Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 9, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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SC13 Supercomputing Show Must Go On, Government Shutdown or Not
Network World (10/08/13) Bob Brown

SC13 is determined to hold its annual Supercomputing Conference the week of November 17 in Denver as scheduled, regardless of the status of the U.S. government shutdown, which directly impacts many volunteers and committee members, according to SC13 general chair Bill Gropp. People from government agencies and laboratories, as well as major government contractors, regularly attend the event. Gropp says registration for SC13 continues to be strong in spite of the federal closures, and he is confident the shutdown will be resolved before it starts. "In the event that it is not resolved, SC13 will waive the conference cancellation fees for those directly affected by the shutdown, including federal employees and federal contractors who must follow U.S. government travel rules," Gropp notes. "We are also considering extending the early registration period for those attendees as well." SC13 highlights scientific and technical applications in high-performance computing, and Intel fellow Genevieve Bell is this year's keynote speaker. Sessions to be held at SC13 include Parallel Computing 101, Supercomputing in Plain English, Using Supercomputers to Create Magic, and Energy Efficient SuperComputing. "SC13 is committed to making this year's conference the best ever and will do everything we can to ensure everyone can attend," Gropp says. To stay up to date with SC13 news, visit

U.S. Adults Fare Poorly in a Study of Skills
The New York Times (10/08/13) Richard Perez-Pena

U.S. adults are below average compared to adults in other developed countries in the mathematical and technical skills needed for jobs in the current economy, according to a study based on tests developed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The tests were given to thousands of people aged 16 to 65 in 23 countries in 2011 and 2012. Although a skills gap between younger Americans and their international counterparts has been documented, this study shows that even middle-aged Americans, who boast more education than all of their global counterparts, are barely above average in terms of skills. The results "show our education system hasn't done enough to help Americans compete--or position our country to lead--in a global economy that demands increasingly higher skills," says U.S. Department of Education secretary Arne Duncan. The tests included literacy and numeracy, with a third test on problem-solving in technology-rich environments given to 19 countries. Japan placed first in all three tests, and Finland was second in average scores. The United States claimed a middle rank in literacy, and came close to the bottom in numbers and technology.

Google, Facebook and Government Back Sir Tim Berners-Lee Mission to Bring Web to the World (10/07/13) Dan Worth

The U.K. government and large technology companies will assist Sir Tim Berners-Lee in his effort to bring the Internet to developing parts of the world. The U.K.'s Justine Greening says Internet access is a driver of economic growth and can benefit millions of people. Google, which is already addressing the issue through Project Loon in New Zealand, believes its technological innovation and expertise could be helpful. Berners-Lee has founded the Alliance for Affordable Internet, an organization that will push for regulations and policies in Asia and Africa to make it easier to install Internet infrastructure. "The real bottleneck now is anti-competitive policies that keep prices unaffordable," Berners-Lee says. "The Alliance is about removing that barrier and helping as many as possible get online at reasonable cost." Berners-Lee also cites issues around taxes and state telecom monopolies as obstacles. Other companies backing the Alliance include Facebook, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, and Microsoft. "The result of high prices is a widening digital divide that slows progress in vital areas such as health, education, and science," Berners-Lee says. "Yet with the advent of affordable smartphones, new undersea cables, and innovations in wireless spectrum usage, there is simply no good reason for the digital divide to continue."

UltraHaptics--It’s Magic in the Air
University of Bristol News (10/07/13)

University of Bristol researchers have developed UltraHaptics, an interface system that enables users to experience multi-point haptic feedback above an interactive surface without having to touch or hold a device. The system enables allows users to feel what is on the screen and to receive invisible information before they touch it. UltraHaptics uses the principle of acoustic radiation force, in which a phased array of ultrasonic transducers is used to exert forces on a target in mid-air. The researchers say they have shown that the system can create individual points of feedback that are far beyond the perception threshold of the human hand. The researchers also note they have established the necessary properties of a display surface that is transparent to 40kHz ultrasound. "Our goal was to integrate haptic feedback into these systems without sacrificing their simplicity and accessibility," says Tom Carter, a Ph.D. student in Bristol's Interaction and Graphics research group. Carter says that to achieve this, the researchers designed a system with an ultrasound transducer array positioned beneath an acoustically transparent display. "By creating multiple simultaneous feedback points, and giving them individual tactile properties, users can receive localized feedback associated to their actions," he says. The researchers are presenting their work at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology this week in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Add Technologists to Surveillance Tech Review Panel, IT Groups Say
IDG News Service (10/07/13) Grant Gross

The President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology lacks technical expertise and needs input from technologists as it reviews U.S. surveillance programs, technology groups say. The group, announced in August, has five members, four of whom are former government officials. The group needs "competent technical advice to do its job properly," wrote a group of IT experts from the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Princeton University, and other institutions. "A technologist can situate advancements in modern technology, how they work, what is possible, how data moves through infrastructure, and how modern technology may implicate privacy and security." The letter questions U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) claims to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that it cannot separate individual email messages or other Internet communications from messages sent together in bulk. In addition, the letter condemns NSA efforts to bypass encryption technologies, and warns that its efforts undermine Internet security. "The NSA assumes that it can exploit these weaknesses and gain exclusive access to the content of communications," the letter says. "The reality is that backdoors and covert access mechanisms are fragile and often exploitable by organized criminals, hackers, and the military and intelligence services of other governments."

The Human Brain Project Has Officially Begun (10/07/13)

Scientists from 135 institutions who are working on the Human Brain Project are meeting this week at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, as the project officially launches. The European Union-funded effort is the largest neuroscience project to date, aiming to enable a complete understanding of the human brain. Initially, the project will develop six research platforms, each with its own technological tools and methods, including neuroinformatics, brain simulation, high-performance computing, medical informatics, neuromorphic computing, and neurorobotics. The platforms will launch in 2016, offering Human Brain Project scientists and worldwide researchers simulations and other resources on a competitive basis. The neuroinformatics platform will obtain data from scientific articles and integrate it into a cartography spanning all of the organizational levels of the brain. In turn, this data will be used to create the brain simulation platform. The high-performance computing platform will have the computational power to use the new information. The medical informatics platform will initially focus on gathering patient clinical data from hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, to help doctors develop the best possible methods for diagnosing neurological disease. Meanwhile, the neuromorphic computing platform aims to develop neuro-technologies such as microchips that mimic the functioning of neural networks, and the neurorobotics platform will integrate neural network simulations into robots. The platforms will exchange information to create a global, cohesive project.

Teens Hone Their Hacking Skills in National Competitions Guided by Federal Officials
Washington Post (10/07/13) Eric Niiler

Federal officials are guiding national cybercontests aimed at helping tech-savvy teenagers prepare for careers in protecting the government and private companies from hackers. Students at Baltimore's Loyola Blakefield prep school, for example, have been meeting twice weekly to prepare for the Maryland Cyber Challenge, in which participants will debug viruses and combat mock cyberattacks staged by IT professionals. The Pentagon is expanding its Cyber Command from 900 to nearly 5,000 cyberprofessionals, with the additional hiring challenge that applicants must have completely clean records. To prepare for cybercontests, students receive computer ethics training in addition to learning advanced computer skills, notes SAIC's Scott Kennedy. Experts say the cyberthreat is widespread, as utilities, power companies, technology firms, banks, Congress, universities, and media organizations all recently have faced attacks. "The threat has evolved so quickly," says Northrop Grumman's Diane Miller. "It really has created a sense of urgency." Fred Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, says human error is a larger problem than a lack of cybersecurity skills, with people revealing passwords to coworkers and leaving laptops unguarded in public. "We need people trained not just how to write code for stronger protections, but also systems to guard against human-behavioral attacks," Cate says.

Disney Develops Algorithm for Rendering 3D Tactile Features on Touch Surfaces
TG Daily (10/08/13) Thomas Anderson

Disney researchers have developed an algorithm for tactile rendering of three-dimensional (3D) features and textures. By altering the friction encountered as a user's fingertip glides across the surface, the Disney algorithm creates a perception of a 3D bump on a touch surface without having to physically move the surface. "If we can artificially stretch skin on a finger as it slides on the touchscreen, the brain will be fooled into thinking an actual physical bump is on a touchscreen even though the touch surface is completely smooth," says Disney researcher Ivan Poupyrev. During testing, the researchers used electrovibration to modulate the friction between the sliding finger and the touch surface with electrostatic forces. In addition, the researchers created and validated a psychophysical model that closely simulates friction forces perceived by the human finger when it slides over a real bump. "With our algorithm we do not have one or two effects, but a set of controls that make it possible to tune tactile effects to a specific visual artifact on the fly," notes Disney's Ali Israr. The researchers are presenting their work at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology this week in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Big Data Is Too Big for Scientists to Handle Alone
Wired News (10/03/13) Thomas Lin

The U.S. National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) seeks to understand the impact of global climate change, land use, and biodiversity on natural and managed ecosystems and the biosphere. David Schimel, who designed NEON, initially was overwhelmed by the "sheer number of different measurements required to address the key science questions." He formed "tiger teams" across the country to develop scientific methodologies and data-processing requirements, and began building more than 100 U.S. data-collection sites with the goal of recording 600 billion raw measurements a year for 30 years. Data collection will begin in 2017, and data will be converted into user-friendly data products that will be freely available to scientists and the public. However, NEON faces an exceptional challenge in making sense of its data, because it has more than 500 quantities to track, ranging from temperature, soil, and water measurements to aerial imaging and remote sensing. In addition, much of the data, such as taxonomic names, are unstructured and hard to parse. Experts say big data and distributed computing can only be leveraged in future scientific endeavors with a combination of science, statistics, computers, mathematics, and leadership. "Machines are not going to organize data science research,” says University of California, Berkeley professor Bin Yu. "Humans have to lead the way."

Take Virtual 3D Tours of Tourist Sites With Wikipedia
New Scientist (10/02/13) Sandrine Ceurstemont

Researchers at the University of Washington and Intel Labs have developed an online system that can automatically create annotated three-dimensional (3D) reconstructions of tourist sites on Wikipedia. The software first uses Flickr images to generate a 3D model of the site, recreating its overall geometry. Wikipedia entries for the same place are then scanned for nouns, which are entered into a Google image search to identify objects of interest such as paintings or statues, and photos are added to the appropriate locations on the model. As the user scrolls through the Wikipedia article, each time a feature is mentioned, a line is drawn from the keyword to the corresponding area. Users can zoom in on a feature or, where a narrative sequentially describes a site, they can embark on a fly-through to visualize the description. The goal is to create a rich augmented reality application that could be used while visiting a tourist site. The researchers note that detailed analyses of the text could enhance the system. For example, identifying words denoting position, such as whether an object is "above" or "to the left" of another feature, would pinpoint an object's location. The research will be presented at Siggraph Asia in Hong Kong in November.
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Nanodevices for a 'More Than Moore' World
CORDIS News (10/03/13)

Although Moore's Law has guided the technology industry since 1965, researchers are reaching the physical limits to further scale transistors. Moore's Law only deals with integrated circuits, which means that additional interconnected discrete passive components are still needed for most electronic devices. For further miniaturization, a new approach based on advanced nanotechnology is required. By integrating new functionality using tiny nanostructures such as nanowires and nanomaterials into complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips, electronics can keep getting smaller, more powerful, and more efficient. "Nowadays activities devoted to using nanostructures, especially nanowires, to create innovative 'more than Moore' products are very promising," says INP-Minatec director Francis Balestra. He led a team of researchers from 15 academic and industrial partners in 10 European countries in studying how nanostructures can be integrated with CMOS chips to add new functionality on a minute scale. The consortium focused mainly on ultra-sensitive nanosensors capable of detecting signals in molecules, nanostructures for harvesting energy for the development of autonomous nanosystems, nanodevices for spot cooling integrated circuits, and nanodevices for radio-frequency communication. "These nanodevices will be needed in the future for very-low-power or autonomous nanosystems for many applications, including health and environmental monitoring and the 'Internet of Things,'" Balestra says.

Send in the Bots
The Scientist (10/01/13) Jef Akst

Scientists are using autonomous robots to make discoveries about animal behavior and cognition, some of which would be impossible using live animals. Robots that mimic ants, rodents, and chickens have been studied in labs and in the environment, sometimes while interacting with animals. "Running experiments, especially neuroscience experiments with animals, is a very costly, time-consuming process," says University of Sheffield researcher James Marshall. "There’s much less scope for curiosity-driven research there." Marshall is working on a three-year collaborative project to develop a flying robot controlled by a computer-run simulation of the honeybee brain. Although robot-based experiments will still need to be confirmed with live animals, effective physical models can help narrow the focus of experiments that need to be performed. Because they navigate a physical space, robots offer more insight than purely computer-based approaches. Biological questions often emerge as scientists try to engineer animal robots. For example, Marshall discovered as he worked on algorithms for the honeybee brain that knowledge of the insect's vision is minimal, and he had to rely on logical assumptions and existing knowledge of similar species. Researchers who want to integrate their robots with live animals face the additional task of making a robot that looks, smells, and appears realistic enough to fool animals.

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