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Welcome to the February 10, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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W3C Co-Chair: Apple, Google Power Causing Open Web Crisis
CNet (02/09/12) Stephen Shankland

The dominance of Apple and Google mobile browsers is leading to a situation that is even worse for Web programming than the former dominance of Internet Explorer, according to World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) group co-chairman Daniel Glazman, who is overseeing the formatting and effects standard known as Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Programmers are overlooking other browsers when they use newer CSS features, even if other browsers support those features. This issue will result in some browsers, namely Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera, having to disguise themselves as other browsers. During a recent CSS Working Group meeting, Mozilla, Opera, and Microsoft executives indicated they have resigned themselves to accepting the current situation by embracing WebKit-enabled features. "WebKit, the rendering engine at the heart of Safari and Chrome, living in iPhones, iPads and Android devices, is now the over-dominant browser on the mobile Web and technically, the mobile Web is full of works-only-in-WebKit Web sites while other browsers and their users are crying," Glazman says. The problem is that programmers use the -webkit prefix without including -o for Opera, -ms for Microsoft Internet Explorer, or -moz for Mozilla's Firefox. "I am asking all the Web authors community to stop designing Web sites for WebKit only, in particular when adding support for other browsers is only a matter of adding a few extra prefixed CSS properties," Glazman says.

Federal Standards Body Focuses on Big Data, Cloud
Information Week (02/07/12) J. Nicholas Hoover

In 2012, the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST's) IT Laboratory will place a new emphasis on big data and mobility technologies, and will continue to work on cybersecurity and cloud computing, according to IT Lab director Chuck Romine. NIST will be increasing its work on standards, interoperability, reliability, and usability of big data technologies, Romine notes. One of NIST's new priorities is the "inexorable push to mobility," which includes developing new standards for wireless network technologies. NIST also is working on a strategic planning process that will engage other agencies and the private sector to help decide which technologies to pursue in the future. NIST is developing a Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, which aims to increase collaboration between NIST and other agencies and the private sector on the development of cybersecurity-related technologies. The center will offer pilot programs for private-sector organizations that want to be on the cutting edge of cybersecurity innovation. NIST also is working on the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, a government-industry project to facilitate the development and adoption of more robust identity and authentication technologies. NIST is additionally focusing on the development of new cloud computing standards, with a concentration on interoperability, privacy, security, reliability, and usability.

White House and Universities Pledge Greater Effort to Retain Science Students
Chronicle of Higher Education (02/07/12) Paul Basken

The Obama administration is spearheading a strategy to boost the number of U.S. science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates by working harder to retain those already in school. Increasing the retention of students majoring in STEM fields from the current level of below 40 percent to 50 percent would create 75 percent of the one million additional degrees in STEM disciplines that the White House views as necessary over the next 10 years. "Retaining more STEM majors is the lowest-cost, fastest policy option to provide the STEM professionals that the nation needs for economic and societal well-being," says a report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. The council's main recommendations include giving students greater hands-on research experience at the undergraduate level and creating new paths to a science degree through both two- and four-year institutions. Association of American Universities president Hunter R. Rawlings III says U.S. universities are part of the problem because they do put enough emphasis on hiring and keeping faculty with teaching skills, and by too often discouraging rather than encouraging their STEM students. Rawlings recently proposed a five-year campaign to improve science teaching at the association's 61 member institutions.

Europe Goes for Computing Technologies as Driver for Competitiveness
HiPEAC (02/07/12)

The High-Performance and Embedded Architectures and Compilers Network (HiPEAC) was created in 2004 as a way to organize the European computing systems community, which now represents more than 1,000 active researchers. The recent HiPEAC 2012 Conference highlighted the goal of getting energy efficient and low-cost computing technologies into the full spectrum of devices and systems, says the European Commission's Max Lemke. "Computing is a key enabler for Europe's competitiveness in engineering, which is a key driver for the European economy,” Lemke says. "Europe has to leverage its unique expertise in embedded and mobile computing systems to innovate in energy efficient and low-cost computing technologies." EuroCloud, one of the current European flagship projects, for example, aims to increase the efficiency in server chip level power consumption by 10. HiPEAC 2012 also was noteworthy for being the first computing conference to implement a journal-first publication model. "The idea is that the paper selection is outsourced to a journal, and that the authors are afterwards invited to present their work at the conference,” says Chalmers University of Technology professor Per Stenstrom. “This combines the benefits of journal publication with the networking and exposure benefits of a well-attended conference."

Weave Open Source Data Visualization Offers Power, Flexibility
Computerworld (02/08/12) Sharon Machlis

The open source Weave project is a platform designed to make it easier for government agencies, nonprofits, and corporate users to offer the public a way to analyze data. The platform enables users to simultaneously highlight items on multiple visualizations, including map, map legend, bar chart, and scatter plot. The benefits of Weave's interactivity go beyond the visual appeal of selecting an area on a chart and seeing matches highlighted on a map, notes Connecticut Data Collaborative project coordinator James Farnam. Weave aims to help organizations democratize data visualization tools, creating a way for anyone interested in a topic to explore and analyze information about it, instead of leaving the task solely to computer and data specialists, says Georges G. Grinstein, director of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell's Institute for Visualization and Perception Research, which created Weave. "Now [you're] engaging the public in a dialog with the data," Grinstein says. "That's why Weave is open source and free." Weave is so powerful that one of the challenges of implementing it is how to narrow down its offerings so that end users would not be overwhelmed with too many options, says the Metropolitan Area Planning Council's Holly St. Clair.

Microsoft Gives C++ Developers Compute Power of the GPU
eWeek (02/03/12) Darryl K. Taft

Microsoft has developed C++ Accelerated Massive Parallelism (C++ AMP), a new specification that will make it easier for C++ programmers to take advantage of the computing power in graphics processing units (GPUs). C++ AMP is already implemented in Visual Studio 11 and gives C++ developers access to accelerators such as the GPU for parallel programming. C++ AMP has three categories of functionality, including the C++ language and compiler, a runtime that contains an AMP abstraction of lower-level accelerator application programming interfaces, and a programming model composed of C++ AMP entry points and call sites. Microsoft aims to provide the C++ community with a standard that will give C++ developers the ability to code for the compute power of GPUs and other heterogeneous hardware. The release of the C++ AMP spec "means compiler developers and vendors now have the ability to implement C++ AMP in their compilers, just as Microsoft has done, broadening access for C++ developers everywhere to the possibilities offered by heterogeneous hardware," says S. Somasegar with Microsoft's Developer Division.

Virtual Internships in Rising Demand
MentorNet (02/06/12) Sapna Protheroe

Virtual internships, in which students work for an employer over the Web, increasingly are being offered at college campuses, with advantages for both students and employers. Career services officers and operators of national intern job search boards report an increase in such internships in the last several years, particularly from small ventures and startups seeking additional assistance to grow their business. With remote opportunities, resource-limited students can apply for internships in places where the cost of living would be unaffordable, notes the University of Michigan's GeniHarclerode. "I think there is an appeal with some of these virtual internships because they can still contribute to an organization while living at home for the summer and saving money," Harclerode says.’s Lauren Berger notes that university career services centers are beginning to become more amenable to virtual internships, as long as they are sufficiently structured and have a point person who can provide students with daily guidance and feedback on assignments. Columbia University’s program, for example, matches 10 to 15 students each year with virtual internships the school reviews and selects. Columbia’s career office makes sure the students are trained in time management skills and virtual communication before work starts.

Children's Hospital Boston Launches the CLARITY Challenge
CCC Blog (02/06/12) Erwin Gianchandani

Children's Hospital Boston is accepting applications to participate in its Children's Leadership Award for the Reliable Interpretation and appropriate Transmission of Your genomic information (CHARITY) Challenge through March 1. Announced in late January, the CLARITY Challenge will serve as a vehicle for creating standards for analyzing, interpreting, reporting, and using genomic information in clinical settings. No more than 20 teams will be selected, and they will be notified in April. "Challengers will be provided with de-identified genomic and/or exomic data and relevant medical history from three families with suspected pediatric genetic disease," says the contest Web site. "Over approximately four months, challengers will be asked to identify the best methods for analyzing the data, identify disease-causing mutations related to the patients' phenotypes, and report relevant information back to clinicians in a written format." A judging panel will evaluate their methods, results, and written clinical reports. The CLARITY Challenge will announce the winning research team in October, which will receive a $25,000 prize.

Internet Freedom Could Turn on 'Middle Countries'
CIO (02/07/12) Kenneth Corbin

The greatest uncertainty in international Internet freedom is found in countries that have neither made forceful affirmations of online freedom nor implemented rigid, state-sanctioned censorship frameworks, says Google's Bob Boorstin. "The countries that I'm most concerned with in the next couple of years and that I think are most worth looking at are those in the middle--the Brazils and the Indias and Argentinas and the Chiles and the North African countries and Southeast Asian [countries], like Indonesia, the Philippines," Boorstin says. "And the question I want to put on the table is which way are they going to go?" U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently made Internet freedom the subject of a major policy speech, stating that it would become a focal point of U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic strategy. "Virtually everyone has woken up to the fact that the Internet matters to foreign policy," says Clinton policy adviser Ben Scott. "This is an issue that no one can ignore anymore." However, Scott notes that although there is a fundamental understanding that "technology is a catalyst for economic growth" throughout the international community, there are many government, academic, and business leaders who doubt that the Internet represents a net good.

Nina Amenta: Looking for Patterns and Collaborations in the Data
CITRIS Newsletter (02/06/12) Gordy Slack

University of California (UC), Davis professor Nina Amenta recently became director of UC Davis' Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS). One of Amenta's focal points as director will be addressing climate change. "We could be looking at terrible consequences in terms of agriculture, sea-level rise, and increasingly intense weather patterns," Amenta says. As new CITRIS director, Amenta will help IT researchers collaborate more effectively with the Center for Watershed Sciences and the Energy Efficiency Center, which are working on climate related issues. Amenta also wants to get more Davis IT researchers involved with CITRIS activities at the UC Davis Medical Center. "Monitoring a diabetes patient using their phone, or letting a patient visit a specialist through video conferencing, rather than driving for two hours, just makes so much sense in today's environment," Amenta says. Amenta herself is currently working on an effort to more fully exploit the parallel processors found in graphics processing units. Another current project involves modeling the gradual evolutionary change of primate species over time by combining laser scanner models of the skulls of existing and fossil species, with an evolutionary tree computations based on genomic data.

Research Could Make Portable Power Networks Easier to Run
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (02/06/12) Stephen Harris

New technology from Strathclyde University could make it easier to run portable electricity networks at military bases and disaster relief camps. The Self-Organizing Protection System automatically reconfigures the electrical protection system of a network to ensure it operates safely. As a result, off-grid networks are able to connect equipment or energy sources without having to manually reconfigure the entire infrastructure. Strathclyde researchers developed algorithms that enable the network to reconfigure itself safely. "Rather than having all the intelligence and know-how sitting in the head of an engineer who gets the plans out, what if we put that intelligence out in the power network so that the individual devices can communicate with each other, work out what's going on, and decide what the best way to go about it is?" asks Strathclyde's Ian Elders. The prototype system includes electrical and communications infrastructure to demonstrate how the algorithms manage the addition or removal of equipment, as well as faults in the system. The researchers say the technology also has potential use in other autonomous systems such as oil platforms or unmanned aerial vehicles.

Students Create Life Saving Software
The Mancunion (02/06/2012) Ruth Wildman

Survivors of natural disasters and aid workers stand to benefit from new software developed by a team of computer scientists at the University of Manchester. Undergraduate students Lloyd Henning and Peter Sutton were part of a team led by professor Gavin Brown that developed the REUNITE program, which enables rescue teams to record details of refugees and survivors and identify missing people. Interviews are transcribed and relayed to workers who are not at the scene of the disaster, who can add the information to an encrypted server. As a result, details at and away from the incident can be relayed. The team also developed Where's Safe?, software that can direct people to safe areas following an incident. Information on the closest safe point is relayed after a survivor sends a text message. Moreover, the team has designed the software to calculate the malnutrition levels of infants. The calculation of their body mass index would tell aid workers at the scene the amount of fluid or food administered.

Misfortune Teller
The Atlantic (02/01/12) Vol. 309, No. 1, P. 18 Nadya Labi

University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Berk's work in behavioral analysis has yielded algorithms that are helping police and corrections officials predict recidivism. To create one algorithm, Berk mined criminal databases dating back to the 1960s, initially modeling the program on more than 100,000 old cases. The algorithm relies on 36 predictors, including the criminal's age, sex, neighborhood, and number of prior crimes. To devise a program that projects a specific outcome, Berk applied a subset of the data to teach the computer the qualities corresponding to that outcome. "I use tens of thousands of cases to build the system, [as well as] asymmetric costs of false positives and false negatives, real tests of forecasting accuracy, the discovery of new forecasting relationships, and ... machine learning," Berk notes. He developed an algorithm for the purpose of forecasting who among some 50,000 offenders supervised by Philadelphia's Adult Probation and Parole Department were likely to commit a serious crime within two years. Berk's algorithm revealed that a crime for which an offender was sentenced does not predict a future violent offense as well as the age at which the person committed his first crime, and the interim between other crimes and the most recent one.

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