Computing Applications News track

News Track

  1. Home-Field Advantage
  2. Big Blue Goes Green
  3. Therapeutic Tiles
  4. Google's Global Reach
  5. Calculating Clutter
  6. Author
  7. Sidebar: Astronauts Wanted

As it happens much of the world’s Internet and telephone traffic is routed through switching points within the U.S., where, under legislation introduced in October, the U.S. National Security Agency will be free to continue tapping it. Wired reports the so-called RESTORE Act (as in Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective Act of 2007) introduced by Democratic leaders allows the U.S.’s spies to maintain permanent eavesdropping stations inside the U.S. switching centers. Controversial surveillance and wiretapping efforts escalated (albeit noted as "temporary") after September 11, 2001, but the RESTORE Act will extend that power indefinitely while including some safeguards against abuse. Telecom and Internet experts say the bill would give the NSA legal access to a torrent of foreign phone calls and Internet traffic that travels through the U.S. on its way elsewhere. They also note the amount of international traffic entering the U.S. is in fact dropping, due in large part to the creation of alternative paths and exchanges, as in Hong Kong and London. Moreover, new cable running north and south of Japan around to Europe will divert traffic from the trans-America route. In addition, more countries are building their own Internet exchanges. Experts expect these future hubs to eventually rob the NSA of its home-field advantage.

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Big Blue Goes Green

In an extension of its Project Big Green, IBM has launched a program that allows mainframe customers to monitor their systems’ precise energy consumption in real time. CNNMoney reports that IBM will also begin publishing typical energy consumption data for the IBM System z9 mainframe. The data is derived from actual field measurements of approximately 1,000 customer machines to determine average watts/hour consumed and can calculate watts per unit—similar to automobile miles-per-gallon estimates and appliance kilowatt-per-year ratings. IBM is one of the first tech companies to embrace recommendations from a recent Environmental Protection Agency report that encourages server vendors to publish typical energy consumption figures for servers. The IBM metering system works by monitoring (via internal sensors) a mainframe’s actual energy and cooling statistics, displaying them in real time. A user can correlate the energy consumed with work actually performed. Energy consumption statistics can then be used to demonstrate cost savings toward electric rebates and programs to reduce data center energy consumption. For more on IBM’s Project Big Green, visit

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Therapeutic Tiles

Patients recovering from surgery or injuries may soon be able to play their way toward a full recovery with intelligent robotic systems that generate specialized games to challenge the human body’s abilities. Wired reports that Henrik Hautop Lund, a robotics and AI professor at the University of Southern Denmark, is developing therapy tiles that guide patients through physical routines that help them heal. Each tile is a miniature robotic system employing neural networks. The system, an elaborate e-version of the popular floor game Twister, has patients step on or press the tiles with their hands. The tiles, in turn, give feedback indicating whether their pressure is firm enough or if they are moving quickly enough. Individual patients can use the game alone, or up to four of them can compete against each other. The tiles can be assembled in any configuration on the walls and floor to create an intelligent game space. Lund says the tiles motivate patients to exercise by providing an instant response to their every movement and continual feedback on their progress. Patients become so engaged with the tiles that they often recover with less effort than trying to stick to a boring workout routine. Cardiac patients can, for example, compete with each other to get their pulse rates up to required levels; healing becomes an afterthought. Lund says the next step is to use artificial neural networks to help classify a patient’s behavior and adapt the game in real time.

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Google’s Global Reach

Users worldwide conduct about 1.4 million online searches every minute—most of them through Google. A new report from comScore, based on global traffic patterns during last August, indicates about 60% of the 37 billion searches that month went through Google (beating its 50% share in the U.S.). Yahoo was second in the global contest, with 8.5 billion, followed by China’s at 3.3 billion; Microsoft at 2.2 billion, and South Korea’s NHN at two billion. The Associated Press reports that Internet analysts view the findings cautiously, indicating the worldwide totals were based on measurements from two million Internet users in some 170 countries who agreed to install tracking software on their computers. Still, Baidu’s placement was impressive, showing how one regional player can break into the top five globally by having complete control of one very large market.

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Calculating Clutter

One person’s mess is another person’s filing system. So say scientists who have figured out a way to quantify the clutter in your work space. This discovery, experts say, may lead to better Web design, improved navigational systems, and even smart cars that warn when an overly cluttered street scene may pose a driving hazard. MSNBC reports MIT researchers working with, yes, mess-o-meters insist the ability to visualize clutter not only improves our understanding of what contributes to the problem but evaluates the different gut-level reactions to it, as well as the brain’s intuition for finding what you are looking for in the mess. The clutter-measuring system’s ability to gauge factors (such as contrast, color, orientation, organization, and motion) may prove beneficial to professional and amateur designers alike. Scientific American reports the researchers tested three mess-o-meter programs and all three measures performed well in predicting how quickly volunteers could determine that symbols were present or absent in maps of varying clutter.

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