Welcome to the August 2, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Bill to Combat Comp. Science Crisis Introduced
Education Week (07/30/10) Quillen, Ian
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has introduced the Computer Science Education Act, legislation that would assess K-12 computer science education in the United States, create a commission to review the field's national landscape, and establish field-specific programs at teacher-preparation institutions. ACM says the changes implemented as a result of the bill would help address "uneven or nonexistent" standards in K-12 computer science, a lack of professional development and clear path to certification for teachers, and a decline in courses for students. "Computer science is driving an economic and cultural revolution across the globe at the same time that it is fading from the K-12 landscape in the U.S.," says ACM CEO John White. "We simply are not doing enough to help students get exposure to engaging and rigorous computer science." ACM has endorsed the legislation, as has Microsoft, Google, Intel, SAS, and the Computer Science Teachers Association.
Bringing Academic Insights to the Software Industry
The European ITEA D-MINT project has converted model-based testing into a way to cut the cost of producing complex software-based systems, and the resulting techniques are already being used by several European companies in their product development. The efficient development of complex software systems is crucial for European success in several key industry fields. "To be competitive in the future, we need to invest in and be the best in the development of such systems," says Nokia Siemens Networks' Colin Willcock. D-MINT looks for ways to effectively test complex software systems. "This project had an industrial focus and was driven by the industrial partners that all have same problem and are all desperately searching for a solution," Willcock says. He says D-MINT applied model-based testing on an industrial scale with industrial quality across eight separate domains. Applications for industry scale model-based testing include street lighting, videoconferencing units, telecommunications, cars, industrial engineering, and machine tools.
Sites Feed Personal Details to New Tracking Industry
Wall Street Journal (07/30/10) Angwin, Julia; McGinty, Tom
Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigators have found that the largest U.S. Web sites are installing new, intrusive consumer-tracking software on user's computers. The WSJ examined the 50 most popular Web sites in the United States, which account for about 40 percent of total U.S. page views, to measure the quantity and capabilities of the trackers installed on a user's computer. The 50 sites installed a total of 3,180 tracking files on a test computer used in the study. Only one site, Wikipedia.org, installed no trackers, while 12 sites installed more than 100 tracking tools each. The companies that used the most tracking tools were Google, Microsoft, and Quantcast; however, they claim to not track individuals by name and offer users a way to remove themselves from the tracking networks. Some tracking programs can record and analyze a user's keystrokes for content, tone, and clues to their social connections. Some of the tracking tools also allowed data-gathering companies to build personal profiles that could include age, gender, race, zip code, income, marital status, and health concerns, in addition to recent purchases and favorite TV shows and movies. The growing use of tracking technologies has begun to raise regulatory concerns, and Congress is considering laws that would limit tracking.
Team-Working Robots Huddle Together to Boost Comms
New Scientist (07/30/10) Hambling, David
Researchers at Adaptive Communications Research and Santa Clara University (SCU) are developing a communications system for robots that combines all of their radio antennas, while ensuring that they stay in touch with headquarters. The researchers found that by equipping a group of robots with "sparse antenna" technology, they could improve communication by extending radio range. The technology eliminates dead spots and minimizes interference from large buildings and signal jammers. The robots are programmed to arrange themselves in circular patterns or grids to help form the sparse antenna array. Signal-processing software turns the radio-controlled antennas into a transmitter and the robots' position is used to enhance the overall signal of the group. SCU's Christopher Kitts says the robot formation programs for transmission-sharing and maneuver-control are finished, and the robots needed for an integrated demonstration should be ready within three months.
Adding Temperature to Human-Computer Interaction
Technology Review (07/28/10) Mims, Christopher
Thermoelectrics is the dark horse in the race to give humans a new way to interact with digital environments. Such solid-state devices would be based on the Peltier effect and would be incorporated into video-game controllers and other similar-sized objects. A configuration that included a pair of thermoelectric surfaces on either side of a controller was announced at the 2010 ACM SIGGRAPH conference. The thermoelectric surfaces rapidly heat up or cool down to simulate conditions in a virtual environment. The temperature difference is not large--less than 10 degrees heating or cooling after five seconds. However, participants in a virtual environment responded to the little sensory nudge as if they were experiencing something like the real thing. People responded to a cooling surface in a second, and to a heating surface in about two and a half seconds. Tokyo Metropolitan University scientists collaborated with the National Institute of Special Needs Education on the research, and they believe a device with temperature-transmitting interfaces could be helpful for the blind.
IBM Scientists Create Most Comprehensive Map of the Brain's Network
IBM researchers have successfully mapped out the long-distance network of the brain of the Macaque monkey, which holds significant ramifications for reverse-engineering the brain and creating a network of cognitive computing chips. "We have collated a comprehensive, consistent, concise, coherent, and colossal network spanning the entire brain and grounded in anatomical tracing studies that is a stepping stone to both fundamental and applied research in neuroscience and cognitive computing," says IBM Almaden's Dharmendra S. Modha. The researchers concentrated on the long-distance network of nearly 400 brain regions and more than 6,600 long-distance brain connections that pass through the brain's white matter. The work builds on the publicly available Collation of Connectivity data on the Macaque brain database. The scientists' ranking of brain regions uncovered evidence suggesting that the prefrontal cortex is a functionally central part of the brain that might serve as an integrator and distributor of information. They determined that the brain network does not appear to be scale-free like Web social networks, but is exponential--a discovery that will help inform the design of a cognitive computing chip network's routing architecture.
At D.C. Conference, WPI PhD Student Presents Research on How Students Learn at Different Rates
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (07/28/10) Mell, Eileen Brangan
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Ph.D. student Zach Pardos, who competed in the 2010 Knowledge Discovery and Data-mining (KDD) Cup, presented his research on student learning at the recent Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining in Washington, D.C. Pardos' research describes better models of student learning, which could lead to improvements in educational software. He says the goal is for his research to culminate in the United States being more competitive with the rest of the world with respect to math and science education, teaching methods, and learning. "Zach's new method, which served as the foundation for his KDD solution, is a model that tracks learning rates, guessing rates, and other characteristics of the individual user," says WPI professor Neil T. Heffernan. WPI scientists also researched and developed ASSISTment, an intelligent mathematics tutoring system that helps students learn and schools track students' progress.
Biology, Computer Science Combine Efforts to Fight Cancer
University of Houston News (07/27/10) Merkl, Lisa
University of Houston researchers are developing an approach to fighting cancer using biology, computer science, theoretical physics, and chemistry. "We need to bring the expertise in a wide variety of fields to bear on these problems, because the most revolutionary stuff comes from thinking at the interface of discipline," says Houston professor B. Montgomery Pettitt. The cross-disciplinary nature of the program includes a computer science postdoctoral researcher working in a cancer biochemistry lab. "By gaining proficiency in a second technical area, these researchers will be equipped to tackle some of the most pressing problems in cancer research," Pettitt says. The researchers are developing diagnostic tools that will measure a tumor's vulnerability to drugs, in addition to predicting the outcome of treatment options, which will provide patients with more personalized treatments.
More Accurate Than Heisenberg Allows?
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen (07/27/10)
Quantum cryptography is the safest data encryption method, and takes advantage of the fact that transmitted information can only be quantified with a strictly limited degree of precision. Scientists at ETH Zurich and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (LMU) in Munich have made a discovery in how the use of a quantum memory impacts this uncertainty. "The result not only enhances our understanding of quantum memories, it also provides us with a method for determining the degree of correlation between two quantum particles," says ETH Zurich professor Matthias Christandl. "Moreover, the effect we have observed could yield a means of testing the security of quantum cryptographic systems." Quantum mechanics dictates that the measurement of a parameter can itself disturb a particle's state, and this effect is harnessed by quantum cryptography to encrypt data and thwart eavesdropping. The LMU and ETH Zurich teams have demonstrated that the result of a measurement on a quantum particle can be predicted with greater accuracy if data about the particle is contained in a quantum memory, which can consist of atoms or ions.
Data World Record Falls as Computer Scientists Break Terabyte Sort Barrier
UCSD News (CA) (07/27/10) Kane, Daniel
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers recently broke the terabyte barrier by sorting more than 1 terabyte of data in 60 seconds. The researchers also were able to sort 1 trillion data records in 172 minutes. "In data centers, sorting is often the most pressing bottleneck in many higher-level activities," says UCSD professor Amin Vahdat. To break the terabyte barrier the researchers built a system consisting of 52 computer nodes. Each node is a commodity server with two quad-core processors, 24 GB of memory, and 16 500-GB disks. "If a major corporation wants to run a query across all of their page views or products sold, that can require a sort across a multi-petabyte dataset and one that is growing by many gigabytes every day," Vahdat says. "Companies are pushing the limit on how much data they can sort, and how fast. This is data analytics in real time."
Breaking the Language Barrier: NIST Tests Afghan Language Translation Devices for U.S. Troops
National Institute of Standards and Technology (07/21/10) Brown, Evelyn
U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researchers have been conducting performance evaluations of speech translation systems for the past four years. In the most recent tests, NIST scientists evaluated three two-way, real-time, voice-translation devices designed to improve communications between U.S. military personnel and non-English speakers in foreign countries. The project, called spoken language communication and TRANSlation system for TACtical use, focuses on Pashto, a native Afghani language, but NIST also has assessed machine translation systems for Dari, which also is spoken in Afghanistan, and Iraqi Arabic. The system works by having an English speaker talk into the phone. Automatic speech recognition software distinguishes what is said and generates a text file the program translates to the target language. Text-to-speech technology converts the resulting text file into an oral response in the foreign language. This process is reversed for the foreign language speaker.
The Loneliest Humanoid in America
Popular Science (07/20/10) Ward, Jacob
The United States lags behind Japan and South Korea in the development of full-size, self-contained humanoid robots with only one such machine to its credit--the Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence developed at Virginia Tech. Part of the problem with today's modern humanoids is that they serve almost no practical purpose, while U.S. research and development (R&D) primarily concentrates on products that can deliver in the short term rather than the long term. Furthermore, components that might form a humanoid robot when combined--limbs, eyes, etc.--are evolving separately and for highly specialized tasks in the United States. For instance, U.S. research into bipedal robots is being driven mainly by a desire to develop better foot and leg prostheses. Such elements will never be assembled into a cohesive whole without a governing authority or a centralized funding agency to coordinate the convergence. It was the conclusion of a 2006 study sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation and others that Korea, Japan, and Europe devote significantly more funds to civilian robotics R&D than the United States.
Where the Engineering Jobs Are
IEEE Spectrum (07/10) Patel, Prachi
Job prospects for engineers this year have improved over last year, and new graduates accounted for eight of the 10 highest-paid degrees in the United States. Although in 2009 the average college graduate received a lower starting wage than in 2008, computer science majors saw a nearly 5 percent increase in salary to $60,526, according to the latest salary report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs for computer scientists and engineers will grow much faster than the average for other occupations over the next eight years, partly because of an explosion in wireless technologies, electronic records, data processing, and information security. Employment in industries such as aerospace, defense, and energy remain strong, and there is a shortage in the power and energy sector, says IEEE-USA past president Gordon Day. "In areas like renewable energy and the smart grid, demand has increased faster than students can be educated," Day says.
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