Welcome to the January 19, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Battle for Tech Geeks: Street vs. Silicon Valley
Wall Street Journal (01/18/11) Kristina Peterson
Wall Street firms are aggressively competing with Silicon Valley for computer programmers and software engineers by offering more laid-back office environments, higher wages, and more perks. Trading firms are providing in-office game rooms, tickets to sporting events, and company outings as incentives for new employees. The competition for new hires starts on college campuses, where trading firms work to lure idealistic graduates away from California-based technology companies. Recruiters note that a key advantage to working at a trading firm is being able to see your work implemented and translate into profits right away. "You're going to work on projects that are going to contribute to the firm within weeks of being here," says Hudson River Trading's Adam Nunes. Higher pay is another key factor to trading firms' success in attracting young talent. A new high-frequency trading programmer can expect to make at least $75,000 in the first year, plus a bonus of up to 50 percent, while tech firms generally pay about 10 percent less, according to Objective Paradigm. However, Silicon Valley companies can offer a lifestyle that is not tied to normal business hours with more potential for telecommuting, notes Foxhunt Staffing CEO Mary Voss. Another hurdle trading firms have to overcome is a lack of name recognition.
Beating the Competition
Max Planck Gessellschaft (01/17/11) Birgit Krummheuer
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Gottingen, and the University of Gottingen have mathematically described the influence of single additional links in a network. Using computer simulations, the researchers tracked the growth of networks link by link. Their study found that a single new connection can dramatically enhance the size of a network, whether the connection is an additional link in the Internet, a new acquaintance for a circle of friends, or a connection between two nerve cells in the brain. The researchers focused on the intermediate growth stage, when elements are beginning to sporadically connect into small groups, but before the entire system is linked. After a certain number of new links, there is a sudden growth spurt, as the size of the largest network in the system is enhanced dramatically. The researchers would like to determine which forms of competition in natural systems from biology and physics imply this rapid growth and study the consequences of growth spurts.
Fruit Fly Nervous System Provides New Solution to Fundamental Computer Network Problem
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (01/13/11) Byron Spice
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Tel Aviv universities are drawing on inspiration from a fruit fly's nervous system to develop models for distributed computer networks. A fruit fly's nervous system cells organize themselves so that a few cells act as leaders that connect the other nerve cells together. "It is such a simple and intuitive solution, I can't believe we did not think of this 25 years ago," says Tel Aviv's Noga Alon. The researchers found that the fly's nervous system has an efficient design for networks in which the number and position of nodes is unclear, such as in wireless sensor networks, environmental monitoring, and in systems for controlling swarms of robots. In computing, developers have created distributed systems using a small set of processors that can communicate with all of the other processors in the network, a group known as the maximal independent set (MIS). However, computer scientists have struggled with determining the best way to choose an MIS, but after studying the fly's nervous system, the researchers created a computer algorithm that provides a fast solution to the MIS problem. "The run time was slightly greater than current approaches, but the biological approach is efficient and more robust because it doesn't require so many assumptions," says Carnegie Mellon professor Ziv Bar-Joseph.
GAO, DOJ Seek H-1B Visa Reforms
Computerworld (01/14/11) Patrick Thibodeau
About half of H-1B visa users work in the computer industry, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report analyzed data from several government agencies to determine where H-1B visa holders come from and what skills they possess. The report recommends ways the government can collect better data, report on H-1B visa use, and monitor and enforce H-1B visa rules. It also recommends creating a Web site that businesses can use to post their intent to hire H-1B workers. The report found that from 2000 to 2009, most H-1B users were born in Asia, with about 47 percent coming from India and nine percent coming from China. Systems analysis and programming was the leading occupation approved for H-1B visas during that time period at 42 percent, followed by college and university education at seven percent. The report also noted that for computer-related workers, H-1B workers tended to earn less than U.S. workers, and that H-1B workers are "often not paid wages associated with the highest skills in their fields." However, the report says that wage data is inconclusive, and could be partly explained by differences in age and experience. The report also found that one percent of all employers accounted for nearly 30 percent of all H-1B workers from 2000 to 2009.
Keeping Your Digital Secrets Safe
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (01/18/11)
Tel Aviv University researchers have developed Locacino, a mobile social network that enables users to customize the way their personal information is presented online. The researchers say the software provides better security than is offered by other social networks and it enables researchers to study how people share information over the Internet. The program allows users to follow their friends' physical location and see who is viewing their profile, which could help some users modify their privacy settings. After conducting research at Carnegie Mellon University, the researchers, led by Eran Toch, found that users tend to be more private with information that concerns their social life. The system allows some friends to view certain information during the week, but not on weekends. The researchers want to compare how Israeli users view online privacy compared to U.S. users. For example, Israelis would never block their parents from Facebook, but it is common in the United States, Toch notes.
Improving Plants: New Software Tool Quantifies the Complex Structure of Leaf Venation Networks, Enabling Advances in Plant Biology
Georgia Tech Research News (01/13/11) Abby Robinson; John Toon
Georgia Tech researchers have developed the Leaf Extraction and Analysis Framework Graphical User Interface (LEAF GUI), software that analyzes leaf images to examine their vein structures to better understand photosynthesis and the mechanical properties of leaves. "The software can be used to help identify genes responsible for key leaf venation network traits and to test ecological and evolutionary hypotheses regarding the structure and function of leaf venation networks," says Georgia Tech professor Joshua Weitz. LEAF GUI enables researchers to measure the characteristics of thousands of leaves more quickly than other manual imaging tools. "The network extraction algorithms in LEAF GUI enable users with no technical expertise in image analysis to quantify the geometry of entire leaf networks--overcoming what was previously a difficult task due to the size and complexity of leaf venation patterns," says Georgia Tech's Charles Price. The researchers also are using LEAF GUI to extract network and areole data from leaves taken from different conditions. "Because the software and the underlying code are freely available, other investigators have the option of modifying methods as necessary to answer specific questions or improve upon current approaches," Price says.
EU Sets Up a Cloud Infrastructure to Facilitate Collaboration in Data-Intensive Environments
Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) (01/12/11) Eduardo Martinez
The European Union's Dicode project is using high-performance computing technologies and data processing methods to analyze large data sources. Universidad Politecnica de Madrid's Biomedical Informatics Group (GIB) is participating in the project, along with seven other teams from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Greece. GIB's team, led by professor Victor Maojo, will focus on integrating services, tools, and project resources. GIB researchers also are developing new tools and services for the project platform. Vast amounts of collected data can make management both complex and time consuming. Dicode project researchers aim to find technological responses to these data management issues, and will release all of the services and applications they develop under an open source license. The researchers want to reduce the data-intensiveness and complexity at important decision points, making workers more productive and enabling them to find more creative solutions to problems.
Driving Blood-Flow Research at the Petascale
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (01/17/11) Eric Gedenk
Brown University researchers are using Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Cray XT5 Kraken supercomputer to develop three-dimensional models of the human arterial tree to enhance predictive capabilities in certain diseases. "High-performance computing makes realistic modeling of vascular and hematological diseases, from a whole organ down to protein-level representation of red blood cells, a possibility," says Brown's George Karniadakis, who is leading the research. The researchers also are developing software based on a combination of the NEKTAR code, used in flow dynamics, and the LAMMS code, used in particle dynamics, to analyze blood flow. The new simulations are "sparking even more research to go deeper and understand the dynamics of arterial walls' motion," says Brown's Leopold Grinberg. Modeling the arteries led to the discovery that red blood cells become stiffer when a person has contracted malaria. The researchers also found that aneurysms produce sounds in the 100 Hertz range, which can be used to diagnose future complications. Grinberg says that as computational power and algorithms improve, many more discoveries in prediction, diagnostics, and computer simulations are likely.
Mobile Telephony Without Base Stations
Linkoping University (01/13/11)
A program that uses the latest generation of smartphones to deliver messages even when the infrastructure for telecommunications has been disabled was recently presented by Linkoping University researchers. Linkoping's Mikael Aslpund developed a system that acts as a complement to current communication channels in emergency situations. The system enables smartphones to send messages directly from one phone to another, which would be beneficial because it can be used by everyone, without special equipment, and can be organized instantaneously to solve problems. There are challenges that would arise with this system, such as gaps and network partitions, but the researchers developed a program to overcome these issues. The researchers tested the system by developing a plan that enables banks to continue to provide service to its customers even in times of a network breakdown.
Researcher Aims to Train the Web to 'Forget' Sensitive Files
Vancouver Sun (Canada) (01/12/11) Shannon Proudfoot
University of Washington professor Tadayoshi Kohno has developed Vanish, a program that can implant a virtual expiration date on sensitive files posted on the Internet. Vanish encrypts the information and data entered through a Web browser with a secret code that is split up among random computers in the network. As computers leave the network, they take parts of the code with them, leaving the information indecipherable and irretrievable. The program currently focuses only on text, but it also could be applied to pictures, music, and any other kind of data posted online, Kohno says. He compares the program to wearing special decoder goggles that only work for a certain period of time. "If you put those decoder goggles on, they can see your message; but a couple of years later, someone looking at your Facebook post, they just see what looks like garbage because the special decoder goggles aren't there anymore," Kohno says.
Samsung Joins IBM in Research for Future Chips
Wall Street Journal (01/12/11) Don Clark
Samsung and IBM are engaged in an alliance to conduct advanced research into the development of smaller semiconductors, and the results of the effort are expected to focus especially on technologies that will be valuable for chips employed in cell phones and other mobile devices. Samsung and IBM have already worked together on developing production processes with circuit dimensions rated at 28 nm, and IBM's Gary Patton says the technology should start turning out chips this year. The new collaboration will extend that research to technology required to develop chips with circuit dimensions smaller than 20 nm. Among the technologies expected to be needed at those levels are three-dimensional transistors that will be constructed to rise up above the chip's surface, according to Patton. Samsung will also be among the companies sending researchers to the Albany Nanotech Center, which is concentrating on the cutting edge of chip development. Samsung's Ana Hunter reports that her company is already working on the frontiers of memory chip manufacturing technology, but admits that Samsung has "been a little behind in the past in the logic side."
Chen Analyzes ‘Proper Scoring Rule'
Dartmouth Online (NH) (01/12/11) Nathan Yeo
Harvard University professor Yiling Chen recently received a U.S. National Science Foundation $500,000 grant for her work in prediction markets. In financial betting markets, in which experts might have incentives to lie in order to capitalize on others' mistakes, proper incentives become especially important for the best results, according to Chen. She developed a proper scoring rule--a formula that helps to determine how much a consultant should be compensated--based on various factors, such as how accurate the predictions are. "If we are rewarding the expert according to this formula, if the expert is rational, he will report truthfully," Chen says. The proper scoring rules must factor in the actual outcome of the event, and they could involve the predictions of different experts by providing incentives based on how they improve the prediction. Each expert would pay another expert based on the probability that the first expert’s predictions are wrong, Chen says.
New Approach to Modeling Power System Aims for Better Monitoring and Control of Blackouts
NCSU News (01/12/11) Matt Shipman
North Carolina State University (NCSU) researchers have developed a way to use high-resolution power measurements, known as synchrophasors, to create consistent models of large power systems that can predict when they are weak. Synchrophasors are real-time measurements of voltages and currents in large power systems and are measured using devices called phasor measurement units (PMUs). "PMUs are comparable to surveillance cameras that continuously monitor the complex dynamics of groups of people in busy places, and indicate how different people respond and interact with each other," says NCSU professor Aranya Chakrabortty. "This research is a major step toward helping us understand how synchrophasor technology can be used to model the complex behavior of any large, geographically distributed power system, especially taking into account the system's interconnected nature." The approach also enables technicians to determine how the clusters are connected to each other by comparing different PMU measurements. "Once you have modeled the clusters and determined their connections, our algorithm enables you to model the interactive behavior of the clusters within the larger system in the face of large disturbances," Chakrabortty says.
ICANN Transparency Vital to the Web, Says .Org Chief
V3.co.uk (01/13/11) Phil Muncaster
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has struggled to launch its potentially industry-transforming generic top-level domains (gTLDs) initiative, while the rollout of the .xxx domain for adult content has been met with disapproval from government representatives. "Where ICANN really needs to grow is in the transparency of its processes," says the Public Interest Registry CEO Maarten Botterman. ICANN's Government Advisory Council was not in favor of the decision to allow new TLD registries to sell their own domains, he says. The new rules would allow for the creation of any TLD with up to 64 characters, which would let large brand owners become TLD registries. Another important issue that is yet to be resolved is determining whether ICANN or national governments should be in charge of deciding who should run the official domains of cities, such as .paris or .london. ICANN also is focused on securing the infrastructure against distributed denial-of-service attacks. "Our focus is not as much on protecting individual .org sites but the registry itself from being taken offline," Botterman says.
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