orientation relative to the plane of the surface by applying heat.
Computer Science Helping the Aged Stay Home
University of Adelaide (11/14/12)
Computer scientists at the University of Adelaide are adapting radio-frequency identification and sensor technologies to automatically identify and monitor human activity in order to detect when a person's normal routine has changed and might need timely assistance. The team will develop an algorithm for interpreting collected data and recognizing what someone is doing, and build context-aware, automatic-reasoning technology to make sense of changes in activity patterns and help produce alerts for timely intervention. "Our work will be among the first few projects in the world conducting large-scale common-sense reasoning in automatic human activity recognition," says Adelaide lecturer Michael Sheng. The researchers say the system, which could enable elderly people to live independently and safely in their homes, will be inexpensive and unobtrusive. They note the technology would not have the privacy issues and intensive monitoring of video surveillance-based system, while users would not have to wear anything or turn anything on or off.
Harvard vs. Yale: The Game of Network and Computing Research
Network World (11/14/12) Bob Brown
Harvard University researchers are studying the potential for online elections, focusing on questions such as whether society would get a truer sense of the population's will if elections were voted on through the Internet and if questions were spread out over multiple days. Online voting also could lead to easier tabulation of a voting system that lets citizens rank candidates, instead of choosing one from a field of two or more. The researchers include computational complexity to discourage fraudulent voting behavior by making it almost impossible. In addition, Harvard's Privacy Tools for Sharing Research Data will develop methods, tools, and policies to take advantage of the data available but address the risks of dealing with it. Meanwhile, Yale University researchers are working to make quantum computers that could process information exponentially faster than today's machines. "Without error correction, you couldn't make a quantum computer that had an exponential speed-up," says Yale's Matthew Reed. The U.S. National Science Foundation recently awarded Yale researchers a $500,000 grant to develop a 100Gbps network for moving massive amounts of scientific data around the world via a link to Internet2.
Pay Gap, Lack of Role Models to Blame for ICT Gender Imbalance: EOWA
CIO Australia (11/14/12) Rebecca Merrett
The pay gap between men and women in the information technology (IT) industry and the lack of senior female role models are the primary reasons why young women are not pursuing careers in information and communications technology (ICT), according to the recent Australian Computer Society 2012 Remuneration Survey. The research found that men in ICT earn an average of 9.8 percent more than women, even though women entering the industry start with comparable or slightly higher salaries, according to Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) director Helen Conway. "Male dominated industries are off-putting to women--when women don’t see senior female role models and examples, they fall back on traditional jobs," Conway notes. She says organizations should get involved in high school programs that educate young women about diverse IT career options and provide examples of senior women who have built successful and rewarding careers. About 33 percent of companies are involved in high school and tertiary programs, and have set targets for recruitment of women by using social media and industry networks, according to EOWA.
Casting a Ballot by Smartphone
New York Times (11/12/12) Nick Bilton
Security experts frown on the concept of allowing people to vote through their computers or smartphones, citing potentially catastrophic ramifications. Possible threats include voters' phones hijacked by viruses or rogue countries to manipulate elections, gaming of voting outcomes by software written by government insiders, and denial-of-service attacks. "It's a national security issue," says former ACM president Barbara Simons, who is on the Board of Advisors of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. "We really don’t want our enemies to be able to determine our government for us--or even our friends for that matter." However, other nations such as Estonia permit citizens to vote online or are trialing the concept. And as Hurricane Sandy showed, paper-based voting processes can be easily disrupted, while setting up alternative electronic operations can be done quickly and with relatively little difficulty. In addition, more Americans might be encouraged to vote if digital voting were allowed. Harvard University professor Alexander Keyssar says the option of voting online might eventually be offered to citizens. "I think it's something that the government should be looking to develop as a down-the-road option," he says.
Increasing Efficiency of Wireless Networks
UCR Today (11/13/12) Sean Nealon
Two University of California, Riverside (UCR) professors say they have developed a method that doubles the efficiency of wireless networks and could have a large impact on the mobile Internet and wireless industries. The method, called time-domain transmit beamforming, digitally creates a time-domain cancellation signal and couples it to the radio frequency frontend, enabling the radio to hear much weaker incoming signals while simultaneously transmitting strong outgoing signals at the same frequency. The professors say the method has a sound theoretical proof, and leads to a lower cost, faster, and more accurate channel estimation for robust and effective cancellation. "We believe the future applications of full duplex radios are huge, ranging from cell towers, backhaul networks, and wireless regional area networks, to billions of handheld devices for data intensive application such as FaceTime," says UCR professor Ping Liang. The professors note cell towers are one of the most likely places to start implementing full-duplex radios because they are less constrained by existing standards.
Lmod: The "Secret Sauce" Behind Module Management at TACC
Texas Advanced Computing Center (11/08/12) Aaron Dubrow
The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has developed a module system that addresses several challenges facing modern computing centers. TACC researcher Roberty McLay developed Lmod, a complete rewrite of the Environment Module system, which addressed some of the recurrent challenges associated with TACC. "Lmod protects our users so they can't load mismatched compilers, libraries, and other parts of the software stack," McLay says. Lmod also helps prevent users from making mistakes in building their programs and setting up their computations, and simplifies the work of system administrators. Every aspect of the tool can be optimized by experienced command-line users to suit their needs, and it provides some behind-the-scenes advantages to administrators, such as enabling them to track the usage of modules and mine that data to determine which packages are being used, by whom, and how. "We hope to see TACC continue to develop and improve Lmod for years to come as the computing environments become more complex on the back end and the need for making it easier for our clients to access and use the provided software grows," says University of Florida researcher Oleksandr Moskalenko.
Gesture Analysis Reveals What Obama and Romney Care About
Wired.co.uk (11/06/12) Liat Clark
Gesture analysis of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney's body language during the presidential debates offers clues to how candidates' style of speaking could reveal their motivations and impact how convincing they are to voters. New York University computer scientist Chris Bregler and University of California, Berkeley movement therapist Peggy Hackney employed motion-tracking technology to match movement to rhetoric, assigning each word the candidates spoke a "gesture weight." This revealed that full-body gesture movements most emphatically reflected the expression of the speakers' own personal beliefs. The team's Web-based analysis tool, gesturecloud.org, broke down the most frequently spoken words vertically, scoring them in terms of emphasis. Obama was more emphatic than Romney when speaking words such as "jobs," "business," "companies," "tax," "Medicare," and "American." Coupling this with the candidates' greater use of whole body gestures when referring to their own convictions and accomplishments could lead to the interpretation that Obama is more concerned about these issues than Romney. Synchronizing the results of this analysis with corresponding trending Twitter topics could help show how their performance affects the voting public, and the degree to which voters believe the sincerity of the candidates' statements.
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