Welcome to the April 17, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Google Activates Person Finder in Aftermath of Boston Marathon Bombings
eWeek (04/16/13) Todd R. Weiss
Google launched its Google Person Finder website in Boston shortly after the bombings at the Boston Marathon to help survivors at the scene communicate with friends and family. Within 24 hours, information about more than 5,000 people had been entered into the database so that others could search for people they know to make sure they were safe. Users can enter their own names or the names of someone else, along with other pertinent information, so that others can learn of their status, according to Google. The Person Finder database uses common file formats that are interchangeable with other registries so that information on survivors and victims can be accessed and transferred. "The Google Crisis Response team analyzes the scale of impact of the disaster and then determines which of its tools would be most useful for responding to the given situation," Google says. The American Red Cross offers a similar tool, called Safe and Well, to help people reconnect during a disaster. The Red Cross also offers a series of free mobile applications that help users by linking various social media networks and automatically giving their status messages.
IT Salary Survey 2013: 11 Career Insights
InformationWeek (04/15/13) Chris Murphy
Information technology (IT) professionals earn a median salary of $90,000 with managers earning $120,000, according to the 2013 InformationWeek U.S. IT Salary Survey. However, the survey also found that compensation varies substantially by skill and industry. For example, employees focused on enterprise application integration earn a median salary of $110,000, while those in general IT earn $73,000, and those on the help desk earn $55,000. Specialty fields such as cloud computing, Web security, and mobile earn higher median salaries of $130,000, $118,000, and $111,000, respectively. The survey also found that analytics and business intelligence professionals have a median income of $93,000, while analytics and business intelligence managers have a median compensation of $132,000. IT accounted for 13 percent of the 88,000 net new jobs in the U.S. economy in March, according to a Foote Partners analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which also found that monthly IT job growth this year is 53 percent ahead of last year's pace. IT professionals cited pay, job stability, and flexible work schedules as the three most appealing factors about their jobs. The survey also found that about 50 percent of IT professionals think outsourcing has led to fewer IT jobs.
High-Speed Wi-Fi? Not So Fast
Wall Street Journal (04/15/13) Drew Fitzgerald
The next-generation Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, will hit the market this year offering speeds three times as fast as those of its predecessor, but most people will have to wait for broadband speeds to increase before they have access to the increased throughput. The new standard can handle more than a billion bits of data per second, enabling users to download an entire season of a TV series in under one minute. However, the average U.S. fixed Internet connection maxes out at about 32 Mbps, which is 40 times slower than new 802.11ac devices offer, according to Akamai Technologies. Although telecoms are working to boost bandwidth for major customers, their efforts have been slow. Nonetheless, users will notice increased speeds with the next-generation Wi-Fi, which uses a less-encumbered section of radio spectrum, thereby eliminating interference from many electronic devices that now share the airwaves. This spring, before the standard is even complete, companies are releasing routers, smartphones, and laptops that support 802.11ac, creating uncertainty around the new equipment because the rules that govern the devices' communication could change. Analysts say the earliest adopters of the new standards will be office buildings and convention centers.
Google Emulates Apple in Restricting Apps for Glass
New York Times (04/17/13) Claire Cain Miller
Google has issued guidelines for software developers who want to create apps for Glass, its Internet-linked glasses. It is taking a page from Apple by restricting Glass apps in an effort to gradually introduce the technology to the public in order to address privacy and other concerns. Developers are barred from selling ads in apps, collecting user data for ads, sharing data with ad firms, distributing apps elsewhere, and charging people to purchase apps or virtual goods or services within them. Some developers say Google's caution is sensible, given that Glass is always in a user's field of vision. Glass users can operate the device by vocal commands, finger movements, or head movements. Glass could trigger mainstream consumer interest in wearable computing, although Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps says "the variable is whether consumers will want it or not." Developers' access to Glass also will be limited, as apps will be cloud-based rather than residing on the device. “My hope is they make [Glass] as open as possible so that we can really test the limits of what this type of device would look like,” says software developer Frank Carey.
Engineers Use Brain Cells to Power Smart Grid
National Science Foundation (04/17/13) Valerie Thompson
Ganesh Kumar Venayagamoorthy, director of Clemson University's Real-Time Power and Intelligent Systems Laboratory, is leading a team of engineers and neuroscientists using neurons cultured in a dish to control simulated power grids in the hope that the work will inform new methods for U.S. power grid management. "In order to get the most out of the different types of renewable energy sources, we need an intelligent grid that can perform real-time dispatch and manage optimally available energy storage systems," Venayagamoorthy says. He notes that a brain-like control system is vital for such a grid, as it gives it the ability to monitor, predict, plan, learn, and make decisions. The dish-grown neuronal network is connected to a computer via an electrode grid, enabling two-way communication between the organic and the electronic elements. The network is trained to identify and respond to voltage and speed signals from the power grid simulation. So far, the researchers have successfully trained the network to respond to complex data, incorporating their findings into bio-inspired artificial neural networks that are currently being used to control synchronous generators linked to a power system. The team says their research could lead to smarter control of the future power grid.
A Smarter Algorithm Could Cut Energy Use in Data Centers by 35 Percent
Technology Review (04/16/13) David Talbot
Researchers at Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say they have developed network-coding technology that could significantly cut data centers' electricity usage by storing fewer copies of files, especially videos. “This approach is a very promising way to improve the efficiency of data centers,” says Bells Labs researcher Emina Soljanin. “It is not a panacea, but it is significant, and there is no particular reason that it couldn’t be commercialized fairly quickly.” With the technology, an individual data center could save 35 percent in capacity and electricity costs, says MIT professor Muriel Medard. The researchers say network coding cuts back on the redundancy without sacrificing the smooth experience that data centers provide. New algorithms convert the data that makes up a video into a series of mathematical functions that can be solved for different parts of the video, providing a form of backup that does not rely on keeping complete copies of data. Specialized software at the data center encodes the data as it is stored and decodes it as users request it. "We have considered the use of coding to improve performance under normal operating conditions, with enhanced reliability a natural by-product," Medard says.
Military Academies Take on NSA in Cybersecurity Competition
CSO Online (04/16/13) John P. Mello
The Cyber Defense Exercise (CDX) is an annual cybersecurity contest in which teams from U.S. military academies compete against one from the National Security Agency. As part of the competition, the teams will detect intruders, eradicate malware, and adapt to increasingly sophisticated and dynamic opponents. CDX enables students to understand what it is like to be under attack, says Rochester Institute of Technology professor Bill Stackpole. The NSA team's job "is to break into each of the military academy's teams' network, steal information from them, shut down their services, degrade their capabilities -- that sort of thing," says Dwayne Williams, director of the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, which is an intercollegiate version of CDX. Williams notes that both contests focus on similar skills, but in the CDX competition the attacker is more likely to be a terrorist or from an opposing nation-state. Stackpole says that one drawback to cybersecurity competitions is they are not especially realistic because the time frame is very limited. "If this were an actual player--someone really interested in breaking into your infrastructure--the chance of them being 'loud' if they're trying to remain undetected is very low," he says.
Programmer Creates Lexicographic Ordering Code to Play Early Nintendo Games
PhysOrg.com (04/15/13) Bob Yirka
Computer scientist Tom Murphy has developed software that can play old Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video games. Murphy's code examines the contents of memory chips inside the NES game console and uses that information to teach itself how to play. The code can be used to play different NES games. Murphy discovered that for almost every aspect of early games such as Super Mario Brothers, numbers held in memory grew larger when the player was doing well. As a result, he used the idea of rising numbers as the means for instructing his code how to know if it was winning. Murphy made that happen via lexicographic ordering, which is a way of ordering data or information based on size or ranking. The rest of the code involves creating commands for actions, such as jumping, at appropriate times. Murphy generated a baseline by playing the game manually for several minutes as a module recorded snapshots of memory. Using that data, the code assumed control, putting data into memory as would normally be done in response to a person manipulating the physical controls. The code emulates human button-pushing, notes the outcomes, and modifies its actions to get the numbers placed in its memory by the game to increase.
Ultra-Fast Computing: Researchers Evaluate Bose-Einstein Condensates for Communicating Among Quantum Computers
Georgia Tech Research News (04/12/13) John Toon
A hurdle for quantum computer development is quantum decoherence, which worsens as the number of bits in a computer increases. However, individual computers in today's multicore systems could communicate quantum information using Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs), which are clouds of ultra-cold atoms that all exist in exactly the same quantum state and could address the decoherence problem. Georgia Tech researchers studied how the Bose-Einstein communication might work by determining the amount of time needed for quantum information to propagate across their BEC, establishing a top speed at which such quantum computers could communicate. "We are interested in the dynamics of this quantum information flow not just for quantum information systems, but also more generally for fundamental problems in physics," says Georgia Tech professor Chandra Raman. The research could help scientists anticipate the operating speed for a quantum computing system composed of many cores communicating through a BEC. "If you were to use this medium for quantum communication, that would be its natural time scale, and that would set the timing for other processes," Raman says. The process also shows how a large system undergoing a phase transition does so in localized patches that expand to attempt to incorporate the entire system.
Map of the Internet Could Make It Stronger
New Scientist (04/12/13) Douglas Heaven
Two researchers are working on separate projects to create detailed maps of the Internet by searching Internet service provider (ISP) databases for published information about local networks and merging that data into a global map. The University of Adelaide's Matthew Roughan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Paul Barford are mapping the Internet without using traditional sniffer software, which reports the IP addresses of devices on a certain route and converts that into geographical locations. Sniffer software does not create a reliable map, the researchers say, because it is blocked by some ISPs and also finds the shortest route and therefore maps only major Internet highways, leaving large chunks of the Internet invisible. Roughan is compiling individual network maps into his Internet Topology Zoo, while Barford is going a step farther with his Internet Atlas by mapping key buildings and connections between networks. Barford's Internet Atlas is possibly the most detailed physical Internet map in existence, with 10,000 critical structures and 13,000 connections. Gaining a complete perspective of the Internet's infrastructure is critical to pinpointing vulnerabilities and improving security, the researchers say. The maps highlight vulnerable locations, such as Hawaii, where Internet damage would have ripple effects throughout the Pacific Rim.
NYC Students, Hackers Train for Cybersecurity Jobs
Associated Press (04/12/13) Jake Pearson
The Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) hosts Hack Night once a week to train students to become "white-hat" hackers. Hack Night also is a cybersecurity club, which holds an annual hacking competition the school says is the largest U.S. event of its kind. Students gain the skills needed to help business and government agencies protect data from cyberattacks. "Every one of the faculty, every one of the undergraduates, and every one of the graduate students is engaged in real-world exercises," says SANS Institute director Alan Paller. "They come out having actually developed and tested their skills." A critical shortage exists for cybersecurity experts with real-world training, according to Paller, who notes the Department of Homeland Security alone needs 600 such experts. The Department of Defense last month announced plans to form a series of cyberteams that will execute offensive operations to combat cyberthreats targeting critical U.S. infrastructure. NYU-Poly students also participate in bug-bounty programs, increasingly offered by companies to reward cybersecurity researchers who breach systems and point out system vulnerabilities.
Wresting New Tricks From a Python: Fernando Perez Wins 2012 Award for the Advancement of Free Software
UC Berkeley NewsCenter (04/11/13)
University of Berkeley, California's Fernando Perez won the Free Software Foundation’s 2012 Award for the Advancement of Free Software for his IPython collaborative research tool. Perez began his IPython project as a graduate student in particle physics experimenting with the Python programming language, as he pursued the quantum vacuum theoretical phenomenon. His efforts led to an interactive computing environment that enables researchers to run experiments and obtain real-time results that display data in many ways. For example, one IPython component creates a computational notebook environment that lets users create new computer code and run it immediately in their notebook environment, serving as a computerized lab notebook. The notebook can run anything that a browser can show, including video, sound, and interactive diagrams. Then iPython can organize, display, and publish the material into a single file. “IPython has transformed the way developers and scientists work and collaborate,” says Berkeley professor Josh Bloom. Meanwhile, California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo physics professor Brian Granger built a fully working implementation of IPython that is free for worldwide use. Perez and Granger recently received a $1.15-million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to continue their development of IPython.
UNSW Researchers Push Open Source, Android for Archeology
Computerworld Australia (04/09/13) Rohan Pearce
University of New South Wales (UNSW) researchers are preparing to launch the Federated Archeological Information Management System Project, which aims to develop a new generation of archeological tools that can work with modern Android-based mobile devices and promote the production of compatible datasets from different projects. A major barrier for the project has been the different workflows and terminology used by archeologists. "If you go out and you run an archeological project and use an Access database, when the time comes to put that into a repository, somebody...has to spend a lot of time doing manual ontology mapping," says UNSW's Shawn Ross. To solve this problem, the researchers made sure the database used by the app can be customized to suit the terminology and workflow used by different archeologists. To customize the app for individual projects or teams, XML documents can be fed into the system that governs the database, the user interface, and the logic for the interface. The app enables the recording of text, location, imagery, and audio data on Android devices, and synchronizes the data with other nearby users.
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