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

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Math and Science Fields Battle Persistent Gender Gap
USA Today (08/02/12) Mary Beth Marklein

Many colleges that specialize in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields have taken steps to increase female enrollment by creating opportunities for women to direct their studies to applications that appeal to them. For example, Harvey Mudd College recently overhauled a required introductory computer science course to allow students more choice in how they apply principles being covered. "Seeing the applications of computing to society is really important [for women], and seeing applications of computing to things they use in their day-to-day lives is important," notes Harvey Mudd's Ran Libeskind-Hadas. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has placed more emphasis on team-based projects that solve global problems such as irrigation and health care. WPI also made SAT scores optional in admissions because they were not accurately predicting the success of its female students, notes the university's Kristin Tichenor. The colleges' efforts appear to be working as female STEM graduation rates are rising. Thirty percent of WPI's 2012 graduating class were women, and WPI's 247 female graduates were its largest number of women ever. The percentage of women at Harvey Mudd College who graduate with a computer science degree has climbed from 12 percent several years ago to 38 percent this year.


Writing Graphics Software Gets Much Easier
MIT News (08/02/12) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed Halide, a programming language they say creates software that is easier to read, write, and revise than image-processing programs written in a conventional language. Halide also automates code-optimization procedures, making the coding process much faster than with other languages. The researchers used Halide to rewrite several common image-processing algorithms that had already been optimized by professional programmers. They say the Halide versions saw as much as six-fold performance gains. A Halide program has one section for the algorithms and another for the processing schedule, which can specify the size and shape of the image chunks that each core needs to process at each step in the schedule. After the schedule has been developed, Halide automatically handles the accounting. "When you have the idea that you might want to parallelize something a certain way or use stages a certain way, when writing that manually, it’s really hard to express that idea correctly," notes MIT's Jonathan Ragan-Kelley. University of California, Davis professor John Owens says Halide "really has all the pieces you want from a completed system, and it’s in a really important application domain."


U.S. Will Push for Open Markets, Free Expression at ITU Meeting
IDG News Service (08/01/12) Grant Gross

The U.S. delegation to the United Nations announced that it will oppose attempts to create new Internet regulations at the upcoming International Telecommunication Union meeting in December. "Our approach is based on the recognition that the existing environment today works amazingly well," says Terry Kramer, the head of the U.S. delegation. "It is empowering telecommunications and human development by quantum leaps." The delegation also is expected to call for continued use of open markets and freedom of expression online. Meanwhile, several countries are expected to push for new, international termination fees for the Internet, which Kramer calls a bad idea that would be difficult to implement. Russia, China, and other countries also are expected to call for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to be removed from its position in control of Internet regulation while others may be in favor of more surveillance of Internet users in efforts to fight spam and fraud. Kramer says the U.S. will oppose both of those efforts. "The Internet has grown precisely because it has not been micro-managed, regulated, or owned by any government or intergovernmental organization," he says.


Twitter Will Gauge Voter Sentiment in New Venture
NextGov.com (08/01/12) Steven Shepard

Twitter says the Twitter Political Index (TwIndex), co-developed by Topsy and two campaign pollsters, can measure users' sentiments about presidential candidates as a supplement to conventional public opinion quantification tools. Topsy devised an algorithm that evaluates a tweet's sentiment the same way a random person would more than 90 percent of the time. Twitter's Adam Sharp notes the program can be tweaked to mirror a campaign's shifting rhetoric. TwIndex also can be applied to illustrate how Twitter users' perceptions of each candidate change. Twitter's advantages over polling by phone include better identification of likely voters. "Someone who tweets about politics regularly is probably a likely voter," Sharp notes. The creation of the index coincides with looming changes in public opinion research methods, as vote polling by phone is becoming increasingly difficult and unaffordable for most news agencies as people migrate to mobile devices. "Seeing what people are spontaneously talking about as it relates to the candidates ... will add something to the conversation going forward," says pollster Jon McHenry. "And it will be super interesting during the debates."


Women’s Participation in Information Technology Patenting, 2012 Update
National Center for Women & Information Technology (07/19/12)

The National Center for Women & Information Technology recently released its updated report on female information technology (IT) patenting, which examines how female participation in IT patenting has evolved over the past 30 years. The report found that from 1980-2010, 6.1 percent of all U.S.-invented patents were invented by female inventors. However, about 65 percent of all patents were produced by teams of one or two men during the same period, according to the report. Although the total percentage of women participating in IT patents is still relatively low, it has been rising. Women held just 2 percent of all IT patents in 1980, but that percentage increased to 6 percent in 2005 and 8 percent in 2010, despite the fact that women's participation in IT occupations has fallen since the 1990s. The report also notes that patenting patterns vary depending on the organization. For example, 20 percent to 30 percent of the patents produced by several companies named at least one female inventor, while for some companies less than 5 percent of their patents named a female inventor. The report suggests that individual organizational environments can influence female patenting patterns.


Internet Research to Level the Playing Field
Research Council of Norway (08/01/12) Norunn K. Torheim

Transmission Control Protocol can cause a delay in data transmissions, which can lead to major problems for time-dependent applications such as Internet telephony and online gaming, according to researchers in Norway. They found that time-dependent applications often generate thin data streams in which only small amounts of data are transmitted at a time, and there can be extended periods between data packages. However, thin streams usually get overrun by greedy traffic and users are left to deal with the resulting time lag, says Simula Research Laboratory's Andreas Petlund. The Research Council of Norway's Core Competence and Value Creation in ICT program aims to reduce latency as much as possible. Network researchers want to use simulation and modeling tools to learn more about the network behavior of thin data streams. "We may thoroughly understand each individual mechanism or sub-protocol under controlled conditions, but in the Internet jungle it is rather like putting something into a black box without knowing what’s going to come out the other end," Petlund says. Researchers also are using more traditional research techniques to discover how thin streams behave both in test networks and when they are transmitted via the Internet.


Identifying Dolphins With Technology
Newswise (07/31/12)

Eckerd College researchers have developed Digital Analysis and Recognition of Whale Images on a Network (DARWIN), software that simplifies the photo identification of bottlenose dolphins by using computer vision and signal-processing techniques to automate most of the manual photo identification process. Eckerd professor Kelly Debure says DARWIN "effectively performs registration of image data to compensate for the fact that the photographs are taken from different angles and distances and compares digital images of new dorsal fins with a database of previously identified fins." DARWIN employs an automated process to produce a tracing of the fin outline, which is used to formulate a sketch-based database query. The system uses various image-processing and computer vision algorithms to perform the matching process that identifies the previously cataloged fins that most closely resemble the unknown fin. DARWIN ranks catalog fin images from most like to least like the unknown fin image and presents images for side by side manual comparison. "Although it was originally developed for use with bottlenose dolphins, it has been used by research groups on related species such as fin whales, indo-pacific humpback dolphins, spinner dolphins, and basking sharks," Debure notes.


Computers May Need Patterns to Think Better
CSU News (Australia) (07/31/12) Wes Ward

An international research team, led by Charles Sturt University professor Terry Bossomaier and University of Sydney professor Allen Snyder, is investigating patterns that help computers think better. They say a major difference between human thinking and computational intelligence is that humans use a vast library of patterns, divided up into tens of thousands of smaller chunks of patters, to develop an intuitive grasp of a situation. The researchers aimed to develop a deeper understanding of how these chunks are gained and how they change with experience. "We decided to use the ancient oriental game of Go and study how experts in Go use patterns to remember strategies for the game, and how these might be simulated in a computer program," Bossomaier says. The first phase of the research found that human knowledge undergoes dramatic reorganization moving from amateur to professional ranks. "The change takes place not just in the areas of ‘deep strategy,' where one would expect the big gains to be, but also there is a radical reorganization at the perceptual level," Bossomaier says.


Dutch Computer Scientists Present Smile Database
University of Amsterdam (07/30/2012)

University of Amsterdam researchers say they have created the most comprehensive smile database in history. The researchers made video recordings of posed smiles and spontaneous smiles for 481 test subjects. The subjects also were asked to look angry, happy, sad, surprised, and scared. The researchers analyzed certain characteristics, such as how quickly the corners of the mouth turn upwards, which can be applied to software that guesses people's ages, recognizes emotions, and analyzes human behavior. Test subjects also examined images of other test subjects, and guessed their age, rated their attractiveness, and assessed character traits. The accumulated data helped the researchers create software that can calculate a person's age, and adjusts its estimates by accounting for the subject's emotional state. The researchers note the software is slightly better than humans at estimating ages, being six years off, on average, while people's estimates are seven years off.


Microsoft Tech to Control Computers With a Flex of a Finger
Read Write Web (07/30/12) Mark Hachman

Controlling computers through finger movements is the focus of Microsoft's development of electromyography (EMG) controlled computing technology. The company recently applied for a patent on a wearable electromyography-based controller, claiming that an EMG sensor is a universal technique for controlling any computing device. Such a sensor can detect electrical impulses generated by motor neurons, and the Microsoft patent proposes to interpret these impulses without requiring a physical interface. The EMG sensors could be incorporated into devices or garments, and Microsoft's application aims to tackle the problem of calibration. Since muscles, fat, and skin can interfere with signal detection, either a single sensor has to be well positioned or a network of sensors must engage with each other to interpret the signals. The sensors would link wirelessly to a central controller or hub that would function as the point for communicating with external devices. Microsoft suggests this hub could be something similar to a smartphone or an integrated device such as a wristwatch. The company's favored EMG controller is an armband outfitted with a ring of vibrating elements around the edge, which would buzz to signal the acceptance of a user command.


Pop Music Too Loud and All Sounds the Same
Reuters (07/26/12) Chris Wickham

Spanish National Research Council researchers used the Million Song Dataset, which breaks down audio and lyrical content into data, to analyze pop music from 1955 to 2010. The researchers, led by artificial intelligence specialist Joan Serra, found that pop songs have become increasingly louder and more bland over the last 50 years. "We found evidence of a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse," Serra says. "In particular, we obtained numerical indicators that the diversity of transitions between note combinations--roughly speaking chords plus melodies--has consistently diminished in the last 50 years." The researchers also found that the timbre palette has become poorer, meaning that modern pop music has a more limited variety of sounds. Serra notes that their study is the first to measure the loudness of music using a large database.


Big Data at Your Service
CORDIS News (07/25/12)

The growing use of information and communication technology is generating vast volumes of structured and unstructured data that present an opportunity that European Union (EU) research initiatives are seeking to take advantage of by promoting open data. For example, the EU-funded Weknowit project, also called emerging, collective intelligence for personal, organizational, and social use, has devised a platform for converting unstructured user-produced content into a new collective intelligence with many uses. Project coordinator Yiannis Kompatsiaris says the platform includes "meaningful topics, entities, points of interest, social connections, and events." Projects that could benefit scientific research include the data infrastructures ecosystem for science effort, which has developed an interoperable framework to enable the sharing of different e-infrastructures' computing and software resources irrespective of location, format, technology, language, protocol, or workflow. Some EU projects are exploring the commercial monetization of structured data, one being the commercially empowered linked open data (LOD) ecosystems in research project. Its objective is to develop a robust LOD commercialization platform based on a value-creation-chain among traditional and nontraditional roles in data marketplaces. Meanwhile, the linguistically motivated semantic aggregation engines project focuses on the leveraging of language and semantic search technology to enhance the online experience.


Apple Bowl-Headed Patent Shows Wearable Computing Plans
Phys.Org (07/29/2012) Nancy Owano

Apple recently submitted a patent application for "display resolution increase with mechanical actuation," an invention that aims to compete with Google's Project Glass in developing wearable computing devices. Apple's goal appears to be to improve the resolution of images seen through a head-mounted display. "There are provided apparatuses and methods for increasing the pixel density of a digital display through mechanical actuation," according to the patent application. The display is coupled to the display controller and is configured to show the contents of the sampled planes. Apple's application says the controller is especially configured to sequentially feed the sampled planes to the display for sequential display. It notes that at least one actuator interfaces with the display to displace it for the displaying of the sampled planes, so that pixels of each plane are show in a unique location from the pixels of other planes. The patent application also raises the possibility of multiple embodiments.


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