Welcome to the October 15, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Hiring Up Almost 50 Percent Since 2009, Dice Says
InfoWorld (10/14/10) Jon Brodkin
A recent Dice report found that the number of full-time U.S. technology jobs has increased 46 percent since last year, while contractors' hourly rates are rising. The total number of tech jobs rose from 51,439 to 70,798 in the last 12 months, with more than 4,000 additional jobs expected to be added by the end of the year, according to Dice. "In tech, both full-time and contract hiring have been in lock-step with recruitment activity in both up about 50 percent since the lows of mid-2009," says Dice's Tom Silver. Silicon Valley companies posted their highest job count in two years, according to Dice, while the number of open tech positions in the Seattle region has doubled in the past year. Dice is "hearing anecdotal reports that contractors' hourly rates have begun creeping up across the board, a response to the age-old IT challenge: the skills shortage," Silver says. Java developers, database administrators, virtualization specialists, and project managers are among the most in demand information technology positions.
India Greenlights Secure OS Project
EE Times India (10/14/10) K.C. Krishnadas
India announced plans to develop its own operating system (OS) for sensitive applications. V.K. Saraswat, director general of India's Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), says the development and maintenance of India's own OS source code is key to securing the country's computer networks. DRDO plans to establish software engineering centers in Bangalore and New Delhi, each staffed with about 25 scientists, to work on the project. The agency is partnering with the Indian Institute of Science, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and the Center for Development of Telematics on the OS development project. The project could be "a fairly costly affair," according to Saraswat, who did not indicate how long development would take. However, he says the OS also could be used commercially.
Malware Aimed at Social Networks May Steal Your Reality
PC World (10/13/10) Darlene Storm
Researchers at Ben Gurion University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Deutsche Telekom Laboratories collaborated on "Stealing Reality," a paper that predicts a new generation of malware based on social-networking data. The researchers say the malware will target and extract information about relationships and record patterns of behavior in real-world social networks, a technique that will be more dangerous and harder to detect than traditional malware. A malware behavioral pattern attack can harvest a victim's "rich identity" profile, which could be more valuable than the demographic information such as gender and age, according to the researchers. "A Stealing Reality type of malware attack, which is targeted at learning the social communication patterns, could 'piggyback' on the user-generated messages, or imitate their natural patterns, thus not drawing attention to itself while still achieving its target goals," the researchers write. Such attacks could be particularly problematic because "the victim of a 'behavioral pattern' theft cannot easily change his or her behavior and life patterns."
DARPA Seeks to Shape Young Minds
Government Computer News (10/12/10) Henry Kenyon
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched an initiative to increase the number of computer science (CS) graduates by using a variety of online tools and educational strategies to guide interested middle and high school students into CS careers. The computer science, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (CS-STEM) program's goal is to expand the talent pool of applicants available for jobs to support secure Department of Defense networks and to facilitate new computer science developments. The CS-STEM project focuses on a distributed online community, an online robotics academy, and an extracurricular online community for students. The first section, called Teach Ourselves, was developed by the University of Arizona and is intended to introduce students to the knowledge economy. The second part of the program is Carnegie Mellon University's Fostering Innovation through Robotics Exploration (FIRE) online robotics academy. FIRE enables students to hone their problem-solving skills using robotics technology. The final part of CS-STEM is an extracurricular online community for middle and high school students that will feature collaborative activities, puzzles, games, Webisodes, workshops, and other content aimed at attracting students to the site on a daily basis.
New Image-Manipulation Software Makes Morphing Quicker
PhysOrg.com (10/13/10) Lin Edwards
Professional and amateur filmmakers will be able to manipulate the image of actors without computer editing each frame using software developed by researchers in Germany. The researchers say MovieReShape enables filmmakers to quickly and easily make actors appear slimmer, muscular, or taller. Christian Theobalt and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics took three-dimensional laser scans of 120 men and women of different shapes, sizes, and poses, and merged them into a single model that can be manipulated into almost any body size, shape, or pose. They used bespoke and off-the-shelf software to track the silhouette of an actor's body through a sequence of frames. MovieReShape is then used to map the silhouette onto the malleable model, and to change the model to produce the desired image characteristics, which carry over into every frame. The technology also should make it easier for advertising firms to tweak ads.
UC Riverside Physicists Pave the Way for Graphene-Based Spin Computer
UCR News (CA) (10/13/10) Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California, Riverside (UCR) researchers have successfully achieved tunneling spin injection into graphene, which they say is a key step toward developing spin-based computers. Spin computers take advantage of an electron's spin state to store and process data while using less energy, generating less heat, and performing much faster than silicon-based computers. "Graphene has among the best spin transport characteristics of any material at room temperature, which makes it a promising candidate for use in spin computers," says UCR professor Roland Kawakami. "We found a 30-fold increase in the efficiency of how spins were being injected by quantum tunneling across the insulator and into graphene." The researchers also found that when a tunnel barrier is placed in between the ferromagnetic spin detector and the graphene, the spin lifetime increased to about 500 picoseconds, compared with typical values of 100 picoseconds. "This is good news because it means the true spin lifetime in graphene must be longer than reported previously--potentially a lot longer," Kawakami says.
NSF Graduate Fellowships Now Recognize STEM Education as Valid Research Field
Science Insider (10/12/10) Jeffery Mervis
Ten years after the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) began funding the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education Program, NSF officials have formally recognized that improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is a legitimate research activity for a graduate student. The NSF fellowship program is due to triple in size in response to the Obama Administration's plan to increase the number of domestic students entering the scientific workforce. "We wanted to clarify things, and say that we support research in this area," says NSF's James Lightbourne. University of Colorado, Boulder's Noah Finkelstein says the new designation is "a big positive move." He says it recognizes that STEM education is "an important, legitimate pursuit for graduate research and for the portfolio of activities that NSF and scientists are responsible for."
Spanish Researchers 'Train' a Computer to Classify Pictures and Videos Basing on the Elements That They Contain
University of Granada (Spain) (10/11/10)
A computer search and image classification can be conducted based on visual information using a new technique developed by researchers at the universities of Granada and Cordoba. Currently, the name of a file, folder, or feature such as date or size are used to conduct computer searches and classify images. However, the new computer technique is designed to train computers to interpret the visual contents of a video or picture. As a result, videos and pictures could be automatically classified based on whether individuals or specific objects are present in images. The new technique can estimate the position of upper limbs, and automatically classify where people appear in a specific pose in a video scene. The technique also can detect video sequences based on actions such as walking, jumping, and bending down. Cordoba's Manuel Jesus Marin Jimenez notes that companies have shown considerable interest in having computers automatically interpret the visual content of images and video.
ECS Research Advances Identification of People by Their Ears
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (10/10/10) Joyce Lewis
A new biometric technique developed by computer scientists at the University of Southampton can automatically identify people by their ears. The technique uses light rays to highlight circular and tubular structures, such as the curved rim at the ear, known as the helix. The elliptical shape of the helix can be extracted and used as the basis of a method for discovering, localizing, and normalizing an image for ear biometrics. Southampton professor Mark Nixon notes that ears have a rich and stable structure that gets bigger as people age, and remains fixed in the middle of the side of the head against a predictable background. The researchers say the new technique had a 99.6 percent rate of success in identifying ears from more than 250 images, even with hair concealment and possible confusion with spectacles. "The Image Ray Transform technique may also be appropriate for use in gait biometrics, as legs act as tubular features that the transform is adept at extracting," Nixon says. "The transform could also be extended to work upon [three-dimensional] (3D) images, both spatial and spatio-temporal, for 3D biometrics or object tracking."
Intel Looks Beyond Chips to Next Big Computing Experience
Computerworld (10/11/10) Sharon Gaudin
Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner says the company wants to move beyond the PC business. "As we move out into areas like phones and TV and health, we're not so constrained," Rattner says. "We developed a smart TV design. We had a specific experience in mind and then built the silicon for the experience." He says Intel designed the Google TV experience, and although Google wanted to take the experience in a different direction, they were very interested in the silicon that Intel used. Rattner says Intel is also developing context-aware devices. "We're talking about what it means for a device to be context aware and that changes the relationship between user and owner," he says. "We want to give these machines the ability to fuse the hard senses--like where you are and are you dancing or riding a bike?--and soft sensor information--like your calendar, your to-do list, and your social networks." Social networking will be a key source of information for these context-aware devices, Rattner says.
Large Study Shows Females Are Equal to Males in Math Skills
University of Wisconsin-Madison (10/11/10) David Tenenbaum
University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) researchers recently completed a new examination of existing studies on the mathematical skills of boys and girls and found them to be substantially equal. The studies tracked people from grade school to college and beyond. A second portion of the new study examined the results of several large, long-term scientific studies, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In both cases, the difference between the two sexes was so close as to be meaningless, says UWM professor Janet Hyde. "One reason I am still spending time on this is because parents and teachers continue to hold stereotypes that boys are better in math, and that can have a tremendous impact on individual girls who are told to stay away from engineering or the physical sciences because 'girls can't do the math,'" Hyde says. The new findings reinforce a recent study that found gender to be the least important among nine factors that influence the math performance of 10-year-olds.
Innovation: The Smartphone's Shape-Shifting Future
New Scientist (10/11/10) Gareth Morgan
Future smartphones could come in a variety of shapes and configurations. For example, University of Washington (UW) researchers have developed SqueezeBlock, a squeezable cell phone that uses tiny motors built into the casing to mimic the behavior of a spring. SqueezeBlock has pressure plates that detect how much force is being applied to the casing, and the motors control the amount of resistance exerted in response. "You can imagine squeezing the phone to give you a little bit of information on its status--ring level, messages--without having to look at it," says UW researcher Shwetak Patel. Meanwhile, Deutsche Telekom Laboratories researcher Fabian Hemmert has developed a phone that "inhales" and "exhales" at a steady rate, which can increase suddenly to indicate an incoming call, or fade away slowly as the battery dies. Hemmert also is researching tactile feedback mechanisms that could enable phones to change their shape or weight.
Progress Is Slow on Cybersecurity Goals, GAO Reports
NextGov.com (10/07/10) Jill R. Aitoro
The White House's failure to designate roles and responsibilities to federal agencies has impeded efforts to carry out President Obama's strategy for securing computer networks, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report. Of the 24 recommendations in the president's May 2009 cyberpolicy audit, only two have been fully carried out, GAO says. Those are the appointments of a cybersecurity policy and activities coordinator and an official to regulate privacy and civil liberties. The other 22 recommendations have been implemented only in part. For instance, the plan for managing cyberidentities, which would help verify the identities of people, organizations, and computers commuting over the Web, remains in draft form, though the Obama administration plans to finalize it before November. Also, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is creating a framework that defines areas with further research and development potential, but it is not expected to be finished until next year. Officials told GAO some recommendations, such as enhanced information sharing about cyberattacks and vulnerabilities, would take several years to completely roll out.
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