Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Defense and Innovation
  2. A Face in the Crowd
  3. Faster Flakes
  4. The Latin Connection
  5. India's Challenge
  6. The Cheese Stands Alone
  7. Author

The U.S. Department of Defense is using some of the nation’s top technology venture capitalists and strategists to help it tap innovations from tiny start-up companies that have not traditionally been a part of the military’s vast supply chain. The New York Times reports the program provides a regular exchange of ideas and meetings among a select group of investors and buyers from the major military and intelligence branches. Government officials explain their technological needs, and the investors suggest solutions garnered from start-ups nationwide. The Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative, or DeVenCI, brings together two groups that have much to gain from each other. Project director Bob Pohanka says venture capitalists have knowledge of emerging technology that may be developed "by companies as small as two guys in a garage." For the investor, it’s an opportunity to tap into a branch of government with huge spending power and a potential customer for the start-ups they have backed.

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A Face in the Crowd

The latest advances in image analysis—software that extracts useful information from digital images—draws a vastly different picture of the way we may soon shop or share photos. The San Jose Mercury News reports computer vision and image analysis programs from companies like Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft are entering the mainstream via office-based security access scans and red-eye reduction on digital cameras (that now work even on animals). Consumers will soon be able to point their cell phones at a DVD box and instantly see reviews of the movie on the mobile screen. Or a computer will be able to edit or delete fuzzy photos from a digital camera as they are being uploaded. Face recognition, one of the hottest vision research domains, can identify a human face in a crowd or photograph. Adobe is working on fac-rec technologies that will allow users to categorize photos and their content. Indeed, recent results of the last government-run Face Recognition Vendor Contest showed that for the first time software from companies and universities scored better than humans at identifying faces. As amazing as these advancements are at solving some problems, there are others for which image analysis programs can’t compete with even a toddler. A shaved beard, a profile, the ability to discern dog from cat are still great challenges to be addressed.

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Faster Flakes

Inspired by seashells and snowflakes, IBM researchers have created a process that makes chips run faster and be more energy efficient. Big Blue’s airgap process enables trillions of microscopic vacuum holes to be placed between the copper wire in chips to act as an insulator. BBC News reports the company developed a method for controlling the interaction between self-assembling molecules, called diblock copolymers, to create the holes. The process mirrors nature’s way of making regular patterns, such as the shape of a seashell or snowflake or the layers of enamel on teeth. While self-assembled polymers were developed in 2001, it is the first time anyone has been able to produce mass quantities and integrate them into a manufacturing process with high yields. The new chips, which reportedly run 35% faster and consume 15% less energy then their conventional counterparts, will be used initially in IBM’s servers and ultimately rolled out to the firm’s semiconductor partners.

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The Latin Connection

Microsoft has created a Latin American virtual research foundation devoted to unifying the region’s scientists who work on critical projects. The Latin American Collaborative Research Federation will enable scientists in Latin America and the Caribbean to work together on pressing problems. "New approaches in information and communication technologies can have great impact in a wide range of areas that are crucial to the region, including education, health care, micro-economies, energy, and the environment," said Microsoft’s Craig Mundie. Technology researchers in Latin America are dispersed among many countries and when seeking research collaboration tend to look to colleagues in Europe and the U.S. Microsoft provided $1 million in funding for the federation to be administered by Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Universidad de Chile. The two universities will form a hub to which other selected centers in the region will be connected and networked. The list of participants will be finalized this month.

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India’s Challenge

India’s IT industry, a bustling zone of software and services markets, may slow to a standstill if the country does not resolve challenges brought about by an appreciating currency, severe worker shortage, looming taxes, and visa restrictions. ZDNet Asia reports that India’s annual budget introduced a fresh set of deterrents in the form of taxes that added to the country’s existing list of woes, including rising costs, lack of skilled workers, and H1-B visa restrictions limiting the number of foreign IT professionals U.S. firms can hire. Moreover, most Indian IT companies are in recruitment overdrive. For example, TCS plans to hire 32,000 employees this year, Infosys some 24,500, and Wipro about 14,000. In addition, some 300 North American and European companies have set up their own offshore centers in India since 2005 to lower development costs—all looking to tap the same talent pool. While 75% of the country’s population is below the age of 25, there is growing scarcity of skilled workers and a resulting huge increase in salaries.

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The Cheese Stands Alone

A 44-pound round of cheddar is the first worldwide digital celeb to hail from Westcombe, England. As the star of Cheddarvision TV, every moment of its aging process is being captured for the world to endure, err, witness. Cheesemaker Tom Calver set up a Webcam last December to document the moment the cheese was created (beginning with milk supplied from cows on his farm), curded, and then set on a shelf for the year-long journey to maturity. The chunk of cheddar should be fully aged by December when Calver will sell it and donate the proceeds to charity. In the spirit of Cambridge University’s Web-famous coffee pot of the early 1990s, the cheddar joins a growing and illustrious list of mind-numbing online scenes that attract a global audience. As of late May, the Web site ( had been viewed at least 1.5 million times. Even Gary, a cheese-turner who shows up once a week to flip the round over, has drawn a growing legion of fans. Poems and songs have been written about the cheese. It has received wedding invitations. Its molding patterns have sparked a lively debate about their metaphysical significance. It has its own MySpace page where it’s noted as a Capricorn with about 1,200 friends.

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