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Welcome to the December 19, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Wearing Your Computer on Your Sleeve
New York Times (12/18/11) Nick Bilton

Google and Apple researchers are developing projects that might result in wearable computers, with smartphones acting as the hub for information sharing. For example, Google X labs researchers are developing peripherals that communicate information back to an Android smartphone once they have been attached to the user's clothing or body. Google reportedly has hired engineers from Apple, Nokia Labs, and several universities that specialize in wearable technology. Meanwhile, Apple researchers are developing prototype products that relay information to the iPhone, as well as other Apple devices such as an iPod, which Apple is currently encouraging users to wear on their wrists by selling Nanos with watch faces. The Apple researchers also are developing a curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist and communicate with users through Siri, Apple's artificial intelligence software. The technology's next step is combining the real and virtual worlds, says the Institute of the Future's Michael Liebhold. He says that in the next 10 years people will be wearing glasses with build-in screens and contact lenses with working displays. "Kids will play virtual games with their friends, where they meet in a park and run around chasing virtual creatures for points,” Liebhold says.


Can Science Predict a Hit Song?
University of Bristol News (12/17/11) Joanne Fryer

University of Bristol researchers have developed a method for predicting the popularity of a song using machine-learning algorithms. The researchers studied the official United Kingdom top 40 singles chart over the past 50 years, trying to distinguish the most popular songs from less popular ones using musical features such as tempo, time signature, song duration, and loudness. The researchers used the data to develop a "hit potential equation" that scores a song according to its audio features. The researchers found that the hit potential equation can classify a song into a hit or not hit based on its score with an accuracy rate of 60 percent. The researchers also found that the equation performed best in the 1990s and after 2000, suggesting that the seventies and eighties were particularly creative and innovative periods of pop music. "Musical tastes evolve, which means our hit potential equation needs to evolve as well," says Bristol senior lecturer Tijl De Bie. "Indeed, we have found the hit potential of a song depends on the era. This may be due to the varying dominant music style, culture, and environment.”


R&D Spending to Continue Climbing
Wall Street Journal (12/16/11) Gautam Naik

The United States, Europe, and Asia are expected to boost spending on research and development (R&D) a combined 5.2 percent to $14 trillion in 2012, according to a Battelle Memorial Institute report. The U.S. is projected to increase R&D spending 2.1 percent to $436 billion next year, while in Europe R&D is expected to grow 3.5 percent to $338.1 billion, and Asia's R&D spending should increase 8.6 percent to $514.4 billion. The report says that the United States will remain the most dominant country in terms of R&D, but notes that China and Japan continue to quickly gain ground. "Asian economies are continuing to grow, which gives them resources to invest in R&D efforts," says Battelle's Martin Grueber. Based on projected R&D growth rates for China and the U.S., China's level of annual R&D spending is expected to surpass that of the U.S. in about a decade, the report says. However, the U.S. currently is the R&D leader by a significant margin. One major issue for U.S. R&D is the pharmaceutical industry, which is expected to make major R&D cuts in the next year. "The retrenchment of pharma's conventional model has created significant R&D opportunities for universities, nonprofits, and the government," the report says.
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CollabMap Crowdsourcing Software for Evacuation Plans
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (12/16/11) Joyce Lewis

Researchers at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science have developed software that enables organizations to prepare evacuation plans based on crowdsourcing and computer simulations. Southampton's Sarvapali Ramchurn and a team of researchers have developed CollabMap, and are now inviting organizations to volunteer data on buildings and roads in their area so that customized evacuation plans can be created. "We don't just use the information to build a map; we build a computer simulation that shows how people move around an area," Ramchurn says. "Once people log in and draw routes, we aggregate the data to produce a high fidelity map over which we can simulate the movement of thousands of individuals across roads and open spaces, using parallel programming techniques." Members of the public can take part in the CollabMap exercise, which will be conducted for two months. The researchers say that similar exercises can be run in any part of the world and can be employed by organizations interested in their data being used for evacuation simulations.


It Doesn't Add Up
Science (12/16/11) Rachel Kaufman

Two University of Michigan professors have released a study about the performance gap between boys and girls in mathematics skills. The cross-cultural analysis by Jonathan Kane and Janet Mertz ruled out causal factors such as coeducational schools, low standards of living, and the notion of variability among boys. Instead, the authors say that local social and cultural factors, such as stereotypes, are likely behind gender gaps. "It seems like countries that do a good job of gender equity are also doing a good job [teaching math]," Kane says. In the study, Kane and Mertz examined internationally standardized scores for the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, as well as the 2003 and 2009 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Program for International Student Assessment math tests. The study found that test scores of children from the poorest countries were affected by poverty. However, all correlation with per-capita gross domestic product ended at $11,500, after which gender equity as measured by the World Economic Forum and Social Watch was the sole factor that positively correlated with improved test scores for girls and for boys.


Feds Launch 'Healthy App Challenge'
Computerworld (12/15/11) Lucas Mearian

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has partnered with the U.S. Surgeon General to launch the Healthy App Challenge, which invites developers to submit health, wellness, and fitness apps that promote nutrition and interactive health. "The challenge will highlight a selection of mobile apps in support of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) efforts to empower individuals to make healthy choices using electronic technology," according to the Surgeon General's office. The government is considering apps in three categories, including fitness and physical activity apps, nutrition and healthy eating apps, and integrative health apps. The winning apps will be featured on the HealthIT.gov and HealthIT.HHS.gov Web sites. "Consumer electronic health (e-health), new media, and mobile technologies have great potential to connect individuals, including those in underserved and hard-to-reach communities, to health care resources and decision-making supports, enabling healthier lifestyle decisions," the Surgeon General's office says.


Pilot Project Would Test Internet Voting
Edmonton Journal (Canada) (12/14/11) Gordon Kent

In the next civic election, Edmonton could use a pilot program to test Internet voting systems, according to officials. Several Alberta centers, including Edmonton, Calgary, St. Albert, and Strathcona County, are interested in trying the new technology, according to Edmonton executive Laura Kennedy. The pilot test could work with municipal affairs during the 2013 election, focusing on the special ballots sent to people who will be away or cannot get to the polling booth, Kennedy says. The process could involve sending people a PIN or a PDF so they can print the ballot, fill it out, and mail it back. City staff will study the cost and security issues before reporting on the options to the council in the fall of 2012. Internet voting requires changes to the Local Authorities Elections Act, but the province is supportive as long as the process is clearly spelled out and concerns, such as doing recounts without a paper trail, are addressed, Kennedy says.


Could Hackers Develop a 'Computer Virus' to Infect the Human Mind?
Daily Mail (UK) (12/14/11) Rob Waugh

Genetic engineering is the next frontier of computing, says Singularity University researcher Andrew Hessel, but he warns that synthetic biology could lead to a world in which hackers could engineer viruses or bacteria to control human minds. "This is one of the most powerful technologies in the world," Hessel says. "I advocate that cells are living computers and DNA is a programming language." However, he warns that just as natural viruses and bacteria can send chemicals into human brains, synthetic viruses could be used to control their host. Hessel says that scientists will need to learn how to counterattack against those types of threats. Nevertheless, he says the technology holds great promise. "I want to see life programmed and used to solve global challenges so that humanity can achieve a sustainable relationship within the biosphere," Hessel says. "It's growing fast. It will grow faster than computer technologies." Last year billionaire entrepreneur Craig Venter created life by adding synthetic DNA to a bacteria cell. "Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity's history, potentially peeking into its destiny," says Oxford University professor Julian Savulescu.


Google Awards $1.5 Million to Code for America
InformationWeek (12/14/11) Elizabeth Montalbano

Code for America plans to expand its fellowship program and offer two new pilot programs--the Civic Startup Seed Accelerator and the CIA Brigade--using a $1.5 million grant from Google. Launched this year, Code for America is a nonprofit that seeks to build a community of Web developers, designers, and entrepreneurs for civic e-government initiatives. The fellowship program is a 12-month internship of sorts that enables Web developers and designers to work with U.S. cities to create new civic technology. The number of fellows placed in cities will increase from three in 2010 to eight in 2011. "We think we can remake our relationship with government by helping government function as a platform, and having Google validate that vision is huge for Code for America," says founder Jennifer Pahlka. "We're looking forward not only to great new apps and stories of innovation, but to reuse of the 2011 apps by our new city partners and others." The Seed Accelerator program will provide entrepreneurs with technology so they can potentially develop into vendors that serve the government market. The CIA Brigade program will develop an online platform for reusing applications created for cities, and civic-minded developers will be able to use the site to share and remix code.


Educators Look for Resources, New Programs Amid STEM Push
THE Journal (12/13/11) D.A. Barber

U.S. President Barack Obama's push to prepare 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educators over the next 10 years, the effort by the National Science Teachers Association to have science standards included in the Common Core State Standards, and the adoption of STEM initiatives in nearly a dozen states have highlighted the need to improve STEM education. Several teachers cited the need to meet mathematics and English accountability goals as a major factor in the reduced time to teach science, according to a recent University of California, Berkeley report, which also said that teachers and schools did not have the support and tools needed to provide quality science teaching opportunities. However, experts note that many tools are available to promote STEM education. For example, students can use technology to practice what is normally found in workbooks while teachers have access to a variety of multimedia technology. Computer simulations and virtual labs that give users remote control of real-world lab equipment can also be used to help students interact with STEM concepts. Meanwhile, several school districts are partnering with universities and other research institutions to develop STEM-related curricula.


Stanford Scientists' Computer Models Help Predict Tsunami Risk
Stanford Report (CA) (12/13/11) Steven Fyffe

Stanford University researchers are using computational models to predict tsunami risk. "Our models show that as the rupture propagates up the fault, waves reflect off the seafloor [and] come back down to the fault," says Stanford professor Eric Dunham. The researchers developed software that enables the models to incorporate the changing speed of seismic waves as they travel through different types of rock. "One of the unique capabilities of our research group is that our code that we've created--and the method that we've developed--is capable of handling these really complex geometries," says Stanford's Jeremy Kozdon. The researchers hope that their models will help to predict where future tsunamis might occur. "We need to be able to do simulations that have as much physics as possible, to really be able to quantify the hazards associated with these earthquakes," Kozdon says.


Forrester's Five Futuristic Computing Form Factors
eWeek (12/13/11) Clint Boulton

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps says there are five computing form factors that could gain momentum in the near future. For example, Epps says wearable devices will become popular, such as the Lark sleep tracker and Body Media wristband, which sync with Apple's iOS devices for health and fitness scenarios. Epps also cites embedded devices, such as refrigerators, coffee machines, and other Web-enabled devices that users could control with their smart devices. Epps also sees smart surfaces, or larger interactive displays that rely on multi-touch, voice and gesture input, facial recognition, near-field communication signals, and any other wireless technologies and sensors. There also will be flexible displays that can come in the form of electronic readers or larger surface displays, such as furniture or wallpaper, according to Epps. Finally, she predicts that mini-projectors, which project a larger image onto another surface or into three-dimensional space, will become available. "The most successful products will work with other products--for example, wearables that talk to smartphones and TVs; surfaces that are activated by the presence of your smartphone," Epps says.


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