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News Clips - July 16, 2010

From July 9 to July 15, Carnegie Mellon Media Relations counted 554 references to the university in worldwide publications. Here is a sample.


Op-ed: Economics behaving badly
The New York Times | July 14
IT seems that every week a new book or major newspaper article appears showing that irrational decision-making helped cause the housing bubble or the rise in health care costs. Such insights draw on behavioral economics, an increasingly popular field that incorporates elements from psychology to explain why people make seemingly irrational decisions, at least according to traditional economic theory and its emphasis on rational choice. Behavioral economics helps to explain why, for example, people under-save for retirement, why they eat too much and exercise too little and why they buy energy-inefficient light bulbs and appliances. And, by understanding the causes of these problems, behavioral economics has spawned a number of creative interventions to deal with them. ***Carnegie Mellon faculty member George Lowenstein co-authored this op-ed with Duke University faculty member Peter Ubel.


Can this autonomous helicopter improve medevac safety?
Popular Mechanics | July 13
In a first for autonomous helicopters, a Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Lab (CMU) and Piasecki Aircraft Corporation team has successfully flown a full-size helicopter past low-level obstacles to safe touchdowns in unimproved areas—completely autonomously.  Medevac rescues represent some of the most dangerous flying for helicopter pilots. The new system could help lower the risk with completely autonomous helicopters and enhanced autopilots.


Technology's disasters share trail of hubris
Associated Press/USA Today | July 12
Paul Fischbeck, a professor of decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, said the existence of a blowout preventer — a final backup system which in this case didn't work — often encourages people to take extra risks. But the oil industry was so confident in its safety that it used to brag when compared to another high-tech gold standard: NASA. "They looked more successful than NASA," said Rice University oil industry scholar Amy Myers Jaffe. "They had less mechanical failures."


Consumer reports slams new iPhone
The Wall Street Journal | July 13
Still, Apple sold more than 1.7 million units of the iPhone 4 in three days after its launch, making it the company's most successful product launch ever. Customers who order the new phone today won't get it for three weeks, Apple says on its website. Piper Jaffray & Co. analyst Gene Munster said the review could "cause people on the margin outside of the Apple core community to think twice" about buying an iPhone. "It's unusual, particularly because it's Apple," said Martin Griss, director of Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab research center. "People expect more of them."


Why face recognition isn't scary – yet | July 9
Michael Sipe, vice president of product development at Pittsburgh Pattern Recognition, a Carnegie Mellon University split-off company that makes face-recognizing software and is funded in part by the U.S. military, said the family photo programs are a response to the hassles of curating digital photo collections. "In general, there's this tsunami of visual information -- images and video -- and the tools that people have to make sense of all that information haven't kept pace with the growth of the production of that information," he said. "What we have is a tool to help extract meaning from that information by using the most important part of that media, which is people."


Concerns spread over environmental costs of producing shale gas
The New York Times/ClimateWire | July 9
In it, Fox raises the specter of unchecked corporate power as gas rigs proliferate across the Pennsylvania landscape, poisoning the groundwater and ruining people's lives. The gas industry has condemned the film as environmental propaganda and wildly exaggerated. The tone of the film aside, the Marcellus debate in Pennsylvania still rests in the middle and is almost entirely about the still-evolving science of hydrology. "We're all affected by what happens in the watersheds," said Jeanne VanBriesen, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Center for Water Quality in Urban Environmental Systems. "Water here moves in and out of urban and rural environments."

Education for Leadership

Some 'hard fun' with robots | July 14
Those smart techie folks at Carnegie Mellon University have put together a program aimed at boosting young students' interest in computer science with the hopes that they can convince more teenagers to enter scientific and technological careers. The school launched on Tuesday an educational initiative, with $7 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to develop tools that allow middle and high school students to interact with robots to learn about computer science, science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- you know, CS-STEM. Carnegie Mellon officials hope the initiative can reverse what it calls "a significant national decline in the number of college students majoring in" the sciences.

Arts and Humanities

Culinary resolution
The American Prospect | July 9
The sandwich: tomorrow's olive branch? In May, artists Jon Rubin, John Peña, and Dawn Welesky launched Conflict Kitchen, a gastronomic effort to further cultural understanding by offering up the fare of countries that are in conflict with the United States. They hope their take-out restaurant, which operates out of a modest storefront window in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood, inspires meaningful conversation on political and cultural issues in the respective country, ranging from women's rights to dating norms. The menu, which focuses on a different country every four months, began with Iran and currently offers a $5 homemade Iranian kubideh sandwich, or spiced ground beef wrapped in a leavened flatbread with onion, mint, and basil. Apart from prompting conversations with curious passersby, Conflict Kitchen also sparks wider discussion by hosting public events and talks. On June 5, it hosted a meal, broadcast over Skype, between 30 Tehran locals and 40 Pittsburgh residents. TAP spoke with Rubin, an art professor at Carnegie Mellon University, about the idea behind the restaurant.

Information Technology

Essential elements of a successful public-safety network
Urgent Communications | June 13
Long before joining the FCC, I spent years striving to improve public safety communications, working directly for public-safety agencies and establishing a public-safety research program at Carnegie Mellon University, where I was a professor. Beginning with a paper published in 2005, my work demonstrated why this country needs a nationwide wireless network for public safety, and why federal resources are needed. A network that meets public-safety standards is more expensive than one that merely meets commercial standards. Who pays for this? Commercial providers may be willing to pay in return for spectrum, but only where spectrum is sufficiently valuable. One Carnegie Mellon study found that even if access to 20 MHz of spectrum is offered for free — but with an obligation to meet public-safety standards — commercial providers would find the arrangement unprofitable in all rural and most suburban areas. Moreover, localities saying they might deploy public-safety networks using their own funds also tend to be big cities. Accordingly, most of the country would lack the resources without some new funding source.


Who is responsible for cybersecurity?
Federal News Radio | July 8
Who's in charge of cyber security? The answer isn't so obvious, since cyber security is the concern of many parts of the average federal agency. The CIO, the security staff, the program manager, they all have an interest in cyber. Joining us to help sort it out is Jody Westby, an Adjunct Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Mellon CyLab; CEO of Global Cyber Risk LLC; and author of "Governance of Enterprise Security, the CyLab 2010 Report.


Op-Ed: Cancer and green chemistry
Boston Globe | July 10
The President's Cancer Panel recently issued a stunning report on the role of environmental factors in causing cancer. For those wondering why America has yet to win the war against cancer, the panel minces no words: “The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated.’’ If you ignore the cause, how can you prevent cancer and really win the war? ***Carnegie Mellon faculty member Terry Collins wrote this op-ed with Teresa Heinz Kerry and John Warner.

Regional Impact

How to fuel start-ups and keep talent in Pittsburgh
Pop City | July 14
When you think of Pittsburgh's burgeoning hi-tech economy, you probably envision a 20-something computer science whiz in a very cool office space furnished  with bright bean bag seating,  pool tables, bowls of M&Ms and big primary colored letters on the wall that spell GOOGLE.  You would be right.  But you would only be half right. Because the inspiration behind a number of the new technology based spin-offs in Pittsburgh is a business-savvy grandmother who also happens to be a renowned mathematician and computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Professor Lenore Blum is the founder of Project Olympus – an initiative that she founded in 2007 to foster the regional commercialization of the groundbreaking research emerging in Carnegie Mellon's laboratories and classrooms.


Maglev device wins honor for CMU professor
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | July 9
R&D Magazine named an invention by Carnegie Mellon University professor Ralph Hollis as one of the 100 most technologically significant products of the past year. Hollis, of the university's Robotics Institute, created a magnetic levitation haptic interface -- a bowl-shaped device with wire coils and magnets that allows users to guide or interact with remote or virtual environments. Users can sense textures and even slight movements and control remote robots or simulate dental procedures for training, for example.


Mathematics could be anti-terror tool
United Press International | July 13
"The area has exploded, in terms of the types of techniques and technologies," says computer scientist Kathleen Carley of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "There are huge, rapid advances in this area with, of course, some very interesting challenges," she says. Other researchers are seeking simple mathematical formulas that could describe the optimal arrangement of a secret terrorist cell and provide clues on how to destroy it. "If you have a mathematical model that can describe the structure of a terror network -- and the model works -- then you can predict the future," says Alexander Gutfraind, a mathematician at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.


Correct me if I’m wrong...
The Economist | July 12
The prototype uses an open-source speech-recognition program called Pocket Sphinx, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, but Dr Kristensson reckons it would be easy to apply the same approach to commercially available programs like Nuance’s Dragon. So far Dr Kristensson and Dr Vertanen have carried out only limited trials on a handful of people. Even so, these have achieved operating rates of around 22 words per minute—considerably higher than the 16 an average user can achieve using predictive texting. With the likes of Google, Nuance and Vlingo now offering mobile speech-recognition services for phones, and the development of entertainment systems and vehicle communication, such as Ford’s Sync platform, Parakeet may be flying into a growing market.