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Welcome to the January 16, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


California to Give Web Courses a Big Trial
New York Times (01/15/13) Tamar Lewin; John Markoff

Online education startup Udacity has unveiled a partnership with San Jose State University to offer remedial and college-level algebra and introductory statistics courses, in a deal that is the first of its kind to involve classroom instructors in a massively open online course (MOOC). Students will watch videos and receive help from mentors online, but also physically come into the classroom to work with a professor. Udacity's offerings address a problem facing the California State University System as more than half of entering students fail to meet basic requirements. To discourage dropouts, the course will offer support such as regular mentoring checkpoints, assistance for students encountering difficulty, and automated encouraging email messages. Open online courses face a major challenge with dropout rates at a staggering 90 percent. "The students sign up and are highly motivated--and MOOCs will only succeed if they make normally motivated students successful," says Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun, a renowned Stanford University artificial intelligence (AI) researcher. Thrun helped kickstart tremendous growth in open online courses in 2011 when he teamed with Google research director Peter Norvig to offer an online AI course, for which more than 160,000 students initially registered.


IT Job Market Recovering Faster Than After Dot-Com Bubble Burst
InfoWorld (01/14/13) Ted Samson

More new technology jobs have been created since the end of the past recession than during the same recovery period following the burst of the dot-com bubble and the early 1990s recession, according to a recent Dice.com report. In the 42 months since the most recent recession officially ended in June 2009, 180,600 tech jobs have been created. By contrast, in the 42 months following the end of the recession in March 1991, the total number of U.S. tech jobs dropped by 48,500. In addition, between November 2001 and April 2005, 415,600 tech jobs were lost. Although the past recessions were damaging to the tech industry, today tech jobs are steadily returning and the unemployment rate among tech professionals is much lower than the overall national average. At the end of 2012, the tech unemployment rate was 4.1 percent, while the national average was 8.7 percent. The unemployment rate for database administrators is 1.5 percent, the lowest among all tech-related categories. The second lowest rate is among network architects at 1.9 percent, while the rate for software developers is 2.9 percent, followed by computer systems analysts at 3.3 percent and Web developers at 3.5 percent.


New Effort to Create Green Electronics, Workforce
Purdue University News (01/15/13) Emil Venere

Researchers at Purdue and Tuskegee universities are leading an international campaign to replace conventional electronics with more sustainable technologies and train a workforce of experts to make the transition possible. "We want to create materials that will allow computer components to be disassembled, recycled, and reused," says Purdue professor Carol Handwerker. The program, called the Global Traineeship in Sustainable Electronics, will work closely with the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, a group of electronics manufacturers, suppliers, associations, government agencies, and universities. "Being linked to industry leaders and to research experts will offer us an opportunity to understand business challenges and provide impactful research solutions," says Purdue's Ananth Iyer. The targeted workforce will include engineers, scientists, economists, anthropologists, managers, and political scientists. "We will bring together all of these disciplines and people to address the complex set of issues related to sustainable electronics," Handwerker says. The researchers aim to develop nanocomposites made of natural materials for structural applications in casings and circuit boards. "Being naturally derived and plentiful, these materials may offer an opportunity for low-cost, nonfossil fuel-derived materials for high-performance structural applications," Handwerker says.


Taking 'Multi-Core' Mainstream
University of Delaware (01/14/13) Karen B. Roberts

University of Delaware researchers are developing algorithms and tools for the parallelization of large-scale programs. The work involves using a combination of automatic and profile-driven techniques to address fundamental issues in creating parallel programs. The researchers, led by Delaware professor John Cavazos, will use machine learning to create a system that enables a compiler to analyze a program, assess which parallelization technique is appropriate, and then automatically apply that technique to the program. The research complements Cavazos' recent work with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to construct an extreme-scale software framework that can automatically partition and map application code to multicore systems and generate applications that can reconfigure underlying hardware to save power. "This research will enable a greater percentage of programs to benefit from multicore processors by providing feedback to programmers so that they can improve the code, and by integrating adaptability so that a broader range of programs can achieve increased speed," Cavazos says. He also plans to develop algorithms for speculative parallelization, which will enable shared-memory systems to execute loops in parallel that compilers would otherwise miss.


Computer Science Postdocs--Best Practices
Computing Research Association (12/12) Anita Jones; Erwin Gianchandani

The computer science community must cultivate a clear understanding of the best practices related to pursuing, hosting, and nurturing postdocs, according to a new report from Anita Jones, University of Virginia, and Erwin Gianchandani, currently with the NSF. The postdocs themselves should know what to expect, take responsibility for their own career, and gently push for the exercise of best practices. Individuals seeking a postdoc should carefully consider the purpose of the postdoc, and ensure that the future postdoctoral position will enable them to gain experiences needed for career advancement, and contribute to the intellectual advancement of their adviser's program. Postdocs also should proactively solicit and take the opportunity for open and frequent engagement with their advisers and/or mentors. Meanwhile, postdoctoral advisers should behoove themselves to make the transition to mentor so they are responsible for guiding, challenging, and supporting their postdocs. The key to this is fostering mutual respect and trust, and once advisers clarify their expectations for postdocs, both parties should collaborate on an individual development plan aligned with the postdoc's professional goals. Advisers also need to lead early and frequent discussion of ethical standards, and assume responsibility for helping postdocs to rapidly advance to the next position. Host organizations have a duty to provide a supportive setting for the postdoc's enrichment, and guarantee that each postdoc has both an adviser and a mentor.


Rights Group Reports on Abuses of Surveillance and Censorship Technology
New York Times (01/16/13) John Markoff

Surveillance and censorship technology from U.S. companies is used by many governments with controversial human rights policies, according to researchers at the Canadian human rights monitoring group Citizen Lab. The group says Blue Coat Systems sells such tools to countries including China, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. "Our findings support the need for national and international scrutiny of the country Blue Coat implementations we have identified, and a closer look at the global proliferation of dual-use information and communications technology," Citizen Lab says. Legitimate uses of the technology exist and other firms aside from Blue Coat offer such tools, the researchers acknowledged. Some U.S. security technology firms have expressed concern about human rights issues, but have not addressed technology misuse, Citizen Lab says. The researchers note there also are benign uses for Blue Coat's products. "I'm not trying to completely demonize this technology," says Citizen Lab's Morgan Marquis-Boire. Citizen Lab also notes that a 2012 Gartner report found that many U.S. and foreign firms supply similar surveillance and censorship technology, which the report says has become a $1 billion market.


New System Helps Deaf and Blind People to Communicate
RUVID (01/15/13)

A new tactile simulation system could potentially enable deaf and blind people to communicate and surf the Internet. Researchers from the Technical University of Valencia are working with the Innovatec and Indra on developing a device that will primarily target those who use the Malossi language. Still at prototype stage, the system has been implemented on a glove that has 26 motors, each of which represents the letters of the alphabet distributed along the hand, in addition to a keyboard, a charger, and wireless modules. The team calls the system TacTic, and it offers interfaces for computer access and smartphones. Users equipped with the touch glove can surf the Web, read books or other text files, check email, communicate via Messenger, and get a tactile representation of images and music. TacTic features a virtual interpreter that can facilitate communication with another glove wearer, and a support system that can send a warning text message for emergencies. A PC application also has been designed to reproduce video files with subtitles, which are transmitted to the user's touch glove.


How Particle Physics Is Improving Recommendation Engines
Technology Review (01/15/13)

Recommendation engines could be enhanced by applying particle physics principles, say University of Fribourg researcher Stanislao Gualdi and colleagues. Particle physics dictate that particles tend to occupy the most energetically favorable states, while certain other particles cannot occupy the same state together. This translates into an analogy of goods that either any number of persons can share or that only one person can have. The researchers' method involves consideration of items that are negatively affected when too many people use them, and how to contend with recommendations for such items. Their model explores the space between the two extremes where a single object/state can be shared with a small number of users/particles. By testing the model on empirical data from DVD renting, "we show that including crowd avoidance in the recommendation process can increase the accuracy of the recommendation," the researchers report. They argue that restricting the number of people allowed to rent a single DVD eliminates biases that can crop up when an unlimited number of people have access. Oversubscription prevention also ensures that the user populace samples a broader range of DVDs, which consequently supplies a wider range of recommendations and helps maintain the health of the recommendation ecosystem.


Education Body Calls on Support of IT Pros to Close ICT Skills Gap
ITPro (01/14/13) Caroline Donnelly

All major United Kingdom employees should be involved in the effort to close the information technology (IT) skills gap, according to a report from the Corporate IT Forum Education and Skills Commission (CIFESC). The IT skills body says young children need to be made more aware of IT career opportunities before they enter higher education. CIFESC is examining how improving early education can reduce the IT skills shortage, and will produce three additional reports. The commission's first report claims there are not enough information and communications technology teachers working in schools and few opportunities exist to continue their professional development. The report calls on IT professionals to help shape the way IT is taught and career guidance is offered to students. CIFESC recommends providing Year 9 students with advice on IT careers before they choose subjects to study at GCSE, and giving students access to career professionals with a science, technology, engineering, and math qualification, with funding provided by the government. "It is critical that access to good careers advice is not restricted to only the most disadvantaged and those with parents able and willing to pay for advice," the report says.


Artificial Intelligence Techniques for Optimizing Processes in the Aeronautics Industry
Basque Research (01/11/13)

Basque Research computer engineer Susana Ferreiro is developing technologies to apply artificial intelligence techniques, data mining, and machine learning to problems in the aeronautics industry. "These are algorithms and classifying models that extract information from large volumes of data and infer knowledge on the basis of these data," Ferreiro says. The research focuses on aircraft brake wear prognosis for predictive maintenance, the prediction of the appearance of burrs during the drilling process in the manufacture of components, and the prediction of the basicity number (BN) of oil using spectroscopic data. The brake wear research also aims to "optimize airline routes because sometimes there is an interest in having the maintenance done in a specific country, and what is needed for this is the forward planning of the state of the aircraft," Ferreiro says. The drilling burr problem involves developing a method using the internal signals of the machine that detects in real time when the micron limit has been exceeded. The BN research aims to develop a model for detecting the BN state to be able to make an assessment on the degradation state of the oil without having to run a laboratory test.


New Qubit Control Bodes Well for Future of Quantum Computing
Yale News (01/11/13) Eric Gershon

Yale University researchers have developed a method for observing quantum information while preserving its integrity, offering greater control in the quantum mechanical realm and improving the possibility of developing a quantum computer. "What this experiment really allows is an active understanding of quantum mechanics," says Yale professor Michel Devoret. The researchers developed a non-destructive measurement system for observing, tracking, and documenting all changes in a qubit's state, which preserves the qubit's informational value. The researchers say the technique should enable them to monitor the qubit's state in order to correct for random errors. "As long as you know what error process has occurred, you can correct,” Devoret says. “And then everything’s fine. You can basically undo the errors.” The research increases the possibility of building large-scale quantum computers by paving the way for the facilitation of continuous measurement-based quantum feedback, says Yale's Michael Hatridge. The researchers were able to successfully measure one qubit, and the next step is to simultaneously measure and control many qubits.


City Living: There's an App for That
Computerworld (01/11/13) Jason Slotkin

U.S. citizens increasingly are developing mobile applications that rely on a wealth of publicly available municipal data. For example, Portland, Ore., has developed PDX Bus, a free open source iPhone app that delivers bus and train arrival times by tapping transit data, including global positioning system data that is built into city buses. This movement was sparked in 2008 by the Obama administration's Open Government Initiative, which led to the release of vast amounts of federal data. Many state and local governments have followed the federal trend. "Those municipalities that have made strides in making data sets available are moving in the right direction, and that's worth applauding," says National Freedom of Information Coalition director Kenneth Bunting. Chicago citizen activists recently launched CivicLab, a nonprofit dedicated to building, distributing, and encouraging the use of new tools for civic engagement and government accountability. One of the group's first projects is the Tax Increment Finance Report, which aims to apply visualization tools to government data. Meanwhile, Code for America teams volunteer developers with municipalities looking to create new apps and services for their data. Code for America so far has partnered with 11 U.S. cities to develop and brainstorm new apps.


Researchers Find Blocking Internet Pirating Sites Is Not Effective
PhysOrg.com (01/10/13) Bob Yirka

Northeastern University researchers recently conducted a study on the effectiveness of anti-piracy measures taken by content providers to deter the illegal sharing of files on the Internet. The research indicates that strategies such as blocking sites by seizing domains names does not do much to stop the sharing of protected files. The researchers found that as sites were blocked, the availability of certain files dropped, but only for a short time until other sites started offering the blocked files, making the blocking action ineffective. The researchers also monitored the number of file-sharing sites that are believed to currently host pirated content, and found more than 10,000 domain names covering more than 5,000 IP addresses. The Northeastern researchers concluded that the practice of blocking file-hosting sites has done little to reduce the number of illegally shared files available for download. Instead, they suggest that taking away the ability to process payments from such services could be a much more effective strategy for curbing illegal file sharing.


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