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Welcome to the March 29, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Scientists Achieve New World Record in Energy-Efficient Data Processing
Oneindia News (03/26/2010)

Computer scientists from Frankfurt's Goethe University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have set a new world record in energy-efficient data processing. The new system improved on the work of a Stanford University team by a factor of three to four. Ph.D. candidates Johannes Singler and Andreas Beckmann used Intel Atom processors for the data processing system rather than server processors that use more power. Their lower processing power compared to server systems was compensated by the usage of highly efficient algorithms. Moreover, the team used solid state disks, which are faster and use less power, rather than hard drives. The data processing system sorted data amounts of 10 GB, 100 GB and 1 TB, respectively, consisting of datasets with 100 bytes each. When sorting 1 TB of data, the system only spent 0.2 kWh. "In the long run, many small, power-efficient and cooperating systems are going to replace the so far used, heavy weighted ones," says professor Peter Sanders from KIT, a supervisor of Singler and Beckmann.


Study: Touchpad Phones More Demanding in Mobile Use
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (03/25/10)

Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT) researchers recently created a new research method to study how people use mobile phones. The study found that while a physical QWERTY keyboard, such as the one used on a normal computer, is fastest for typing messages when there are no disturbances, a traditional mobile phone keypad with 12 buttons is faster for typing messages if the user is distracted or cannot see the phone, says HIIT researcher Antti Oulasvirta.


Cyberattacks Are 'Existential Threat' to U.S., FBI Says
Computerworld (03/24/10) Thibodeau, Patrick

The threat from cyberattacks is so severe that it actually threatens the very existence of the United States, says Steven Chabinsky, the deputy assistant director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's cyber division. Chabinsky says the threat comes from two sources—foreign governments and terrorists. He says foreign governments use cyberattacks in order to steal state secrets and private-sector intellectual property in the hopes of undermining the stability of the U.S. government and weakening the U.S. military and economy. But Chabinsky says a bigger threat comes from terrorists, who are increasingly turning to cyber technologies in order to exploit the U.S.'s weaknesses. He says there are several steps that need to be taken in order to deal with this threat, including adopting tier levels of service at federal agencies in order to limit the ability of vital systems to interoperate with weak and vulnerable systems. Chabinsky also says that government organizations need to evaluate their risk postures and ask vendors who provide them with security tools whether they can guarantee the security of their systems. Finally, citizens should help law enforcement officials by reporting cybersecurity breaches, Chabinsky says.


Computer Scientists Empower Citizen Scientists
Binghamton University (03/24/10) Hoffman, Karen

Binghamton University (BU) computer science professor Kenneth Chiu and his students have created a Web site that enables people to access large amounts of information and learn what is happening in New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee region. Chiu says that creating the Web site helped both scientists and citizen scientists to learn about designing technology for users in the real world. Chiu and colleagues proposed a project to engage nonprofit organizations in the design, development, and deployment of advanced computer technology. The Web site displays indicators such as water temperature, wind speed, and dissolved oxygen taken from data relayed by a water-quality buoy that collects and transmits data every 10 minutes on the lake's conditions. The Lake Sunapee project deepened an interest in ecosystem modeling that Chiu will pursue in future studies.


Grant Ensures Sustainable Future for Software
International Science Grid This Week (03/24/10) Drollette, Dan

The Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) has been launched in the United Kingdom to help research communities in various disciplines manage their software tools beyond the lifetime of the original funding. The University of Edinburgh's EPCC will work with academics and software engineers at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science and the University of Manchester's Department of Computer Science to optimize strategies for strengthening, adapting, and customizing software, and to share best practices with 30 to 40 research groups. "The issue at the moment is that there are no coordinated ways of sustaining important research software once it comes to the end of its funding," says SSI director Neil Chue Hong. "The creation of the SSI will ensure that important software is sustained so that it can continue to contribute towards high quality research."


Conveyor Takes Cue From Nature
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (03/23/10) Wagner, Siobhan

University of the West of England (UWE) researchers are developing control techniques and a range of algorithms that will allow a transport system to recognize and move objects correctly. The technology's design uses low-power micro-actuators that work together to transport and position objects. Some of the initial commercial applications for the technology include the automotive and aviation industries, says UWE professor Andy Adamatzky. The technology also could be used for medical techniques such as prostheses and computer-controlled implants.


Project Helping Shape Future of 4G Communications
University of Texas at Dallas (TX) (03/24/10) Moore, David

University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) researchers are developing the key elements of next-generation mobile technology, which promises better Internet access, faster downloads, and seamless global roaming. The project focuses on the advanced algorithms required to create the complexities of 4G communications. Those complexities come from multi-user, multi-input, multi-output (MU-MIMO) technology, and from the proliferation of antennas. "In order to realize the full benefits of MU-MIMO for 4G devices, new ideas and techniques must be developed," says UTD associate professor Murat Torlak. The UTD project will use the NI FlexRIO product family and the NI LabVIEW graphical programming environment. The team hopes to implement algorithms that "mitigate the effects of radio-frequency impairments and multi-user interface, and to explore the benefits of polarization diversity," which combines pairs of antennas to minimize signal fade.


Survey: U.S. Women and Minority Scientists Often Discouraged From Pursuing STEM Careers
Diverse Online (03/23/10) Hernandez, Arelis

A lack of quality science and math education programs, persistent stereotypes, and financial issues related to the cost of education were cited as the top three causes for the underrepresentation of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, according to a new Bayer Facts of Science Education survey. The survey found that social and economic factors were the central factors of the disparity. Survey respondents faulted the education system for the obstacles that keep the STEM fields homogenous. About 75 percent of respondents said that women and minorities are absent from STEM fields because they were not identified, encouraged, or nurtured to pursue STEM studies as children. The survey also found that science teachers play a larger role than parents in stimulating and sustaining interest in science. About two-thirds of those polled said underrepresentation of women and minorities exists in their company or organization. Seventy percent of respondents said it is harder for women to succeed in STEM fields than it is for men, while 67 percent said it is more difficult for minorities than for nonminorities.


Historians Gain Own Search Engine
BBC News (03/23/10) Ward, Mark

European researchers are developing a project that will link up separate databases of source materials and allow academics or public citizens to search all the collections from one site. The project, called Connected History, will index digitized books, newspapers, manuscripts, genealogical records, maps, and images that date from 1500 to 1900. Currently there are several electronic resources that universities and commercial providers have created, but they are all separate and some require subscriptions. "What we are trying to do is join them up to create an integrated search facility so you do not have to conduct more searches than necessary," says University of Sheffield professor Robert Shoemaker. Much of the work that goes into the Connected History project will be tagging and annotating entries so classification systems are standardized. To date, 12 institutions have signed up to contribute their collections, including the University of Sheffield, the Institute of Historical Research, the University of Hertfordshire, and King's College, London.


Can the iPhone Save Higher Education?
Network World (03/23/10) Cox, John

Abilene Christian University's (ACU’s) Mobile Learning project seeks to evaluate the potential of personal digital devices and social networks to transform teaching and learning. A survey revealed reluctance among some teachers to use handsets because not all students had them, lending weight to the hypothesis that 100 percent device saturation is crucial to educator takeup, according to ACU's Scott Perkins. Some early data suggests that students with mobile devices have a stronger connection with teachers and teaching assistants, while most faculty agreed that mobile devices somewhat boosted student participation and class engagement. Perkins says the data suggests that students and teachers are adopting "mobile learning" as increasingly critical to higher education, noting that in today's academic world the challenge is evaluating the reliability of information--a challenge met by collaborative learning strategies.


Rising Demand for SQL, Linux Skills
ITWorldCanada.com (03/22/10) Nguyen, Anh

A recent Technology Demand and Supply Q4 2009 report, produced for the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), found that SQL, C#, .NET and Linux were the only skill areas where demand increased for two consecutive quarters. SQL, C#, .NET, and Linux had 20,000, 10,600, 9,500, and 5,300 advertisements for staff, respectively. The occupation with the highest demand in Q4 2009 was system developer, with 24,900 vacancies advertised. Other positions that saw a rise in demand were projects manager, senior systems developer, business analyst, PC support analyst, and senior test analyst. Demand for Web designers dropped the most compared with Q3 2009, falling 18 percent. The report highlighted C3, systems developers, senior systems developers, and senior test analysts as areas that would be "relatively difficult" for recruiters due to skills shortages. Over the last three quarters of 2009, those with Fireworks or Foxpro skills were increasingly being sought out by employers.
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Multicore Requires OS Rework, Windows Architect Advises
IDG News Service (03/19/10) Jackson, Joab

The basic architecture of modern operating systems (OSes) may need to be rethought in order to accommodate multicore processors, according to a presentation Microsoft Windows architect Dave Probert recently made at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Universal Parallel Computing Research Center. He cited the inefficiency of desktop programs' usage of multiple cores, and stressed that developers must employ parallel programming methods to squeeze the most performance out of multicore processors. "Really, the question is, Not how do we do parallel, but what do we do with all these transistors?" Probert noted. He reasoned that dropping abstractions such as user mode and kernel mode may be beneficial to the OS community, giving the OS the function of a hypervisor, which acts as a buffer between the virtual machine and the actual hardware. The programs themselves would assume many resource management tasks.


Initiative Grants Access to STEM Curriculum
Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (03/18/10) P. 7; Pember, Mary Annette

A program to help enhance American Indian students' achievement in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has been developed by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) in collaboration with tribal colleges. The result is a curriculum on climate change that faculty and students can share online. AIHEC's Katherine Mitchell says the course series helps students and faculty at small, often far-flung tribal institutions access STEM courses that might otherwise be closed to them. Students gain knowledge about climate change using medicine wheel values, which emphasize the interconnected effects of a changing climate on the earth. Mitchell says using the medicine wheel symbol exemplifies how STEM studies can be made culturally pertinent to American Indian students. AIHEC research indicates that embedding indigenous knowledge into a science curriculum contributes to students' success. [The complete article this summary references can be found on page 7 of the March 18 issue of "Diverse: Issues in Higher Education."]
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