Welcome to the November 23, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Hottest Major on Campus? Computer Science
Network World (11/21/11) Carolyn Duffy Marsan
Elite technology schools are receiving increasing numbers of applications from students wanting to pursue a computer science degree. Admissions officers and computer science professors expect to set a record for undergraduate applications this year, surpassing marks set more than a decade ago. "Most of the U.S. economy is stagnant, but computer science grads are getting hired and at pretty good salaries," says Carnegie Mellon University's Mark Stehlik. Enrollment in U.S. undergraduate computer science programs has been rising for the last three years, according to the most recent Taulbee Survey, which is conducted by the Computing Research Association. "Our computer science program has had such an incredible amount of publicity lately," says Harvey Mudd University's Thyra Briggs. "Also, the increased presence of women in that department is affecting our applications." Stanford University has seen its computer science majors increase by 83 percent in the last three years. "Our enrollment was up 30 percent this fall over last fall, and we expect to see continued growth on an annual basis," says Stanford professor Mehran Sahami. In addition, 90 percent of Stanford's nearly 7,000 undergraduates are currently taking at least one computer science course even though it is not required to graduate.
Separating You and Me? 4.74 Degrees
New York Times (11/21/11) John Markoff
Researchers at the University of Milan and Facebook have found that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world is 4.74, not six, as Stanley Milgram proposed in 1967. Milgram's theory was based on researching the friends network of 296 volunteers, while the Milan and Facebook researchers reached their conclusions by studying 721 million Facebook users. The researchers used University of Milan-developed algorithms to calculate the average distance between any two people by computing a large number of sample paths among Facebook users. In 2008, Microsoft conducted a similar study but with a more conservative definition of friend, and found that out of 240 million people who exchanged chat messages, the average separation between any two people was 6.6. "There is an issue of how many friends you actually have," and the Internet may have changed that definition, says Microsoft's Eric Horvitz. The Milan study confirms Facebook's success in establishing an environment where millions of people communicate. "It’s more evidence that they’ve been enormously successful at connecting a large number of people very well," says Stanford University's Matthew O. Jackson. The research also highlights the growing power of the science of social networks.
A Computer System Allows a Machine to Recognize a Person's Emotional State
Universidad de Carlos III de Madrid (11/21/11)
Researchers at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and Universidad de Granada (UGR) have developed a computer system that automatically recognizes the emotional state of a person that is speaking to it. "Thanks to this new development, the machine will be able to determine how the user feels and how [he or she] intends to continue the dialogue," says UC3M professor David Grill. The system focuses on the emotions of anger, boredom, and doubt by analyzing 60 acoustic parameters, including tone of voice, speed of speech, duration of pauses, and the energy of the voice signal. In addition, information regarding how the dialogue developed was used to adjust for the probability that the user was in one emotional state or another. "We have developed a statistical method that uses earlier dialogues to learn what actions the user is most likely to take at any given moment," the researchers say.
Invoked Computing: Pizza Box Is Too Loud! I Can't Hear the Banana
PhysOrg.com (11/22/11) Nancy Owano
University of Tokyo researchers are developed the Invoked Computing concept, which involves spatial audio and video augmented reality that is invoked through miming. The researchers are working on a multimodal augmented reality system that can transform common objects into communication devices in real time. To invoke an application, the user needs to mimic a specific action. In one example, a user takes a banana out of a fruit bowl and brings it to his ear. A high-speed camera then tracks the banana and a parametric speaker array directs the sound in a narrow beam, enabling the user to talk into the banana as if it were a phone. "With an iPhone, for example, you have everything in a small device and you have to learn how to use it, [but] we want to do the opposite; the computer will have to learn what you want to do," says Tokyo researcher Alexis Zerroug. Another example involves a laptop in a pizza box, in which video and sound are projected onto the lid of the box, enabling the user to interact with the projections.
IU Showcases Innovative Approach to Networking at SC1 SCinet Research Sandbox
Indiana University (11/22/11) Daphne Siefert-Herron
The challenge of moving massive amounts of data to supercomputing facilities for analysis was addressed by Indiana University researchers through data transfer over an experimental 100 Gbps network that exploits a link whose speed is 10 times that of most currently in use. The network was established to support testing by several universities during the SCinet Research Sandbox, a component of the recent SC11 conference. A full cluster and file system operated at each end of the 2,300-mile 100 Gbps link spanning Indianapolis and Seattle, and the Indiana team achieved a peak throughput of 96 Gbps for network benchmarks and 5.2 Gbps with a combination of eight real-world application workflows. Indiana's entry employed the Lustre file system, which can support distributed applications. Indiana's Stephen Simms says the network "will provide much needed and exciting new avenues to manage, analyze, and wrest knowledge from the digital data now being so rapidly produced." The network also features tools for cross-administrative collaboration using multi-site workflows and distributing data from instruments to compute resources. "With a centralized file system serving thousands of computational resources around the world, user data can be available everywhere, all of the time," says Indiana's Robert Henschel.
EFF Proposes New Method to Strengthen Public Key Infrastructure
IDG News Service (11/22/11) Lucian Constantin
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has proposed an extension to the current Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) chain of trust that aims to improve the security of HTTPS and other secure communication protocols. One of the major problems with the current Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) model is the lack of control over certificate authorities (CAs) and their subsidiaries. The EFF's Sovereign Keys (SK) specification was designed to solve this problem by allowing domain owners to sign CA-issued certificates with their own private keys for additional authenticity. The SK model shrinks the number of attack points from hundreds of CAs to 30 or fewer servers where any compromise can be detected automatically. The SK specification also is compatible with Domain Name System (DNS)-Based Authentication of Named Entities (DANE), a protocol used to associate certificates with domain names via DNSSEC, and can be used to cross-sign DANE keys to prevent DNS-based attacks. "My feeling is that this migration would be unlikely to happen, as it requires the use of client technologies that Web browsers are disinclined to integrate, as well as commitments and mechanics that the operators of SSL Web sites are disinclined to make," says security researcher Moxie Marlinspike.
MU Engineers Developing Military Applications for Smartphones
MU News Bureau (MO) (11/21/11) Steven Adams
University of Missouri researchers have developed an app for Android phones and iPhones that enables soldiers to find and track targets, turning their smartphones into tools for combat situations. "With our smartphone-based system, team members could take pictures of the target and obtain a [global positioning system] location, which can be relayed via wireless networks to interested parties," says Missouri professor Yi Shang. The technology includes a sound-based localization method that would enable a group of soldiers in dark or urban environments to record a sound, share it, and determine the location of the sound source. The team also has developed ad hoc networks that would enable soldiers to relay smartphone information without using the Internet. The technology has civilian applications, as it would enable emergency responders to identify a location, direct traffic, and help tourists identify the exact location of an unfamiliar object or building.
Secret Net Tor Asks Users to Sign Up to Cloud Services
BBC News (11/22/11)
Developers for The Onion Router (Tor) project, which offers a channel for people wanting to anonymously route their online communications, are asking people to sign up for Amazon's cloud service to make it harder for governments to track online activities. Tor's developers want to use Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud to create a bridge, a vital point of the secret network through which communications are routed. "By setting up a bridge, you donate bandwidth to the Tor network and help improve the safety and speed at which users can access the Internet," according to the developers. Amazon currently is offering a year's worth of free storage as part of a promotion, which the Tor developers believe its users will qualify for. "Amazon is hosting millions of applications and it will be difficult for governments to distinguish between normal access to Amazon's cloud and Tor access," notes Imperva's Amachai Shulman. He says cloud services could provide a big boost to Tor. "It creates more places and better places to hide," Shulman says.
Electronic Contact Lens Displays Pixels on the Eyes
New Scientist (11/22/11) Paul Marks
A U.S. and Finnish team is the first to build contact lens technology in an electronic display, and also have tested it in vivo. The researchers placed the technology into the eyes of rabbits, which suffered no ill effects. "This verifies that antennas, radio chips, control circuitry, and micrometer-scale light sources can be integrated into a contact lens and operated on live eyes," says the University of Washington's Babak Praviz, who led the team. Although the first version has only one pixel, a higher resolution lens display is next on the team's agenda. Higher resolution lens displays could one day be used as satellite navigation enhancers that show directional arrows, or flash up texts and emails, and possibly video. In the shorter term, the technology might provide people suffering from conditions such as diabetes and glaucoma with a novel way to monitor their condition. The current version of the contact lens display, powered by a remote radio-frequency transmitter in free space, also has potential uses. "A display with a single controllable pixel could be used in gaming, training, or giving warnings to the hearing impaired," according to the researchers.
Pitt Discoveries in Quantum Physics Could Change Face of Technology
University of Pittsburgh News (11/21/11) B. Rose Huber
University of Pittsburgh researchers are studying topological states, a method that harnesses the power of atoms and molecules for computational tasks, to advance quantum computing. They are studying orbital degrees of freedom and nano-Kelvin cold atoms in optical lattices to better understand new quantum states of matter. "We were surprised to find that such a simple system could reveal itself as a new type of topological state--an insulator that shares the same properties as a quantum Hall state in solid materials," says Pittsburgh professor W. Vincent Liu. The researchers developed an experimental design of optical lattices and tested the topological semi-metal state by loading very cold atoms onto the lattice, which formed global rotations, breaking time-reversal symmetry. "By studying these orbital degrees of freedom, we were able to discover liquid matter that had no origins within solid-state electronic materials," Liu says. He says that this liquid matter could potentially lead to topological quantum computers and new quantum devices for topological quantum telecommunication.
Helping Computers Make Faster Decisions
University of Wisconsin-Madison (11/18/11) Christie Taylor
Improvements in the standard algorithm that computers use to solve integer programs enables them to make yes/no decisions faster. The algorithms are used in programs that perform optimization calculations, but optimization for a problem that has a high degree of symmetry might have been impossible. Computers can calculate an answer for problems with symmetry, but it might not necessarily be the best answer. "It's wasting time searching for answers it's already found," says University of Wisconsin professor Jeff Linderoth. Working with Italian colleagues Fabrizio Rossi and Stefano Smriglio and former Ph.D. student Jim Ostrowski, Linderoth developed a methodology that algorithms can use to offset the problem. Solutions are broken into orbits, or groups of equivalent solutions, so an algorithm does not have to simultaneously tackle all symmetrical solutions. An algorithm can choose one solution, which will determine what is chosen next. Although the orbits change each time a decision is made and must be recalculated, they allow optimization algorithms to perform orders of magnitude faster for problems with large amounts of symmetry.
Google and Microsoft Talk Artificial Intelligence
Technology Review (11/18/11) Tom Simonite
Google research director Peter Norvig and Microsoft Research scientist Eric Horvitz discuss in a recent interview what artificial intelligence (AI) can do today and what it could do in the future. If scientists can develop methods to capture lots of data in a way that preserves privacy, it could be possible to have AI learn how to do everything, Horvitz says. Research known as semi-supervised learning shows that just 1 percent of tagged data can be used to understand the rest of the database, he notes. Current machine-learning systems can derive high-level situational rules for action, such as taking a set of symptoms and test results and producing a diagnosis, but that is not the same as real intelligence, Horvitz says. In the future, the current low-level work could meet top-down ideas from the bottom up, Horvitz says. "Bringing those two approaches together is a challenge," Norvig notes. The idea of intelligent objects that work closely with humans highlights the need to develop human-computer interactions, and new ways to combine human intelligence with machine intelligence, Horvitz says. "One thing my research group has been pushing to give computers is a system-wide understanding of human attention, to know when best to interrupt a person," Horvitz notes.
Use of Technology-Rich Learning Environment Reveals Improved Retention Rates
Rochester Institute of Technology (11/16/11) Michelle Cometa
Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) researchers have found that placing undergraduate engineering and technology students in technology-rich learning environments has improved learning outcomes. More than 90 percent of the students involved in the study reported that the use of a technology-rich learning environment, which included tablet PCs, collaborative software, and several projection screens, helped them learn and retain the information better than traditional lectures. "The students said they preferred the tablets in terms of note-taking, in-class work, test preparation, and classroom layout over a traditional lecture," says RIT professor Robert Garrick. The use of the technology-rich learning environment improved the visual connection to the material, enhanced the modeling of engineering problems, and facilitated the student-faculty interaction, says RIT professor Larry Villasmil. The researchers also plan to study how technology-rich learning environments can enhance the educational experiences of underrepresented groups, such as deaf and hard-of-hearing students, who make up about 10 percent of the students in engineering and technology courses.
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