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Welcome to the February 3, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


H-1B Workers Are Better Paid, More Educated, Study Finds
Computerworld (02/03/12) Patrick Thibodeau

H-1B workers are better educated, earn more money, and are an average 10 years younger than U.S.-born workers, according to a Public Policy Institute of California study. The study found that the average annual earnings of H-1B workers are about 10 percent higher than the average annual earnings of U.S. workers, after adjustments for age, occupation, and education. Although the study's findings undercut some criticisms of the H-1B program, they also add support to the argument that the H-1B program helps employers save money by favoring younger workers over older ones. The study also found that less than 25 percent of U.S.-born technology workers have graduate degrees while close to one half of the H-1B workers have advanced degrees. "This research quite strongly points toward a highly educated group of workers, and there is really no evidence in our data that points to lower earnings," says Public Policy Institute of California economist Magnus Lofstrom. However, he notes that the age discrimination issue "remains a very important question that remains unanswered." The researchers based their study on data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service and the U.S. Census Bureau.


Quarter of Tweets Not Worth Reading, Twitter Users Tell Researchers
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (02/01/12) Byron Spice

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Georgia Institute of Technology found that Twitter users rate only about a third of the tweets they receive as worthwhile. "If we understood what is worth reading and why, we might design better tools for presenting and filtering content, as well as help people understand the expectations of other users," says Carnegie Mellon's Paul Andre. The researchers created a Web site to evaluate tweets, and over a period of 19 days 1,443 visitors to the site rated 43,738 tweets from the accounts of 21,014 Twitter users they followed. The study found that Twitter users liked just 36 percent of the tweets and disliked 25 percent. However, the study participants were not fully representative of Twitter users, as most were referred to the study by technology-focused friends and Web sites and could be categorized as users who value sharing links and content. "Other groups within Twitter may value different types of tweets for entirely different reasons," says Georgia Tech's Kurt Luther. Andre says it could be possible to develop applications that can learn a user's preferences and filter out unwanted content.


NIST to Fund Pilot Projects That Advance Trusted Identities in Cyberspace
NIST (02/01/12) Gail Porter

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced a competition for pilot projects to facilitate progress toward improved systems for interoperable, trusted online credentials that go beyond user IDs and passwords. The competition will be managed by the national program office for the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). "We're looking for innovative approaches that can advance the NSTIC vision and provide a foundation upon which a trusted, user-centric identity ecosystem can be constructed," says NIST's Jeremy Grant. NIST, which anticipates funding five to eight projects for up to two years, seeks proposals that follow the four central principles guiding NSTIC, which includes identity solutions that are privacy-enhancing and voluntary, secure and resilient, interoperable, cost-effective, and easy to use. NIST notes several obstacles that have hindered wide marketplace deployment of identity solutions, including the need for technical standards that ensure interoperability among different identity authentication solutions, little clarity on liabilities when something goes wrong, no common standards for privacy protections and data reuse, and issues with ease of use for some authentication technologies.


Scientific Visions That Take the Prize
CCC Blog (02/02/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The U.S. National Science Foundation and Science magazine recently announced the winners of the ninth International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge, a joint effort to highlight the use of visualization for communicating science, engineering, and technology for education and journalistic purposes. First place went to the University of Washington's Seth Cooper and his team for the FoldIt project, a game that demonstrated it is possible to use crowdsourcing to solve very difficult scientific problems. Iowa State University's Eve Wurtele received an honorable mention for the Meta!Blast 3D Interactive Application for Cell and Molecular Biology. Meta!Blast communicates concepts of biology and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to high school students by providing a 3D world that mimics a photosynthetic cell. SpongeLab Interactive's Jeremy Friedberg also received an honorable mention for Build-a-Body, an interactive learning environment that helps users learn about the human anatomy. Green-Eye Visualization's Laura Lynn Gonzales also received an honorable mention for Powers of Minus Ten, an iPad app that enables users to examine the human body at different levels of magnification. Tata Consultancy Services' Muralitharan Vengadasalam received the People's Choice award for Velu the welder, which exposes users to basic welding skill sets.


Artificial Intelligence: Getting Better at the Age Guessing Game
A*STAR Research (02/01/12)

A*STAR Institution for Infocomm Research scientists have developed the incremental bilateral two-dimensional linear discriminant analysis (IB2DLDA) algorithm, which they say can quickly scan through large databases of facial images. The researchers designed IB2DLDA so that it actively learns while it is scanning the database. The active learning approach significantly improves the efficiency of the algorithm and minimizes the number of samples that need to be labeled, reducing the time and effort required to program the computer. The researchers say the algorithm should make it easier to build facial age-classification systems into intelligent machines. The technology also could be applied to digital signage, in which the machine determines the age group of the viewer and displays targeted advertisements designed for that age group. "A vending machine that can estimate the age of a buyer could be useful for products that involve age control, such as alcoholic drinks and cigarettes," says A*STAR's Jian-Gang Wang. He also says the method is effective in solving problems with a large number of classes, and could be used for applications other than age estimation. "We are now planning to extend our method to other areas such as classifying human emotions and actions," Wang says.


A New System of Stereo Cameras Detects Pedestrians From Within the Car
Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (02/01/12)

Researchers at the University of Heidelberg, the Max Planck Institute for Informatics, and the University of Alcala (UAH) have developed a system that identifies pedestrians in front of a vehicle using artificial vision. "The new system can detect pedestrians from within vehicles using visible spectrum cameras and can do so even at night," says UAH's David Fernandez Llorca. A key feature to the system is the use of a dense stereo system, which consists of two cameras that are 30 centimeters apart in a structure below the rear-view mirror. "Human beings are able to make out the distance and depth of objects thanks to our two eyes--the same occurs with artificial vision," Fernandez Llorca says. He says dense stereo vision allows for a much more precise real time recognition of the environment in front of the vehicle. During testing, pedestrian recognition was improved by a factor of up to 7.5 compared to non-dense systems, and animate objects, such as a small child running across the road, were detected in less than 200 milliseconds. The two cameras are connected to a processing unit based on field programmable gate array technology, which runs the artificial vision algorithm.


Learning From Clouds Past: A Look Back at Magellan
HPC in the Cloud (01/31/12) Tiffany Trader

The Magellan project was launched to assess the potential role cloud computing could play in addressing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science's computing requirements, especially those associated with fulfilling the needs of midrange computing and future data-intensive computing tasks. The project, which was discontinued after two years, found that scientific applications possess special requirements that demand customized cloud solutions, while applications with minimal communication and input/output are most appropriate for clouds. In addition, the project found that substantial programming and system administration support is required for clouds, and current open source virtualized cloud software stacks for production science use have significant challenges and gaps. The assessment's conclusions point to cloud technology being unable to measure up to a centralized supercomputer in many respects, but the delivery model still has practical applications. Cloud computing stands out particularly in terms of flexibility and responsiveness for certain workloads. Ultimately, cloud computing is a business model, according to the authors of a report on the Magellan project sponsored by the DOE's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research. The report says cloud services can complement, but not substitute for, centralized computing resources.


Crowdsourcing Experts Team Up to Accelerate Cardiac Response
University of Southampton (United Kingdom) (01/31/12) Joyce Lewis

The University of Pennsylvania recently launched the MyHeartMap Challenge, inviting the public to participate by submitting geo-tagged pictures of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in Philadelphia to create a location database of AEDs. Researchers at the University of Southampton, the Masdar Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, San Diego collaborated to compete in the challenge using social networks and crowdsourcing. The team or individual that finds and photographs the most AEDs in Philadelphia County over the next six weeks will receive $10,000. "Our team will use crowdsourcing to encourage people to report the location of AEDs, to verify other reports, and to recruit new participants," says Masdar Institute computer scientist Iyad Rahwan. He notes that although information verification is a difficult task, the team has developed methods for solving the problem through crowdsourcing. The team also will use the challenge to test their theoretical research on social network mobilization and incentivization as well as verification.


Risk-Based Passenger Screening Could Make Air Travel Safer
University of Illinois (01/31/12) Liz Ahlberg

University of Illinois researchers recently examined the benefit of matching passenger risk with security assets and found that intensive screening of all passengers makes the system less secure by overtaxing security resources. "A natural tendency, when limited information is available about from where the next threat will come, is to overestimate the overall risk in the system, [which] actually makes the system less secure by over-allocating security resources to those in the system that are low on the risk scale relative to others in the system," says Illinois professor Sheldon H. Jacobson. He says with security resources devoted to too many low-risk passengers, those resources are less able to identify high-risk passengers. "The cost of such a system is prohibitive, and it makes the air system more vulnerable to successful attacks by sub-optimally allocating security assets," Jacobson says. The researchers developed three algorithms dealing with risk uncertainty in the passenger population. They then ran simulations to demonstrate how the algorithms, applied to a risk-based screening method, could estimate risk in the overall passenger population. The researchers found that risk-based screening increases the overall expected security. "The ideal situation is to create a system that screens passengers commensurate with their risk," Jacobson says.


Fast and Easy Programming
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (01/30/12) Margarete Lehne

A European Union consortium known as Algorithm parallelization for Multicore Architectures (ALMA) is developing a tool chain based on the open source software Scilab designed to simplify the development of software for embedded multicore processors. As part of ALMA, Scilab will be enhanced by downstream optimization stages, enabling intelligent parallelization and the distribution of applications to several processors. ALMA, which is led by Jurgen Becker and Michael Hubner from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology's Institute for Information Processing Technology, also will focus on a close co-design of software and hardware to develop a single tool chain that can efficiently be used in different multicore architectures. "In that way, we obtain a tool chain for easy programming from a higher level of abstraction, i.e. the programmer does not need detailed knowledge of the complex architecture," Hubner says. He notes that ALMA technology also will reduce development time and costs.


Mobile, Cloud, and Big Data Pros in High Demand for 2012
InfoWorld (01/31/12) Ted Samson

Companies are looking to hire and retain workers who are skilled in fields such as mobility, cloud computing, software development, and big data. A new Hackett Group report identifies Global 1000 companies' key priorities for the year, while Bluewolf's 2012 IT Salary Guide provides an in-depth look at information technology (IT) salaries and hiring trends. Company executives have identified the need to grow their emerging market presence as one of the most important priorities for 2012, the report notes. "Getting the right information to permit quick action can only be accomplished when mechanisms are in place to gather high-quality data, conduct rigorous analysis, and make decisions with confidence," the report says. "IT and other support functions overwhelmingly recognize this fact and are focusing their technology priorities for 2012 around the themes of improving the foundation of unified data (to create 'one source of truth') and being able to provide analysis and access to those findings." Bluewolf also identified several skills that are in high demand, including proficiency with Eloqua, Marketo, Salesforce, and Google Apps. Companies are also looking for developers that know JavaScript and user interface design, according to Bluewolf.


Scholars Seek Better Ways to Track Impact Online
The Chronicle of Higher Education (01/29/12) Jennifer Howard

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill researchers have developed Total-Impact (TI), a system to track the movement of research across the Web. TI is based on alternative metrics or altmetrics, an approach that aims to measure Web-driven scholarly interactions, such as how often research is tweeted, blogged about, or bookmarked. The goal of the altmetrics movement is to track research's impact via the social Web. "As the volume of academic literature explodes, scholars rely on filters to select the most relevant and significant sources from the rest," says UNC graduate student Jason Priem. Researchers can go to the TI site and enter many forms of research, including blog posts, articles, data sets, and software. The Total-Impact system then searches the Internet for downloads, Twitter links, mentions in open source software libraries, and other indicators that the work is being noticed. "We've also gotten many requests from academic publishers and creators of scholarly Web applications to embed TI data into their pages" using the system's open application programming interface, Priem notes. He says the long-term goal is to completely change the way scholars and administrators think about academic impact and get them to move away from a "citation-fetishizing article monoculture."


University of Maryland M-Urgency App Streams Emergency Information
UMD Newsdesk (01/25/12) Lee Tune

The University of Maryland (UMD) recently launched M-Urgency, a smartphone application that enables students, faculty, and staff to instantly share video, audio, and location information about an emergency with university police dispatchers. "We created this application to not only serve the university--a community of 50,000--but any city across the nation," says UMD professor Ashok Agrawala. "The technology, the way it is developed, can be deployed by anybody anywhere." As part of the M-Urgency system, anyone with a university ID who downloads the app can transmit audio and video to the public safety dispatcher, who will be able to locate the user through the phone's built-in locator tool. "It gives a lot of information that's not easily conveyable by words," Agrawala says. He notes that the app is based on research done at the Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab, which has reduced the background electronic noise in wireless systems that previously made it difficult to pinpoint exact locations. In the near future Agrawala plans to expand the Android-based app to the iPhone and add more functions, including the ability to pinpoint a user's location to within 10 feet.


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