Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the January 11, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


School ICT to Be Replaced By Computer Science Program
BBC News (01/11/12) Judith Burns

England education secretary Michael Gove announced that the current program of information and communications technology will be replaced next September by an open source curriculum in computer science and programming. Gove says the change is designed to enable schools to use curricula and teaching resources that properly equip students for the 21st century. He notes that resources, developed by experts, are already available online to help schools teach computer science, and universities and businesses should develop courses and exams for the new curricula. "Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple [two-dimensional] computer animations," Gove says. "The current lessons are essentially irrelevant to today's generation of children who can learn PowerPoint in a week," says computer games entrepreneur Ian Livingstone, who is an advisor to Gove. Some experts have expressed concerns about a shortage of qualified teachers. "There are, of course, significant challenges to overcome, specifically with the immediate shortage of computer science teachers," says the British Computing Society's Bill Mitchell.


Dispute Over Proposed Green Card Law Pits Brightest Immigrants Against Each Other
Washington Post (01/10/12) Pamela Constable

The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act is designed to fix the system that grants permanent residency permits to immigrants who work in the U.S. on temporary visas for high-skilled jobs. However, after passing with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, the bill stalled in the Senate, as opponents claim it is unfair to Americans who may be seeking similar high-skilled jobs, and that it favors workers from larger countries over smaller ones. Although a majority of the green card applicants come from a few Asian countries, led by China and India, the current law limits each country to just seven percent of the green cards. The bill would eliminate the individual country limits and grant work-based green cards to qualified applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. Opponents of the bill claim that it would do nothing to protect U.S. residents who seek high-skilled jobs. Other critics of the bill claim that extra green cards, left over from smaller countries when there are not enough applicants to fill the annual quota, are already reallocated to Indian and Chinese immigrants. Some opponents to the bill claim that until the entire system is changed, it is futile to tinker with the proportion of workers who come from one country or another.


NASA: Prize Money a Bargain for Better Software
Government Computer News (01/09/12) William Jackson

Researchers at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Harvard Business School in 2010 launched the NASA Tournament Lab, an online platform for contests between independent programmers who compete to create software and algorithms and solve computational problems. "We’re always looking at ways to fill gaps in our technical capabilities," says NASA's Jason Crusan. The researchers use the Tournament Lab to order a program or algorithm for a relatively small amount of prize money. The first challenge presented in the Tournament Lab was developing an algorithm to optimize the contents of the medical kits that go with astronauts on missions. NASA developed specifications and 516 programmers worked on the problem. A total of $1,000 in prize money was awarded to the top five performers in each group. The best submission was more effective than NASA's previous algorithm by a factor of three, and NASA is still using it today. “We didn’t think we would have as high a success rate as we’ve had,” Crusan says. “There are a lot of smart people in the world.” NASA also has used crowdsourcing for a way to identify, characterize, and count lunar craters in NASA images.


'Geek' Perception of Computer Science Putting Off Girls, Expert Warns
Guardian (United Kingdom) (01/10/12) Jessica Shepherd

University of Southampton professor Dame Wendy Hall warns that girls still think of computer science as a subject for geeks and that this has proved to be a very difficult cultural obstacle to overcome. Hall says that instead of showing students how computers work, secondary school classes teach students how to use computers to produce documents, which has discouraged girls from choosing computer science as a career field. In 2004, women made up about 19 percent of all students pursuing undergraduate computer science degrees in the United Kingdom, but that number fell to 16 percent in 2009, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. "Women and girls use technology as much if not more than boys and men do and it's important that women are part of creating the future of this industry," Hall says. Although the scientific community has made several attempts to encourage girls to take up science, there are fewer initiatives that focus solely on computer science, according to UKRC, an organization that works to address the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.


NIST Announces 2012 Measurement Science & Engineering Research Grants Programs
CCC Blog (01/10/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. National Institutes of Standards and Technology recently released its FY 2012 Measurement Science and Engineering Research Grants Programs, which focus on several different areas of computing, including cyber-physical systems, intelligent systems, and systems integration. The Information Technology Laboratory Grant Program will support research in a wide range of computer technologies, including advanced network technologies, complex systems, information access, cloud computing, pervasive information technologies, and software testing. The Smart Grid and Cyber-Physical Systems Program aims to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness in areas of critical national priority. The Systems Integration Division will pursue state-of-the-art, information technology-based solutions to manufacturing systems integration problems. The Intelligent Systems Division will focus on manufacturing process and equipment interoperability, industrial control system security, robotics, and intelligent systems. The Disaster and Failure Studies Program will include the creation of a data repository for disaster and failure events that will host a database of selected hazard events and data collection standards and technology.


Program Aims to Help Girls, Minorities Succeed in Math and Science
Baltimore Sun (01/10/12) Alison Knezevich

Maryland educators are receiving training in how to interact with girls and minorities to boost their performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). "We're really focusing on the little messages, the implicit messages that add up over time," says Tara Ebersole, STEM liaison for the Community College of Baltimore County. The training will help educators better understand the impact of calling more often on boys than girls or lowering expectations of minority students, for example. "It all comes down to the perception of inclusion, or the belief that you are capable of being successful," notes Claudia Morrell of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity Education Foundation. The Educators' Equity STEM Academy will target high school teachers and community college teachers. Professors at the Community College of Baltimore County will complete their training this week, and will receive coaching throughout the school year. The state education department, the county community college, and the National Alliance are collaborating to offer the training program over the next three years. The program is funded by an $886,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.


Are Roll-Up Screens Ready for Prime Time?
Calgary Herald (Canada) (01/10/12) Lee Rickwood

Researchers at Queen's University's Human Media Lab have developed the Paper Phone, a flexible display that shows text, graphics, and media content. The Paper Phone can be folded, and accepts typed, touched, or penned user commands. "This is the future," says Queen's professor Roel Vertegaal. "Everything is going to look and feel like this in five years." Vertegaal calls the Paper Phone a computer that "looks, works, and feels like an interactive sheet of paper." The researchers believe that flexible screens will eventually become standard in many types of electronic devices, including large-screen TVs. The current version of the Paper Phone measures about four inches, and its relatively slow refresh rate means it is not suitable for real time animations. However, it does feature an interactive interface. For example, bending a corner of the screen generates a standardized command input. The researchers say the first commercial applications of flexible screens will be smartphones, which will be followed by a flexible, transparent tablet computer. Tech manufacturers already have demonstrated a tablet-smartphone hybrid concept that can be rolled up like a newspaper.


University of Utah and Google Team Up to Help Families With Children on the Autism Spectrum
University of Utah News (01/10/12) Valoree Dowell

Researchers at the University of Utah and Google have developed software that helps children with autism focus on building their skills and developing an aptitude for visual-spatial thinking, computers, and other electronic media. Part of the program uses SketchUp, three-dimensional modeling software that is applied in workshop settings to teach job skills to children with autism. "One of the most compelling parts of this program came from when the boys presented their findings to their classmates," says Utah professor Cheryl Wright. The researchers used the workshops to study intergenerational relationships between children with autism and their family members. "Cheryl and her team have brought an amazing amount of professionalism, data, credibility, and excitement to the SketchUp/autism connection and, because of it, people in the larger [autism spectrum disorder] community are taking note and wanting to learn more," says Google's Tom Wyman. In the future, the researchers plan to replicate the program with larger samples of children and incorporate more types of technology and software, aiming to create a virtual community that will provide resources through learning tools and a support system for families with autistic children.


A Smart Phone That Knows You're Angry
Technology Review (01/09/12) Duncan Graham-Rowe

Samsung has developed a prototype emotion detection system for smartphones. Rather than use specialized sensors or cameras, the system monitors certain inputs, such as the speed at which a user types, how often the backspace or special symbol buttons are pressed, and how much the smartphone shakes. Normal cell phone use enables the system to postulate the emotional state of the user, says Samsung researcher Hosub Lee. The system is designed to work as part of a Twitter client on an Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II, enabling people in a social network to view symbols of emotions alongside tweets. The system has to be trained to work with each individual user. The software's machine-learning algorithms currently offer detection with an accuracy of 67.5 percent, but the technology can be improved with more training data. "Emotion recognition technology will be an entry point for elaborate context-aware systems for future consumer electronics devices or services," Lee says. "If we know the emotion of each user, we can provide more personalized services."


Keeping Electronics Cool
UCR News (CA) (01/09/12) Sean Nealon

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Xiamen University have shown that the thermal properties of isotopically engineered graphene are better than those of graphene in its natural state. The results mean that graphene is one step closer to being used as a thermal conductor for managing heat dissipation in electronic devices. "The important finding is the possibility of a strong enhancement of thermal conduction properties of isotopically pure graphene without substantial alteration of electrical, optical, and other physical properties," says UCR professor Alexander Balandin. The researchers say the importance of their work is explained by practical needs for materials with high thermal conductivity. Balandin says that initially the technology will likely be used in some niche applications, such as thermal interface materials for chip packaging or transparent electrodes in photovoltaic solar cells or flexible displays. However, in a few years it could be used with silicon in computer chips as interconnect wiring or heat spreaders.


Kinect System Tracks You With an Eye on Your Shoes
New Scientist (01/08/12) Paul Marks

Microsoft's Kinect gaming sensor could be used to count shoppers and track their movements through stores, say Hasso Plattner Institute researchers. A Hasso Plattner team was working on a way to help software distinguish people gathered around large tabletop touchscreen computers. However, the computer had problems keeping track of who was doing what as they moved around the screen. The team developed a system called Bootstrapper that can determine who is standing where, and used a downward-facing Kinect camera to recognize their shoes. The researchers say that Bootstrapper can measure how a shoe distorts the infrared grid projected by Kinect's depth camera and offer unique, high-resolution three-dimensional images of each person's footwear. The system has an accuracy rate of 96 percent. The researchers say the system could serve as a marketing tool, as it would enable Kinect cameras mounted close to floor level to determine which products attract the most consumers.


IT Security Pros Go Full Year With No Joblessness
GovInfoSecurity.com (01/07/12) Eric Chabrow

The Information Security Media Group reports that an analysis of new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that there was no joblessness for information security analysts last year. Information security analyst is the label for a standard occupation category that includes a wide range of information technology (IT) security roles. Employment of information security analysts rose by more than one third to 51,000 during the fourth quarter, and averaged 44,000 over four quarters of data. Private enterprises employed 82 percent of information security professionals, which make up just over 1 percent of all IT professionals tracked by the BLS. In the past, the data has reflected employment conditions, and the statistics suggest that there were far more jobs requiring IT security know-how than individuals with the necessary skills to fill them. Overall, IT employment, under occupation definitions from previous years, exceeded 3.9 million in 2010, and another 161,000 people who considered themselves IT professionals were unemployed, which means the IT workforce topped 4.12 million.


Chinese Crunch Human Genome With Videogame Chips
Wired News (01/06/12) Eric Smalley

BGI, a Chinese supercomputer lab, recently switched to servers that use graphics processing units (GPUs) built by NVIDIA, which enabled it to cut its genome analysis time by more than an order of magnitude. The feat that enabled BGI and NVIDIA to accomplish this was porting key genome analysis tools to NVIDIA’s GPU architecture, a nontrivial accomplishment that the open source community and others have been working toward, says the Jackson Laboratory's Gregg TeHennepe. With GPUs, BGI gets faster results for its existing algorithms or it can use more sensitive algorithms to achieve better results, says bioinformatics consultant Martin Gollery. In addition, GPUs can be used to analyze genomes that could allow researchers studying biology and drug development to better treat patients. "The researcher now no longer has to own a sequencer or a cluster, and does not have to have employees to manage both of these technologies," Gollery says. GPU-enabled cloud services will be useful once the data is in the cloud, and cloud service providers are increasingly adding GPU capabilities. Another advantage of GPU-enabled cloud services is that research organizations can test GPU versions of algorithms without having to have a GPU system in-house, Gollery notes.


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