Computing Now Exclusive Content — February 2010

News Archive

July 2012

Gig.U Project Aims for an Ultrafast US Internet

June 2012

Bringing Location and Navigation Technology Indoors

May 2012

Plans Under Way for Roaming between Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks

Encryption System Flaw Threatens Internet Security

April 2012

For Business Intelligence, the Trend Is Location, Location, Location

Corpus Linguistics Keep Up-to-Date with Language

March 2012

Are Tomorrow's Firewalls Finally Here Today?

February 2012

Spatial Humanities Brings History to Life

December 2011

Could Hackers Take Your Car for a Ride?

November 2011

What to Do about Supercookies?

October 2011

Lights, Camera, Virtual Moviemaking

September 2011

Revolutionizing Wall Street with News Analytics

August 2011

Growing Network-Encryption Use Puts Systems at Risk

New Project Could Promote Semantic Web

July 2011

FBI Employs New Botnet Eradication Tactics

Google and Twitter "Like" Social Indexing

June 2011

Computing Commodities Market in the Cloud

May 2011

Intel Chips Step up to 3D

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

April 2011

Industrial Control Systems Face More Security Challenges

Microsoft Effort Takes Down Massive Botnet

March 2011

IP Addresses Getting Security Upgrade

February 2011

Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure

January 2011

New Web Protocol Promises to Reduce Browser Latency

To Be or NAT to Be?

December 2010

Intel Gets inside the Helmet

Tuning Body-to-Body Networks with RF Modeling

November 2010

New Wi-Fi Spec Simplifies Connectivity

Expanded Top-Level Domains Could Spur Internet Real Estate Boom

October 2010

New Weapon in War on Botnets

September 2010

Content-Centered Internet Architecture Gets a Boost

Gesturing Going Mainstream

August 2010

Is Context-Aware Computing Ready for the Limelight?

Flexible Routing in the Cloud

Signal Congestion Rejuvenates Interest in Cell Paging-Channel Protocol

July 2010

New Protocol Improves Interaction among Networked Devices and Applications

Security for Domain Name System Takes a Big Step Forward

The ROADM to Smarter Optical Networking

Distributed Cache Goes Mainstream

June 2010

New Application Protects Mobile-Phone Passwords

WiGig Alliance Reveals Ultrafast Wireless Specification

Cognitive Radio Adds Intelligence to Wireless Technology

May 2010

New Product Uses Light Connections in Blade Server

April 2010

Browser Fingerprints Threaten Privacy

New Animation Technique Uses Motion Frequencies to Shake Trees

March 2010

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

Screen-Capture Programming: What You See is What You Script

Research Project Sends Data Wirelessly at High Speeds via Light

February 2010

Faster Testing for Complex Software Systems

IEEE 802.1Qbg/h to Simplify Data Center Virtual LAN Management

Distributed Data-Analysis Approach Gains Popularity

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

January 2010

2010 Rings in Some Y2K-like Problems

Infrastructure Sensors Improve Home Monitoring

Internet Search Takes a Semantic Turn

December 2009

Phase-Change Memory Technology Moves toward Mass Production

IBM Crowdsources Translation Software

Digital Ants Promise New Security Paradigm

November 2009

Program Uses Mobile Technology to Help with Crises

More Cores Keep Power Down

White-Space Networking Goes Live

Mobile Web 2.0 Experiences Growing Pains

October 2009

More Spectrum Sought for Body Sensor Networks

Optics for Universal I/O and Speed

High-Performance Computing Adds Virtualization to the Mix

ICANN Accountability Goes Multinational

RFID Tags Chat Their Way to Energy Efficiency

September 2009

Delay-Tolerant Networks in Your Pocket

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

Addressing the Challenge of Cloud-Computing Interoperability

Ephemeralizing the Web

August 2009

Bluetooth Speeds Up

Grids Get Closer

DCN Gets Ready for Production

The Sims Meet Science

Sexy Space Threat Comes to Mobile Phones

July 2009

WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

New Dilemnas, Same Principles:
Changing Landscape Requires IT Ethics to Go Mainstream

Synthetic DNS Stirs Controversy:
Why Breaking Is a Good Thing

New Approach Fights Microchip Piracy

Technique Makes Strong Encryption Easier to Use

New Adobe Flash Streams Internet Directly to TVs

June 2009

Aging Satellites Spark GPS Concerns

The Changing World of Outsourcing

North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years

Materials Breakthrough Could Eliminate Bootups

April 2009

Trusted Computing Shapes Self-Encrypting Drives

March 2009

Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods

Siftables Offer New Interaction Model for Serious Games

Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates

February 2009

Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes

Hathaway to Lead Cybersecurity Review

A Match Made in Heaven: Gaming Enters the Cloud

January 2009

Government Support Could Spell Big Year for Open Source

25 Reasons For Better Programming

Web Guide Turns Playstation 3 Consoles into Supercomputing Cluster

Flagbearers for Technology: Contemporary Techniques Showcase US Artifact and European Treasures

December 2008

.Tel TLD Debuts As New Way to Network

Science Exchange

November 2008

The Future is Reconfigurable

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

by George Lawton

A short message service (SMS) syntax called Tweak the Tweet (TtT) is aiding relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. This microsyntax helps parse the information coming from Haiti's limited communication infrastructure into a structure that can be used for planning action.

Colorado University PhD student Kate Starbird developed TtT in November as a part of research on Twitter uses in disasters, such as the US 2009 Red River floods. TtT is designed to help make actionable sense of natural language tweets in close to real time. It's being supported in part by Project EPIC (Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis), which received a $2.8 million grant from the US National Science Foundation to improve the uses of social networking tools during crises.

Few Haitians have the Internet access they would need to set up a Twitter account. Currently, most messages are sent over the radio in Creole. Volunteers in Haiti are also sending SMS messages to a free phone number that Haitian cell-phone providers set up. TtT provides a way of structuring these messages so they can be parsed automatically, Starbird said.

Volunteers around the world are taking this raw information and entering it into crisis-management databases that can direct help to the right place and connect friends and family with victims. "Though we did not foresee this," Starbird said, "the major users of the syntax have been Twitter volunteers who have worked to translate tweets coming from the ground and information from other sources into the syntax. This crowd-sourcing activity extends the possibility for a syntax like this during other, future events."

Parsing the Deluge

Leysia Palen, director of Project EPIC, said that Twitter has emerged as a valuable communication tool during crises because it lets people who have only a cell phone share information. But to be useful, the information must be structured.

One way to establish a structure is to use computational techniques that make the real-time communications available to other applications. Ideally, some kind of natural-language-processing tool could automatically translate real-time communications into a database structure. But because online communications syntax isn't standardized, Palen explained, such tools are difficult to apply. TtT is an effort to provide a structure to Twitter communications so the information can be automatically processed.

"Promoting a structured format turns a deluge of information into a stream of data that can be auto-triaged and routed to appropriate organizations," said Jacob Rothstein, multisite technical coordinator for TtT. Because Twitter's API is open, any number of agencies or organizations can capture the data most appropriate to their missions, allowing for easier interoperability. The current implementation targets push mechanisms for feeding data to other systems and XML-based, open API pull mechanisms for requests.

Rothstein said the TtT team is working on developing APIs for several crisis-management applications such as the Sahana Project, Ushahidi, and Google Person Finder. They are contacting relief and crisis-management organizations that could benefit from the TtT syntax. In the future, Rothstein hopes to support crowd sourcing and collaborative filtering via a voting mechanism to handle tweets that can't be parsed into the syntax.

Simple Codes Extend Twitter Apps

Military communications have used microsyntaxes for some time, according to Stowe Boyd, founder of The group is working to develop communications code standards for a variety of application domains, such as health and crisis management.

Microsyntaxes make it easier for mobile devices to share structured information with applications. For example, is helping to develop the Open Mobile Health Exchange syntax for enabling patients to communicate their vital signs to a caregiver. "People are starting to implement machines that would communicate with the world by posting status updates," Boyd said. "Health manufacturers want to be able to develop devices that can communicate data such as weight, heart rate, and other measurements to a doctor in real time."

The first use of Twitter communication codes was the "@" sign to indicate a message was about a person. Twitter users subsequently adopted the hash symbol to indicate that a message contained information about an event or place. Boyd said the first use of hash tags in a crisis was in the San Diego fire in 2007.

Boyd said that international emergency codes could benefit from a wider symbol vocabulary — for example, an exclamation point to indicate an emergency. After things have calmed down in Haiti, plans to work with other organizations, such as EPIC, the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Red Cross, to develop a consensus on syntax for future emergencies.

TtT isn't something carved in stone, Starbird said. "After evaluating our own use, and observing the initial users struggle with the syntax's rigidity, and receiving feedback from others in the microsyntax community, we made some small but significant changes to the syntax." She sees TtT as a starting point for learning how to communicate during a natural disaster.

For more information, see the official TtT home page at The Tweak the Tweet editor, which demonstrates syntax, is available at

To learn more about microsyntax standardization efforts, see

George Lawton is a freelance technology writer based in Monte Rio, California. Contact him at