Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the October 22, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Internet Anti-Censorship Tools Are Being Overwhelmed by Demand
Washington Post (10/22/12) James Ball

The overwhelming popularity of U.S.-backed programs to thwart online censorship is limiting access to the tools in repressive countries because demand is creating bottlenecks and there is insufficient funding to expand capacity. The United States invests about $30 million annually in Internet freedom, with the government funding nonprofits and other developers of software that can be downloaded by users in nations where censorship is rampant. But China, Iran, and other countries are stepping up their efforts to stifle Internet freedom, prompting proponents to urge the Obama administration to ratchet up its own initiatives. Calls for the Broadcasting Board of Governors to boost Internet freedom spending are being weighed against congressional pressures for the agency to reduce its budget significantly. Officials privately say the funding issues are mired in security and political concerns. Internet freedom activists say the development of online censorship bypassing tools is partly challenged by the need to determine the amount to invest now to help users avoid detection, versus how much to invest on more complex future projects that could keep up with censorship technology.


Facebook to Help Overhaul ICT Curriculum
Telegraph.co.uk (10/19/12) Andrew Marszal

Leading technology companies such as Facebook are helping design a new computer science training course for school teachers, according to United Kingdom Education Secretary Michael Gove. The plan is to replace current information and communications technology teacher-training courses with new industry-supported computer science courses. "If we want our country to produce the next Sir Tim Berners-Lee--creator of the Internet--we need the very best computer science teachers in our classrooms," Gove says. The new computer science GCSE course would become part of the English Baccalaureate qualification, according to Gove. "If new computer science GCSEs are developed that meet high standards of intellectual depth and practical value, we will certainly consider including computer science as an option in the English Baccalaureate," Gove adds. In addition, a new 20,000-pound Sterling scholarship will be awarded to 50 top graduates to train as computer science teachers. The scholarship program "is a positive step to help get high-quality computer science teachers in schools, and therefore ensure more young people gain the right skills to join and lead our digital industries," says Facebook's Simon Milner.


'Hackathon' Events Proliferate for Student Programmers
Chronicle of Higher Education (10/18/12) Alisha Azevedo

A proliferation in hackathon events for student coders is occurring as tech firms seek talent and students look for hands-on experience. An increase in hackathon events this year, especially in New York and California, is reflected in Web sites' hackathon listings. Factors underlying students' growing interest in hackathons include the opportunity to build something concrete and network with other coders, and to complement skills fostered in traditional computer science courses. Columbia University professor Chris Wiggins notes a university's computer science curriculum usually concentrates on algorithms, software, and hardware rather than on currently popular programming languages. "Coding events give students an opportunity to engage their sense of technical mastery and social purpose," he says. Hackers@Berkeley co-founder Ajay Tripathy says the group was started to span the chasm between computer science theory and practical coding skills, while ACM this year offered a course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on preparing for hackathons. ACM has added more contests to encourage competition from North American students against Chinese and Russian teams' domination of international finals.


Demand for Software Engineers Keeps Climbing--and So Do the Salaries
InfoWorld (10/18/12) Ted Samson

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 30 percent job growth for software engineers in the next few years, and notes that increased demand will lead to increased salaries. The national average for a software engineer's base salary currently is $92,648, a 2.5 percent increase over 2011, according to Glassdoor. Google, Facebook, and Apple, all of which offer software engineers an average salary of at least $114,413, currently offer the highest average salaries among 15 major tech companies. Other companies offering more than $100,000 on average for software engineers include Zynga, Microsoft, Intuit, Amazon, Oracle, Cisco, and Yahoo!, according to Glassdoor. Companies in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle offer the highest average salaries for software engineers, at $107,798 and $102,403, respectively, while Minneapolis-based companies offer the lowest average salaries at $75,032. Glassdoor calculated average salaries based on 50 engineer-salary reports.


First Micro-Structure Atlas of the Human Brain Completed
UCL News (10/19/12) David Weston

European researchers working on the CONNECT project recently created the first atlas of white-matter microstructures in the human brain. The work relies on magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) technology, which combines three-dimensional images from the MRI scans of brains of 100 volunteers. The researchers say CONNECT's advanced MRI methods provide unprecedented detail and accuracy. "The imaging techniques reveal new information about brain structure that help us understand how low-level cellular architecture relate to high-level thought processes," says University College London professor Daniel Alexander. The atlas simulates the process of examining every mm2 of brain tissue with a microscope, while leaving the brain intact. The researchers say the project provides new depth and accuracy in the understanding of the human brain in health and disease. The atlas also describes the brain's microstructure in standardized space, which enables non-expert users to analyze the information. The researchers note the project will facilitate and promote future research into white matter structure and function.


Technology Has Improved Voting Procedures
California Institute of Technology (10/18/12) Marcus Woo

New voting technology developed over the last 10 years has greatly improved the voting process in the United States, according to a recent California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report. After the 2000 presidential election, Caltech and MIT researchers launched the Voting Technology Project (VTP) to develop ways to improve elections. VTP issued its first report in 2001. "Since that report came out and since our project was formed, a lot of progress has been made in improving how American elections are run," says Caltech professor Michael Alvarez. The researchers determined how many votes are lost during each election due to voting mistakes by calculating the number of residual votes, or the difference between the number of votes that are counted and the number of votes cast. In the 2001 report, the researchers found that older voting technology led to a high residual vote rate. However, new research shows that the residual vote rate dropped from two percent in 2000 to one percent in 2006 and 2008. "As we moved away from punch cards, lever machines, and paper ballots, and towards optical-scan systems and electronic systems that have voter verification, we have seen the voter residual rate plummet," Alvarez says.


Beyond Bieber: Twitter Improves Student Learning
MSU News (10/17/12) Andy Henion

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers have found that Twitter can be an effective tool to improve student learning. MSU professor Christine Greenhow says college students who tweet as part of their instruction are more engaged with the course's content, instructor, and students, and they also get higher grades. "Tweeting can be thought of as a new literary practice," Greenhow says. "It's changing the way we experience what we read and what we write." Greenhow analyzed existing research and found that Twitter's real-time design enabled students and instructors to engage in sharing, collaboration, brainstorming, and the creation of a project. Additional benefits to students included learning to write concisely, performing up-to-date research, and communicating directly with authors and researchers. In teaching a Twitter-focused college class, Greenhow notes her students participate more through the site than they do in a face-to-face environment. "The students get more engaged because they feel it is connected to something real, that it's not just learning for the sake of learning," Greenhow says. "It feels authentic to them."


Full-Duplex Radios Could Reuse Channels, Saving Mobile Spectrum
IDG News Service (10/16/12) Stephen Lawson

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside are developing technology to enable 3G and 4G networks to send and receive data on the same frequency, at the same time, and in the same space. The aim is to boost efficiency by reusing wireless spectrum for mobile data. Riverside researchers Yingbo Hua and Ping Liang have developed a full-duplex radio that is expected to be ready by the end of 2013 and is being funded partly by a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Liang says a major vendor of mobile equipment also is pursuing full-duplex technology, which might be applied to Wi-Fi as well. The radio features a signal cancellation circuit that generates an opposite signal to cancel out the transmission signal within the radio. This enables the radio to hear weaker incoming signals. Liang says his team is striving to achieve 96 dB of signal cancellation. He notes that in theory there should be no limit to the width of the band it can work in. Liang suggests the best place to start using it will be network infrastructure, noting that it takes less time to replace base stations than millions of handsets.


Magic Finger Device Suggests New Day for Calling Up Content
Phys.Org (10/15/12) Nancy Owano

Researchers at Autodesk Research, the University of Alberta, and the University of Toronto have presented a new device called Magic Finger, which enables a user's gestures to control smartphones or tablets. A small plastic casing holds the components, and there is an attached micro camera and optical flow sensor. The Magic Finger senses texture through the camera, enabling actions to be carried out according to the surface being touched, such as wood or cloth. The researchers emphasize that this instrumentation is what makes the Magic Finger unique. "We propose finger instrumentation, where we invert the relationship between finger and sensing surface: With Magic Finger, we instrument the user's finger itself, rather than the surface it is touching," they say. Results show that Magic Finger recognizes 22 environmental textures and 10 artificial textures with an overall accuracy of 98.9 percent, but at present the hardware still needs to be connected to a nearby host PC. For the device to become completely standalone, the researchers say they need to consider additional power and communication requirements.


NRI to Lead New Five-Year Effort to Develop Post-CMOS Electronics
NIST News (10/16/12) Chad Boutin

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced the selection of the Nanoelectronics Research Institute (NRI) to support university-centered research for the development of after-the-next-generation nanoelectronics technology. "The innovation stemming from this NIST award will enable the United States to keep our current leadership in nanoelectronics that stimulates the economy and creates high-paying jobs," says NIST director Patrick Gallagher. The program funds research at university centers around the country that are working to develop nanoscale technologies that will be needed in the future to replace the aging complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor transistor technologies at the heart of today's state-of-the-art electronics. "Future generations of electronics will be based on new devices and circuit architectures, operating on physical principles that cannot be exploited by conventional transistors," says NRI director Tom Theis. NIST will provide $2.6 million to the effort for up to five years, matched by $870,000 annually from NRI. "The NRI seeks to ensure that the United States remains the leader in cutting-edge semiconductor research and is home to the 'nanoelectronics' industry of the future," says Semiconductor Research Corp. president Larry Sumney.


A Complex Logic Circuit Made From Bacterial Genes
Washington University in St. Louis (10/12/12) Diana Lutz

Washington University in St. Louis professor Tae Seok Moon hopes to develop biological circuits made from genes and regulatory proteins. He plans to use the circuits to act as controllers inside synthetic bacteria to make fuel, remove pollutants, or eliminate cancerous cells or infectious bacteria. Moon envisions that the minuscule circuits eventually could be used to make cells that can monitor and respond to their environments. As he was developing the genetic circuits, Moon had to identify a gene whose activation could be controlled by at least two molecules. The circuit Moon developed consists of four sensors for four different molecules that feed into three two-input "AND" gates. To eliminate crosstalk, or interference, in the circuits, Moon used parts from three different strains of bacteria: Shigella flexneri, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Salmonella typhimurium. Moon says in the future, a synthetic bacterium with this circuit might be able to detect four different cancer indicators and release a tumor-killing factor.


Driverless Car Is Wireless Star at MIT
Network World (10/12/12) Colin Neagle

Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Swarun Kumar unveiled technology for an autonomous vehicle that recognizes hazards behind buildings and around corners. Kumar and colleagues have developed an autonomous golf cart that uses CarSpeak technology to broaden the vehicle's field of view. This is achieved by condensing and sharing the gigabits of data that autonomous vehicles create each second as they move, according to Kumar. CarSpeak communicates with the Robot Operating System (ROS), which is integrated into most of today's autonomous vehicles. ROS relies on sensors to gather three-dimensional point cloud data that mimics physical objects in adjacent areas, while a planning function forms a path to avoid obstacles. CarSpeak creates a network over an extended area to access sensory data between itself and other autonomous cars and infrastructure sensors. CarSpeak uses a MAC protocol for transmitting data to ensure that the network displays only relevant data and avoids data overload on open streets. A report by the researchers compared a car using CarSpeak's MAC-based communications with a car running on the 802.11 standard and found that the CarSpeak vehicle stopped with a maximum average delay of 0.45 seconds, compared with a minimum average delay time of 2.14 seconds for the other car.


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