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Welcome to the March 8, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Unreported Side Effects of Drugs Are Found Using Internet Search Data, Study Finds
New York Times (03/07/13) John Markoff

Researchers at Microsoft, Stanford University, and Columbia University found evidence of unreported prescription drug side effects before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) warning system tagged them by analyzing data from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo search queries by 6 million Internet users. The researchers' data-mining methods build on work by a Stanford lab investigating automated "drug-drug" interaction discovery using software to sift through the data found in FDA reports. Microsoft researchers developed software for scanning anonymized data gathered from a software toolbar installed in Web browsers by users who allowed the collection of their search histories. They were able to probe 82 million individual searches for drug, symptom, and condition information. The researchers determined that the interaction of paroxetine and pravastatin probably led to hyperglycemia, based on the higher likelihood that people searching for both drugs over the year-long study period also would search for hyperglycemia-related terms, versus those who searched for just one of the drugs. The researchers say the strength of the signal they identified in their searches would make it a valuable enhancement to the FDA's adverse-effect tracking system.

Higher-Ed Leaders Meet to Discuss Future of Online Education
MIT News (03/06/13) Larry Hardesty

Academic leaders and online learning specialists convened for a summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Media Lab, where the future of online education was discussed. A key theme of the meeting was the value of interactive learning as opposed to simply lecturing. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen says higher education has long lacked an extendable core of technologies that can be steadily and inexpensively improved. He cites technologies such as video lectures, online discussion boards, automated grading algorithms, communal text-annotation programs, and virtual labs as comprising such a core for education. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman stresses that elite schools such as Harvard and MIT must respond to educational democratization by testing innovative pedagogical theories. Another key summit theme was the increased interactivity of education through the advent of online-learning tools. Advantages of such tools include giving professors more face time with students, and not restricting student-professor engagement to a few assigned periods per week. Harvard professor Eric Mazur says he has begun using MIT's NB system, which lets communities collectively annotate online texts. Students can tag sections of text requiring clarity, posing issues that either their peers or teaching assistants can address.

New Robots in the Workplace: Job Creators or Job Terminators?
Washington Post (03/07/13) Cecilia Kang

New, affordable robots are being developed that can perform advanced tasks and may threaten jobs. "We’ve reached a tipping point in robotics," says Daniela Rus, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The possibility exists to run a factory, she notes, "all while you are sleeping." U.S. companies such as General Electric and Kiva Systems (owned by are using some of the new robots. In fact, sales of industrial robots climbed 38 percent between 2010 and 2012. Economists, labor experts, and businesses have yet to determine whether the robot trend will add good-paying jobs or just eliminate jobs. "There will certainly be winners and losers," says University of Washington professor Ryan Calo. "We’re talking about robots now because they are so versatile and affordable, and that will have profound effects on manufacturing, the entire supply chain, and jobs." MIT fellow Andy McAfee says companies are becoming more productive without hiring more workers. However, a recent International Federation of Robotics study found that paid employment has risen in nations that are the largest users of industrial robots. Although jobs have been lost in manufacturing, others have been created in distribution and services.

Frozen Android Phones Give Up Data Secrets
BBC News (03/07/13)

Friedrich-Alexander University researchers were able to bypass the encryption system of an Android smartphone by freezing it for an hour. The researchers discovered that quickly connecting and disconnecting the battery of the phone cooled to below -10 degrees Celsius forced the handset into a vulnerable mode. Afterwards, Tilo Muller, Michael Spreitzenbarth, and Felix Freiling used their custom-built software, Forensic Recovery of Scrambled Telephones, to start up the phone rather than the onboard Android operating system. They copied data in order to conduct an analysis on a separate computer. As part of their hacking project, the cooled phone enabled the team to grab the encryption keys and accelerate unscrambling of the phone's contents, such as contact lists, browsing histories, and photos. The researchers used a Samsung Galaxy Nexus handset, but they believe other phones also are vulnerable to such an attack.

Which Tech Degrees Pay the Most From Day One?
Network World (03/05/13) Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Network World recently interviewed colleges and professors from various technology disciplines about industry demand for their graduates, and found that the more challenging the tech-oriented major, the more job opportunities there are available to new graduates, as well as higher starting salaries. The study found that students who take more math, science, and engineering courses in college tend to earn higher salaries upon graduation. Information technology graduates received an average starting salary of $48,900, while information systems majors have an average starting salary of $50,900. "Our folks figure out how to deploy operating systems, while computer science majors write the operating systems," says the Illinois Institute of Technology's (IIT) Ray Trygstad. Computer science graduates received an average starting salary of $58,400, while software engineering majors received an average starting salary of $59,100. "Computer science is hot again, not just for geeky students but also for really talented math, engineering, and science students," says IIT's Matthew Bauer. Meanwhile, computer engineering graduates received an average starting salary of $62,700. "The very best job offers are going to the computer engineers," says University of Delaware professor Charlie Boncelet. "They have the ability to do both circuit design and programming, which makes them more desirable."

Researchers Develop Algorithm to Maximize Friendship Acceptance by Strangers on Social Networks (03/06/13) Bob Yirka

A new algorithm can aid strangers in their efforts to become friends with people they do not know on social networks. A team of computer scientists from Taiwan, the United States, and China developed the algorithm to make intelligent suggestions of people to friend in order to create a mutual circle of friends with the intended target. The goal is to establish common friends, and fool the intended target into thinking they have the same social circle. As a result, the intended target would be more likely to accept the friend request of the stranger. The algorithm would only work if implemented by the social network itself because they are the only ones that can analyze the structure of friend relationships between different individuals who do not know each other or have any friends in common. To maximize the likelihood that the friending target would accept an invitation from the user, the researchers formulated a new optimization problem called Acceptance Probability Maximization, and developed a polynomial time algorithm known as Selective Invitation with Tree and In-Node Aggregation, to arrive at the optimal solution.

Google Glass App Identifies You By Your Fashion Sense
New Scientist (03/07/13) Paul Marks

Researchers at the University of South Carolina and Duke University, partly backed by Google, have developed InSight, a human-recognition system designed for the Google Glass platform that can recognize people by the clothes they are wearing. InSight develops a "fashion fingerprint" for a specific person based on their clothes, jewelry, badges, and glasses. The fingerprint is constructed by a smartphone app, which snaps a series of photos of the user as they read online content. The app then creates a spatiogram that captures the spatial distribution of colors, textures, and patterns of the clothes the user is wearing. In early tests using 15 volunteers, the system correctly identified people 93 percent of the time, even when they had their backs to the headset user. The researchers say the system could help people with a condition known as face blindness, a neurological disorder that makes it impossible to recognize others, by telling them the names of nearby friends. The researchers note that a person's fashion fingerprint changes each time they change their clothes, which helps protect their privacy.

IBM: Watson Will Eventually Fit on a Smartphone, Diagnose Illness
Computerworld (03/05/13) Lucas Mearian

IBM researchers expect the Watson supercomputer to eventually be the size of a smartphone as well as capable of medical diagnoses. IBM currently is offering the system's data analytics capabilities as a decision-support tool for doctors in U.S. hospitals. IBM also is working to program Watson to pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. "[Watson] will get to be a handheld device by 2020 based on a trajectory of Moore's Law," predicts IBM's Dan Pelino. He also notes Watson's software can now run on 1/16 the number of servers the original system employed. Improved unstructured data processing, combined with data analytics, will help Watson reach medical milestones. Thus far, Watson has absorbed more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals, and clinical trials in the field of oncology research. In just seconds, the supercomputer can screen 1.5 million patient records representing decades of cancer treatment history, such as medical records and patient outcomes, to extract evidence-based treatment options that physicians can use. IBM's Manoj Saxena predicts that cloud computing embedded with the cognitive capabilities of Watson will emerge by year's end.

Engineers Develop Techniques to Improve Efficiency of Cloud Computing Infrastructure
UCSD News (CA) (03/06/13) Ioana Patringenaru

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and Google say they have developed a method for running cloud computing's infrastructure up to 20 percent more efficiently. The researchers first gathered live data from Google's computers, and then conducted experiments with the data in a controlled environment on an isolated server. "If we can bridge the current gap between hardware designs and the software stack and access this huge potential, it could improve the efficiency of Web service companies and significantly reduce the energy footprint of these massive-scale data centers," says UCSD's Lingjia Tang. After analyzing the data, the researchers found that the application ran significantly better when it accessed data located nearby on the server, instead of in remote locations. Although data location is important, the researchers also found that competition for shared resources within a server also plays a role. Based on these results, the researchers developed a metric, called the NUMA score, which determines how well random-access memory is allocated in warehouse-scale computers.

Web-Based Tool Charts Disease, Risk Factors Around the World
Washington Post (03/05/13) David Brown

New graphics for the recently announced Global Burden of Disease project provide interactive screens with health profiles of 187 countries. The online tools will help users compare international data on 291 diseases and 67 risk factors, tracking prevalence since 1990. The tools will likely serve as a report card for policymakers and a valuable resource for epidemiologists. The Global Burden of Disease project began in 1993, and Microsoft's Bill Gates donated $8.2 million for the 2010 update. "It's the areas where we go in and do a good job of measurement that we make the most progress," Gates says. The Gates Foundation donated $105 million in 2007 to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, where the Global Burden of Disease project is led by physician and economist Christopher J.L. Murray. He and another researcher wrote the first Burden of Disease report in 1993, which inspired Gates to get involved. "It was seeing that data, that early visualization that’s nowhere near what we’ve got today, that got the Gates Foundation on the track of focusing on global health,” Gates notes. The new Global Burden of Disease graphics will be updated at least every year.

Big Data: Searching Large Amounts of Data Quickly and Efficiently
Saarland University (03/01/13)

Saarland University computer scientists have devised a method of parsing big data called the Hadoop Aggressive Indexing Library (HAIL). The method saves reams of data in Apache Hadoop's HDFS file system in a way that helps answer queries up to 100 times faster. Similar to the way a telephone book indexes listings by surname so that users do not have to read all of the entries, the researchers created an index for the datasets they distribute on several servers. However, unlike a phone book, the data simultaneously is sorted by several criteria. The more criteria you provide, the faster you find the specified data, says researcher Jens Dittrich. "To use the telephone book example again, it means that you have six different books. Every one contains a different sorting of the data--according to name, street, ZIP code, city, and telephone number," Dittrich says. "With the right telephone book you can search according to different criteria and will succeed faster." He notes the indexing requires no additional computing time or expenses, and the additional storage space requirement is minimal.

IT Skills Shortage: The Other Critical Cliff Facing Enterprises
eWeek (02/28/13) Corrine Bernstein

A gulf created by the information technology (IT) skills shortfall in such areas as Java, .NET, and C++ could severely curtail future U.S. economic growth, says Harvey Nash CEO Bob Miano. "We careened over the 'IT skills cliff' some years ago as our economy digitized, mobilized, and further 'technologized' and our IT skilled labor supply failed to keep up," Miano says. A recent IBM study found that the most pressing need for IT skills is in the areas of mobile computing, cloud computing, social networking, and analytics, while security skills also are in demand. A shortage of security experts with leadership and communications skills poses a direct challenge to global organizations, according to a recent International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium study. Miano says three major strategies that could lead to more IT professionals include encouraging more U.S. students to pursue computer science careers, enabling foreign IT talent to immigrate to the United States via H-1B visas, and tapping IT workers overseas. The Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 would increase the H-1B visa ceiling from 65,000 to 115,000, and could be adjusted to as high as 300,000.

Cloud Computing Project Wins First-of-Its-Kind Google Award
UT Dallas News (03/04/13) LaKisha Ladson

A cloud computing project led by University of Texas at Dallas professor Lawrence Chung has earned a first-ever Google App Engine Research Award for innovative academic and scientific research with expected societal benefits. Testing the functional benefits of cloud computing systems can require a sizable investment in time and money, perhaps thousands of machines and software systems. To simplify this problem, Chung and his team developed cloud-system models that can be executed on a single computer. “We play with numbers and do not need the real software and machines,” Chung says. “Using this approach, we can see the behavior of the cloud very quickly and inexpensively.” Chung's team already has run simulations and compiled results to complement benchmarks. “We need some way to verify the results of the simulations, and that requires software and machines on a large scale to run experiments,” Chung notes. With the award, his team will be able to access Google's cloud-computing infrastructure to confirm that their benchmarking and simulation project results can be applied to the real world.

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