Monday, October 31, 2011

Using Twitter to Follow Attitudes About Vaccines

    Dennis Barker

  • Scientists train machines to analyze tweets, assess vaccination rates and identify potential contagion zones.
    Machine analysis of hundreds of thousands of Twitter messages is helping scientists learn how to use social networks to combat the spread of disease. Marcel Salathé, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, came up with the idea of combing tweets to determine people's attitudes about the H1N1 swine-flu vaccine. Mapping negative attitudes about a vaccine could potentially help identify geographic areas or population clusters that are unvaccinated and, therefore, theoretically more susceptible to a contagious outbreak.
    While the H1N1 pandemic was sweeping the nation, Salathé started by collecting all English-language tweets that mentioned a relevant keyword, such as "vaccine, "vaccinate" or "immunize." The original data set of nearly 500,000 tweets had to be whittled down for classification purposes, so the professor sliced out about 10 percent of them and had student volunteers read and classify each message in that subset as:
    1. positive ("I'm off to get a swine-flu vaccination");
    2. negative ("The H1N1 'vaccine' is dirty. DontGetIt!");
    3. neutral ("Health dept offering the flu vaccine on Monday"); or
    4. irrelevant ("Senate says no to funding for malaria vaccine").
    Then, programmer/analyst Shashank Khandelwal developed an algorithm to classify the remaining mountain of uncategorized messages. "The human-rated tweets served as a 'learning set' that we used to 'teach' the computer how to rate the tweets accurately," Salathé says.
    Once the machines had sorted the messages and eliminated those classified as irrelevant, the researchers found that tweeted pro-vaccine sentiment correlated with actual vaccination rates. New England, for example, had the highest number of positive attitudes and the highest number of people vaccinated. As Salathé told a Penn State publication, "These results could be used strategically to develop public-health initiatives. ... targeted campaigns could be designed according to which region needs more prevention education."
    The biologist says one of his goals is to use social-network data to also investigate other health threats, like obesity and heart disease.
    The beauty of tweets for research is that they are public data, are concise, sometimes include location information and, by showing who is following whom, can enable a researcher to pinpoint pockets of, say, people avoiding the vaccine--the assumption being that people who follow X tend to share X's views. As Salathé says in the research paper he co-wrote with Khandelwal, they found that "opinions are clustered," and that "most communities were dominated by either positive or negative sentiments towards the novel vaccine."
    Note to CDC: Maybe for the next outbreak, you could find out if Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or one of the other most-followed people is positive or negative about a new vaccine and then target that person accordingly.

     

Erasable E-Paper Saves Trees, Cuts Costs

    R. Colin Johnson

  • Electronic paper that runs through thermal printers but can be electrically erased and rewritten aims to make tree paper obsolete. The paper makes use of flexible plastic that retains printed text without batteries or moving parts.
    With all the movement to green technology, the day was bound to come when ordinary sheets of paper were replaced with electronic versions that run through printers but can be erased electrically and rewritten over and over. Made of a durable plastic, e-paper uses a similar technology to reflective e-readers, but in a more flexible form factor that does not require a battery and which can be instantly erased.
    "Most printed pages in the office will be discarded in only a few days or weeks after being printed," said Janglin Chen, vice president and general director of ITRI’s Display Technology Center. "Our e-paper, on the other hand, can be erased and re-printed hundreds of times with no ink or toner or tree products being consumed, making it both efficient and green."
    Shown here in an ornamental scroll, ITRI's e-paper, which can be produced in normal cut sheet formats too, indefinitely retains images printed on it thermally. 
    The new e-paper from the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, Taiwan) will cost about 50 cents for a letter-size sheet when it become available in 2012, but will replace a half-ream of ordinary paper by being electrically erased and rewritten up to 260 times. In fact, the green factor landed ITRI the 2011 R&D Award earlier this year. Users can also write on the paper to make notes or other annotations using water-based marker pens, which can later be washed off before reusing the e-paper.
    ITRI predicts that its e-paper will first be used in a variety of business applications--since it requires that currently available printers retool their thermal print heads. For advertising banners, corporate visitor ID badges, mass transit passes, parking lot tickets, museum passes and other similar applications there will be special printers available early in 2012, with upgraded consumer-grade printers appearing later in the year.
    For the future, ITRI is experimenting uploading chapters of digital books into blank-page e-paper booklets which can then be erased and reloaded with different chapter after you read the first one. Since the e-paper can be produced in any size, future versions are also planned for wall banners, electronic bulletin boards and other large-scale applications.
    ITRI's e-paper works by virtue of a flexible cholesteric liquid-crystal core (similar to that of reflective e-reader displays) sandwiched between an opaque silver-coated backing and a transparent indium tin oxide (ITO) front layer. Resolutions as high as 300 dots per inch retain crisp printed images indefinitely after a thermal printer head write them, with no toner, no ink and no paper consumed during the process. Cholesteric liquid crystals are reflective and can be manufactured for printing in red, green and blue colors (albeit in monochrome today, although full color versions are under development at ITRI).
    The e-paper can be fabricated on cheap roll-to-roll manufacturing lines, can be bent down to a one centimeter radius without damage, is just 160 microns thick, and is set-up so that all its components parts--from the polymer substrate to the liquid crystals, ITO and silver-backing films--can all be recovered from spent sheets and reused in the manufacture of new ones.
     

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What is IT

UnCollege - Hacking Your Education

UnCollege - Hacking Your Education:

'via Blog this'

A interesting premise. But is this good to tell Black and Latino kids???

Amazon Web Services vulnerabilities were found and fixed, others are likely susceptible.

Researchers find "massive" security flaws in cloud architectures

By Tim Greene


German researchers say they found flaws in Amazon Web Services that they believe exist in many cloud architectures and enable attackers to gain administrative rights and to gain access to all user data.
While the researchers say they have told AWS about the security holes and AWS has fixed them, they believe the same types of attacks would be effective against other cloud services, "since the relevant Web service standards make performance and security incompatible."
A research team at Ruhr University Bochum used a variety of XML signature-wrapping attacks to gain administrative access of customer accounts, then create new instances of the customer's cloud, add images and delete them. In a separate exploit, the researchers used cross-site scripting attacks against the open-source, private-cloud software framework Eucalyptus.

MORE FLAWS: Amazon Web Services receives critical gov't certification 
They also found the Amazon service to be susceptible to cross-site scripting attacks.
"It's not only a problem of Amazon's," says Juraj Somorovsky, one of the researchers. "These are general attacks. Public clouds are not so secure as they seem to be. These problems could be found in other cloud frameworks also."
Somorovsky says the researchers are working on a high-performance libraries that can be used with XML security to eliminate the vulnerability that was exploited with the XML signaturewrapping attacks. They will be ready sometime next year. Signature-wrapping attacks re-use validAmazon Web Services acknowledged it worked with the Ruhr University team to correct the problems they found. "...[N]o customers have been impacted," a spokesperson for AWS said in an email. "It is important to note that this potential vulnerability involved a very small percentage of all authenticated AWS API calls that use non-SSL endpoints and was not a potentially widespread vulnerability as has been reported."

AWS has posted a list of best practices that, if followed, would have protected customers from the attacks the Ruhr University team devised as well as other attacks. These are:
• Only utilize the SSL-secured / HTTPS endpoint for any AWS service and ensure that your client utilities perform proper peer certificate validation. A very small percentage of all authenticated AWS API calls use non-SSL endpoints, and AWS intends to deprecate non-SSL API endpoints in the future.
• Enable and use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for AWS Management Console access.
• Create Identity and Access Management (IAM) accounts that have limited roles and responsibilities, restricting access to only those resources specifically needed by those accounts.
• Limit API access and interaction further by source IP, utilizing IAM source IP policy restrictions.
• Regularly rotate AWS credentials, including Secret Keys, X.509 certificates, and Keypairs.
• When utilizing the AWS Management Console, minimize or avoid interaction with other websites and follow safe Internet browsing practices, much as you should for banking or similarly important / critical online activities.
• AWS customers should also give consideration to utilizing API access mechanisms other than SOAP, such as REST / Query
.

Cities Awarded $50 Million to Get Smart

    R. Colin Johnson

  • IBM's Smarter Cities Challenge offers budget-constrained cities relief with free software and consulting services aimed at simultaneously improving a city's economic outlook and its citizen-service delivery. These goals are to be achieved by making each city's operations more efficient with smarter management, planning and forecasting.
    Today cities account for more than half of the world's population, and by 2050 forecasters believe that the number of urban dwellers will rise to over 70 percent. As a result, cities are becoming the most important unit of government, charged with delivering services to the vast majority of the world's population. The worldwide recession and overtaxed budgets are forcing cities to tighten their belt, operate more efficiently, and seek smarter methods of managing resources and planning.
    Today cities hold more that 50 percent of the world's population, and by 2050 IBM estimates that will rise to 70 percent or more. (Source: IBM)  

    Relief is being offered by IBM's $50 million Smarter Cities Challenge—a three-year program (2011-2013) that aims to help 100 cities worldwide operate smarter by harnessing new technologies and methodologies to solve long-standing civic challenges. Each 2012 award, which will average $500,000, including all provided services and software, will be made to cities-in-need that apply before Dec. 6, 2011. Last year, 26 awards were made to cities worldwide, with applications open to the governing bodies of cities speaking English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Chinese (Simplified) or Japanese.
    Winners are visited by top IBM consultants, who spend weeks studying a city's problems to ascertain their needs—from finance to sustainability to public safety to citizen services. After conferring with officials, citizens, local businesses, academics and community leaders, IBM recommends actions that make smarter use of existing resources. Economic challenges, according to IBM, are met head-on with innovative recommendations on how to more efficiently deliver services to citizens. Experts from a variety of fields are brought into the process, including specialists in employment, health, public safety, transportation, social services, recreation, education, energy and sustainability. 
    Winning cities will be encouraged to become savvy users of the free online portal to city statistics called City Forward. By making public data available to City Forward, public policy experts worldwide can benefit from the success stories of other cities around the world, thus helping to identify local problems and potential solutions.
    In 2012 and 2013, IBM will award 76 applying cities worldwide that demonstrate strong leadership and that are willing to collaborate with diverse stakeholders in the solutions to their outstanding problems. To read case studies on how the program has already benefited cities worldwide, visit the Smarter Cities Challenge Website, which describes IBM's recommendations to 2011 grant recipients. In the United States, for instance, several cities have acceded to IBM's 2011 recommendations, including ways to reduce the crime rate in St. Louis (Missouri), more efficiently manage aquaponics in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) and reduce high traffic fatality rates in Edmonton (Alberta).
    For more details about past IBM Smarter City efforts, see:
     

Using Twitter to Follow Attitudes About Vaccines

    Dennis Barker


  • Scientists train machines to analyze tweets, assess vaccination rates and identify potential contagion zones.
    Machine analysis of hundreds of thousands of Twitter messages is helping scientists learn how to use social networks to combat the spread of disease. Marcel Salathé, assistant professor of biology at Penn State, came up with the idea of combing tweets to determine people's attitudes about the H1N1 swine-flu vaccine. Mapping negative attitudes about a vaccine could potentially help identify geographic areas or population clusters that are unvaccinated and, therefore, theoretically more susceptible to a contagious outbreak.
    While the H1N1 pandemic was sweeping the nation, Salathé started by collecting all English-language tweets that mentioned a relevant keyword, such as "vaccine, "vaccinate" or "immunize." The original data set of nearly 500,000 tweets had to be whittled down for classification purposes, so the professor sliced out about 10 percent of them and had student volunteers read and classify each message in that subset as:
    1. positive ("I'm off to get a swine-flu vaccination");
    2. negative ("The H1N1 'vaccine' is dirty. DontGetIt!");
    3. neutral ("Health dept offering the flu vaccine on Monday"); or
    4. irrelevant ("Senate says no to funding for malaria vaccine").
    Then, programmer/analyst Shashank Khandelwal developed an algorithm to classify the remaining mountain of uncategorized messages. "The human-rated tweets served as a 'learning set' that we used to 'teach' the computer how to rate the tweets accurately," Salathé says.
    Once the machines had sorted the messages and eliminated those classified as irrelevant, the researchers found that tweeted pro-vaccine sentiment correlated with actual vaccination rates. New England, for example, had the highest number of positive attitudes and the highest number of people vaccinated. As Salathé told a Penn State publication, "These results could be used strategically to develop public-health initiatives. ... targeted campaigns could be designed according to which region needs more prevention education."
    The biologist says one of his goals is to use social-network data to also investigate other health threats, like obesity and heart disease.
    The beauty of tweets for research is that they are public data, are concise, sometimes include location information and, by showing who is following whom, can enable a researcher to pinpoint pockets of, say, people avoiding the vaccine--the assumption being that people who follow X tend to share X's views. As Salathé says in the research paper he co-wrote with Khandelwal, they found that "opinions are clustered," and that "most communities were dominated by either positive or negative sentiments towards the novel vaccine."
    Note to CDC: Maybe for the next outbreak, you could find out if Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or one of the other most-followed people is positive or negative about a new vaccine and then target that person accordingly.

     

Thursday, October 20, 2011

10 Reasons to Join BDPA

by Wayne Hicks

I joined BDPA in 1989. I was promoted to a mid-level management leadership position for a large mainframe computer room. It was my first job in the information technology (IT) industry and I figured that membership in BDPA would be helpful.

Technology professionals compete in a global economy and must never stop learning. BDPA membership provides access to resources that advance the careers of African American IT professionals from the classroom to the boardroom.

Here are 10 reasons to join BDPA:
  1. Acquire professional and leadership skills
  2. Connect to network of IT professionals and executives in the academic, commercial, government and non-profit sectors.
  3. Enhance and develop additional technical skill sets.
  4. Obtain exposure to technical and professional topics through program meetings, seminars and workshops
  5. Obtain free advertising through website and entrepreneur directory.
  6. Opportunity to participate in the regional and national high school computer competition, internships, lifelong mentors, scholarships and student empowerment activities.
  7. Participate actively in an organization that is setting trends in emerging technology.
  8. Participate in certification support groups.
  9. Serve as a role model within the African American community.
  10. Support and influence the goals and directions of this leading edge technical organization through the contribution of your own professional expertise.
I joined BDPA in 1989 ... when did you join? And, if you are not a member yet ... what are you waiting on? Join BDPA today! 

Grant Disbursement: BDPA Detroit ($739)

Tonji Zimmerman


We received a phone call earlier this week from BDPA Detroit chapter's High School Computer Competition (HSCC) coordinator Tonji Zimmerman. She wanted to know if the BDPA Education and Technology Foundation (BETF) could provide some financial support to get her to the annual HSCC coordinator's meeting being held in Las Vegas next month. This annual meeting is important because it is the opportunity for the organization to review the past year's performance as well as consider ideas that could improve the HSCC program in 2012. It is important to have BDPA Detroit in that meeting because of the success of that chapter's HSCC program over the past 26 years ... including its silver-medal performance in the 2011 national HSCC championship held earlier this year in Chicago.


Anyhow, we were able to walk Tonji through the funding process that any chapter can use to seek financial support from BETF. Tonji worked with her chapter leadership and a formal request for $739 in funding was sent to BETF for consideration.


BETF is proud to announce that the full $739 request has been approved. We are excited that we could provide this financial support to BDPA Detroit chapter!

Thailand flooding could affect PC supplies, prices

By JORDAN ROBERTSON


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The personal computer industry, already reeling from depressed demand, has been dealt another setback: Massive flooding in Thailand has curtailed production of a critical component — computer storage drives.
Factories producing a third of the country's hard drives have temporarily closed as flooding has gradually spread since August. Prices have spiked, and Apple warned that its Mac products will likely be affected.
Computer manufacturers, the companies that supply hard drives and the makers of components for those drives are all bracing for troubles. What's not yet clear is what extent PC production lines will be affected and whether PC makers will absorb costs or pass them along to consumers.
Thailand makes about a quarter of the world's hard drives and is the second-largest producer behind China, according to IHS iSuppli. Market research firm IDC estimates that the flooding has already affected a third of the country's output, equating to more than 120 million hard drives a year. Avian Securities says the slowdown is already leading to price spikes that have added several dollars to the cost of some drives.
The flooding has killed 317 people, mostly from drowning. Nearly 9 million people have been displaced or otherwise affected. Estimates of the economic cost were $3 billion and rising.
The setback is particularly acute for the computer industry because it follows other troubles. Demand has slowed, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, because of debt and unemployment fears and the growing popularity of tablet computers, which causes many consumers to delay replacing PCs. In addition, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan hurt supplies of memory chips.
The biggest hard drive makers — Seagate Technology PLC and Western Digital Corp. — have warned of delays.
Western Digital has suspended its operations in Thailand. Floodwaters have affected two factories, which shut down last week. The company said its other hard drive manufacturing facilities, located in Malaysia, are fully operational. But it said flooding will have a significant impact on its ability to meet demand through the end of the year. Western Digital's Thailand operations account for more than half of the company's total hard drive output. Western Digital's stock has fallen 15 percent since the company announced its delays last week.
Seagate says that its factories in Thailand are operational but warned that it is having difficulty getting some components. It said supply will be constrained the rest of the year, though the magnitude of the disruption is currently unclear.
Toshiba has also suspended its Thailand hard disk operations, as have a number of hard disk component suppliers.
Big computer makers are worried.
On Tuesday, Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook said he is "virtually certain there will be an overall industry shortage of disk drives." But because a thorough assessment of the damage hasn't been possible, he said he couldn't immediately give a timeline for recovery. Cook warned that Apple's Mac lines would be most affected. Most of its mobile devices, including the iPhone and the iPad, use a different type of storage called flash memory.
Dell Inc., the No. 3 PC maker, said it expects minimal impact to supply through the current quarter, which ends this month. The company said it is working with suppliers to assess the impact for the rest of the year. Hewlett-Packard Co., the leading computer maker, said it is monitoring the situation in Thailand as operations there remain open.
Gartner Inc. analyst John Monroe called the disruptions "very serious and ongoing" and said they affect production of roughly half of the "spindle" motors that turn the hard disks, along with other technologies. Monroe expects slowdowns through March.
"We do not know yet what we do not know, many unknown unknowns," Monroe said.
But as was the case with the crisis in Japan, the industry has some manufacturing safeguards for natural disasters. Production is generally spread among several countries. Some analysts were optimistic that the delays would be short-lived.
John Rydning, an analyst with IDC, said that the hard drive industry's supply chain is "highly redundant and remarkably resilient." He noted that the hard drive industry recovered quickly from the Japanese disaster without any major disruption.
"It is premature to say the flooding will lead to potentially billions of dollars in lost revenue," he said in an email. "Not an impossible scenario, but we need to hear more about the clean-up efforts underway before making that call."
Stacy Smith, chief financial officer for Intel Corp., the biggest maker of computer microprocessors, told analysts Tuesday that he doesn't believe there will be an impact on PC sales in the current quarter.
"A combination of alternate supplies and inventory levels will carry us through," he said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Interest in Mobile WiFi Hotspots Fuels New Solutions

J. Gerry Purdy 


  • The next-generation WiFi hotspot initiative will provide multiple-gigabit transmissions, allow roaming like cellular, and provide automatic authentication and log-on.Most WiFi in use today is indoors (at a home or office), but there is growing use of WiFi in an outdoor setting. Remember when there were a number of municipalities that tried to create WiFi networks that would support an entire city? Most of these failed because the majority of devices were being used indoors where other (often free) options prevailed.
    More recently, operators such as AT&T are installing outdoor WiFi networks in major cities for two reasons: First, operators are trying to offload the high demand created by the explosion of smartphone devices such as the iPhone and tablets such as the iPad; and second, these more mobile devices are used more outdoors than just inside locations such as airports and retail outlets. The simple fact is that WiFi provides access to tremendous bandwidth, and it is in AT&T's best interest to have users download movies, TV shows and music with their WiFi network than with their cellular network.
    There's growing interest in mobile WiFi routers where a small device such as the MiFi from Novatel, the Overdrive from Sprint or the Personal Hotspot on the iPhone enables WiFi for up to (typically) five mobile devices. These mobile hotspots then connect to the cellular network on the back end. These mobile routers do provide easy access in remote locations where standard WiFi is not typically available but cellular is. The newer 4G models provide back-end access via LTE, which operates close to basic cable or DSL.
    Hardware-based mobile routers have to typically be set up with a power adapter as their batteries don't last more than 2 to 3 hours (in my tests). And that results in yet another device to carry around. I believe that more people will opt to utilize the mobile hotspot in their smartphone than bother carrying around another device and paying for an additional data plan.
    Connectify (a MobileTrax client) offers a software mobile hotspot for Windows laptops and Android devices that requires no additional hardware. With one click, users can start a Connectify mobile hotspot on their laptop that allows up to nine WiFi-enabled devices to connect and share Internet access. The speed of the back end is whatever is available to the Windows laptop or Android device.

    Connectify offers a software mobile hotspot for Windows laptops and Android devices that requires no additional hardware.
    Connectify has realized over 4.5 million downloads and now offers a Pro version ($29.99) that includes easy-to-use firewall control over connected clients and can maintain connectivity by intelligently choosing the best available Internet connection at any given time. And the company has received a recent investment from In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA, to add robust security and develop an enterprise version (think government agencies and large private companies).
    There is growing interest in connecting via WiFi directly between devices. This has particular appeal when running games between multiple local users (think students running a game locally in the dorm) or when people need to exchange large files (think sending a 50GB file using the 50M-bps link locally rather than going through the Internet that would slow down the transmission). Wi-Fi Direct is the standard being created for these direct connections.  Software like Connectify enables Wi-Fi Direct so that information is kept locally when the need is only to transfer information between one or more local devices.
    There are a number of new venues that are implementing mobile hotspots, including automobiles (providing WiFi access to the passengers), airplanes (e.g., GoGo service on many U.S. flights), trains (AMTRAK provides this on many routes) and machine-to-machine (such as a network of vending machines that use one cellular connection).

    What does the future hold for WiFi? It's certain that there will be millions of additional WiFi routers creating hotspots and what I call "warmspots" in which a home or office WiFi router is set up to provide for public access. The fastest-growing segment will be mobile hotspots in which tens of millions of smartphones and tablets will enable WiFi connectivity for WiFi-enabled devices nearby. This will be provided either via proprietary solutions by the manufacturer or more generic and open solutions by software providers such as Connectify.
    There is already work under way to create multiple gigabit WiFi using 60GHz. And the Next Generation Hotspot (802.11u) initiative offers to provide a number of advanced WiFi features, including:
    • Ability to roam from one hotspot to another much like you can today with a mobile phone where you can roam from one hotspot to another and stay connected.
    • Automatic log-on so that your mobile device will automatically log on to the hotspot without the user having to authenticate or provide an access password.
    • Carrier-grade networks that have a rich infrastructure so that the hotspots are reliable and always available.
    The primary purpose of these advanced WiFi networks is to provide low-cost, high-bandwidth data access. Billions of smartphones and tablets will drive access to these advanced next-generation WiFi networks.
  • Motivational Moment



    Failure is a blessing when it pushes us out of a cushioned seat of self-satisfaction and forces us to do something useful.

    If you carefully study your own life and those of achievers whom you admire, it is an absolute certainty you will discover that your greatest opportunities often occurred during times of adversity. It is only when faced with the possibility of failure that we are willing to deal with radical change and take the risks that lead to great success. When you experience temporary failure and you know that it is temporary, you can capitalize on the opportunities adversity always brings.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2011

    Motivational Moment



    Success attracts success and failure attracts failure because of the law of harmonious attraction.

    In physics, positives attract negatives and vice versa, but in human relationships the opposite is true. Negative people attract only other negative people, while positive thinkers attract like-minded individuals. You will find that when you begin to achieve success more successes will follow. This is the law of harmonious attraction. When riches begin to come your way, you’ll be amazed how quickly they accumulate. Train your mind to visualize yourself acquiring a specific amount of wealth or achieving a certain goal -- whatever you most desire. Then use self-suggestion to persuade your subconscious mind that you can achieve your goal, and put your plan into action. When you use the tools that you have at your disposal to prepare yourself for success and visualize yourself as having already reached your objective, you can achieve any reasonable goal that you set for yourself.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2011

    Phone Microscope Diagnoses Disease


    • Researchers recently demonstrated how easy it could be to remotely diagnose disease anywhere in the world by merely snapping a close-up lens onto your iPhone and photographing a sample of blood.Medical and scientific measurements of all types are done with optical microscopes, which snap photos of blood samples that are then evaluated by screening technicians who refer suspect images to full-fledged doctors.
      Researchers at University of California (Davis) have demonstrated an under-$50 close-up lens for the iPhone that can do the same thing--namely screen photos of blood samples, then refer suspect images to remotely located doctors using its 3G Internet connection. The team’s proposed add-on for the iPhone will be described in detail this month at the Optical Society of America's (OSA) Annual Meeting called "Frontiers in Optics (FiO) 2011" (San Jose, Calif. Oct. 16-20, 2011).
      With all the sophisticated medical diagnosis techniques available today, optical microscopes are still the workhorse technology, with sales of over $3 billion in 2011 and growing at a rate of about five percent, according to BCC Research LLC. The group predicts the optical microscope market will exceed $4 billion by 2016.


      Pollen (left) and plant stems (middle, right) are shown from an expensive microscope (top) and with an inexpensive add-on lens for an iPhone (bottom). (Source: University of California, Davis)
      Today microscopy depends on "micron range" optical photography of blood and other patient samples, which can be achieved with a humble iPhone, according to Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu, a physicist with UC Davis' Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology. The 1.7 micron pixel size of the iPhone's camera combined with an inexpensive 5X magnification lens, gives the iPhone a microscope function in just the micron-range resolution needed to diagnose patient samples.
      For developing nations an add-on microscope to smartphones could enable them to send in photos of patient samples for doctors to remotely diagnose. In fact, there are other smartphones with integrated microscopes and medical diagnostic apps, such as the LifeLens project to identify malaria in the field with a Window-based smartphone microscope. But the UC Davis team's aim was to demonstrate how inexpensively a bare-bones system could be made.
      The first generation prototype was set up to not need any additional hardware at all--just a drop of water atop the iPhone camera lens which magnified the images as well as the ball lens that was finally chosen for the team's  prototype.
      "The water formed a meniscus, and its curved surface acted like a magnifying lens," said Wachsmann-Hogiu. "It worked fine, but the water evaporated too fast."
      A one-millimeter ground glass ball lens--an under-$50 sphere that acts as magnifying glass--was used in the prototype constructed by Kaiqin Chu, a post-doctoral researcher at UC Davis. The ball lens was mounted in rubber surround that was fitted over the iPhone’s own camera lens.
      The images were not as high-resolution as the laboratory microscope, but the doctors at the UC Davis Medical Center were still able to diagnose blood by counting cells and by noting the shapes of cells, such as in the banana-shape typical of sickle cell anemia.
      Next the team wants to improve its lens resolution further, for making diagnoses of other samples such as skin, as well as develop apps for automatic screening, such as counting the number of red- and white-blood cells in a sample. They are also developing an inexpensive spectrometer add-on that could potentially identify the chemical signatures of substances by their spectra, such as reading out how much oxygen is in a patient's blood.

    Monday, October 10, 2011

    Providing Reliable Wireless Communications for First Responders

    If you’re in charge of a first-responder operation such as fire, police or utility emergency repair, the last thing you want to deal with is unreliable wireless communications. A young company named Utility Associates has an innovative wireless communication system that provides reliable WiFi connectivity to all approved mobile devices utilized in emergency, utilities and first-responder situations.If you’re in charge of a first-responder operation such as fire, police or utility emergency repair, the last thing you want to deal with is unreliable wireless communications. How do you handle a temporarily lost connection? How do you manage going from 3G to 4G areas and back again? How do you provide access to all the devices that are present in an emergency situation? What happens if you can’t get a GPS signal? You’d hate to be in an emergency situation and have the following message comes up on the laptop display, “Reboot your wireless modem.”
    There’s a solution to this challenging problem. A young company in Tucker, Ga., named Utility Associates has an innovative and reliable wireless communication system for in-field vehicles that’s called the Rocket. It provides reliable WiFi connectivity to all approved mobile devices utilized in emergency, utilities and first-responder situations. The Rocket accepts a 3G or 3G/4G USB cellular modem (pictured) from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless or Sprint. The Rocket is typically housed in a sealed case in the vehicle’s trunk so that the Rocket can’t be tampered with or altered in the field.
    The Rocket has an antenna that is extended to the outside of the vehicle to maintain the best wireless connection possible. All certified and approved mobile devices can then connect via WiFi to the Rocket and stay connected while in the field. This enables police, fire and other emergency vehicles to connect through the Rocket.
    It’s Utility’s software that makes the Rocket provide ultra-reliable data communications in challenging field environments such as tornados, where some cell towers may be knocked out, or in natural disasters such as hurricanes.

    The Rocket mobile communications appliance.
    Utility has also figured out how to migrate a connection that starts in a 4G area but temporarily reverts back to 3G and then returns to 4G. Today, the cellular modem software from the wireless modem providers doesn’t enable connections to re-engage to 4G once it has stepped down to 3G. The user would normally have to reboot the modem to regain a 4G connection. The Rocket’s software automatically re-establishes a 4G connection.
    Utility has found that HSPA+ from AT&T and T-Mobile works fine when driving around in a vehicle, but Verizon 4G LTE and Clearwire (Sprint) WiMax have challenges. All of this works fine on a stationary laptop in an office or conference room—but the problems crop up when the modem is moving at high speed and traveling in and out of 4G coverage areas.
    A police officer, fireman or utility worker should not have to care or worry about whether he or she is currently driving in a 3G or a 4G service area. The modem needs to maintain a connection regardless of whether the vehicle migrates from one 3G area to another area that has 4G.
    Fortunately, Utility’s engineers have figured out how to get the Rocket to tell the modem to automatically switch to 4G LTE when a vehicle drives back into a 4G service area. And Utility has patent applications pending for this 3G/4G switching process. Utility expects that the modem manufacturers will eventually figure this out and get seamless switching between 3G and 4G while in motion working, but it is not available today.
    NetMotion provides session persistence as the Rocket switches between 3G and 4G cellular data, just like it does when the Rocket switches between cellular data and 802.11b/g/n yard access points. So, a customer running NetMotion on their vehicle laptops will not have to re-log onto their Windows apps every time the Rocket switches between 3G and 4G as the police car or utility truck is driving in and out of 3G and 4G service areas.
    Utility also partners with Wilson Electronics to provide an integrated cellular boosting capability. Some vendors recommend having multiple cellular data cards in a vehicle wireless router. However, this doubles/triples the monthly cellular data cost. In addition, since no one wants a cell tower in their back yard, most cell towers host antennas from several cellular providers. If the cell tower goes down, all the cell carriers with antennas on that tower also go down. Multiple cellular connections to the same dead cell tower still means the vehicle is out of cellular coverage. With a cell booster, if the nearby cell tower is down, the vehicle can still communicate with distant cell towers that are still working. This provides much more reliable cellular communications, as Virginia Gas saw in Hurricane Irene.
    The Rocket also reads WiFi RFID tags and connects to the vehicle engine diagnostics port. First responders and utilities want to know not only where the vehicle is, but also what people and what “stuff"–equipment, toolboxes, backhoes, pumps, generators, weapons, defibrillators, etc.–are in and around the vehicle on a real-time basis, e.g., where did the EMS crew leave their $15,000 EKG machine?
    AVaiL is Utility’s command and control hosted solution (SaaS) provides a real-time operating view of the customer’s mobile operations. AVaiL lets the customer see their assets and move them to where they need to be as quickly and efficiently as possible. AVaiL helps customers maximize the five facets of mobile resource management: speed, safety, efficiency, productivity and service.
    With real-time GPS, RFID and other critical data flowing in, the customer’s command center can select and dispatch the best vehicle to the emergency or work site. This gives the customer insight into where personnel and equipment are located and helps them work safely based on the events taking place in the field. With vehicle diagnostics, engine trouble reporting and routing, Rocket-managed fleets reduce realize significant fuel and maintenance cost reductions.
    When the vehicles come back to the office or station at the end of a shift, there is a challenge to enable all of the vehicles to download stored information to the customer’s servers. Utility is able to securely and reliably upload a gigabyte of video data to an authorized custom access point in less than 90 seconds, allowing the first responder to get back on the road. Utility offers a custom wireless access point that provides patent-pending automated load balancing to maximize the throughput from multiple first responder vehicles that come back to the station at the end of a shift.

    Robert McKeeman, Utility’s CEO, offered a prophetic closing, “It’s reassuring to know that, in an emergency situation, first-responder personnel with the Rocket in their vehicles can be assured that their wireless communications work, so that they can focus on doing their job and not have to resort to being IT professionals.”

    Friday, October 07, 2011

    India announces $35 tablet computer for rural poor

    India announces $35 tablet computer for rural poor

    NEW DELHI (AP) — India introduced a cheap tablet computer Wednesday, saying it would deliver modern technology to the countryside to help lift villagers out of poverty.
    The computer, called Aakash, or "sky" in Hindi, is the latest in a series of "world's cheapest" innovations in India that include a 100,000 rupee ($2,040) compact Nano car, a 750 rupee ($15) water purifier and $2,000 open-heart surgery.
    Developer Datawind is selling the tablets to the government for about $45 each, and subsidies will reduce that to $35 for students and teachers. In comparison, the cheapest Apple iPad tablet costs $499, while the recently announced Kindle Fire will sell for $199.
    Datawind says it can make about 100,000 units a month at the moment, not nearly enough to meet India's hope of getting its 220 million children online.
    Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal called the announcement a message to all children of the world.
    "This is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered," he said. "This is for all those who live on the fringes of society."
    Despite a burgeoning tech industry and decades of robust economic growth, there are still hundreds of thousands of Indians with no electricity, let alone access to computers and information that could help farmers improve yields, business startups reach clients, or students qualify for university.
    The launch — attended by hundreds of students, some selected to help train others across the country in the tablet's use — followed five years of efforts to design a $10 computer that could bridge the country's vast digital divide.
    "People laughed, people called us lunatics," ministry official N.K. Sinha said. "They said we are taking the nation for a ride."
    Although the $10 goal wasn't achieved, the Aakash has a color screen and provides word processing, Web browsing and video conferencing. The Android 2.2-based device has two USB ports and 256 megabytes of RAM. Despite hopes for a solar-powered version — important for India's energy-starved hinterlands — no such option is currently available.
    Both Sibal and Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli called for competition to improve the product and drive prices down further.
    "The intent is to start a price war. Let it start," Tuli said, inviting others to do the job better and break technological ground — while still making a commercially viable product.
    As for the $10 goal, "let's dream and go in that direction. Let's start with that target and see what happens," he said.
    The students Wednesday were well-briefed on the goal of providing tablets for the poor, although most in attendance already had access to computers at home or in their schools.
    "A person learns quite fast when they have a computer at home," said Shashank Kumar, 21, a computer engineering student from Jodhpur, Bihar, who was one of five people selected in his northern state to travel to villages and demonstrate the device. "In just a few years people can even become hackers."
    India, after raising literacy to about 78 percent from 12 percent when British rule ended, is now focusing on higher education with a 2020 goal of 30 percent enrollment. Today, only 7 percent of Indians graduate from high school.
    "To every child in India I carry this message. Aim for the sky and beyond. There is nothing holding you back," Sibal said before distributing about 650 of the tablets to the students.

    Thursday, October 06, 2011

    Autism Traits Prove Valuable for Software Testing

    R. Colin Johnson

    Smarter software-debugging services are being performed by savants where the intense focus and superlative technical abilities of high-functioning autism shine.Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that preserves linguistic skills and sometime features exceptional cognitive development, turns out to be a boon to tedious, time-consuming software-debugging tasks, according to Aspiritech NFP.
    Raised to popular awareness by movies like "Rain Man" starring Tom Cruise as the brother of autistic savant Dustin Hoffman, people with Asperger's syndrome are often smarter at complex mathematics and tedious computer troubleshooting skills than ordinary programmers. Unfortunately, their poor social skills put them at a disadvantage when interviewing for programming jobs, and getting along with other employees.
    Oran Weitzberg has a form of high-functioning autism, called Asperger's syndrome, which enables him to happily spend long hours performing software debugging tasks that are stultifying for ordinary programmers.
    Aspiritech's mission is to demonstrate that many individuals with autism have savant-like skills with computers that can be channeled into successful businesses debugging software. Modeled on a similar company called Specialisterne, which has high-profile customers like Oracle and Microsoft, Aspiritech has recruited a growing team of exceptional programmers specializing in computer-software testing procedures. Aspiritech and Specialisterne are just two of a growing number of software-testing companies in Belgium, Japan and Israel that have been recruiting high-functioning adults with autism.
    According to Aspiritech, its programmers have unique talents that make them exceptional software testers. These talents include attention to details, superlative technical aptitude and the "ability to thrive" while performing repetitive, task-oriented jobs that ordinary programmers find stultifying. After receiving initial funding from donations to their nonprofit organization, Aspiritech has since built up a portfolio of nine satisfied customers who report exceptional results from the team.
    Aspiritech's board of directors includes social service providers, therapists, a vocational expert and a software engineer. The nonprofit also received start-up advice and consultation from Keita Suzuki, who has co-founded a similar company, called Kaien, in Japan. Aspiritech has hired and trained seven recruits with Asperger's syndrome. These recruits have since worked on software-testing projects for smartphone and cloud-computing applications. Aspiritech now offers functional-, compatibility- and regression-testing, as well as test-case development, with experience in cloud-computing platforms including Salesforce.
    This year, 60 percent of Aspiritech's funding came from donations and just 40 percent from billable hours to clients; however, the company aims to raise that ratio to 50:50 next year. Aspiritech prices its services in the same ballpark as offshore software testing companies, and pays its programmers up to $15 per hour while providing a relaxed atmosphere that encourages the development of social skills.

    Motivaltional Moment

    Drifting, without aim or purpose, is the first cause of failure.

    Without a plan for your life, it is easier to follow the course of least resistance, to go with the flow, to drift with the current with no particular destination in mind. Having a definite plan for your life greatly simplifies the process of making hundreds of daily decisions that affect your ultimate success. When you know where you want to go, you can quickly decide if your actions are moving you toward your goal or away from it. Without definite, precise goals and a plan for their achievement, each decision must be considered in a vacuum. Definiteness of purpose provides context and allows you to relate specific actions to your overall plan.