Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the July 18, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

ACM TechNews mobile apps are available for Android phones and tablets (click here) and for iPhones (click here) and iPads (click here).


Can We Fix Computer Science Education in America?
Time (07/16/12) Keith Wagstaff

Computer science is the only one of the science, technology, engineering, and math fields that has seen a decrease in student participation during the last 20 years, falling from 25 percent to 19 percent, according to a recent National Center for Education Statistics report. "Many kids come to high school without any experience in computer science, especially in lower resource schools," says the U.S. National Science Foundation's Jan Cuny. "They're not really ready to take a year-long course in Java." In 2010, just 14,517 students took the AP computer science test, compared to the 194,784 students that took the AP calculus test, according to the College Board. Even if schools were able to implement engaging computer science courses, it would still be very difficult to find qualified teachers. Many teachers often have neither the background in computer science or the certification making them qualified to teach it. “What often happens is that we spend a lot of effort trying to get technology into schools, but that isn’t coupled with ensuring that there is a really strong computer science curriculum behind it with really good teachers,” says Cameron Wilson, ACM’s director of public policy. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) recently introduced the Computer Science Education Act, which aims to create defined computer science education standards and provide grants to states to update their computer science programs.

Universities Reshaping Education on the Web
New York Times (07/17/12) Tamar Lewin

Coursera, an online higher education company founded last year by Stanford University computer scientists Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, announced an expansion that will offer more than 100 free massive open online courses (MOOCs) taught by professors at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. "This is the tsunami," says Richard A. DeMillo, director of 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. "The potential upside for this experiment is so big that it's hard for me to imagine any large research university that wouldn't want to be involved." MOOCs could change the face of higher education, providing opportunities to hundreds of millions of people due to the ability to personalize material and the capacity to analyze huge numbers of student experiences. Each online course is broken into manageable sections, including short video segments, interactive quizzes, and online forums where students can answer each other's questions. About 66 percent of Coursera's students are from overseas, and most courses attract tens of thousands of students, which is irresistible for many professors. MOOCs could prove to be most helpful to people older than traditional college undergraduates and international students, says University of Michigan professor Scott E. Page.

Upbeat U.S. Research Trends Buck Trend
Science Insider (07/16/12) Jeffrey Mervis

The U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF's) recent biennial Science and Engineering Indicators report reveals several positive developments affecting U.S. research spending, innovation, and the scientific workforce. For example, the report notes the U.S.'s investment in research, as a share of its gross domestic product, reached a record high of 2.9 percent in 2009. The report also says that total research and development expenditures have risen steadily over the past 20 years and are up 167 percent since 1990. In addition, the report says the U.S.'s scientific and engineering workforce grew by 1.4 percent annually over the last 10 years, about seven times faster than the average annual growth rate of the overall labor market. Finally, the report notes that during the recent recession, industry's share of overall U.S. research and development spending fell from 69 percent in 2000 to 62 percent in 2009, which means that more federal funds are being directed to academic research rather than industrial research. Later this year NSF also plans to issue a report that addresses declining funding for flagship public research universities.

Your Laptop Can Now Analyze Big Data
Technology Review (07/17/12) John Pavlus

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed GraphChi, a framework for running large-scale computations on one personal computer (PC). The researchers say the software could help developers create a recommendation engine using social network connections. GraphChi takes advantage of the ample hard disk space available in modern PCs to complete graph computations. For example, CMU's Carlos Guestrin says a Mac Mini running GraphChi can analyze Twitter's social graph from 2010, which contains 40 million users and 1.2 billion connections, in 59 minutes. "The previous published result on this problem took 400 minutes using a cluster of about 1,000 computers," Guestrin notes. Graph analysis also drives the development of new Web products, says the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Jeremy Kepner. "Enabling Web developers to construct these analyses on their desktop computers catalyzes these industries and accelerates product development," Kepner says. In addition, GraphChi can analyze streaming graphs, which more accurately simulate large networks by showing how relationships change over time. "Tools like GraphChi will let many companies and startups solve all their graph-computing needs on a single machine," Guestrin says.

HiPEAC Has Triggered Fundamental Changes in the Computing Systems Landscape in Europe
HiPEAC (06/29/12) Eduardo Martinez

The second edition of the HiPEAC network, which consisted of eight European universities and four companies and ran from January 2008 through January 2012, successfully passed its final review. In particular, HiPEAC's review panel highlighted three major accomplishments: The biannual HiPEAC roadmap, which created a solid vision for computing systems research in Europe; the HiPEAC conference, which has tripled in attendance over the duration of the project; and the ACACES summer school, which remains a high-quality training event organized by the network. The third edition of the HiPEAC network will run through 2015. "The focus of the third edition will be to continue the successes of the just finished network, and in addition seriously focus on promoting innovation and stimulating technology transfer, on attracting and training new talent, and on the exploitation of emerging new technologies in computing systems," says Ghent University professor Koen De Bosschere. The third edition also will focus on organizing a series of technology transfer workshops and developing new technologies. "These efforts, in combination with the increased funding for computing systems in the next framework program Horizon 2020, must accelerate European innovation in computing systems," De Bosschere says.

Meaningful Use of Complex Medical Data
CCC Blog (07/16/12) Erwin Gianchandani

The Meaningful Use of Complex Medical Data (MUCMD) symposium, which aims to bring together computer scientists, systems engineers, clinicians, and others to explore the opportunities and challenges introduced by the growing abundance of digital data captured during the delivery of clinical care, recently issued a call for participation. The symposium, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, takes place August 10-12 in Los Angeles and features a hackathon using actual clinical data. "The program includes invited talks, peer-reviewed poster presentations, panels, break-out sessions, and ample time for thoughtful discussion and robust debate," says the MUCMD announcement. Topics discussed at the symposium will include privacy-preserving storage architectures, machine learning for clinical data, real-time decision support, health behavior tracking, monetization, and turning clinical data into actionable information. Applications to attend and abstract submissions are currently being accepted through the symposium Web site.

Frog Calls Inspire a New Algorithm for Wireless Networks
Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (07/17/12)

Polytechnic University of Catalonia researchers have developed an algorithm based on the desynchronized form of calling used by Japanese tree frogs that assigns colors to network nodes, which can be applied to the development of more efficient wireless networks. "Since there is no system of central control organizing this 'desynchronization,' the mechanism may be considered as an example of natural self-organization," says Polytechnic's Christian Blum. He notes that this behavior provided inspiration for solving the "graph-coloring problem" in an even and distributed way. As in the case of the frog's desynchronized calls, operating in a distributed fashion implies that there is no other way of central control that helps to solve the problem with a global vision and all the information on the situation. The algorithm assigns colors to network nodes and ensures that each pair of connected nodes is not the same color while generating a valid solution that uses the least amount of colors. "This type of graph coloring is the formalization of a problem that arises in many areas of the real world, such as the optimization of modern wireless networks with no predetermined structure using techniques for reducing losses in information packages and energy efficiency improvement," Blum says.

Carbon-Based Transistors Ramp Up Speed and Memory for Mobile Devices
American Friends of Tel Aviv University (07/16/12)

Tel Aviv University researchers have developed a memory transistor that can both transfer and store energy, eliminating the need for a capacitor. The researchers say their molecular memory transistor can store and disseminate information at high speed. They placed carbon molecules in the channels of a transistor, creating a smaller-than-silicone, high-speed transistor that also can do the job of a capacitor. "When this new technology is integrated into future devices, you will have much more memory on your smartphones and tablets, approaching the level of a laptop," says Tel Aviv University researcher Elad Mentovich. The next step is to find a fabrication facility with the necessary materials to manufacture the transistors. Mentovich says the benefit of this technology is that with the right equipment, which he notes is stand