Welcome to the April 16, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Sector in Hiring Drive
Wall Street Journal (04/16/10) P. A1; Tuna, Cari; Vascellar, Jessica; Tam, Pui-Wing
As the technology industry recovers from the recession, many companies have sharply boosted their hiring plans. The hiring increase began in late 2009 when demand for tech goods and services stabilized after months of decline. Google recently hired 786 new employees and plans to continue to look for new talent. "We expect to continue hiring aggressively through the year," says Google's Patrick Pichette. Intel recently revealed plans for its first significant hiring in five years, aiming to hire 1,000 to 2,000 new workers in 2010. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems plans to hire 2,000 to 3,000 employees this year, after hiring 2,100 new workers at the end of 2009. Smaller Silicon Valley companies also are hiring. Twitter has added about 125 employees since May 2009 and plans to continue to add workers, says Twitter CEO Evan Williams. LinkedIn recruited 184 people last year and already has hired 154 people in 2010. The company expects to add an additional 300 people this year, says LinkedIn's Steve Cadigan. Dice.com currently lists more than 62,000 tech positions nationwide, up almost 22 percent from last year.
Entertainment Needs Drive Innovative Mobile Phone Uses in India
Georgia Tech News (04/13/10) Terraso, David
A Georgia Institute of Technology (GT) study on how people in India use mobile computing devices suggests that users develop new and innovative uses for them when they have sufficient motivation and are not dissuaded by user-interface obstacles. GT's Thomas Smyth and researchers from Microsoft India interviewed people from lower-income neighborhoods about their mobile phone usage. They found that most people used their phones for transferring media files via Bluetooth, in addition to calling and texting. Sending a text message requires three or four steps, but transferring data on a phone with Bluetooth requires 15 to 20 steps. "So for people whom you might not expect to have a lot of expertise in this area, the motivation to transfer music and video files to be entertained seems to be enough to turn these complicated user-interface obstacles into mere speed bumps," Smyth says. Some studies have claimed that usability barriers prevent people from using technology to improve their lives, but Smyth and his colleagues found that users had developed complex ways to obtain, view, and share their entertainment content.
At Internet Conference, Signs of Agreement Appear Between U.S. and Russia
New York Times (04/15/10) Markoff, John
Security specialists from eight countries met at a Russian-sponsored conference on Internet security to discuss their differences on how governments view cyberspace. "The Russians have a dramatically different definition of information security than we do; it's a broader notion, and they really mean state security," says U.S. ICANN representative George Sadowsky. Russian officials note the two nations agreed to restart bilateral discussions that commenced in Washington last November. White House cybersecurity official Christopher Painter cites substantial improvement in international law enforcement cooperation in recent years, and stresses that strong laws, trained crime investigators, and efficient global cooperation are necessary to respond to cyberspace-based challenges. For years the United States and Russia have repeatedly refused to sign cybersecurity and/or cybercrime pacts offered by either side. But there have been encouraging signs at the recent conference. In a panel discussion on computer crime, the former chief counsel of the U.S. National Security Council and an official with the Russian Interior Ministry concurred that removing anonymity is the most crucial step in fighting Internet crime.
Multitoe Project Offers New Touch Interface
IDG News Service (04/12/10) Barber, Nick
Multitoe, a system that turns a floor into a touchscreen, was on display at the recent CHI 2010 conference in Atlanta. Researchers from the Human Computer Interaction group at Germany's Hasso Plattner Institute built a proof of concept interface that is designed to interact with a user's feet. Multitoe sits flush with the floor and lights up when someone stands on it. The system is able to determine the identity of users based on the soles of their shoes, which are slightly different and of various sizes, and store their profiles. The technique for direct manipulation on floors is called frustrated total internal reflection (FTIR) with high camera resolution, and from below it injects light into the pane of glass on which a user stands. Pressure sensors and gait detection enable the software to determine when someone wants to walk around the room and when someone wants to use the system. The prototype was small enough for about one user, but the researchers say the concept could scale to the size of a warehouse floor.
Interview: Wendy Hall on What Web Science Could Mean for Businesses
Computer Weekly (04/12/10) Thomson, Rebecca
University of Southampton professor Wendy Hall, who is involved in the newly founded, Internet-focused Institute of Web Science, says the interdisciplinary field is experiencing rapid growth as governments increasingly acknowledge the value the digital economy will bring to the developed world in the coming decades. Among the disciplines that make up Web science are economics, law, sociology, philosophy, and technology. Hall says Web science will concentrate on the Internet's potential impact, especially as it begins to transform into the Semantic Web thanks to a new generation of services and businesses. She notes that the public sector is spearheading the transition to a "linked" or data Web rather than academia or industry. As an example of the kinds of services enabled by the Semantic Web, Hall cites an application called Asbometer, which integrates geographical data and information on anti-social behavior orders to supply a service showing how many people have such a disorder in a specific region. She stresses that businesses need to keep pace with Web developments, given the potential for upheaval similar to the inversion traditional business models experienced with the advent of the first version of the Web.
3 Finalists in Prize for Technology Breakthroughs
Associated Press (04/14/10) Huuhtanen, Matti
The Technology Academy of Finland has announced the finalists for the international Millennium Technology Prize. Cambridge University professor Richard Friend was selected for research in plastic electronics and inventions in optoelectronics that have lead to the creation of illuminated wallpaper and inexpensive organic solar cells. University of Manchester professor Stephen Furber was selected for designing microprocessors that are in 98 percent of the world's cell phones. And Michael Graetzel, a German-born chemist who is the director of the photonics and interfaces laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne in Switzerland, was selected for inventing low-cost, high-performance cells now used in solar panels. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in Helsinki on June 9, and will receive a $1.1 million award. The runner-ups will each receive $204,000.
Networked Networks Are Prone to Epic Failure
Wired News (04/15/10) Keim, Brandon
Boston University (BU) researchers have found that networks that are resilient on their own become fragile and prone to catastrophic failure when they are connected to other networks. The researchers say this vulnerability extends to networks of all types, including electrical grids, water supplies, computer networks, roads, hospitals, and financial systems. The researchers modeled the behavior of two networks, each possessing broad degree distribution. During testing, these networks needed only a few nodes to fail before the networks completely crashed. "Networks with broad distributions are robust against random attacks," says Boston University physicist Gerald Paul. "But we found that broad interconnected networks are very fragile." The interconnections fueled a cascading effect, with the failures coursing back and forth. Indiana University's Alessandro Vespignani says the fact that the networks crashed so quickly is even more important. Research into linked systems could help create more resilient networks, or identify existing weaknesses. "We must recognize the possibility of big disasters, and take steps to prepare," says BU physicist Eugene Stanley.
Researchers at TAU Claim Computerized Voting System Unsafe
Ha'aretz (Israel) (04/15/10) Shtull-Trauring, Asaf
Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have found major flaws in a new computerized voting system that has been proposed to replace ballot boxes in Israeli elections. The researchers say the system does not protect against sophisticated attempts to forge and falsify votes. Adopting the new computerized voting service would present a danger to democracy, says TAU professor Avishai Wool. The proposed system uses a voting computer and a smart card. Voters receive an empty smart card, hold it up to the computer, and select the desired candidate. After voting, they insert the smart card into the ballot box. Election officials would then verify if there is a discrepancy between the figures recorded by the computer and those in the smart cards. The researchers disrupted the system's functions by erasing information using several different methods. "We succeeded in disrupting the computer from a distance of two meters in the laboratory," Wool says. However, government officials say that anyone seeking to disrupt the voting system would need large amounts of energy in the immediate vicinity of the computer. Johns Hopkins University professor Avi Rubin notes that "computer scientists have for some time succeeded in demonstrating that electronic voting systems are not safe."
Exposing Hackers as an International Deterrent
Technology Review (04/13/10) Talbot, David
An international group of computer scientists, law professors, military leaders, and others recently met at Russia's Moscow State University for a conference on methods of deterrence for online hackers. Naval Postgraduate School computer scientist James Bret Michael argued that surveillance on computer networks and other forms of intelligence can provide the clues needed to expose a potential hacker, and this exposure may often serve as a deterrent. Retired Russian general Vladislav Sherstuyuk announced a new research collaboration consisting of government officials from Russia and China, as well as academic institutions including the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad, and the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany. The agreement will "undertake common research on international information security," Sherstuyuk says. The collaboration reflects an increased international concern over the potential devastation that computer attacks can cause. "The U.S. needs to work with Russia because it is one of the hotbeds of crime and hacker activity," says SUNY Albany computer scientist Sanjay Goel.
Connect 2 Congress Lets You Track Your Senator, One Vote at a Time
Georgia Institute of Technology (04/12/10) Terraso, David
Georgia Institute of Technology student Peter Kinnaird has developed Connect 2 Congress, software that tracked how senators voted in the 110th U.S. Congress. Connect 2 Congress works by analyzing congressional voting records, obtained from GovTrack.us, with a type of mathematical analysis called a Poole-Rosenthal score. Connect 2 Congress assigns a value to every vote. Each yes vote received a one and each no vote received a zero. Senators who abstained from voting received a nine, which excluded them from the count for that issue. Once the numbers are assigned, the system creates a graph so that users can get a quick overview of Congress, or examine changes in behavior over time. Connect 2 Congress also conducted a leadership analysis on each member. "So, if you sponsor a bill you get a full point, and if you co-sponsor a bill you get anywhere from no points to a full point, depending on when you attached your name to it," Kinnaird says. He is building a new version of Connect 2 Congress that tracks the current 111th Congress. Kinnaird also plans to release a version for the House of Representatives.
A Computer System to Control and Forecast Air Pollution
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (04/05/10) Martinez, Eduardo
The Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's School of Computing has developed a system that can control and forecast air pollution. The system is capable of making real-time air quality forecasts and analyzing the impact of emission sources. It has already been used in real-world applications in various locations. The authorities tested the system in forecasting mode, during which it makes daily 72-hour air pollution forecasts in runtime mode, displaying the information online. The system also has been used in historic mode to forecast the impact of industrial sources on air quality with the goal of identifying air pollution problems. The system's most complex mode, real-time mode, uses both runtime and historic mode to detect pollution alerts and estimate the potential impact of each of the modeled sources and suggest which sources should reduce emissions and by how much. In all cases where the system was applied, the validation module confirmed the reliability of the final results, thereby endorsing the tool as suitable for atmospheric modeling.
The Next Silicon Revolution
UCSD News (04/09/10) Kane, Daniel
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) electrical engineers are leading an effort to merge silicon chip technologies with wireless communications tools in the millimeter and microwave range to create the technical foundation for superfast, ubiquitous wireless networks that use little power and offer high capacity. "The UCSD circuits groups are making microwave and millimeter-wave circuits and systems that are approaching the complexity of a microprocessor and allowing flexibility and functionality for communications that currently is not available," says UCSD professor James Buckwalter. The research can be applied to different technical challenges, one of which is consumers' need to send and receive data in real time via wireless connections and cell phone networks. One key to advancing the technology is developing silicon circuits that can operate at millimeter and microwave frequencies. The goal is to enable inexpensive, silicon-based wireless communication links in a frequency range that can support data transfer rates as fast as 10 gigabits per second over a kilometer.
How the Internet Will Change the World--Even More
Science News (04/10/10) Vol. 177, No. 8, P. 32; Gaidos, Susan
Pew Internet & American Life Project director Lee Rainie discusses the results of a survey of experts on how technology will develop and impact society in the year 2020. Technological improvements are anticipated, but accompanying them is an uncertainty among people and institutions' adaptability to these improvements. Rainie says the maintenance of privacy and anonymity will become more difficult in the social media era. Most experts concur that Internet usage will augment human intelligence by 2020, with Rainie speculating that memorization and storage may become less important, while screen literacy will be one of many new necessary skills. "Reading, writing, arithmetic and retrieval will become key, as people who can find [information] fastest and make sense of it will be at a marked advantage over those who struggle to find information," says Rainie. Health care also is projected to improve thanks to the advent of mobile technology and wearable devices. Meanwhile, the technology community is hopeful that new technologies will make government operations more transparent and help facilitate smarter policies. On the other hand, some experts lament that education is failing to keep pace with technological change.
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