Welcome to the February 6, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Jobs Account for Up to 14 Percent of Hiring in January
InfoWorld (02/05/13) Patrick Thibodeau
The information technology industry accounted for 22,100 of the 157,000 new jobs added to the U.S. economy in January, according to Foote Partners. Meanwhile, TechServe put the January increase at 15,800 tech jobs. Of the total number of jobs added to the U.S. economy last month, tech hiring contributed 14 percent or 10 percent of this total, depending on which estimates are used. January accounts for the largest monthly hiring increase in the last five years, says Foote Associates CEO David Foote. He notes that overall, more than 132,000 IT jobs have been added to the economy since February 2012. Foote says the hiring should continue because of solid fundamentals, including "the role of technology and information in allowing an employer to be competitive in the marketplace, to maintain and increase revenues, to be more profitable, to grow market share, or to keep their customers satisfied."
Researchers Develop Sound Way to Improve Smartphone Battery Life
Old Dominion University researchers have developed a system that uses an audio signal to reduce the power consumption of Wi-Fi components. Continuous Wi-Fi use is a main culprit in draining a smart device's power, notes Old Dominion computer scientist Mostafa Uddin. Most smartphones and tablets use a power-saving scheme that wakes the Wi-Fi interface intermittently to check whether it can communicate with a Wi-Fi access point, but even this reduced state significantly drains battery power. To create a lower-energy alternative, the researchers developed an audio signal, called A2PSM, which can determine whether any data should be downloaded from an access point. Although people cannot hear the A2PSM signal, a smartphone's microphone picks it up. The signal can be detected despite background noise, and transmitted and received at a distance of three meters. Uddin says if the acoustic signal is sent with sufficient power, the A2PSM scheme should be able to support a distance up to 30 meters. The audio signal reduces power consumption by 25 percent, compared to a standard Wi-Fi wake-up mechanism.
Next-Gen E-Readers: Improved 'Peacock' Technology Could Lock in Color for High-Res Displays
University of Michigan News Service (02/05/13) Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan researchers have developed a display method to lock in structural color using texture instead of chemicals. They say the research could lead to advanced color e-books and electronic paper, as well as next-generation data storage and cryptography techniques. The researchers harnessed the ability of light to funnel into nanoscale metallic grooves and get trapped inside. This method allows the reflected hues to stay consistent, regardless of the viewer's angle. "Light is funneled into the nanocavity, whose width is much, much smaller than the wavelength of the light," says Michigan professor Jay Guo. "And that's how we can achieve color with resolution beyond the diffraction limit." The researchers determined what size slit would catch what color of light; the visible spectrum spans about 400 nanometers for violet and 700 nanometers for red. To demonstrate their findings, the researchers etched nanoscale grooves in a plate of glass with the technique used to make integrated circuits. The technology currently can be used to make static pictures, and the researchers hope to develop a moving picture version in the future.
Into the Quantum Internet at the Speed of Light
University of Innsbruck (02/04/13)
University of Innsbruck physicists have discovered a way to transfer quantum information stored in an atom onto a particle of light and then send it to a distant atom via an optical fiber. Although quantum computing has proven successful with atoms, a major barrier has been feasible interfaces to carry quantum information over optical channels from one computer to another. Systems of single atoms confined in ion traps and controlled with lasers hold the most potential for building quantum computers, and laboratories have already experimented with critical components of quantum computing in this manner. However, creating an interface to link quantum computers requires the transfer of quantum information onto photons, which then must be transported over an optical-fiber link to a computer. This is possible, according to the University of Innsbruck research, which marks the first time quantum information has been directly transferred from an atom in an ion trap onto a single photon. The photon could carry quantum information over the optical fiber to a distant quantum computer, and the method could be reversed to write the information back onto an atom.
How to Build a Nanotube Computer
Technology Review (02/05/13) David Talbot
IBM researchers have assembled 10,000 carbon nanotube transistors on a silicon chip, which they say is a breakthrough that could lead to a new way of producing smaller, faster, and more efficient computers. Previous IBM research has shown that nanotube transistors can run chips three times faster than silicon transistors while using just a third of the power. Although the nanotube transistors are small enough for chip makers to significantly increase the transistor density on silicon chips, controlling their placement in useful arrays is the next major research challenge. The IBM researchers are etching tiny trenches on silicon and using a multi-step process to precisely align semiconducting nanotubes in them; the researchers then add metal contacts to test the nanotubes' performance. In the samples the researchers have created so far, the nanotube transistors are about 150 nanometers apart, but they will have to get closer if the technology is to be more effective than conventional silicon transistors. The researchers also must develop a method to generate ultrapure supplies of semiconducting carbon nanotubes so that only a very small percentage will fail or short out.
Crowdsourced Language App Seeks to Translate Entire Web
USA Today (02/04/13) Greg Toppo
Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn has developed an app version of Duolingo, a program designed to put millions of people to work translating the Web into Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, and English. Von Ahn's massive-scale online collaboration tool offers users a chance to learn these languages for free. The Duolingo app and Web site have a game-like interface that is free of ads and encourages users to compete with friends. After about 45 minutes of instruction, the crowdsourced program starts asking users to translate random sentences into their new language. Von Ahn maintains the results are superior to automated translation software, and he plans to sell the sentences to sites that want their material translated on the Web. He launched Duolingo last June and says it has about 700,000 active users, while the iPhone app has been downloaded about 1 million times.
A System That Uses Video Surveillance Cameras to Alert Security Agents of Dangerous Situations
Carlos III University of Madrid (Spain) (02/04/13)
Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) researchers have developed an intelligent system that analyzes video surveillance camera images in real time, detects abnormal situations, and alerts nearby security agents. The platform combines artificial vision technology with geolocation systems and can be applied in public and road safety applications. The system "can automatically detect the presence of a driver moving in the wrong direction, recognize a danger, identify its position, indicate which security agent can handle the situation the fastest, and alert nearby drivers," says UC3M professor Antonio Berlanga. He notes the platform makes it possible to know exactly what is occurring and where it is occurring. "Considering the number of images that control centers must visualize, it is good to have a tool that brings attention to images of those points where the intelligent system has already detected that something dangerous may be happening," Berlanga says.
Broad Powers Seen for Obama in Cyberstrikes
New York Times (02/04/13) David E. Sanger; Thom Shanker
A classified legal assessment on the U.S. government's range of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the authority to order a preemptive strike if the United States were to find evidence of an impending large-scale digital attack from abroad, according to unnamed officials involved in the review. Similar rules will be determined over the next few weeks as the United States approves its first rules for how the military can defend or retaliate against a major cyberattack. The new cyberwar policies will determine how U.S. intelligence agencies implement searches of distant computer networks for signs of potential attacks, and issue destructive code even if war has not been officially declared against an enemy. Early in Obama's first term, he ordered multiple cyberattacks against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities, marking the only time he is known to have approved the use of cyberweapons. One administration official says the administration has restrained its use of cyberweapons so far. However, the official says, “there are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done."
Could a Personal Avatar Juggle Our Cross-Platform Lives?
PC World (02/02/13) Stephen Lawson
Hewlett-Packard (HP) researchers are developing the Mobile Personal Grid, a cloud-based avatar to manage all of a user's mobile devices and wireless networks. The researchers hope to give users an identity that encompasses all of the devices and networks that are used in different situations. HP's avatar would pick the best combination of hardware and network for each situation and automatically set up and take down connections, says HP fellow Paul Congdon. The system will be a cloud-based software platform that HP could offer as a service to enterprises and carriers. The avatar also could help enterprises establish "bring your own device" policies. By collecting information from mobile devices and applying cloud-based intelligence, including data analysis, the Mobile Personal Grid could always understand the user's context, Congdon says. In the Mobile Personal Grid system, neither devices nor networks would need special wireless protocols to communicate with the user's avatar, because that communication would take place on the back end, over the Internet, the researchers say. HP also wants to deliver the Mobile Personal Grid on a platform-as-a-service basis to mobile operators, who could run it on HP's cloud but offer it under their own brands, Congdon says.
Intel, Universities Are Working on Transformable CPUs
eWeek (02/01/13) Jeffrey Burt
Processors that change configuration depending on workload to greatly increase central-processing unit (CPU) performance and energy efficiency are the focus of a research project at Intel Labs, the University of Texas, Carnegie Mellon, and other universities. The MorphCore CPU has two configurations, one for high-performance single-threaded workloads and another for higher-throughput multi-threaded workloads, says Intel's Chris Wilkerson. Simulations of the new processor show a 10-percent performance gain and a 22-percent energy efficiency increase over traditional CPUs. The transformable CPU modifies the design of a high-performance CPU to enable shutdown or reallocation of the buffers that allow instructions to be reprioritized, Wilkerson says. The physical register file is divided into equal partitions, each housing the architectural state of one executing thread to ease renaming, which assigns buffer space for fetched instructions. In addition, the throughput mode lowers power consumption by switching off the load buffer and a large part of the store buffer. With these advances, "processors in the next 5-10 years may offer the best of both worlds: high performance to minimize delay and deliver the best user experience, as well as throughput mode to maximize efficiency when single-thread performance is less important,” Wilkerson says.
Mind-Meld Brain Power Is Best for Steering Spaceships
New Scientist (02/01/13) Paul Marks
University of Essex researchers have developed a simulator in which pairs of brain-computer interface (BCI) users had to steer a craft toward the exact center of a planet by thinking about one of eight directions. Brain signals representing the users' chosen direction, as interpreted by the machine-learning system, were merged in real time and the spacecraft followed that path. The simulation flights were 67 percent on target for a single user, but 90 percent accurate for two users. The researchers say combining the signals removes the random noise that accompanies electroencephalography signals. "When you average signals from two people's brains, the noise cancels out a bit," says Essex's Riccardo Poli. The method also can compensate for a lapse in attention. "When there are two users, a lapse by one will not have much effect, so you stay on target," Poli says. He notes their research also might help lead to a time when groups of people linked to BCIs could work together to control complex robotic and telepresence systems, including those in space.
Next-Generation High-Definition Videoconferencing Will Provide Immediate Public Benefits
National Science Foundation (01/31/13)
Case Western Reserve University researchers are developing next-generation high-definition, multipoint videoconferencing equipped with stereoscopic sound, which is intended to be a platform for collaboration and communication. The technology relies on high-speed broadband resources and delivers full, uncompressed data for higher-quality image sharpness and clarity that potentially could revolutionize fields including science, technology, engineering, and math education and healthcare provision. "In terms of the technical experience, it's the difference between standard definition and ultra-high definition," says Case Western Reserve University CIO Lev Gonick. He says standard video pictures typically compress data from about 1,600 lanes of traffic, or 1.6 gigabits, to two lanes, or 2 megabits. Case researchers "are building the capacity to support full uncompressed data, to transport 1,600 lanes from point A to point B, or from multiple points to one another," Gonick notes. He says the project's initial objective is to improve homebound individuals' ability to receive medical care. The system is now being studied in two Cleveland neighborhoods outfitted with high-speed bandwidth. The project is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the White House's US Ignite initiative, which expands upon the NSF's Global Environment for Networking Innovation program.
Engineer Designs Self-Powered Nanoscale Devices That Never Need New Batteries
Columbia University (01/29/13) Adam Piore
Columbia University researchers are developing self-powered systems using nanoscale devices that can transmit and receive wireless signals using so little power that their batteries never need to be replaced. The devices rely on tiny bits of ambient solar energy to recharge themselves. "We are using and exploiting the fact that power consumption--and the energy you need to do things--becomes very, very low as you pack more and more functionality into smaller and smaller spaces," says Columbia professor Peter Kinget. Although the devices' small size allows them to operate on far less energy, they also are very fragile and can tolerate only low voltages. One solution to this problem is to create a device that is less accurate at detecting individual signals but much better at detecting more of them in parallel, or more of them per second. The devices also will save power by working in a network, which will mean that each device is only required to transmit messages short distances, consuming less power than large devices transmitting over a longer range. The devices also go through a learning stage when they go online, in which they spot the intervals at which the devices in their vicinity are transmitting data and then self-synchronize.
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