Welcome to the June 13, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Studies Made Cool, on Film and Now on Campus
New York Times (06/10/11) Claire Cain Miller
After a decade of decreases, computer science programs are experiencing a resurgence, even as politicians warn about the decline of U.S. competitiveness in science, technology, engineering, and math. Educators and technologists say the increased interested in computer science is directly related to the popularity of companies such as Apple and Facebook, as well as The Social Network, the movie depicting the success of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg. "It's a national call, a Sputnik moment," says Mehran Sahami, Stanford University's associate chairman for computer science education. The rise in the number of computer science degrees awarded started in 2010, and will reach 11,000 this year, according to the Computing Research Association. In addition, the number of students who are pursuing a computer science degree but have not yet declared their major increased by 50 percent last year. Institutions such as Stanford, and universities of Washington and Southern California, have recently redesigned their computer science curriculums to attract new students. The new curriculums emphasize the vast number of careers that use computer science and focus on teaching its practical applications, instead of just vocational skills such as programming languages, which change quickly. Despite the changes and its renewed popularity, the number of computer science graduates does not come close to filling the available jobs.
Intel Teaches Machines to Build Own Device Drivers
The Register (UK) (06/10/11) Rik Myslewski
Intel researchers are developing a method to automate the process of writing device drivers and porting them to different operating systems (OSes). The Intel team is collaborating with researchers at NICTA's Trustworthy Embedded Systems division, which is working on a device-driver synthesis project known as Termite. "The goal of this work is eventually to have a tool chain that will work from formal specifications and automatically generate driver code that you can directly use," says Intel's Arun Raghunath. Intel's research is based on game theory. "You can view this as a game-play situation where, basically, the driver is one of the players in the game, and the environment--which is the OS and the device and whatever else happens there--is the other player," Raghunath says. As the game plays out, the tool records its winning moves and develops a driver from what it learns. The game theory model allows the device-driver synthesis algorithm to be completely independent from the OS and the device that it is negotiating with. "I think the way we see this being used is--the hardware manufacturer, when they come up with their device, they also emit a spec, they give you a device spec with that, which they can give to platform companies or the OEMs who build the platforms into which these devices will go," Raghunath says.
AT&T Researchers Call for Smartphone Apps That Won't Suck Your Battery Dry
Network World (06/08/11) Julie Bort
AT&T researchers are calling on developers to build more energy-aware apps to conserve battery life in smartphones. The more data that is transferred results in draining more battery life, according to AT&T, which notes that the underlying apps, and not the operating system, is mainly responsible for battery life. AT&T wants to aid the creation of energy-efficient apps that can recognize when they are on a cellular network and limit the number of times the app connects to the network and the time needed to connect. The researchers have developed a tool that helps app developers determine when their apps need full power connections or when the app can run on a proposed intermediate state that consumes half the power and transmits less data at a slower rate. The researchers are studying the efficiency of accessing the network, which is mostly determined by the application instead of the operating system, says AT&T's Alexander Gerber. It is the resource control policy of different networks that influence energy efficiency, Gerber says. He also notes that cellular network technology can impact energy efficiency, and that Wi-Fi is more energy efficient than 3G and 4G cellular networks.
New Parallelization Technique Boosts Our Ability to Model Biological Systems
NCSU News (06/09/11) Matt Shipman
A new technique for using multi-core chips more efficiently has been developed by researchers at North Carolina State University (NCSU). The team created a way for passing information back and forth between cores on a single chip by using threads to create locks that control access to shared data, says project leader and NCSU professor Cranos Williams. "This allows all of the cores on the chip to work together to solve a unified problem," Williams says. The team tested the approach by running three models through chips that utilized one core, as well as chips that used the parallelization technique to utilize two, four, and eight cores. In the models, the chip that utilized eight cores ran at least 7.5 times faster than the chip that used only one core. The technique improved the efficiency of algorithms used to build models of biological systems, creating more realistic models that can account for uncertainty and biological variation. Drug development and biofuels engineering are among the research areas that stand to benefit from the parallelization technique.
U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors
New York Times (06/12/11) James Glanz; John Markoff; Richard A. Oppel Jr.; et al.
The Obama administration is at the forefront of an international campaign to implement shadow Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to weaken repressive regimes that censor them or shutter telecommunications networks. The initiative includes clandestine efforts to set up independent cell phone networks within foreign countries, and a $2 million project funded by the State Department to use a prototype Internet in a suitcase to smuggle the means to quickly deploy a wireless communication network across borders. The campaign has brought together an unlikely partnership of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers, and dissidents from at least 12 nations. U.S. officials say one of the most ambitious efforts involves a $50 million State/Pentagon venture to develop an independent cell phone network in Afghanistan using towers on protected U.S. military bases to counter the Taliban's ability to shut down official Afghan services. Complementing the Obama Administration's efforts are nearly 12 independent ventures whose goal is to enable unskilled users to build wireless networks using existing devices such as smartphones and laptops. It is critical to set up simple lines of communication outside official ones, says liberation technology researcher Collin Anderson.
Future of Virtual Reality: What Pregnancy Feels Like
New Scientist (06/09/11) Sandrine Ceurstemont
Men can gain a better understanding of what women go through during pregnancy by wearing a new device developed by scientists at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. The system is a dress that simulates the weight and heartbeat of the fetus, but its ability to reproduce temperature and movement as well results in simulations that are more realistic than those of existing systems. The dress can replicate the nine-month process in two minutes, and it can be worn over a longer period to experience what it feels like to be pregnant on a day-to-day basis. The system makes use of a four-liter bag filled with warm water to mimic the fetus, a lining of 45 balloons that expands and contracts to recreate kicking movements, and a grid of air actuators that exploits a tactile illusion to reproduce wiggling. An accelerator and touch sensors are used for interaction. The suit can be connected to a computer to view a three-dimensional model of the fetus that changes to mimic the different stages of pregnancy. The system will be presented at SIGGRAPH 2011 in August.
We've Bin Watching You!
Newcastle University (06/08/11)
Newcastle University computer scientists have used a camera phone and Facebook to introduce an element of competition to recycling and minimizing waste. Newcastle has collaborated with the universities of Lincoln and Duisburg-Essen on the BinCam project, which involves placing a small sensor attached to a camera phone in a kitchen bin that takes a photograph each time the lid is shut. The project also involves setting up a Facebook page, where the images are directly fed, to give users the opportunity to see what they are throwing away. Users can participate in a recycling league, view graphs that chart how well they are recycling, leave comments, and share recycling tips. Newcastle tested BinCam on five households, and found that after two weeks the bin was emptied fewer times because less was being thrown away and more was being recycled. "There is a 'naming and shaming' element to the experiment although it's fun rather than humiliating," says Newcastle researcher Anja Thieme, who is collaborating on the project with Jack Weeden and Julia Miebach. "At the same time they felt motivated by the online league table to recycle more and improve their rating."
Researchers' Video Game Puts Players in Japanese Internment Camps
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/08/11) Ben Wieder
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have developed Drama in the Delta, a three-dimensional role-playing game that examines two World-War II-era Arkansas-based internment camps from a variety of perspectives. In a prototype version of the game, players assume the role of a Japanese-American girl who must retrieve items scattered around the camp. The game enables users to play from a first- or third-person perspective. After initial testing, the researchers found that users were much more empathetic of the characters when viewing them in the third person because they could see more emotion coming from them. UCSD professor Emily Roxworthy collaborated with the university's dance and theater departments and the San Diego Supercomputer Center to develop the game. Amit Chourasia, head of the supercomputer center's visualization-services group, led a team responsible for the game's programming and visual design. Roxworthy says the game's video technology enables users to identify with the avatar they inhabit and could lead to a greater understanding of internment camps.
Streamlined Rules for Robots
MIT News (06/08/11) Larry Hardesty
Distributed device programmers are challenged to find behavioral policies that balance the advancement of a common goal with the minimization of risk of something going disastrously wrong, and new methods for calculating such policies are under development by Frans Oliehoek at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. "What you want to do is try and decompose the whole big problem into a set of smaller problems that are connected," Oliehoek says. Central to this goal is identifying instances in which structural features of the problem entail that certain combinations of policies do not require separate assessment. Professor Francisco Melo with Portugal's Universidade Tecnica de Lisboa says the mathematical decision-making model Oliehoek has been exploring "is a very general model, so you can model all sorts of decision problems with it." However, Melo notes that the model is very complex, offering little hope of computing a precise solution except for extremely small problems. He says Oliehoek's work integrates the merits of two lines of research--theoretical model complexity analysis and the development of practical algorithms that yield ideal policy approximations.
IBM Helps Build Students' Software Development Skills
eWeek (06/07/11) Darryl K. Taft
IBM announced during its Innovative 2011 conference that it is bringing its Jazz development environment to universities. IBM says JazzHub is part of an effort to assist students and professionals in building the necessary software development skills to develop complex, intelligent product designs. JazzHub will enable university teams to develop directly on the IBM Jazz.net Web site at no cost. The cloud-based service is designed to serve as an open ecosystem for students to build new and innovative software applications. North Carolina State University (NCSU), which is participating in the JazzHub beta program, plans to immediately incorporate JazzHub into its coursework. Previously, the university used Jazz for research analyzing information about artifacts and in an online course in Agile software development. "Software engineering courses are meant to prepare students for the practice of designing, developing, understanding, and maintaining software in the real world, and the effectiveness of these courses has a tremendous impact on the software industry," says NCSU professor Jim Yuill. "IBM's continued commitment to provide collaborative tools, at no charge to students, greatly improves the quality of their learning."
High-Tech Remedy for Urban Planning Headaches
University of Calgary (06/07/11) Jennifer Sowa
University of Calgary researchers have developed PlanYourPlace, an interactive, Web-based platform to simplify the urban planning process and provide a way to visualize various scenarios and predict the outcomes of decisions. "This is possible because of recent advancements in technology such as geographic information systems and cyberinfrastructure," says Calgary professor Andrew Hunter. The PlanYourPlace software includes geospatial components such as imaging and mapping, along with algorithms to calculate the outcomes of various scenarios. "Our goal is to improve planning practices and promote interactive and participatory approaches that result in economic, environmental, social, and cultural development that is sustainable," says Calgary researcher Bev Sandalack. "The system will enable users to understand more clearly the implications and benefits of various planning and development objectives and to participate in meaningful ways." The researchers plan to test the software on a series of Calgary neighborhoods that were constructed during the building boom of the 1950s through the 1970s and are about to undergo redevelopment.
Taking Email Etiquette to the Next Level
Georgia Institute of Technology (06/06/11) Liz Klipp
Georgia Tech professor Eric Gilbert has developed courteous.ly, software that shows user email loads in real time as a way to provide social cues. By enabling people to see how busy a user is, email would be infused with more social consideration, according to Gilbert. "I think we're really good at the etiquette part when we have the cues that allow us to be polite," he says. "Courteous.ly helps manage expectations and lets people choose to send mail when it’s best for you." Designed to work with Google-based email, the program periodically checks the user's email load based on chosen parameters, such as unread messages in the inbox, total number of messages in the inbox, or how much mail was recently sent. Courteous.ly conducts an initial 12-hour analysis, determines the user's email habits and what constitutes light, normal, or high email amount, and then updates the user's status of email volume level every 10 minutes, which is reflected in an individualized courteous.ly link. An individual sending an email can click on the link to see how busy the user is, and employees with high daily levels of incoming email would be able to use the service as an email management tool. In addition, marketers would be able to use courteous.ly to determine the best time to send an email.
First Multilingual Browsing and Translation System for Audiovisual Content
Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (06/01/11)
A new system for browsing and translating audiovisual content has been developed by the Speech Processing Group at Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya. The developers say it is the first system to automatically translate radio, TV, and text documents in Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Galician, and English. A search for a video or audio file would yield a document that is either translated and synthesized or subtitled in another one of Spain's official languages or English, and searches for written texts would yield either another text or an audio file in the chosen language. Project coordinator Asuncion Moreno says the system is designed to translate a TV broadcast from Basque into Catalan in audio and text formats, and carry out searches in either of the languages and make results available in the same languages. A prototype will be available in July. Moreno says the ultimate goal of the project is to improve automatic speech recognition, translation, and speech synthesis systems and technology.
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