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Welcome to the November 25, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


Why the U.S. May Lose the Race to Exascale
Computerworld (11/22/13) Patrick Thibodeau

U.S. firms currently are leading the high-performance computing industry, as HP has 39 percent of the systems on the Top500 list, IBM has 33 percent, and Cray has 10 percent. However, other countries are developing their own chips, interconnects, and new technologies in the push to exascale. Europe, China, and Japan are the major challengers to the U.S., which has yet to set an overall budget for its own efforts or a target date. European researchers are building an exascale system using ARM chips, and hope to deliver the system by 2020. In addition, Europe has committed to spending the equivalent of $1.6 billion on the project. Meanwhile, China could deliver an exascale system before 2020, as its Tianhe-2 recently retained its ranking as the most powerful supercomputer in the world, running at nearly 34 petaflops. China also is expected to produce two 100-petaflop size systems as early as 2015, one built entirely from China-made chips and interconnects. In reaching exascale, "I think the Chinese are two years ahead of the U.S.," says IDC analyst Earl Joseph. Meanwhile, Japan is discussing the creation of an exascale system that uses less than 30 megawatts of power by 2020, according to RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science director Kimihiko Hirao.


Tim Berners-Lee Says 'Surveillance Threatens Web'
BBC News (11/21/13)

The Internet is threatened by a "growing tide of surveillance and censorship," warned Sir Tim Berners-Lee as he announced the findings of this year's World Wide Web Foundation annual Web index report, which says 94 percent of the countries in the index do not adequately monitor government Internet interception. The Web index report ranks countries in terms of the social and political impact of the Web. "One of the most encouraging findings of this year's Web index is how the Web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organize, take action, and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world," Berners-Lee says. "But some governments are threatened by this...[and] bold steps are needed now to protect our fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of opinion and association online." Berners-Lee has been a vocal critic of government surveillance and calls attempts by spy agencies to crack encryption "appalling and foolish." Sweden topped this year's Web index, followed by Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States, and New Zealand. The report found that in 80 percent of the countries studied, the Web and social media played a role in mobilizing the public on a wide range of issues.


U.S. Government Rarely Uses Best Cybersecurity Steps
Reuters (11/22/13) Alina Selyukh

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on Friday released a report saying the U.S. government should serve as a role model for other organizations by following best practices for cybersecurity. "The Federal Government rarely follows accepted best practices," the report says. "It needs to lead by example and accelerate its efforts to make routine cyberattacks more difficult by implementing best practices for its own systems." Among the recommended best practices are using software that updates automatically, implementing secure browsers, and discontinuing unsupported and insecure operating systems. The report also says regulatory agencies should promote best practices among the industries they regulate. For example, the report says the Securities and Exchange Commission should require publicly held companies to disclose cybersecurity risk factors as investment risks, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology should collaborate with Internet providers on best practices. Meanwhile, University of Texas at Austin professor William Press, a member of the PCAST group of U.S. scientists and engineers who make policy recommendations to the administration, says data shared between private companies "should not be and would not be accessible to the government."


Carnegie Mellon Researchers Investigate How Information Shared Via Online Social Networks Can Lead to Hiring Discrimination
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (11/21/13) Abby Simmons

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have found evidence that sharing personal information via online social networks can lead to hiring discrimination. The researchers tested the impact that information posted on a popular social networking site by job candidates can have on employers' hiring behavior. "Our experiment focused on a novel tension: the tension between the law--which, in the United States, protects various types of information, making it risky for certain personal questions to be asked during interviews--and new information technologies, such as online social networks, which make that same information often available to strangers, including interviewers and employers," says CMU professor Alessandro Acquisti. Based on the study, the researchers estimate that a minority of U.S. employers regularly searches for candidates online. "While it appears that a relatively small portion of U.S. employers regularly searches for candidates online, we found robust evidence of discrimination among certain types of employers," says CMU's Christina Fong. The researchers used online data posted by actual members of popular social networking and job-seeking sites to design job candidate resumes and online profiles for their experiments. "Our survey and field experiments show statistically significant evidence of hiring bias originating from information candidates shared on their online profiles," Fong says.


Google's Civic Information API Now Connects Voters, Elected Officials
eWeek (11/20/13) Todd R. Weiss

Google's Civic Information application programming interface (API), originally used to make apps to help voters find their polling places, is being upgraded so that developers can directly connect voters to their federal, state, county, and municipal elected officials, according to Google software engineer Jonathan Tomer. "In addition to elected representatives, the API also returns your political jurisdictions using Open Civic Data Identifiers," Tomer notes. He says Google collaborated with the Sunlight Foundation and other civic technology groups to devise a new open standard to ease developers' integration of the Civic Information API with their data sets. Developers can build apps with the improved API by starting with its documentation and also can see some of the added capabilities by trying out a Map Your Reps sample app, Tomer says. He notes Change.org used the upgraded API to add a new Decision Makers feature, "which allows users to direct a petition to their elected representative and lists that petition publicly on the representative's profile page. As a result, the leader has better insight into the issues being discussed in their districts, and a new channel to respond to constituents."


Strategy for Women in STEM
Inside Higher Ed (11/20/13) Allie Grasgreen

Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields might benefit from a project-based curriculum, based on evidence from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) surveys of project-based program graduates. WPI dean Richard F. Vaz says the school has "a lot of evidence showing that this is a curriculum that is appealing to students, that it doesn't turn them off, it doesn't drive them away." Project-based learning enables students to solve real-life, open-ended problems outside of the classroom. WPI students complete two projects, including one focused on an interdisciplinary problem and another based on a problem within their major. Women seem to benefit more than their male counterparts in terms of personal and professional development. For example, 63 percent of women, but only 50 percent of men, said the program contributed "much" or "very much" to allowing them to understand the connections between technology and society. Among women, 66 percent said the curriculum helped them "be an effective leader," compared with 54 percent of men. More than 70 percent of women and 62 percent of men said the program taught them to function effectively in the real world. Men and women reported similar benefits from the technical skills typically learned through traditional course work. The findings are consistent with previous research suggesting that social context and collaboration play a larger role in motivating women than men.


INCITE Grants Awarded to 59 Computational Research Projects
Oak Ridge Today (11/20/13)

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science is awarding grants to 59 computational research projects that will share almost six billion core hours on two of the most powerful supercomputers in the United States. The grants come from the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which provides the world's most advanced computational research projects with access to DOE's computing facilities at Oak Ridge and Argonne National Laboratories. "The INCITE program, which is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, provides researchers with the opportunity to make scientific breakthroughs in fields that would not be probable or even possible without access to the most powerful available supercomputers," says James Hack, director of the National Center for Computational Sciences, which houses the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. Projects will receive an average of more than 75 million core hours, with individual awards of up to several hundred million core hours on systems capable of quadrillions of calculations each second. One grant recipient is a project at the University of Southern California, which received 112.2 million core hours to explore the physics of earthquakes, potential seismic hazards from known faults, and the effects of ground motions on modern buildings.


The Online Dating Engine That Assesses Your Taste in the Opposite Sex (and Whether They Find You Attractive)
Technology Review (11/18/13)

University of Iowa computer scientist Kang Zhao and colleagues have created a dating recommendation engine that suggests potential dates based not only on mutual interests, but also on a person's likelihood to reply to initial contact. Many dating websites make recommendations based on the preferences of other users who have shown an interest in similar people, but fail to consider a user's attractiveness to potential dates based on the number of replies they receive. Zhao's recommendation engine analyzes the number of replies a user receives and uses this to rate a person's relative attractiveness. The researchers conducted tests with anonymized data from a dating website with 47,000 users over 196 days, using the first 98 days of data as a training set to identify the tastes and attractiveness of individual users. The new engine's recommendations were compared with other methods, such as using taste only, on the basis of the number of potential dates recommended as well as how often contacts were reciprocated. The team notes that beyond dating, their engine could be used in job application networks, which are similar to heterosexual dating networks in that both are reciprocal bipartite networks that contain two types of nodes, with links created between different node types.


3D Imaging Technique Utilizes Famous Mathematician's Theory
UT Dallas News (11/19/13) LaKisha Ladson

University of Texas (UT) at Dallas researchers have developed a technique to make three-dimensional (3D) images using a practical application of John Nash's embedding theorem. The researchers say their technique uses anisotropic triangles to create 3D mesh computer graphics that more accurately approximate the shapes of the original objects in a shorter amount of time than current techniques. "Anisotropic mesh can provide better simulation results for certain types of problems, for example, in fluid dynamics," says UT Dallas professor Xiaohu Guo. The researchers found that replacing isotropic triangles with anisotropic triangles in the particle-based method of creating images resulted in smoother representations of objects. The researchers note the technique also can generate the image up to 125 times faster than with conventional approaches. Objects that use anisotropic triangles are of a more accurate quality, and most noticeable to the eye when it comes to wrinkles and movement of clothes on human avatars. The next step for the researchers is to move from representing the surface of 3D objects to representing 3D volume. "If we are going to create accurate representations of human organs, we need to account for the movement of cells below the organ's surface," Guo says.


Big Data May Mimic, Replace Brain
EE Times (11/20/13) Rick Merritt

Big data analytics may both mimic the human brain and eventually replace it, according to researchers speaking at a recent IBM symposium. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla called for advances that reduce human error by putting more healthcare decisions into the hands of smart systems, while cognitive computing researcher Jeff Hawkins showed advances in applying techniques used in the neocortex to sorting large datasets. "Data science will do more for medicine in the next 10 years than biological science," Khosla says. Hawkins focused on Grok, an open source SDR algorithm that uses a technique employed in the neocortex to track large datasets by creating so-called sparse distributed representations. "We don't know how to characterize it mathematically, but I'd argue this is a basic building block of cognitive computing," Hawkins says. He says Grok is a powerful tool that could be applied broadly to big data analytics problems in areas as diverse as finance, Web sales, and manufacturing.


Google, Researchers Create First Detailed Map of Global Forest Change
Government Computer News (11/20/13) Susan Miller

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Google say they have developed the first high-resolution global map of forest resources. The researchers say their free tool helps scientists understand human and naturally induced forest changes and how these changes affect other natural and societal systems. The tool was created using Landsat 7 satellite data to measure changes in forest and other types of land cover. The analysis was made possible through a collaboration with Google Earth Engine colleagues who used models developed at the University of Maryland for characterizing the Landsat data sets. The researchers used the tool and reported a global loss of 2.3 million square kilometers of forest between 2000 and 2012, and a gain of 800,000 square kilometers of new forest. "This is the first map of forest change that is globally consistent and locally relevant," says Maryland professor Matthew Hansen. He says the mapping tool greatly improves upon existing knowledge of global forest cover by providing fine resolution maps that accurately and consistently quantify annual loss or gain of forest over more than 10 years. "Now, with our global mapping of forest changes, every nation has access to this kind of information, for their own country and the rest of the world," Hansen says.


SC13 Talk Pushes HPC in New Educational Directions
HPC Wire (11/19/13) Nicole Hemsoth

In an interview, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign National Center for Supercomputing Application director Thom Dunning discussed the potential for using computational simulation to transform scientific and engineering education in the same manner in which it has revolutionized research. "The potential of using these technologies to teach students the fundamental principles of a subject through authentic computational simulation is largely unexplored," Dunning says. For example, chemistry students could use computational simulations to simply manipulate a molecule on a computer screen or to perform advanced tasks such as computing a molecule's vibrational spectra and connecting that to global warming. One of the key challenges in science is that "many of the fundamental, underlying concepts from continental drift to the inner workings of the universe aren't easily visualized," says Dunning, noting that simulations make such visualization possible. He says a growing number of scientific communities need high-performance computing (HPC) due to increasingly complex models and ever-growing volumes of data, and interest in HPC will rise in the coming decade. Dunning's goal is "to really get the folks in HPC interested in talking to their colleagues in science and engineering," especially on the teaching side. Dunning says there is significant interest in introducing computational simulation into the undergraduate classrooms, but a partnership is needed between the HPC community and school faculty to make that a reality.


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