Welcome to the April 27, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Giants Help Track Nepal Earthquake Survivors as Communications Are Hit
The Wall Street Journal (04/27/15) Newley Purnell
Global technology companies quickly responded to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday by helping connect survivors to each other and the outside world. Soon after the quake on Saturday, Google announced it was activating its Person Finder service. First developed in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the service enables users to post and search for information about missing friends and loved ones. Google also has slashed the prices for making calls to Nepal using its Google Voice service from 19 cents to 1 cent per minute. Google lost an employee to the disaster: an executive attempting to climb Mount Everest who was killed in an avalanche triggered by the quake. Meanwhile, Facebook activated its Safety Check feature, which enables users in affected areas to select a notification that alerts their friends and family on Facebook they are alive. The feature is currently active in areas up to 500 kilometers away from the quake's epicenter. In addition, Cyprus-based voice and messaging app Viber Media announced Sunday it had turned off billing for users in Nepal, allowing them to call landlines and mobile phones around the world for free and vice versa. However, such efforts are being somewhat hampered by Nepal's already limited Internet and mobile network access being badly impaired by the quake.
MIT Team's Wireless Vital-Radio Could Follow Breathing, Heart Rate at Home
Phys.Org (04/25/15) Nancy Owano
As health-monitoring technologies continue to advance, future smart homes will monitor the environment as well as residents' vital signs, such as breathing and heart rate. Taking a step in that direction, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have introduced Vital-Radio, a wireless-sensing technology that monitors breathing and heart rate without using any body instrumentation. Vital-Radio does not require the user to face the device or to be aware of its presence, and the system can simultaneously monitor the vital signs of multiple people. Vital-Radio localizes each user in the environment, then zooms in on the signal reflected from each user and analyzes variations in the reflection to determine the breathing and heart rate. Once the user's reflection is isolated, other sources of interference, such as noise or extraneous motion in the environment, are eliminated. "Breathing and heart rate would be interesting in hospitals if you want to monitor people without having things on their body," says MIT researcher Fadel Adib. Following experiments with multiple subjects, the researchers found Vital-Radio's median accuracy in measuring breathing and heart rate was 99.4 and 99 percent, respectively.
Who's Got the Upper Hand? Poker Computer Program Pits Man Against Machine
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (04/24/15) Sean D. Hamill
Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) "Brains vs. Artificial Intelligence" Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold ’em poker tournament is a two-week challenge pitting four of the world's best poker players against Claudico, a CMU-developed program that has already defeated top human competitors in less-complicated versions of poker, such as Limit Texas Hold ’em. The four competitors will compete for their share of a $100,000 pot funded by Rivers Casino on the North Shore and fellow sponsor Microsoft. The four poker players--Doug Polk, Bjorn Li, Jason Les, and Dong Kyu Kim--say they are participating in the tournament in order to be a part of the cutting edge of computer technology. The CMU researchers, led by professor Tuomas Sandholm, hope the tournament can help teach them how to improve Claudico for much broader applications. "These algorithms we developed are really for use in any game of incomplete information in general, from cybersecurity, to negotiations, to medicine," Sandholm says. The tournament runs every day for eight hours through May 7, playing 80,000 hands of poker.
Reducing Big Data Using Ideas From Quantum Theory Makes It Easier to Interpret
Queen Mary, University of London (04/23/15) Will Hoyles
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Rovira i Virgili University have developed a new method that simplifies the way big data is represented and processed. Borrowing ideas from quantum theory, the team implemented techniques used to understand the difference between two quantum states. The researchers applied the quantum mechanical method to several large publicly available data sets, and were better able to understand which relationships in a system are similar enough to be considered redundant. The researchers say their method can significantly reduce the amount of information that has to be displayed and analyzed separately and make it easier to understand. Moreover, the approach reduces the computing power needed to process large amounts of multidimensional relational data. "We've been trying to find ways of simplifying the way big data is represented and processed and we were inspired by the way that the complex relationships in quantum theory are understood," says QMUL's Vincenzo Nicosia. "With so much data being gathered by companies and governments nowadays, we hope this method will make it easier to analyze and make sense of it, as well as reducing computing costs by cutting down the amount of processing required to extract useful information."
Magnifying Vibrations in Bridges and Buildings
MIT News (04/23/15) Jennifer Chu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have combined high-speed video technology with computer-vision techniques to develop a method to "see" vibrations in man-made structures that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. Conventional high-speed video cannot pick up subtle vibrations in buildings, but the researchers used motion magnification, a computer-vision technique that breaks down high-speed frames into specific frequencies, exaggerating tiny, subpixel motions. The researchers say motion magnification provides a faster, less expensive, and noninvasive alternative to existing monitoring techniques. "This could be a noncontact sensor technology that can be used for economic and speedy applications," says MIT professor Oral Buyukozturk. The researchers adapted the original motion magnification algorithms, which were developed in 2012, to monitor infrastructure, essentially filtering a video image into amplitude and phase signals, which can then be combined to reconstruct the video image in which the apparent motions of certain objects are magnified at certain frequencies. "This could be a noncontact sensor technology that can be used for economic and speedy applications," Buyukozturk says. "Depending on your objective, perhaps you could use the camera on your cellphone for screening, and if you detect something, you could concentrate on it with a high-power camera."
No Boys Allowed: Tackling the Coding Gender Gap
U.S. News & World Report (04/22/15) Amy Golod
Girls Who Code, a nonprofit established in 2012, aims to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering fields by teaching girls computing skills and encouraging them to pursue opportunities in computer science. Of all the full-time, year-round employed civilians 16 years and older, women comprise 27.5 percent of computer and information systems managers, according to the 2013 American Community Survey. The same data shows 25.1 percent of all computer and mathematical occupations are filled by women, and within that category, 20.3 percent of computer programmers are female. Girls Who Code runs seven-week summer immersion programs for girls at companies and university settings across the country. The summer immersion program "[has] almost been kind of like an incubator for an incredibly diverse 21st century female workforce in tech and engineering," says program organizer Suzanne Kennedy. During the last two weeks of the program, students designed a final project. "A big part of the Girls Who Code program is giving us the power to do our own research and figure out our own problems so we could work on it independently," says IAC program attendee Andrea Gonzales. She says the projects coming out of Girls Who Code programs demonstrate that if more women code, they can help create products that diversify what the tech industry develops.
CCNY Researchers Use Novel Polarization to Increase Data Speeds
City College of New York (04/23/15) Jay Mwamba
City College of New York (CCNY) researchers have developed an unconventional method for increasing data transmission speeds. The team manipulated a laser beam's polarization into novel shapes using special devices called q-plates. Light's polarization, linear and circular, is used for many modern technologies, but the shape is often left alone, notes CCNY Ph.D. student Giovanni Milione. In a pioneering experiment conducted at the University of Southern California with collaborators from Corning, Scotland, Italy, and Canada, the team showed each shape could carry an additional data stream. Although the researchers used only four shapes, in principle the number that could be used is unlimited. "The amount of data that can be transmitted on a single laser beam can be scaled to terabits or even petabits," says CCNY professor Robert Alfano. "This technology is potentially compatible with building-to-building communication in [New York City] or even between Google data centers."
Australian Researchers Reveal Graphene 3D Display Tech
ZDNet (04/23/15) Leon Spencer
Graphene is at the center of a new technique for creating three-dimensional (3D) holographic displays featured in films such as "Star Wars" and "Avatar." A team from the Swinburne University of Technology has developed a process, without involving heat or temperature changes, to create nanoscale pixels of refractive index made of reduced graphene oxide. The researchers say their process is the key to recording the individual pixels for holograms and naked-eye 3D viewing. "If you can change the refractive index, you can create lots of optical effects," says Swinburne professor Min Gu. The technique could be used to create wide-angle displays for mobile phones and tablets. Gu notes the digital holographic 3D display technology also could underpin future flexible and wearable display devices and transform them for 3D display. He also says the team believes the new 3D display technology has applications for military devices, entertainment, remote education, and medical diagnosis.
Online Discussion Forums Good for Well-Being, Study Shows
University of Exeter (04/21/15)
New research associates online forums with positive well-being and even increased community engagement offline. University of Exeter researchers approached users of online forums catering to a variety of interests, hobbies, and lifestyles, classifying recruits into venues considered stigmatized--such as those dealing with mental health issues, postnatal depression, or a particular parenting choice--or non-stigma-related forums, such as those for golfers, bodybuilders, and environmental issues. The researchers also questioned participants about their motivations for joining forums, fulfillment of expectations, identification with other forum users, satisfaction with life, and offline engagement with issues raised on the forum. People often browse forums for answers, discover the venues are a source of great support, and then engage them more, which can lead to offline activities such as volunteering, donating, and campaigning. "In a nutshell, the more users put into the forum, the more they get back, and the pay-off for both users themselves and society at large can be significant," says Sweet Briar College's Jessica Salvatore. About 10 percent of online users in the United Kingdom and 20 percent in the U.S. regularly use online forums.
Putting a New Spin on Computing Memory
Drexel Now (04/22/15) Britt Faulstick
Drexel University researchers are studying a new class of materials that are used in spintronic data storage in an attempt to make computer memory more stable and more energy-conscious as devices continue to shrink. Spintronic memory could be an alternative to conventional hard drives and random-access memory (RAM) because the material can rewrite itself to store data, which would make devices less power-intensive and more robust since the technology has fewer moving parts. "Spintronics could be an excellent, non-destructive alternative to current hard drive and RAM devices and one that saves a great deal of battery life," says Drexel alumnus Steven Spurgeon, whose work contributed to the research. The researchers are studying the physical principles behind spintronics at the atomic scale to find materials that could be used in memory devices. They focused on the structure, chemistry, and magnetism in a layered thin film oxide material that has potential for spintronic data storage. The researchers used a variety of high-resolution techniques to observe the material's behavior at the intersections of the layers, finding the parts of it that are ferroelectric. "Our methodology revealed that polarization varies throughout the material--it is not uniform," a discovery Spurgeon says is significant for spintronic applications because it suggests how the magnetic properties of the material can be tuned locally.
Cost-Efficiency of Plug-In Hybrids Calculated a Thousand Times Faster
Chalmers University of Technology (04/21/15) Emilia Lundgren
Chalmers University of Technology researchers say they have developed a new method for calculating the optimal cost balance in plug-in hybrid vehicles that significantly reduces the time needed for the calculations. The operating cost of plug-in hybrids depends on many variables, including the way a person drives, how much the battery is charged, and how far the car is driven between charges, according to Chalmers' Mitra Pourabdollah. The new solution involves using a convex optimization algorithm, which acts as a tool in which researchers enter the parameters that can affect the cost of a plug-in hybrid and see the results 20 times faster than with previous methods. "Dramatic time savings at this stage will allow more opportunities to consider other aspects of the design of the drivetrain and gain a broader perspective," Pourabdollah says. She notes the method is based on previous research that focused on plug-in hybrid buses, and it turns out the basic algorithm is very flexible. "The method has many other application areas as well, for example in active safety," Pourabdollah says.
Intel Could Prolong Moore's Law With New Materials, Transistors
IDG News Service (04/22/15) Agam Shah
Linley Group analyst David Kanter says Intel can keep Moore's Law alive by making use of exotic materials and a new transistor design. Intel currently is manufacturing chips using 14-nanometer processes and is preparing to move production to a 10-nm process later this year or early next year. Many expect Moore's Law, which says transistor density will double approximately every two years, to continue to hold true at least through the 7-nm process, which Kanter estimates will come online in 2017 or 2018. Beyond that horizon, he says Intel will have to turn to different materials and technology to continue to realize the gains predicted by Moore's Law. Kanter expects Intel will start combining and eventually replacing silicon with other materials in the III-IV family, such as indium-gallium-arsenide. III-IV materials, which are based on elements from the third and fifth columns of the periodic table, are seen as successors to silicon because they are better conductors of electrons. Kanter says new transistor and gate structures based on quantum-well field-effect transistors also are likely to be important in future chips. He says these new materials and new technologies are the best options for continuing to increase transistor density.
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