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Welcome to the December 9, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Initiative Aims for 100,000 New STEM Teachers
eSchool News (12/05/11)

The 100Kin10 initiative aims to increase the supply of math and science teachers and retain excellent teachers by preparing 100,000 new ones over the next 10 years. 100Kin10, which is led by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Opportunity Equation, among others, is based on U.S. President Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union speech, in which he called for an increase in the number and quality of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) teachers. "The partners are tackling the president’s challenge from three directions: by increasing the supply of excellent STEM teachers; by developing and supporting STEM teachers so that our schools retain excellent talent, thereby reducing the need for new teachers; and by building the movement so that the quest for 100,000 excellent STEM teachers can succeed," says Opportunity Equation co-chair Michele Cahill. Carnegie is working with the U.S. Department of Education to leverage public dollars to support the goals of 100Kin10. The initiative currently has more than 80 cross-sector organization partners spread over four categories. Carnegie's Talia Milgrom-Elcott says that 100Kin10 focuses on retaining current STEM teachers in addition to recruiting new ones, and it encourages commitments that improve the circumstances in which STEM teachers work.


Cities Fail to Recognize Full Potential of Smart Technologies
University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) (12/07/11) Amanda Berry

Opening up data and digital assets is critical to accelerating low-carbon cities, according to a recent University of Nottingham report. Although cities are using information and communications technology (ICT) to improve their sustainability and efficiency, they are not recognizing the full value of smart initiatives, and could be missing the opportunity to turn unused data and infrastructure into new low carbon solutions and services, the report says. The application of smart technology is being held back by technology-led experiments that often fail to achieve useful outcomes for consumers and residents. In addition, complex municipal procurement processes make it hard for small technology companies to participate, and cities are unsure of the social and financial ramifications of unknown investments. "Through using the data from their digital infrastructure as a market creation asset, cities will be able to capture significantly more value from smart city ICT investments," says Horizon Digital Economy Research's Catherine Mulligan. The report says that cities need to capture the potential advantages of smart technology initiatives with a common series of metrics that can be translated into relevant financial and non-financial values of relevance.


IT Pros to Find Demand for Skills, Low Risk of Layoffs in 2012: Dice Report
eWeek (12/07/11) Nathan Eddy

About 65 percent of nearly 1,200 IT-focused hiring managers and recruiters said their companies or clients will add technology professionals in the first half of 2012, according to a Dice.com survey. The survey also found that 27 percent of companies looking to hire plan to expand their staffs by more than 20 percent over the next six months. Tech professionals with six to 10 years of experience will be most in demand, followed by those who have held tech jobs for two to five years. "The tech recruiting market is active, although the pace of improvement has been impacted by broader economic concerns," says Dice.com's Alice Hill. "The elevated economic uncertainty makes it tougher for hiring managers to lure tech professionals into leaving their current position." Companies will use larger salaries as a way to attract new hires. Forty-two percent of hiring managers and recruiters predicted an increase in salaries for new hires this year, 48 percent said it takes longer to fill positions compared to a year ago, and 57 percent attributed the delay to a shortage of qualified tech talent and 31 percent to concerns about the economy. Only 16 percent of corporate hiring managers believe layoffs are likely during the first half of next year.


San Francisco Team Solves DARPA Shredder Challenge
InformationWeek (12/05/11) Elizabeth Montalbano

A San Francisco-based programming team pieced together five shredded documents in 33 days to win the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) Shredder Challenge. The three programmers used custom computer-vision algorithms to assemble the complex puzzles comprised of documents, which were shredded into more than 10,000 pieces. The team spent nearly 600 hours creating the algorithms, designing them to suggest fragment pairings. The programmers were then able to manually verify the pairings to piece together the documents, which had Antonio Prohias, the creator of the Spy vs. Spy comic strip, as their common, running theme. DARPA organizers were surprised not only that all of the puzzles were solved, but in a relatively short time. "Lots of experts were skeptical that a solution could be produced at all, let alone within the short time frame," says DARPA's Dan Kaufman. He says the most effective approaches combined computational tools, crowdsourcing, and "clever detective work."


Minorities, Women Often Discouraged From Entering Engineering, Science Fields
State Journal (WV) (12/08/11) Cathy Bonnstetter

Many female and minority scientists claim they were discouraged from going into their chosen profession, according to Bayer's Facts of Science Education XV survey, which polled science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) department chairs at the U.S.'s top 200 research institutions. The survey found that 40 percent of minority and female STEM researchers were discouraged from studying STEM subjects and 44 percent say that it was college professors who discouraged them. Most of the department chairs polled in the survey gave their institutions grades of C or lower in terms of recruiting and retaining women and minorities in STEM programs. About 33 percent of the respondents said they believed that minority students were less likely to graduate with a STEM degree than women or majority students, and women were considered less likely to graduate than men. "The chairs felt the underrepresented minority students faced a lack of limited quality science in elementary and secondary school, as well as a lack of role models," says Bayer USA Foundation executive director Rebecca Lucore. The participants recommended keeping the curricula the same, but also providing more tutoring opportunities for women and minorities.


Interface Could Help Facebook Members Limit Security Leaks
Penn State Live (12/04/11) Matt Swayne; Andrea Elyse Messer

Penn State University researchers have developed a sign-up interface for Facebook applications designed to help members prevent personal information from leaking out through third-party games and apps to hackers and identity thieves. Some third-party applications override individuals' global settings on privacy preferences and information sharing, says Penn State professor Heng Xu. "The broken element is in the third-party applications that people use to play games and interact in different ways with each other on Facebook," Xu says. The new interface enables members to decide what types of information they want to share and with whom they want to share it. The design also features three boxes to offer members the option to share their app activity history with all of the members in their network, just specific people, or keep all of the information private. Xu also designed two alternative third-party privacy agreement screens to clearly show members what data and privacy details they agree to share with the developer. "The only way to find out how the information is going to be used is to go to each app's Web site and review the terms of use," Xu notes. "And many people won't do that."


Vast and Fertile Ground in Africa for Science to Take Root
New York Times (12/05/11) G. Pascal Zachary

Uganda's growing economy has produced an expanding middle class that wants advanced training in science and engineering. To meet that need Venansius Baryamureeba recently founded a new college that includes departments of computer science and computer engineering at Makerere University. Baryamureeba also created a graduate program that aims to turn out dozens of Ph.D. scientists that he hopes will become college professors. "Uganda offers several unique research challenges and problems whose solutions can actually have a greater marginal benefit than, say, solutions to problems in Europe," says Makerere doctoral student Ernest Mwebaze. Meanwhile, the spread of cell phones has led young Africans to have an interest in the practical uses of science and technology. "Computer science appeals to a generation of urban students raised on a diet of digital devices," says Zambia Online's Chanda Chisala. However, computer science in Africa is held back by the perception that it is better to study and work in Europe or the United States. African educators need to reinforce efforts to design computer science courses that meet local needs in order for the field to grow in the region, according to a recent Georgia Tech report. Another problem facing the future of computer science in Africa is a lack of skilled teachers.


Usenix: Dartmouth Updating Diff, Grep Unix Tools
IDG News Service (12/08/11) Joab Jackson

Dartmouth University researchers are updating the grep and diff Unix command line-based text analysis tools available in all Linux and Unix distributions to handle more complex types of data. The updates are needed because "we now tend to have more model-based configuration languages that have meaningful constructs spanning more than one line," says Dartmouth graduate student Gabriel Weaver. The researchers say the updated tools will enable administrators to extract meaningful data from configuration files, log files, and other sources of operational data. The output from either of these programs can be linked to other utilities, enabling them to be incorporated into scripts that automate routine system administration tasks. The new programs, called Context-Free Grep and Hierarchical Diff, will provide the ability to parse blocks of data rather than single lines. For each new type of data structure, a vendor would provide a pattern library identifying the basic structure of the data, which the software would then use to "extract the constructs of interest from the document," Weaver says.


Living Earth Simulator: The Ultimate HPC Big Data Application
HPC Wire (12/05/11) Michael Feldman

The European Union (EU) recently pledged a billion euros to support the Living Earth Simulator (LES), a set of high-performance computing technologies, including a supercomputing network, with the goal of predicting social and economic events such as crisis events. The LES system will gather information from sensor networks, Twitter, Web news searches, and a variety of other real-time sources to uncover societal trends. The main research thrust is to apply supercomputing technology and real-time data feeds to social systems similar to the method used for physical systems. "The FuturICT [Knowledge Accelerator] Project will produce benefits for science, technology, and society by integrating previously separated approaches," according to the FuturICT Web site. The system also could be used to predict political unrest, the spread of epidemics, economic bubbles, and other types of systematic instabilities. About 30 computer science centers worldwide have joined the project, including facilities in Europe, Japan, China, Australia, and the United States.


Computer Simulations Shed Light on the Physics of Rainbows
UCSD News (CA) (12/02/11) Ioana Patringenaru

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers have developed an improved method for simulating how light interacts with water drops of various shapes and sizes, which has enabled them to recreate a wide variety of rainbows. "We now have an almost complete picture of how rainbows form," says UCSD professor Henrik Wann Jensen. The researchers want to simulate rainbows to better understand how spherical water drops interact with light, which will help them develop better techniques to be used in animated movies and video games. The researchers found that as a water drop falls, air pressure flattens the bottom of it and shapes it like a burger, known as a burgeroid. Simulations based on these burgeroids, instead of spherical drops of water, enabled the researchers to replicate a wide range of rainbows found in nature. "We are the first to present an accurate simulation of twinned rainbows," says UCSD Ph.D. student Iman Sadeghi. "I hope that the next step will be to use these new techniques for a systematic investigation of rainbows caused by realistically shaped rain drops," says international rainbow expert Philip Laven.


Cryptographers Believe 'Size Does Matter' to Stay Safe Online
Royal Holloway, University of London (12/02/11)

Royal Holloway, University of London researchers are analyzing the Transport Layer Security (TLS) system to identify weaknesses. The TLS system is designed to ensure the security and safety of online personal information, but vulnerabilities were found in version 1.0 of the system. The researchers say that TLS version 1.2 offers improved security. "Our analysis of TLS version 1.2 gives us higher confidence that the data we share online will be kept safe, secure, and private," says Royal Holloway professor Kenny Paterson. TLS encrypts messages as they are transmitted across the Internet, keeping personal data insulated against attack. The researchers have found only one vulnerability in the latest version of TLS. "There is still scope for a 'distinguishing attack' against TLS 1.2, where an attacker could tell whether a user has sent a 'yes' or a 'no' during a transaction, for example," Paterson says. However, he notes that this kind of attack is considered theoretical, and it is very unlikely that it would actually arise in practice. TLS uses a Message Authentication Code (MAC) tag to help provide security, and for the Royal Holloway attack to work, the MAC tag would need to be small.


Finding Meaning in Massive Datasets
Texas Advanced Computing Center (12/01/11) Aaron Dubrow

Researchers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) are exploring data-driven science, and early projects are showing the benefits of using advanced computing to find meaning in massive datasets. For example, University of Sussex professor Ilian Iliev is working with TACC, the University of Texas at Austin, and Pervasive Software to analyze dark matter simulations. Iliev developed a method for data-mining scientific simulations using Google's MapReduce. The researchers developed a search mechanism that identified regions of interest in the midst of chaotic visualizations. TACC also is working on an experimental smart grid project with Austin Energy, the University of Texas Energy Institute, and Mueller Development. The smart grid project equipped 100 new homes with sensors to measure consumer energy usage. TACC and Austin Energy are organizing the data to develop an accurate baseline of energy usage in Austin, as well as creating new visualization tools to clearly represent energy usage to consumers, energy operators, and officials. Meanwhile, the 1,000 Plant Genomes Project, which includes researchers from China, Canada, and the United States, is using distributed information to research plant genetic and genomic diversity. The project aims to understand the structures of the major genes in 1,000 different species of plants.


In Race for Fastest Supercomputer, China Outpaces U.S.
Newsweek (11/28/11) Dan Lyons

China is outpacing the United States in terms of supercomputer development. In November the Chinese debuted the Tianhe-1A, a supercomputer with five times the processing power of the biggest computer at the U.S.'s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The country that develops a superior high-performance computing system gains massive economic and military advantages, and the U.S.'s loss to a competing nation in the field of supercomputing could jeopardize its edge in many scientific, security, and military areas. To close the gap, Livermore scientists are developing Sequoia, a supercomputer that will combine 1.6 million microprocessors and trump the Tianhe-1A's computing power by a factor of eight. Although the United States has 263 of the world's 500 largest supercomputers, China has built 74 in just 10 years. Adding to U.S. developers' pain are Chinese organizations devising supercomputer components that will allow China to end its reliance on U.S. vendors for parts. Livermore scientists also project the emergence of an exascale machine that taps the computing muscle of about 1 billion microprocessors and delivers six times the power of Sequoia within a decade. Crucial to this milestone will be a new kind of microprocessor that is far more energy-efficient than today's chips.


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