Welcome to the December 10, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
WikiLeaks Avoids Shutdown as Supporters Worldwide Go on the Offensive
Washington Post (12/08/10) Joby Warrick; Rob Pegoraro
The resilience of WikiLeaks despite attempts to shut it down is a testament to the extreme difficulty governments face in their attempts to control the Internet. "The Internet is an extremely open system with very low barriers to access and use," says Google's Vint Cerf. "The ease of moving digital information around makes it very difficult to suppress once it is accessible." When WikiLeaks was blocked from using its primary Internet host, it shifted to another, while the number of mirror WikiLeaks sites exploded to more than 1,000. Concurrently, angry WikiLeaks' advocates are launching attacks against sites that have severed ties to the group. WikiLeaks was targeted for shutdown because it disclosed sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables, but over the past week it has continued to publish them online, defying efforts to impede its access to funding and Web resources. WikiLeaks' lack of a central headquarters makes it immune to legal and political pressure, while outsiders' closure attempts are complicated by the organization's multi-continental Web infrastructure. "Something that's illegal in some countries but not others is very hard to keep off the Net, even though there's been some success in keeping it out of the countries where it's illegal," notes Internet Systems Consortium president Paul Vixie.
U.S. Students Show Significant Gains in Math, Science Results
THE Journal (12/07/10) David Nagel
U.S. math and science scores for students significantly improved on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD's) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) since the last assessment in 2006. The PISA survey consists of international standardized tests given to 15-year-old students in the 33 OECD member countries, as well as other non-member countries that choose to participate, focusing on literacy, math, and science. Finland received the highest overall ranking. The United States improved six slots in the latest assessment and ranked 19th overall. Other countries with big gains included Norway, Iceland, and Poland. The United States ranked 18th in math, while South Korea claimed the top spot. In the sciences, U.S. students saw significant gains from 2006, but they were still well behind top-ranked Finland and Japan, which came in second.
Scientists Map What Factors Influence the News Agenda Across the EU
University of Bristol News (12/08/10)
University of Bristol computer scientists have analyzed more than a million news articles in 22 languages to discover what factors contribute to the news agenda in 27 European Union (EU) countries, making it the first large-scale content analysis of cross-linguistic text using artificial intelligence technologies. "Automating the analysis of news content could have significant applications, due to the central role played by the news media in providing the information that people use to make sense of the world," says Bristol professor Nello Cristianini. The researchers examined the 27 EU countries and selected the top 10 news outlets from each one based on the volume of Web traffic. They collected 1,370,874 news articles from August 1, 2009 through January 31, 2010. The Bristol team found connections between certain countries that make sense based on their geographical location, such as Greece and Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Latvia and Estonia, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and Belgium and France. This approach "opens up the possibility of analyzing the mediasphere on a global scale, using huge samples that traditional analytical techniques simply couldn’t countenance," says Cardiff University professor Justin Lewis.
Greedy Algorithms Best for Multiple Targets
University of Skovde (12/09/10)
In military situations with more than 10 targets, greedy algorithms work best for an air defense system, according to researcher Fredrik Johansson at the University of Skovde's Informatics Research Center. Threat Evaluation & Weapon Allocation (TEWA) systems are used to protect targets from enemy attacks. "I have developed methods to test which algorithms work best in practice," Johansson says. The determining factor in choosing an algorithm is the number of weapons in the TEWA system and the number of targets the system is aiming at. "If the TEWA system needs to keep track of more targets and weapons, we should use what are called greedy algorithms instead," Johansson says. Greedy algorithms work with broad guidelines and do not test every last alternative in finding the best solution. "You can't let it take many seconds between the system discovering a threat and the operator deciding whether or not to fire," he says.
Thai Robots Clash for Shot at World Championship
Bangkok Post (12/08/10) Don Sambandaraksa
The Asian Institute of Technology recently hosted the Thailand iNexus robot championships, which will decide who participates in the global championships at Techfest, hosted by the Indian Institute of Technology. This year's challenge, called Mars Manoeuvre, required teams to collect resources on Mars, which was represented by a raised wooden grid with white lines. The team members controlled a mother ship that had to deploy two robots to collect four blocks, return to the mother ship, which then had to retrieve the robots. The entire process could take no more than six minutes. The Rajamangala University of Technology team was named the champion, as their robot was able to move around to collect the blocks very quickly. Those systems that were based on computer science had very minimalistic designs, but had very good logic programming, says contest judge Thavida Maneewarn. The Dhurakij Pundit University team received the best design award for their use of advanced technologies, including Zigbee communications, pneumatics, and magnetic components.
IT Hiring Projected to Increase in Q1 2011
InformationWeek (12/07/10) W. David Gardner
Information technology (IT) employment is expected to rise next year as 11 percent of 1,400 CIOs from U.S. companies surveyed by Robert Half Technology said they plan to increase IT hiring in the first quarter of 2011. Three percent of survey respondents plan cutbacks, so overall hiring should increase 8 percent. "CIOs are reinitiating previously deferred projects and are more willing to invest in augmenting their teams," says Robert Half executive director John Reed. "As companies maximize operational efficiencies and strive to make information more accessible, they rely on their IT departments." Network administrator skills, cited by 17 percent of CIOs, will be in highest demand, followed by security (16 percent), and software development (11 percent). CIOs are also looking for Windows administration, desktop support, and database management skills. Hiring will be most intensive in the East North Central region, followed by the West South Central region. More than half of CIOs said finding suitable candidates would be a challenge.
Students Compete With Robots Built of Legos
Baltimore Sun (12/05/10) Lorraine Mirabella
Ten teams of elementary and middle-school students in Baltimore recently competed in the opening round of the FIRST Lego League of Maryland's annual competition. The teams have been meeting during school or in after-school programs to build motorized robots out of Legos and program them to complete tasks on Lego-built courses. Over the next two months, teams across the state will be among the 64 that will advance to the state championship in February, and the winners will go on to the world championship in St. Louis in April. Interest in the event has risen since the annual competition came to the state eight years ago. Twenty teams competed then, but today there are 192 vying for trophies and the chance to go to the state and national competitions. The event, created by FIRST founder Dean Kamen, is designed to spark interest in science, technology, and engineering among elementary and middle-school students. "Kids relate to it really well," says Jamie Gurganus, an engineering program coordinator at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which is FIRST's partner in Maryland. "Who doesn't love Legos?"
2.79M Project Set to Create European-Wide Logistics System
Aston University (12/07/10) Alex Earnshaw
A European Commission-funded project is bringing researchers and logistics partners together to develop a European-wide logistics system designed to improve the efficiency of the continent's transport networks. The Advanced Predictive-Analysis-Based Decision-Support Engine for Logistics (ADVANCE) project will collate and analyze the transportation information of hauling companies working within the logistics network and predict their future logistic requirements. The computer-based information system will help hauling companies deploy their vehicles more efficiently, and the software will help reduce miles traveled and ensure trucks are filled to capacity. "The patterns and dependencies that exist in the data can only be meaningfully processed by intelligent data-mining approaches," says Aston University computer scientist Aniko Ekart. "This system will provide a dual perspective on transport requirements combining instant analysis to guide short-term decisions about [truck] deployment as well as longer-term plans for managing the network behavior as a whole."
Elusive Spintronics Success Could Lead to Single Chip for Processing and Memory
Queen Mary, University of London (12/06/10)
The proactive control of magnetically polarized current has been demonstrated for the first time by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Fribourg. The team investigated how layers of lithium fluoride--a material that has an intrinsic electric field--can modify the spin of electrons transported through giant magnetoresistive (GMR) spin valves. "Using the direct spectroscopic technique Low Energy Muon Spin Rotation, our experiments have visualized the extracted spin polarization close to buried interfaces of a spin valve," says Fribourg professor Christian Bernhard. The method uses the magnetic properties of muons. The muons are shot into the material and when they decay, the decay products carry information about the magnetic processes inside the material. The development raises the possibility of combining computer memory and processing power on the same chip. "This is especially exciting, as this discovery has been made with flexible organic semiconductors, which are set to be the new generation of displays for mobile devices, TVs, and computer monitors, and could offer a step-change in power efficiency and reduced weight of these devices," says Queen Mary's Alan Drew.
ALTO Protocol Could Improve Peer-to-Peer Networks
PC Magazine (12/06/10) Mark Hachman
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is developing Application-Layer Traffic Optimization (ALTO), a peer-to-peer system designed to improve the performance of client applications and help resolve disputes between Internet service providers (ISPs). ALTO will provide metadata to different peers, describing maximum bandwidth, minimum cross-domain traffic, lowest cost to the user, and other information. Georgetown University professor Eric Burger says ALTO provides more information for peer selection, which can improve peer-to-peer performance, lower ISP costs, and help solve disputes between peering companies. "When your client decides to grab content from someone else's network that excess traffic is going to cost an ISP money," Burger says. The IETF wants computer industry leaders to advance ALTO's development. "Our results show that a surprisingly high number of commercial ISPs suffer from poor latency to the local DNS resolver," according to Technical University of Berlin researchers. "Our findings also reveal that third-party DNS resolvers do not manage to redirect the users toward content available within the ISP, contrary to the local DNS ones."
Diminishing Returns? U.S. Science Productivity Continues to Decline
Scientific American (12/06/10) Robert Fortner
U.S. science research efficiency is caught in a downward trend, according to a new National Science Foundation (NSF) study, which found that the quantity of U.S. research output, as measured by an analysis of published scientific papers, is declining despite dramatically increased research funding. The study follows an earlier NSF study, which concluded that the number of science and engineering articles published in the world's major peer-reviewed journals flattened in the early 1990s, even as funding and staff increased. "[T]he evidence suggests that the growth trend either slowed or stopped altogether at that time," says the latest report. Explanations for the decline suggested by the NSF report include greater research complexity, more comprehensive articles, higher costs for journal submission, and research expenditures overtaking inflation—yet none of these factors is conclusive. In addition, the study found that the more abundant resources were not channeled into greater patenting activity. "There is no convincing evidence that patents are substituting for publications," the report says.
UA-Linked Effort Aims to Retool Workings of Net
Arizona Daily Star (12/06/10) Victoria Blute
University of Arizona researchers and colleagues from nine other institutions are collaborating on the Named Data Networking project to restructure the Internet's architecture. The architectural change should focus on improving performance, security, and usability, says Arizona computer scientist Beichuan Zhang. The researchers want to develop a system that places a unique marker on the packet of information where the data resides, which will allow specific users to download that data, and then the router can forward the data to other users who request it. This type of system means that the data only travels once, minimizing the wait time for users. "The Internet was built in the early 70s, and the fundamental architecture hasn't changed much," Zhang notes. "However, almost everything else has changed. The applications have changed." The Palo Alto Research Center has already developed open source software that will form the basis for the Named Data Networking project's final system. The research team plans to develop a prototype system within three years, Zhang says.
21st-Century Imaging Helps Scholars Reveal Rare 8th-Century Manuscript
Chronicle of Higher Education (12/05/10) Jennifer Howard
University of Kentucky researchers are working on a project that aims to develop computer software and hardware for a digital-scanning system that can virtually visualize ancient texts and manuscripts. The researchers developed algorithms that can picture all the details of the artifacts digitally, and they are focusing on an eighth-century illustrated Latin manuscript known as the St. Chad Gospels from Lichfield, England. The manuscript contains detailed images that will allow scholars to study how people started to use illustrations to elaborate on written stories, says Kentucky professor William F. Endres. The St. Chad Gospels experienced serious water damage and shows signs of wrinkling or warping. The new digital version of the manuscript will allow researchers to bypass the damage to see original details on the pages. The key component to the scanning process is the multispectral imaging of each page, which allows researchers to see nearly invisible levels of detail. The images are projected onto window-sized screens and can be moved and enhanced to focus on any detail. "The field is turning a corner, from digitizing of antiques just so we can get beautiful resolutions of them to this idea that now we're actually collecting data," says Kentucky's W. Brent Seales.
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