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     Volume 2 Issue 137 | September 20 , 2009|


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Science Feature

Hubble Astronauts Awed by New Images

Andrea Thompson

THE astronauts who repaired the Hubble Space Telescope earlier this year were on hand for the unveiling of the iconic observatory's first new images describing a sense of awe over the pictures and relief that all of the telescope's instruments were working properly.

Being on hand for the image release was "a tremendous treat," said Scott Altman, commander of the 13-day mission that repaired and revamped Hubble in May.

"It was just a very emotional feeling to look at those photos and be transported those billions of light-years away ... and knowing that we played a part in making that possible," Altman added.

During that mission, Altman and his colleagues installed two new instruments, the Wide Field Camera 3 and a new super-sensitive spectrograph, repaired the Hubble's main Advanced Camera for Surveys and a versatile imaging spectrograph, and gave the telescope new gyroscopes and batteries.

Much of the repair work was never intended to be done in space and the astronauts spent time "wondering if the things we were trying to do up there were going to be successful," Altman said.

But the astronauts had to wait for engineers to finish three months of checkout and calibration before they knew for sure that Hubble's systems were working properly.

"I am so grateful that it's working and that I didn't break anything," joked Mike Massimino. (One of the rules for the mission was "don't break the Hubble," crew member John Grunsfeld said.) But his team members joked back that he did actually break something: When a bolt holding a handrail in place refused to budge, even with specialized tools, Massimino resorted to ripping it off with brute strength. He showed the bolt and the handrail at a press conference with the crew at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., today after the image unveiling.

When Grunsfeld first saw the new images taken with the instruments he helped to repair he thought simply, "Wow."

"I don't think anybody could have ever imagined we'd have such a powerful telescope in orbit as we have now with Hubble," Grunsfeld added.

Though the team was sad to leave Hubble behind and there was some debate among them as to who was the last to touch the telescope, with astronaut Megan McArthur putting in her bid as the last to move the telescope with the shuttle's robotic arm all of the astronauts were excited to see what the new-and-improved Hubble would do in the future.

It is "the beginning of the really great adventure, which is when the science comes out," Grunsfeld said.

(Source: space.com, NewScientist)

Research project limits computer power consumption

Dynamic voltage scaling used to map computational tasks to minimise energy use
Rodney Gedda

Researchers at the University of Sydney have developed a new scheduling algorithm designed to reduce data centre energy consumption without disrupting operations.

The Energy Conscious Scheduling algorithm (ECS) has been patented by Young Choon Lee and Albert Zomaya at the university's Centre for Distributed and High Performance Computing.

Lee and Zomaya are now developing an ECS prototype, with a view to commercialising the research by late 2010.

Zomaya said the ECS software will be a suite of algorithms (written in C and C++) acting as 'middleware' that can see the operating system and hardware and then decide what to do with different tasks.

“In doing so it makes sure whatever decisions are made are energy-conscious,” he said, adding the software stack still “gives you what you want”.

“The hope is that you don't have to alter your hardware, but use a middleware layer that is portable. We want it to be as seamless as possible and it could eventually be integrated with the operating system.”

According to the university, power consumption by servers has more than doubled since 2000, with estimates of electricity use for servers worldwide costing about $US7.2 billion in 2005.

Lee and Zomaya have tested ECS with a number of benchmarks that “reflect the behaviour of many applications”.

“For example, we have used ECS for solving equations and other computing-intensive applications. They are drawn from real-world examples,” Zomaya said.

The team is hoping to have the prototype ready for early next year with a product available by the end of 2010.

Zomaya said the growing popularity of cloud computing will help IT managers reduce data centre energy costs, but more research needs to be done before large organisations can fully trust their “precious data” to cloud technology.

"ECS will work well on cloud systems as they mature, but will give a more immediate means for organisations to reduce their data centre's energy consumption,” he said.

ECS uses a processor's dynamic voltage scaling (DVS) capability to map computational tasks to minimise completion time and energy use.

"Computations are typically comprised of interdependent tasks, so the need to wait for a parent task to complete can create slack and therefore wastage," Zomaya said.

"When ECS is employed with the help of DVS capability, mapping decisions between processors, supply voltages, and tasks are streamlined to significantly lower the amount of energy required at any given time.”

The researchers claim ECS can more than halve the energy consumption of processors in data centres at “little or no operational cost”.

"This reduces slack and creates energy savings of between 10 to 60 per cent," Zomaya said.

The researchers are also looking at situations where ECS can be used to manage energy consumption by storage and networking units for a complete data centre solution.

“Bringing this into the model will make it more comprehensive,” Zomaya said.

Source: computerworld.com.au

Experimental Tech Turns Your Coffee Table Into a Universal Remote

Priya Ganapati

STOCK up on coasters. A new technology combines the coffee table with a universal remote so that people sitting around the table can tap on a screen to change the channel, turn up the volume or dim the lights.

CRISTAL (Control of Remotely Interfaced Systems using Touch-based Actions in Living spaces) is a research project in user interface that attempts to create a natural way of connecting with devices. The system offers a streaming video view of the living room on a tabletop, so users can can walk up to it, see the layout of the room and interact with the TV or the photo frame.

“We wanted a social aspect to activities such as choosing what to watch on TV and we wanted to make the process easy and intuitive,” says Stacey Scott, assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and a member of the project. A demo of CRISTAL was shown at the Siggraph graphics conference earlier this month.

The idea isn't completely novel. Microsoft showed off Surface, a multitouch display in 2008 that allows users to interact with it by using gestures.

Universal remotes have become popular in the last few years, but they are still difficult to use. Their greatest flaw, though, may be that they do not help quash those battles over who gets the remote. CRISTAL solves those problems, says Christian Müller-Tomfelde, an Australian researcher who is currently writing a book on research in tabletop displays.

“It is a clever use of the tabletop as a 'world-in-miniature' interface to control room elements,” he says.

Scott and researchers from the Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences have been working on the idea for less than a year. It started when Michael Haller, the head of the Media Interaction Lab at the university, found himself frustrated with different remotes for each device: TV, radio and DVD player.

“Every time you get a new device into the living room, you get a new remote with it,” says Scott. “And instead of difficult programmable universal remotes, this offers intuitive mapping of the different devices and home.”

CRISTAL uses a camera to capture the living room and all the devices in it, including lamps and digital picture frames. The captured video is displayed on the multi-touch coffee table. The video image of the device itself is the interface, so a sliding gesture on the image can turn up the volume of the TV, for instance. To watch a movie, drag an image of the movie cover and drop it on to the TV on the multitouch screen.

But it will be a few years before this remote is available at Best Buy. It could take five to 10 years before affordable multitouch tabletops can be created for consumers, says Müller-Tomfelde. “The investment to get such a coffee-table display into the living room is not to be underestimated, as we can see with Microsoft's Surface technology,” he says.

Scott estimates that a tabletop remote such as CRISTAL could cost $10,000 to $15,000. But she is confident that the idea can become viable enough for consumer production in a few years, especially if it can be combined with Microsoft's Surface product.

Source: Wired.com




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