Welcome to the October 5, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
Please note: In observance of the Columbus Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Oct. 8. Publication will resume Wednesday, Oct. 10.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Big Data Skills Gap Needs Filling Says Tech Industry
The Register (UK) (10/04/12) Iain Thomson
Many technology industry officials are worried about a growing skills gap in education and training in the field of data analysis. "The next 50 years are going to be about data science, people who understand the semantics of data, how to visualize the data and present it to business people," says EMC's Jeremy Burton. However, there are thousands of job vacancies in the industry, according to TechAmerica Foundation's recent Big Data Commission report. "Part of the reason is that we need people who are better equipped to understand large data sets and finding new data sources," says commission co-chair Steve Lucas. "It's not just computer science, not just engineering, and not just mathematics--you need elements from all of them to educate people on big data use." The report recommends setting up an IT Leadership Academy to promote such skills and for training facilities to build in big data understanding into technology curricula. Firms and government departments also would benefit from establishing a role for a chief data officer, responsible for managing and understanding data streams internally and externally.
Numbers of Women in Science and Technology Fields Alarmingly Low in Leading Economies
Women in Global Science & Technology and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World recently conducted a study examining the opportunities and obstacles faced by women in science across the United States, the European Union, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea, and Indonesia. The report found that the number of women working in the science, technology, and innovation fields is very low, and in some cases declining, in the world's leading economies. Women remain underrepresented in degree programs in scientific fields, and the number of women working in these fields is declining across the board, according to the report. The research shows that women's parity in the science, technology, and innovation fields is linked to empowerment factors, including higher economic status; larger roles in government and politics; access to economic, productive, and technological resources; quality healthcare; and financial resources. The research also shows that women have greater parity in countries with government policies that support health and childcare, equal pay, and gender mainstreaming. "This study identifies key areas of national strength and weakness, and we hope it will help form the basis of evidence-based policymaking and aid going forward," says Elsevier Foundation executive director David Ruth.
Google Puts Its Virtual Brain Technology to Work
Technology Review (10/05/12) Tom Simonite
Google's recently developed learning software, which can identify specific objects by watching YouTube videos, is now being used to make Google's products smarter. Google's learning software is based on simulating groups of connected brain cells that communicate and influence one another. When this type of neural network is exposed to data, the relationships between different neurons can change, giving the network the ability to react in certain ways to incoming data of a particular kind. Google now is using the neural network to improve speech-recognition technology. "We got between 20 and 25 percent improvement in terms of words that are wrong," says Google researcher Vincent Vanhoucke. In addition, Google's image-search tools will benefit from the neural network. Google's self-driving car and Google Goggles also will improve from software that can make better sense of more real-world data. Meanwhile, Google researchers are testing models that understand both images and text together. "We are seeing better than human-level performance in some visual tasks," notes Google researcher Jeff Dean.
Alan Turing's Cyber-Legacy Praised by GCHQ Chief
BBC News (10/04/12) Chris Vallance
GCHQ director Iain Lobban recently gave a speech noting the many enduring lessons that could be drawn from Alan Turing's work. Lobban says there are "many parallels between the way we work now and the way we worked then," and he notes Turing was a key player in the changes that took place at the United Kingdom's intelligence agency. Lobban says Turing helped make possible the "highly technological intelligence organization that GCHQ is today." He also says Turing was part of a code-breaking effort, based at Bletchley Park, that marked a shift into a mindset that technology could be used as a weapon against technology. "Today, securing cyberspace ... requires the collaboration of experts as diverse both personally and intellectually as any we saw at Bletchley Park," Lobban says. "We must inspire school children to study maths and science--we must find tomorrow's Turings."
Calling All Digital Divas, Web Chix, & Coder Girls!
National Center for Women & Information Technology (09/15/12)
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is currently taking applications for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, which recognizes high school-level women for their aspirations and accomplishments in technology and computing. The award is open to girls in the United States and Puerto Rico in ninth through 12th grade, and students can apply online at www.aspirationsaward.org. The NCWIT Aspirations in Computing program is intended to boost women's participation in technology careers by offering encouragement, visibility, community, leadership opportunities, scholarships, and internships. More than 850 young women have been recognized by the award since its 2007 inception, and more than 90 percent of NCWIT Award-winners now in college report majoring in traditionally male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. The award is offered both nationally and locally, with more than 300 organizations supporting more than 30 Affiliate Awards across the country.
Better Tools for Better Software
Northeastern University News (10/04/12) Angela Herring
Northeastern University professor Matthias Felleisen recently received the 2012 Achievement Award from ACM's SIGPLAN for his work on Racket, which enables programmers to turn familiar vocabulary into a programming language. Racket was originally developed as a research tool, but now it also is used as an educational platform and as a programming language found in many real-world settings. Felleisen says the overarching goal of his research is to develop better tools for better software. The Northeastern researchers also have developed a type of referee system that helps programmers find the source of errors. "It specifies what a software component promises to do for you and what it expects from you in return," Felleisen says. "It can pinpoint exactly where some component broke its promise." He notes the referee system is a key component in developing a sound programming language.
Automated Translation of Sign Language Into Text Is Now a Reality
University of Aberdeen (10/03/12) Jennifer Phillips
University of Aberdeen researchers are developing technology that can automatically translate sign language into text. The researchers say the software is the first of its kind and has the potential to revolutionize how sign language users communicate. "The aim of the technology known as the Portable Sign language Translator is to empower sign language users by enabling them to overcome communication challenges through portable technology," says Aberdeen professor Ernesto Compatangelo. He says the application can be used on various types of mobile devices, enabling users to customize sign language to their own specific needs. "The user signs into a standard camera integrated into a laptop, netbook, smartphone, or other portable device such as a tablet," and the signs are immediately translated into text that can be read by the person they are conversing with, Compatangelo says.
Virginia Tech to Tackle the 'Big Data' Challenges of Next-Generation Sequencing With HokieSpeed
Virginia Tech News (10/03/12) Lynn Nystrom
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health recently announced about $15 million in new big data fundamental research projects that aim to develop tools and methods to extract and use knowledge from collections of large data sets to accelerate progress in science and engineering research. One award was given to Virginia Tech University for the development of HokieSpeed, a supercomputing instrument with in-situ visualization. The Virginia Tech researchers, along with those from Iowa State and Stanford universities, want to develop techniques that would enable scientists to leverage high-performance computing. The research will be conducted in the context of grand challenge problems in human genetics and metagenomics or the study of metagenomes, the genetic material received directly from environmental samples. The researchers are using the award to create a framework for faster genome analysis to make it easier for genomics researchers to identify mutations relevant to cancer. "By funding new types of collaborations--multi-disciplinary teams and communities enabled by new data access policies--and with the start of an exciting competition, we are realizing plans to advance the complex, science and engineering grand challenges of today and to fortify U.S. competitiveness for decades to come," says NSF director Subra Suresh.
University of Minnesota Engineers Invent New Device That Could Increase Internet Download Speeds
UMNews (10/02/12) Matt Hodson
A device that controls light could lead to faster Internet downloading speeds, more affordable Internet transmission costs, and lower power consumption. Scientists and engineers at the University of Minnesota developed the microscale device, which uses force generated by light to flip a mechanical switch of light on and off at a very high speed. "This device is similar to electromechanical relays but operates completely with light," says professor Mo Li. In the device, the force of light is so strong that its mechanical property can be dominated completely by the optical effect rather than its own mechanical structure. The effect is amplified to control additional colored light signals at a much higher power level. "This is the first time that this novel optomechanical effect is used to amplify optical signals without converting them into electrical ones," Li notes. Glass optical fibers carry multiple communication channels using different colors of light assigned to different channels. In optical cables, these multi-hued channels do not interfere with each other, ensuring the efficiency of a single optical fiber to transmit more information over very long distances. The new optical relay device operates 1 million times per second, but researchers expect to improve it to several billion times per second.
Thanks for the Transparent Memories
Rice University (10/02/12) Mike Williams
Rice University researchers have made transparent, non-volatile, heat- and radiation-resistant memory chips from silicon oxide sandwiched between electrodes of graphene. The team was able to put the test chips onto flexible pieces of plastic, and they believe the paper-thin, see-through memories could be manufactured in large capacities at a reasonable price. The researchers are designing next-generation memories that could be used in windshields or displays with embedded electronics, or even in flexible, transparent cell phones. "Now we're making these memories with about an 80 percent yield of working devices, which is pretty good for a non-industrial lab," says Rice professor James Tour. The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration has decided to include samples of the chips in an experimental package bound for the International Space Station. "We're working with several companies that are interested either in getting their chips to do this kind of switching or in the possibility of making radiation-hard devices out of this," Tour notes. He says the two-terminal memory devices could be ubiquitous in the not-too-distant future.
Sandia Builds Self-Contained, Android-Based Network to Study Cyber Disruptions and Help Secure Hand-Held Devices
Sandia National Laboratories (10/02/12) Mike Janes
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories expect to soon complete a sophisticated demonstration of the behavior of smartphone networks. The researchers have been studying large networks of smartphones with hopes of making them more reliable and secure. As part of the MegaDroid project, Sandia researchers have linked together 300,000 virtual handheld computing devices running Google's Android operating system. A key element of the Android project is a "spoof" Global Positioning System, and researchers note that the main challenge is the sheer complexity of the software, considering Google wrote 14 million lines of code and it runs on top of a Linux kernel, which more than doubles the amount of code. Sandia researchers will develop software that enables others in the cyberresearch community to model similar environments and better protect handheld devices. "Smartphones are now ubiquitous and used as general-purpose computing devices as much as desktop or laptop computers," says Sandia's David Fritz. "But even though they are easy targets, no one appears to be studying them at the scale we're attempting."
UC Davis Smartphone Application Will Allow Instant Polling for Presidential Debate Wednesday
UC Davis News & Information (10/02/12) Karen Nikos
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, University of Maryland, and University of Arkansas, Little Rock have developed a smartphone application that could make live polling possible for the first time on a large scale. The program will be tested during the three 2012 presidential debates, as well as the vice presidential debate. The app enables people to use button taps to indicate agreement or disagreement with candidates' arguments. Users also will be able to designate when they think a candidate is spinning a fact or dodging a question. The researchers say thousands of college students around the country are expected to test the app as they watch the debates. The students will be asked pre- and post-survey questions aimed at collecting demographic information and to help measure changes in attitudes toward the candidates during the debates. In the future, the app also could be used to get live reactions to other events, such as public speeches or football games, says Davis professor Amber Boydstun. “There is very little data in the political science world that deals with real-time reaction, and this will help us get that information," Boydstun says.
Tracking Illness to Stop an Outbreak
Iowa City Press-Citizen (10/01/12) Josh O'Leary
University of Iowa researchers have developed CompEpi, a system for conducting data-driven research that probes how diseases spread. The researchers want to determine how technology can be used to monitor and improve disease containment. Since CompEpi was launched about five years ago, the researchers have conducted several studies through Iowa hospitals and clinics, starting with hiring graduate students to observe and record workers' movements and interactions. Then the researchers used medical record system log-ins to track the workers' movements throughout the hospital. The researchers also developed wearable computers consisting of a repurposed pager case that holds a processor and radio that broadcasts a worker's location every 13 seconds. "One of our overarching goals is to develop computational approaches to help understand why and in what situations health care workers do not practice appropriate hand hygiene and to use our findings to help model and understand other behaviors in order to make hospitals safer," says Iowa professor Phil Polgreen. Other CompEpi research projects include a program that uses Twitter to monitor influenza proliferation by analyzing keywords and then uses the geo-tagged tweet locations to map cases of illness.
Wireless Data at Top Speed
Fraunhofer Institute (10/12)
Fraunhofer Institute researchers have developed an infrared module that transfers data at a rate of 1 Gbps. The multi-gigabit communication module is six times faster than a USB2 cable, 46 times faster than conventional Wi-Fi, and 1,430 times faster than a Bluetooth connection. The challenge for the researchers was to build a small infrared module with fast-working hardware and software. "We achieved this ultimately through a clever combination of different technical solutions," says Fraunhofer researcher Frank Deicke. One of the solutions is a transceiver that can simultaneously send and receive light signals. The transceiver fits in a laser diode to send light pulses and a photo detector to detect them, while the decoders that receive and translate the encoded data also are critical. "Our current infrared module has already demonstrated that infrared technology is able to go far beyond established standards," Deicke says. His participation in the Infrared Data Association reflects his dedication to improving on 1 Gbps, and Deicke has already been able to demonstrate that the transfer rate of his current model can be upgraded to 3 Gbps.
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