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Welcome to the May 11, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


College Grads Find Economy Improving, But Slowly
CNet (05/09/11) Jay Greene

New graduates with bachelor's degrees will be hired at an increased rate of about 10 percent this year, the first increase in two years, according to a survey of 4,600 employers by Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI). The survey found that job prospects were the best for graduates with degrees in engineering and computer science. "Technical skills will always get picked up first," says CERI director Philip Gardner. Meanwhile, a recent National Association of Colleges and Employers study found that 63 percent of employers who plan to hire new college graduates will pick engineering majors. Graduates with degrees in engineering and computer science also start with higher salaries, according to CERI's survey, which found that computer programming graduates receive an average yearly salary of $49,229. CERI also found that companies with more than 4,000 employees are planning to increase hiring new graduates with bachelor's degrees by 11 percent in 2011.


Foreigners Are Taking Their Tech Talents Back Home
USA Today (05/10/01) Jon Swartz

Many foreign-born executives, engineers, and scientists are returning to their native countries due to better opportunities, strict immigration laws in the United States, and California's high cost of living. A recent study from University of California, Berkeley visiting scholar Vivek Wadhwa found that almost half of 264 immigrants surveyed expressed interest in starting companies in their native countries. Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Education estimates that the number of U.S.-educated Chinese returning to China last year was up 25 percent from 2009. Analysts also note that the number of Internet companies in India that hope to become that country's version of Amazon, Groupon, and Expedia is booming. As tech workers leave the United States despite high demand from tech companies, President Obama is trying to overhaul immigration laws and visa restrictions. In the early 2000s, the national cap on work visas was 195,000, while it is just 65,000 today. In addition, fewer foreign students are going to Silicon Valley to earn engineering and science degrees, according to the Silicon Valley Index, which annually measures the Valley's economic climate. The Startup Visa Project recently helped shape the Startup Visa Act of 2010, which would grant immigrant entrepreneurs a two-year visa if they have the support of a qualified U.S. investor.


'Surrogates' Aid Design of Complex Parts and Controlling Video Games
Purdue University News (05/10/11) Emil Venere

Purdue University researchers say they have formally defined a new class of software called surrogate interaction, which enables designers to more easily manipulate the features of complex objects such as automotive designs or animated characters. Surrogates are graphical representations of real objects, with icons on the side labeling specific parts of the figure, says Purdue professor Niklas Elmqvist. Surrogate interaction uses the representations to provide users with a more intuitive interface than drop-down menus. Although the approach has been used commercially and in research, it had yet to be officially defined, which could facilitate its development and use in different applications, says Purdue professor Ji Soo Yi. "We believe that formalizing this family of interaction techniques will provide an additional and powerful interface design alternative, as well as uncover opportunities for future research," Elmqvist says. He says surrogate interaction could have applications in computer games by enabling players to change the attributes of animated characters or manipulate multiple objects simultaneously. It also could be used to make maps interactive.


World's Servers Process 9.57ZB of Data a Year
Computerworld (05/09/11) Lucas Mearian

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers estimate that the world's 27 million business servers processed 9.57 zettabytes of information in 2008. "Most of this information is incredibly transient: It is created, used, and discarded in a few seconds without ever being seen by a person," says UCSD professor Roger Bohn. The study included estimates of the amount of data processed as input and delivered by servers as output. The researchers used cost and performance benchmarks for online transaction processing, Web services, and virtual machine processing tasks to reach their estimates. "The exploding growth in stored collections of numbers, images, and other data is well known, but mere data becomes more important when it is actively processed by servers as representing meaningful information delivered for an ever-increasing number of uses," says UCSD researcher James Short. The study found that entry-level servers processed about 65 percent of the world's data in 2008, while midrange servers processed about 30 percent, and high-end servers processed about 5 percent.


Talk With a Dolphin via Underwater Translation Machine
New Scientist (05/09/11) MacGregor Campbell

Georgia Tech researchers and the Wild Dolphin Project are collaborating on the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry project, which aims to work with dolphins to develop a language that uses features of the sounds that wild dolphins naturally make. The researchers, led by Georgia Tech's Thad Starner, have developed a smartphone-sized computer with two hydrophones that can detect the full range of dolphin sounds. The system involves divers attaching the computer to their chest and wearing a mask equipped with light-emitting diodes that show where a specific sound originates from. Divers also will have a combination mouse and keyboard that will be used to select what type of sound to make in response. Divers will play one of eight keywords, such as seaweed or bow wave ride, which were created by the researchers. The software analyzes the sounds the dolphins make in response and uses those responses to decipher the fundamental units of dolphin communication. The algorithms are designed to examine unfamiliar data sets and pick out interesting features. By associating behaviors and objects with specific sounds, the researchers hope to decode the rudimentary components of dolphins' natural language.
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New Stanford Computing Lab Imagines the Mobile-Social Future
Stanford University (05/09/11) Andrew Myers

Stanford's Mobile and Social Computing Laboratory (MobiSocial) includes researchers from AVG, Google, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson who are working to create open source mobile-social media. The MobiSocial Lab is developing a new class of mobile and social computing technology that makes consumers' interests a priority while maintaining the positive components of modern social media. For example, MobiSocial's Junction platform allows researchers to create applications that share links and photos using near-field communication. The researchers have developed apps with features such as anywhere-anytime communications with networks of friends and efficient e-commerce, while promoting personal data security and privacy. One app, Mr. Privacy, provides a platform for social applications using a more private technology that is based on email. "It is the most widely adopted social communication technology and it's an open standard--meaning you can share information, links, and conversations with friends outside of proprietary networks," says MobiSocial's Monica Lam. MobiSocial researchers also have developed SocialFlow, an app that allows users to organize their different social subgroups.


Seven Questions for Prith Banerjee, Hewlett-Packard's Head of Research
All Things Digital (05/09/11) Arik Hesseldahl

Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) cloud computing strategy entails enabling consumers to effortlessly and securely migrate between the consumer and enterprise domains, says HP Labs director Prith Banerjee in an interview. He says that HP Labs soon will release a scalable, dependable, low-cost way of providing enormous amounts of storage to customers, immediately followed by a compute-as-a-service play. Banerjee describes the latter as virtual compute cells and memory cells and networking that enable people to produce very secure multi-tenant applications to ensure that a customer cannot impact the app of another customer on the cloud. Banerjee also notes that HP's new information analytics lab is focusing on tying structured and unstructured data together to carry out very deep analytics for both consumers and enterprises. Banerjee says that HP had three objectives in mind when it began its work on scalable storage--tremendous scale, availability, and low cost--and that HP Labs' erasure coding innovation has enabled it to achieve these goals. "Once HP has this kind of public cloud storage, we think we'll have a service that is very resilient," he says.


Mobile Phones Could Be Charged by the Power of Speech
Telegraph.co.uk (05/08/11) Richard Gray

Sungkyunkwan University researchers have developed a method for turning sound into electricity, enabling a mobile device to recharge its battery using background noise, music, or the user's voice. "The sound that always exists in our everyday life and environments has been overlooked as a source," says Sungkyunkwan's Sang-Woo Kim. "Sound power can be used for various novel applications, including cellular phones that can be charged during conversations and sound-insulating walls near highways that generate electricity from the sound of passing vehicles." The technology involves strands of zinc oxide placed in between two electrodes. The sound waves vibrate the zinc oxide, and this movement generates an electrical current that can be used to charge the battery. A prototype of the technology converted 100 decibels into about 50 millivolts of electricity, which is enough energy for low-power applications such as self-powered sensors and body-implantable tiny devices. Although 50 millivolts is not enough to charge a cell phone, the researchers plant to manipulate the material the wires are made of to produce more electricity at lower decibel levels.


A Touch Screen That Plays Sticky
Technology Review (05/10/11) Kurt Kleiner

University of British Columbia researcher Vincent Levesque and colleagues recently demonstrated a prototype device that uses variable friction as feedback. The experimental touchscreen, called a tactile pattern display (T-PaD), uses high-frequency vibrations to create a thin layer of air between the glass and the user's finger. The finger slips over the layer of air but catches slightly on the glass when the vibrations are turned off, and varying the vibrations as the finger moves can cause different parts of the screen to feel slick or sticky. T-PaD uses piezoelectric discs positioned against a glass plate, and when a current is run through the discs they vibrate at 26 kilohertz and transmit the vibrations to the glass. Lasers track the motion of a user's finger and vary the vibrations accordingly. For example, the screen will feel sticky when a user attempts to drag a file into a folder. Users also will feel the finger move over tactile tick marks as they turn a wheel or move a scroll bar on the screen, and the screen will feel as if it is covered with grating when the vibrations are turned on and off very quickly. The researchers say that during testing users completed tasks more quickly and generally liked the touchscreen.


Heads Up, Robots: A Tiltable Head Could Improve the Ability of Undulating Robots to Navigate Disaster Debris
Georgia Tech Research News (05/09/11) Abby Robinson

Georgia Tech researchers have developed a robot that can move through granular material, and have shown that changing the shape or adjusting the pitch of the robot's head affects the robot's movement through complex environments. "We discovered that by changing the shape of the sand-swimming robot's head or by tilting its head up and down slightly, we could control the robot's vertical motion as it swam forward within a granular medium," says Georgia Tech professor Daniel Goldman. The researchers designed the robot with a wedge-shaped head that forms an angle of 140 degrees with the horizontal plane. The researchers attached a wedge-shaped piece of wood to the head of the robot, which is made up of seven connected segments, and studied how the robot's vertical motion could be controlled by changing the incline of the head to five different settings. The tests mirrored research conducted in physics experiments and computational models. "The ability to control the vertical position of the robot by modulating its head inclination opens up avenues for further research into developing robots more capable of maneuvering in complex environments, like debris-filled areas produced by an earthquake or landslide," Goldman says.


Computers Sing to a Better Tune
EurekAlert (05/06/11)

The University of Tokyo's Akio Watanabe and Hitoshi Iba have developed a technique for getting computers to sing like humans. The researchers used an evolutionary process to devise a novel algorithm for comparing the frequency curves from real human performances and using them to develop a more realistic curve to apply to a synthetic song. They simplified the optimization process for creating vocal frequency curves and developed a frequency model that can emulate human expression in a synthetic vocal. The researchers produced the first generation by making eight individual curves with random parameters and feeding them into Vocaloid, software that can create lead vocals and harmony parts from an input of lyrics and musical score. A music producer then listened to the effect of each curve on their synthetic vocal and moved slider bars in the software interface to reflect how well each curve worked. The best curves were used to create a second generation of curves, which underwent crossover and random mutation and then the process was repeated from the second step. The best frequency curves eventually emerged to make the synthetic vocal indistinguishable from human singers.


Julich Supercomputing Center Boots Up GPU Cluster
HPC Wire (05/05/11)

Germany's Julich Supercomputing Center (JSC) has gone live with its new Julich Dedicated GPU Environment (JUDGE) cluster, which will be used for ensemble simulations in climate and atmospheric research, as well as for data analysis and simulations on big data sequences in biology and brain research. JUDGE will enable JSC to optimize the applications for the highest performance. The hybrid system uses graphical general processing units (GPGPUs) and conventional processors. GPGPUs can help boost performance without significantly increasing energy consumption, which is important because improvements in energy efficiency will allow further supercomputing advancements in the future. NVIDIA's Stefan Kraemer says the JUDGE cluster is a good example of how computers need to continue to be developed in the future, following the target of exascale computing. "This is valid not only in regard to performance, but also to energy consumption and energy efficiency," he says. "Pilot projects like JUDGE play a key role in this process and are a key step on the way to hybrid systems."


Forecast for Processing and Storing Ever-Expanding Science Data: Cloudy
Scientific American (05/04/11) Larry Greenemeier

Scientists that previously relied on time-shared access to high-performance computers to analyze large datasets are now turning to cloud-based services. The U.S. National Science Foundation and Microsoft recently awarded about $4.5 million in funding to 13 research projects dedicated to studying cloud services for scientific uses. The projects include the J. Craig Venter Institute's effort to computationally model protein-to-protein interactions, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's research on gene regulatory systems in single-celled organisms, and a project co-led by researchers at the universities of South Carolina and Virginia to study the management of large watershed systems. Likewise, the European Space Agency (ESA) uses Amazon Web Services to provide Earth-related data to scientists, governmental agencies, and other organizations. Amazon says that during peak usage times, the service enables ESA to simultaneously provide 30 terabytes of images and data to more than 50,000 users worldwide. "The perfect scenario for using the cloud in biotech is to outsource small amounts of data into the cloud that require a massively parallel computing system for processing and then have the results of that processing returned to you," says Distributed Bio's Giles Day.


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