Welcome to the January 6, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
$250 Million Initiative for Science, Math Teachers Planned
Washington Post (01/06/10) Anderson, Nick
U.S. President Obama has announced a $250 million effort to improve science and mathematics instruction in order to help the United States compete with economic rivals. The initiative will prepare more than 10,000 new math and science school teachers and provide on-the-job training for an additional 100,000 teachers over the next five years. The plan adds to a campaign for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, increasing funding to more than $500 million. In 2007, international math testing found that U.S. fourth graders trailed students in parts of Europe and Asia, and eighth graders were behind a few key Asian powers. Similar results were found in the sciences when comparing U.S. students with their international counterparts. In response to the studies, Obama created the $4 billion Race to the Top U.S. grant competition for education reform funding. The private sector also is getting involved in STEM education. For example, Intel will offer an 80-hour math course to help elementary school teachers develop expertise in math and science. "There's a lot of research that says if the teacher has that content knowledge, they can spark excitement," says Intel's Shelly Esque. Meanwhile, the Woodrow Wilson Nationals Fellowship Foundation will expand a program that places math and science teachers in hard-to-staff school districts in areas of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. The program seeks to train 700 new teachers over the next three years. Obama's plan also includes a $13.5 million expansion of the UTeach program, through which universities plan to deliver 7,000 expert teachers by 2018.
Service-Oriented Ecosystem Enables Low Cost Devices to Form Interactive 'Web of Objects'
A service-oriented environment for high-level communications between computer systems and smart embedded software components that enables even low-cost devices to cohere into a "web of objects" has been created by the EUREKA ITEA software Cluster SODA project. The technology emphasizes simplicity and ease of implementation as all devices in the web of objects communicate using the Web Services language. "With Web Services, you can directly connect your device to the ERP server without any intermediaries or protocol conversions or data manipulation," says SODA project leader Francois Jammes. The earlier ITEA SIRENA project was the site of the development of the original proof of concept for embedding Web services in inexpensive devices. SODA devised the general environment to manage applications founded on service-oriented architecture, and the ITEA project established demonstrations of full application life cycles in a number of domains, such as industrial automation, telecommunications network and terminal management, and home automation encompassing both linkage of disparate domestic systems and elderly care. The results of the demonstrations are being incorporated into real-world applications. The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards globally adopted the service-oriented ecosystem concept as the Devices Profile for Web Services (DPWS) standard in June 2009. Although the intent of DPWS bears a similarity to the universal plug-and-play standard, DPWS facilitates dynamic discovery and is fully calibrated with Web Services technology, permitting seamless integration of device-provided services in enterprise-wide applications.
K-State Computer Scientists Developing Techniques to Strengthen the Security of Information Systems for Health Care, Military Data
Kansas State University News (01/05/10) Hatcliff, John
Kansas State University (KSU) researchers, in collaboration with Princeton University (PU) computer scientists, are developing tools to secure information systems spanning large distances. The research team, led by KSU's John Hatcliff and PU's Andrew Appel, received a five-year, $3 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. The new tools involve creating mathematical and logical models that can be used by special auditing programs to make sure that information systems are secure. "We're doing foundational research on novel forms of mathematical models and logics that enable designers and analysts to precisely state what information is allowed to flow from one point to another and under what conditions," Hatcliff says. The researchers also are working with Rockwell Collins, a company that creates communications and aviation electronics. Rockwell Collins wants to apply the KSU research to several systems currently in development at the U.S. Department of Defense. The new tools also have the potential to be integrated into the health care system for use with patients' medical records, Hatcliff says. The researchers say the tools already have been used by several academic research groups and various industries from around the world.
The Grid: A New Way of Doing Science
ICT Results (01/06/10)
Scientists are using a grid network managed by EGEE-III to carry out advanced number crunching and extensive simulations. EGEE-III is the third phase of a European Union-funded project to create an infrastructure supporting European researchers using grid computing resources. "We take computing and storage resources owned by individual institutions and provide a middleware layer of software that allows these resources to be shared securely over the international research networks," says project director Steven Newhouse. Grid computing started in the physics community, but since has spread to many other disciplines, including computational chemistry, materials sciences, life sciences, environmental sciences, and the humanities. Many of the experiments would take years or decades to perform in a laboratory without grid computing. One common theme is to study how complex molecules interact with each other, with many studies searching for new vaccines or drugs. Meanwhile, a Taiwan research team hopes to minimize the damage from seismic activity by using EGEE to model the effects of earthquakes on urban areas. Another project, called AquaMaps, uses the grid to model the distribution of different fish species worldwide. EGEE also helps doctors treat rare diseases through a project to create a worldwide image library. An Italian research team recently used the grid to construct a digital model of an ancient Greek musical instrument called an epigonian, which was played in a concert in Naples last December. "The grid is actually changing the way scientists think about doing their research and the questions they can pose," Newhouse says.
Recalculating Latino STEM Success
Inside Higher Ed (01/05/10) Lederman, Doug
A new study from the University of Southern California's Center for Urban Education proposes metrics that institutional and other leaders can use to quantify their effectiveness in getting Latino students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Study co-author Alicia C. Dowd says the researchers' goal in carrying out the study was to single out 25 colleges that could be "potential exemplars" of good practices, not only because they have substantial numbers of Latino students, but because they "graduate more Latinos in STEM fields than might be expected." To develop the list, the researchers applied a formula that weighed factors such as the schools' proportion of Latino enrollment, proportional enrollment in STEM disciplines, and selectivity to a large roster of institutions. Dowd says that "the underlying assumption is that [the institutions that make the list] may be doing things [e.g., special programs, curricular innovations, smart administrative policies, culturally responsive pedagogy, focused counseling and advising, outreach to community colleges and Latino communities, Latino-targeted scholarships] that allow them" to do so. The researchers then employed the 25 selected schools to generate a pair of "benchmark equity indicators" against which other institutions might measure themselves. The first indicator exhibits those schools that appear to do a surprisingly good job of getting Latino students into STEM disciplines, while the second concentrates on the proportion of STEM degrees awarded. "The analysis directs us to these [colleges] as ones that may provide a benchmark, a starting point, for understanding what are the kinds of innovations that have been tested to bring Latinos to graduation in their fields," Dowd says.
Quantum Age Edges Closer
University of New South Wales (01/05/10) Trute, Peter
University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers have led an international team in placing an electron in a nano-sized device on a silicon chip in two different ways. The techniques are breakthroughs that represent a key step in the development of quantum computing. The team reports that it accurately placed a single electron in silicon, adding that it was not attached to an atom. The researchers call the artificial atom a quantum dot, and note that they did not have to place single atoms in precise locations in a silicon chip. The researchers also report they were involved in another project in which "nature's own way," or binding electrons to single atoms, was used to place electrons in a silicon chip. The research lays the foundation for efforts to observe and then control the electron's spin to create a quantum bit. UNSW professors Andrew Dzurak and Andrea Morello worked with Ph.D. students Wee Han Lim and Kuan Yen Tan, University of Melbourne professor David Jamieson, and Helsinki University of Technology professor Mikko Mottonen on the projects.
Worm's Eye View: Molecular Worm Algorithm Navigates Inside Chemical Labyrinth
Berkeley Lab News Center (01/05/10) Yarris, Lynn
Lawrence Berkeley Nationals Laboratory researchers say they have developed a new algorithm that could make future molecular research computer simulations easier, faster, and more accurate. Current molecular simulations are limited by the need to visually analyze the structures to set up successful simulations. However, the new approach enables structural analysis to be done automatically, which saves a lot of time, says Berkeley's Maciej Haranczyk. The key to the new algorithm was its ability to move away from the traditional idea of molecules as hard spheres, according to Haranczyk and research partner James Sethian. The researchers constructed "molecular worms" from blocks joined by flexible links. These molecular worms can provide a more accurate representation of a molecule's geometry, making the simulation more accurate as well, Sethian says. The new algorithm has several questions to answer when performing a simulation. Determining whether a molecule will be able to fit through a given chemical maze is the first question, followed by identifying the shortest route through the molecule, finding the largest probe that can fit, and calculating accessible volume. Haranczyk had been working separately, trying to automate the process by which the void spaces of porous materials are analyzed, and Sethian was working on mathematics techniques that can be used in robotic navigations. The two scientists pooled their expertise and research to develop the molecular worm algorithm. "What's exciting here is to bring together two disparate worlds to build a new technology," Sethian says. The algorithm also could be used to search for materials that can capture carbon emissions before they reach the atmosphere.
Argonne Streaming Visualization Sends Images Across the World
Argonne National Laboratory (01/05/10) Taylor, Eleanor
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory recently developed software that enables scientists to interact with their results in real time from across the United States. Argonne's Leadership Computing Facility is home to Eureka, one of the world's largest graphics supercomputers. Eureka uses software such as vl3, a volume rendering toolkit that leverages graphics hardware to visualize data sets in real time. New vl3 advances enable researchers to stream high-resolution images to a remote graphics cluster. Scientists from the National Science Foundation's TeraGrid Project and the DOE created a live demonstration using vl3. "As a team, we were able to link institutions across the country and leverage high-performance computing, visualization resources, high-speed networks, and advanced displays in real time," says Argonne's Joe Insley. The next step will be to add aspects of the localized version of the software to the wide-area version.
It's All In How You Say It: Cornell Linguist Studies How the Way We Speak Affects Meaning
Cornell Chronicle (01/04/10) Glasser, Linda
Researchers at Cornell and McGill universities are working on Harvesting Speech Datasets for Linguistic Research on the Web, a project that uses software to search for word patterns in text transcriptions of audio and video files. Cornell's Mats Rooth devised the project after working on a similar project with graduate student Jonathan Howell. The software examines distinctions of prosody--the rhythm, stress, and intonation of words--in spoken language. Rooth says that native speakers can easily identify the appropriate prosody for a given sentence, but this has been difficult to prove because of extremely small sample sizes and data. The new project uses the Internet to gain access to thousands of examples of spontaneous word patterns, which will help researchers form and evaluate theories about prosody on an unprecedented scale. "It's a new methodology, and we think a lot of new information will come out," Rooth says. McGill's Michael Wagner is Rooth's international partner on the project. The Cornell team will be in charge of data retrieval and programming, while the McGill team will focus on data analysis.
Pentagon Computer-Network Defense Command Delayed by Congressional Concerns
Washington Post (01/03/10) Nakashima, Ellen
U.S. Congressional concerns about privacy and legality are slowing plans to move forward with the Pentagon's cyberdefense system. The Pentagon's system, known as cyber command, aims to consolidate the existing offensive unit, Joint Functional Command Component-Network Warfare, and the defensive unit, Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations. The plan also calls for intensified blocking of malicious software and codes entering military networks. Technology currently exists that can detect and block malware at the gateways to the Pentagon's networks, but the ability to use that technology has led to policy questions. Privacy advocates are sensitive to government monitoring of private communications networks. The Pentagon is working with the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and other agencies to make sure the actions are legal and part of a national cybersecurity framework. Almost all of the cyber command's focus will be on defensive measures, according to Chris Inglis, deputy director of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). "Our goal is to better protect our forces," says deputy assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Butler. Although concerns remain about the government's monitoring of communication lines, defense officials say that cyber command will be used solely as a protective measure. "No information will be shared other than to support what we need to defend the networks--the defense military information networks," says NSA Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander.
IT Rationalises Risks
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) (01/04/10)
Businesses will be able to use new models from Dutch researcher Erald Kulk to obtain a more accurate assessment of the risks of their information technology (IT) projects. The models use data on IT projects from a wide range of industries. In analyzing the causes for cost overruns on IT projects, Kulk has developed a model for determining when it no longer makes sense to pursue improvements. He was able to calculate the precise point when it becomes impossible to complete a project because more work is coming in than is being completed. Kulk found that businesses tend to estimate the cost of projects more accurately and have a better chance of success when the entire organization is involved and there is an open line of communication. The models can be applied immediately because of Kulk's use of practical data. Even businesses that have not collected much data on their projects will be able to take advantage of the various benchmarks.
2020 Vision: Why You Won't Recognize the 'Net in 10 Years
Network World (01/04/10) Marsan, Carolyn Duffy
The leading Internet engineers are striving to rethink the Internet so that it is much more secure, reliable, and widely available than it is now, and the U.S. National Science Foundation is challenging researchers to invent concepts for such an Internet architecture that can be prototyped on the Global Environment for Network Innovations (GENI) virtual networking lab. One such concept is content-centric networking under development at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Content-centric networking employs file names and URLs to identify content rather than IP addresses to identify the machines that store content. PARC researcher Van Jacobson proposes that content would be assigned a structured name that can be searched for and retrieved by users, allowing them to find the nearest copy. Trust is imbued within the data itself rather than within the machine it is stored on, and Jacobson says this offers greater security because end users choose what content they want to get. Another futuristic Internet architecture that will run on the GENI infrastructure is a new mobile wireless network developed by Howard University researchers. Their research concentrates on opportunistic networks that do not boast constant Internet linkage, and which would utilize peer-to-peer communications to transfer communications if the network is inaccessible. Howard professor Jiang Li speculates that such an architecture could be useful for data transmission and be complementary to cellular networks. The GENI platform also will run a social networking-based architecture conceived by researchers at the University of California, Davis. The architecture is designed to generate connections based on trust and true identities using the format of Facebook to promulgate links on the Internet, says Davis professor S. Felix Wu.
Computer Method 'Spots Art Fakes'
BBC News (01/04/10)
Dartmouth College's Daniel Rockmore and colleagues have developed a new computer technique for authenticating art work. With sparse coding, a virtual library of an artist's works is built, and the works are broken down into their simplest visual elements. The elements can be combined in different proportions to reproduce only the author's work. Sparse coding analysis divides digital versions of each of an artist's works into 144 pieces--12 columns of 12 rows--and generates a set of basic elements--initially random shapes and forms in black and white. Each element is altered until some combination of them is able to re-create each piece of the original artwork, and then they are refined further until the "sparsest" set of visual elements is needed to recreate each piece. These refined pieces will not be able to reproduce fakes and imitations of the artwork. Rockmore says sparse coding could be used to address a wider range of art history problems. "Instead of asking 'was this painting done 40 years after these drawings?,' one might instead ask 'how are these statistics evolving over time and what does that say about the working style?,' " Rockmore says.
6 Hottest Skills for 2010
Computerworld (12/29/09) Brandel, Mary
U.S. business executives recently responded to a Computerworld survey about the availability of information technology jobs and what skills will be in demand in 2010. The skill set that is in the highest demand is programming and application development, according to the survey. New projects are being green-lighted thanks to the rebounding economy, leading to a demand for application developers who also can act as business analysts and project managers. The survey found that companies will look for programmers with knowledge of .Net, Java, Web development, open source, and portal technologies such as Microsoft's Sharepoint, says Computerworld's Dave Willmer. Demand also is growing for programmers who are familiar with programming languages such as Ruby on Rails and AJAX. Help desk and technical support professionals also will be in high demand in 2010. Many companies cut technical support as the recession hit, and those companies are now looking to refill those positions. Meanwhile, the demand for networking professionals is growing with the complexity of networks. New approaches such as cloud computing and software as a service have forced companies to hire people with expertise in networking. Project management is another area that is growing in importance. "Professionals who understand technology and how it fits in the overall business strategy are the ones who add the most value, get paid more, and have the most fulfilling careers," says analyst Tom Silver. Some companies are concentrating on hiring people with cybersecurity skills, while graduates who studied computer engineering and digital controls also are in high demand. Business intelligence was rated as the sixth most important skill, according to the Computerworld survey.
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