Welcome to the April 15, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
White House Kicking off a Series of Big Data Workshops
CCC Blog (04/14/13) Ann Drobnis
The White House will host a series of big data workshops and events this spring and summer that will be sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Big Data Senior Steering Group. The first workshop will be held May 3, and the outcomes from the workshops will be used to plan future events. The Obama administration wants to encourage federal agencies, private industry, academia, state and local governments, nonprofits, and foundations to develop and participate in big data innovation projects across the country. The White House wants to focus on projects and initiatives that advance big data technologies, educate and expand the big data workforce, develop big data applications, demonstrate the role that prizes and challenges can play in big data technologies, and foster regional innovation. The workshop will bring people together from various sectors to brainstorm about the components and goals of big data multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Efficient, Intelligent, Content-Aware Networks
CORDIS News (04/11/13)
European Union-funded researchers are changing the way content is delivered so that users can access high-definition and 3D content on demand. The researchers are developing Future Content Networks (FCNs), which they say can reduce the load on servers and networks and make it easier and faster for users to discover and access content. The researchers implemented and tested an FCN as part of the Content-aware searching, retrieval, and streaming (COAST) project. The researchers note their approach is possible thanks to the increased processing power, memory, and caching capabilities of end-user and network devices, which enable FCNs to become content-aware, says COAST's Theodore Zahariadis. The system's network nodes are embedded with intelligence that allows them to identify and classify content in real time. In addition, the system features a content-aware delivery architecture that continually optimizes content for the device on which it will be consumed. Finally, the COAST researchers developed technology to adapt and enrich media content so users receive content that suits their preferences, network, and device characteristics. "By changing the content delivery paradigm, we can reduce the identical traffic that is routed over the same Internet links, and consequently decrease network infrastructure investment requirements and extend the lifetime of existing network infrastructure to meet the increasing content-delivery requirements," Zahariadis says.
Breaking Moore's Law: How Chipmakers Are Pushing PCs to Blistering New Levels
PC World (04/11/13) Brad Chacos
Chipmakers are fervently engaged in projects to greatly accelerate personal computer speed and power despite coming up against the limits of Moore's Law. Intel has kept pace with Moore's Law, maintaining progress by changing transistor designs over the past 10 years. It began with Intel's switch to strained silicon, which boosted chip performance by 10 percent to 20 percent, and continued with replacing the transistors' silicon dioxide insulators with more efficient high-k metal gate insulators as the company migrated to 45-nm manufacturing; following that was the move to tri-gate transistor technology. Intel's Chuck Mulloy notes these various technologies have staying power through continued improvement. Meanwhile, AMD is focusing on easing the central processing units' workload by shifting some of their labors to other processors that might be more appropriate for specific tasks, such as graphics processors. AMD has been slowly moving toward a heterogeneous system architecture in its accelerated processing units. Meanwhile, chipmakers are seeking materials to eventually replace silicon, with OPEL Technologies concentrating on gallium arsenide. OPEL says its technology overlaps to a significant degree with current silicon manufacturing methods, thanks to properties that include scalability.
Data Science: The Numbers of Our Lives
New York Times (04/11/13) Claire Cain Miller
The rise of big data over the past few years has motivated universities to offer programs to prepare students to be the data scientists of the future. For example, this fall Columbia University will offer new master’s and certificate programs that emphasize data, and the University of San Francisco will soon graduate its first class of students with a master’s degree in analytics. Data science also is being taught at New York University, Stanford University, Northwestern, George Mason University, Syracuse University, University of California, Irvine, and Indiana University. Some students intend to apply their degrees to e-commerce, in which consumer data functions as a currency, while others will enter government service; for example, analyzing tax return data to create algorithms to detect fraudulent filings. Employment opportunities for data science graduates will abound, as the United States needs an increase of up to 60 percent of such graduates, according to McKinsey Global Institute. In five years, half a million data science jobs and a shortfall of up to 190,000 qualified data scientists will exist. To address the nascent academic discipline, universities are working to define curricula that span statistics, analytics, computer science, math, and other specialized fields of study.
NASA, Air Force Define Cutting-Edge Next-Generation Space Computer
Network World (04/11/13) Michael Cooney
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory's Space Vehicles Directorate today issued a call for research and development into a next-generation computer system for spacecraft. The Next Generation Space Processor (NGSP) would include a radiation-hardened, general-purpose multicore chip and associated software for use in a variety of military and civil-space missions, in a range of spacecraft sizes with different power, mass, and volume constraints. "Computer processors and applications aboard spacecraft will need to transform dramatically to take advantage of computational leaps in technology and new mission needs," says NASA's Michael Gazarik. "NASA's Space Technology Program is teaming with the Air Force to develop the next-generation spaceflight processor requirements and propose solutions to meet future high-performance space computing needs in the upcoming decades." The Air Force says its requirements are similar to NASA's but could change over time, and both agencies concede that their processor objectives are challenging and might not be complete at this time. Radiation is a challenge with developing space systems, and NASA has previously discussed using radiation-hardened processors, noting that such systems contain extra transistors that take more energy to switch on and off.
'Embassies' Could Give Users Sanctuary From Threats
Dark Reading (04/11/13) Robert Lemos
Microsoft researchers have conceived of a virtual browser architecture that can bolster security by isolating Web apps from each other. The Embassies architecture uses virtual servers that power cloud infrastructure as its template to turn a user's computer into a "pico-datacenter" in which even suspicious code or malware can operate without damaging the other Web apps or the user's data. For the architecture, the researchers have developed a simple execution environment, fundamental features for storing persistent state, and the use of Internet addresses for all external communications with other apps. The environment comprises just 30 functions to engage with the client's execution interface. Content would be displayed via the equivalent of the screencast, from the pico-datacenter to the user's screen. Developers would be tasked with importing the required code to support their apps into a developer programming interface (DPI). A demonstration of Embassies utilized three prototype DPIs, constructing the environment atop Linux with Gnome or KDE. Although the strategy successfully isolates each Web service from others running on the user's computer, Zscaler's Michael Sutton notes that transferring security from the browser vendor to the app developer heightens risks for content creators.
New Software Could Alleviate Wireless Traffic
University of Michigan News Service (04/11/13) Nicole Casal Moore
University of Michigan researchers are developing GapSense, software that works in the manner of a stoplight to control wireless traffic and reduce interference. GapSense enables wireless devices that normally cannot talk to one another to exchange simple stop and warning messages so their communications collide less frequently. GapSense generates a common language of energy pulses and gaps, and the length of the gaps communicates the stop or warning message. Devices could transmit them at the start of a communication, or in between information packets to let other gadgets in the vicinity know about their intent. During testing, the researchers found that GapSense can reduce interference by more than 88 percent on some networks with diverse devices. The software also could address the hidden terminal problem, in which newer Wi-Fi standards allow for faster data rates on wider bandwidths than the standard 20 MHz, while devices on different bandwidths cannot hear one another's communications to avoid talking over them. The researchers say GapSense could enable these devices on different standards to talk in turn. "The impact of GapSense is huge in my opinion," says Michigan professor Kang Shin. "It could be the Tower of Babel for the increasingly diversified world of wireless devices."
New App Powers Better Sanitation in Developing World
University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) (04/10/13) Emma Rayner
Taarifa, a Web and mobile application developed by University of Nottingham doctoral researcher Mark Iliffe, could give millions of people in Africa the power to instantly report problems with poor sanitation. Taarifa was chosen as one of 10 finalists in the Sanitation Hackathon sponsored by the World Bank, which challenges researchers in communication technology to design innovative software that can address real-world problems in health and sanitation. Taarifa is an open source Web application for information collection, visualization, and interactive mapping that enables users to input and share their own sanitation problems using short messaging service, Web forms, email, or social media. The reports can be tracked by local authorities and acted upon to execute repairs, improvements, or new infrastructure, giving citizens the power to facilitate changes in their own communities. "Taarifa creates positive feedback loops, engaging communities with [non-governmental organizations] and governments, but is developed by a core of humanitarian volunteers and developers," Iliffe says. "This gives a capacity and potential for rapid development and innovation to solve sanitation and other issues."
Scientists Develop Computer Games to Keep Miners Safe
UA News (AZ) (04/09/13) Shelley Littin
University of Arizona researchers are developing interactive computer games to train miners to avoid fatal accidents and potential emergencies while working in mines. "We're approaching it from a training standpoint of how can we best develop a tool that miners could use that would teach them to make appropriate decisions or see where wrong decisions have been made," says Arizona professor John R. M. Hill. The games enable miners to play various roles in different situations so they can learn to make decisions leading to alternate outcomes and can replay the games as many times as necessary to understand the potential consequences of each decision they make. "These interactive fatalgrams enhance the learning experience by pairing visual information with events leading to fatal incidents, to help miners understand the accidents and the need for relevant safety practices," says Arizona's Leonard D. Brown. The game simulations also are designed to train miners when to respond to a mine emergency, such as a fire in an underground mine. "One of the objectives of our simulations is to get users more involved in the learning process, to make them think critically in the context of the situation," Brown says.
Cloud's Real Ecological Timebomb: Wireless, Not Data Centers
Computerworld Australia (04/09/13) Rohan Pearce
Although environmentalists have criticized cloud service providers for a lack of transparency concerning their data centers' energy efficiency, a University of Melbourne report warns that the growing use of cellular and Wi-Fi networks to access cloud services is the real ecological threat. Kerry Hinton with Melbourne's Center for Energy-Efficient Communications predicts that by 2015, data centers' energy consumption will be negligible compared to these wireless networks. The report points to an emergent convergence between cloud computing and wireless communication, one that will deliver consumer access "to a vast array of cloud applications and services with the convenience of anywhere, anytime, any network functionality from the device of their choice." The study projects that within three years, wireless cloud energy consumption will reach 43 terawatt-hours, versus 9.3 terawatt-hours last year. "This is an increase in carbon footprint from 6 megatons of CO2 in 2012, up to 30 megatons of CO2 in 2015," the report notes. Wireless access will account for up to 90 percent of this higher consumption, compared to data centers' 9 percent. "The very real message here is that the real bottleneck, looming sooner than we think, may be energy," the report concludes.
Wireless Smart Meter Measures How Much Power You Use
New Scientist (04/08/13) Hal Hodson
Carnegie Mellon University's Niranjini Rajagopal and colleagues have designed an inexpensive wireless device that can monitor the power consumption of home appliances. The smart meter uses electromagnetic waves to monitor the electric current flowing through the wires that plug appliances into walls. The system runs on two AA batteries, but it does not have the drawbacks of other plug-in electricity monitors, which can be tricky to install on large appliances and are rated up to a maximum power per appliance. When an appliance changes the amount of power it is using by turning on or off, the sensors pick up the corresponding fluctuations in the electromagnetic field (EMF) around the wire that supplies the electricity. The sensors use a wireless network to send switching information back to a central power-monitoring system for the whole house, which can measure the increase in power use and link it to the appliance that tripped the EMF sensor. Rajagopal installed the device in a family residence and ran it for a week, monitoring a liquid crystal display TV, washing machine, toaster oven, air-conditioning unit, laser printer, refrigerator, and iron with the EMF sensors. The system achieved a 98-percent accuracy rate in testing.
Tiny Technology Could Spark Revolution in House Buying
Plymouth University (04/05/13)
A near-field communication (NFC) tag developed at Plymouth University could facilitate the home-buying process. The researchers say the tiny tag can be placed discreetly near the entrance of a property, and prospective buyers would touch it with their smartphone to access information on the house. Prospective buyers must register with the real estate agent to get NFC Homes, the free app needed to access the property information. "This app solves the age-old problem of how do you put your house on the market without broadcasting the fact to all of your neighbors," says Plymouth professor Martin Tomlinson, who developed the technology. "It is easy to use, with the added bonus of reducing clutter in our towns and countryside." The data stored on the tag is encrypted, and is limited to those who sign up for the app. Tomlinson also says the tag is cost-effective and enables sellers to provide much more information than conventional signs. "Being able to read a tag with an everyday smartphone just by touching it means the advantages of computer technology will be available to everyone," he says.
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