Welcome to the December 27, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Trove of Information From the 1930s, Animated by the Internet
The New York Times (12/25/13) Jennifer Schuessler
The University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab has released an animated, online version of Charles O. Paullin's Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. In 1932, the atlas was praised for its creative ways of showing change over time, but its creators lamented their inability to incorporate motion into the collection. "The ideal historical atlas might well be a collection of motion-picture maps, if these could be displayed on the pages of a book without the paraphernalia of projector, reel, and screen," wrote Paullin's editor John K. Wright in the atlas' introduction. This capability is available in the new digital version, which allows users to access more detailed data behind many maps and to watch animations, for example, of the progression of women's suffrage. "We live in history the way fish live in water," says Digital Scholarship Lab founder Edward L. Ayers. "It's invisible to us, but an historical atlas can give us a sense of coherence of the larger pattern." Over the next decade, the Richmond team will develop an entirely new digital atlas, with an initial grant of $750,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which will update some aspects of the earlier work. The efforts come amid growing academic interest in studying the spatial aspects of history by using Geographic Information Systems technology to uncover previously unnoticed patterns of change.
New Approach to Vertex Connectivity Could Maximize Networks' Bandwidth
MIT News (12/24/13) Helen Knight
One of the fundamental concepts within graph theory is connectivity, in which edge connectivity and vertex connectivity act as variants. Although there has been a substantial amount of research focused on solving problems associated with edge connectivity, there has been very little success in answering questions surrounding vertex connectivity. However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Technion, and the University of Freiburg say they have developed a technique for addressing vertex-connectivity problems. "This could ultimately help us understand how to build more robust and faster networks," says MIT graduate student Mohsen Ghaffari, who will present the research at the ACM-SIAM Symposium on Discrete Algorithms in Portland, OR, in January. The technique involves breaking down the graph into separated groups of nodes, called connected domain sets. "Each of these groups is then going to be responsible for broadcasting some set of the messages, and all groups work in parallel to broadcast all the messages fast--almost as fast as possible," Ghaffari says. The researchers also have developed an algorithm that can carefully decompose a network into many connected dominating sets. "We want to be able to spread as much information as possible per unit of time, to create faster and faster networks, and when a graph has a better vertex connectivity, it allows a larger flow [of information]," Ghaffari says.
Alan Turing Granted Posthumous Pardon by Queen
Financial Times (12/24/13) Sam Jones
Computer science pioneer Alan Turing on Tuesday was granted a posthumous pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy by the Queen. Turing was prosecuted 60 years ago for "homosexual activities." He is considered the father of modern computer science and his code-breaking work is said to have shortened the second World War by two years. "Everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine," Time magazine wrote in 1999 after naming Turing one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century. Turing first devised and elaborated in 1936 the notion of a computational device, which he called an automatic machine, capable of resolving any algorithm. His work laid the foundation for the theory of modern computing. The British government rejected a call for his pardon in 2012, but momentum for a pardon has been growing since former prime minister Gordon Brown apologized in 2009 for his "appalling" treatment.
Your Next Job, Next Year, May Be Self-Employment
Computerworld (12/23/13) Patrick Thibodeau
The technology industry is experiencing a shift toward a more independent, contingent IT workforce, which could mean younger and mid-career workers need to prepare to be self-employed. About 18 percent of all IT workers today are self-employed, and this workforce is growing at a rate of about 7 percent per year, which is faster than the overall growth rate for independent workers, according to Emergent Research. "In today's world, change is happening so quickly that everyone is trying to figure out how to be more flexible and agile, cut fixed costs and move to variable costs," says Emergent's Steve King. A recent MBO Partners study estimated that the entire independent workforce in the United States totals 17.7 million, and that about 1 million of those are IT professionals. "The difference now is that use of contract or temporary workers is not being driven by a boom, but rather by a reluctance to hire permanent workers as the economy improves," says Computer Economics' John Longwell. However, for those workers with desirable IT skills, "there is a lot more opportunity to find part-time employment and set up your own shop and work as a consultant and contractor than there has been in the past," King says. In addition, there will be more full-time opportunities for younger workers as baby boomers gradually leave the workforce.
Achieving Optimal Online Marketing Through Cutting Edge Analysis
CORDIS News (12/23/13)
Although social media allows businesses to reach their target audiences in new ways, it also produces massive amounts of data that can be difficult for organizations to analyze in order to effectively deliver a message. The European Union recently funded the OPTIMIZR initiative, which aims to optimize social media campaigns by addressing unstructured text and information diffusion through the development of an innovative analysis tool. This type of tool will ultimately help marketing agencies and their clients improve the efficiency of their social media strategies. The OPTIMIZR project will try to bring social network analysis up to date by combining information technology, marketing data, and modeling capabilities that allow the system to provide predicted outcomes from various scenarios and social media marketing strategies. This system will produce a better understanding of social network structure and its impact on information diffusion. The project will initially determine how social media campaigns can be maximized by identifying influencers that could help improve the diffusion of messages. The project will then monitor the social media marketing impact, with the goal of establishing metrics to evaluate the efficiency of an online marketing campaign.
Girls Good at Math Half as Likely to Study STEM
Maclean's (12/18/13) Josh Dehaas
High school girls in Canada who excel at mathematics are half as likely as their male counterparts to pursue science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and computer science in college, according to Statistics Canada (StatsCan). Only 23 percent of 15-year-old girls in Canada who scored in the top three of six categories on the math section of the recent Program for International Student Assessment standardized exam went on to study STEM in college, while 46 percent of boys did so. Among girls with the highest math scores, 48 percent pursued social sciences. In addition, 52 percent of boys with grades in the 80- to 89-percent range chose STEM programs in college, compared with 22 percent of girls with equal grades. Among students with grades of 90 percent or above in high school, only 41 percent of girls pursued STEM while 61 percent of boys did so. StatsCan says self-confidence is not the issue. "Among university-bound students who considered their mathematics skills as 'excellent,' 66 percent of males chose a STEM program compared with 47 percent of females. Among those who considered their mathematical abilities as 'good,' 36 percent of males and 15 percent of females chose a STEM program," StatsCan says.
ChroGPS, a New Generation Visual Browser of the Epigenome
IRB Barcelona (12/19/2013)
Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) researchers have developed ChroGPS, a software application that serves to facilitate the analysis and understanding of epigenetic data and to extract intelligible information, which can be downloaded for free. "With ChroGPS we wanted to integrate epigenetic data with genetic data to reap the great benefits from them and to be able to understand this information," says IRB Barcelona professor Ferran Azorin. This tool has produced the same results as those presented by researchers working on the modENCODE, but instead of seeing the information in hundreds of graphs and figures, the IRB Barcelona researchers have produced a single map. "ChroGPS is based on the sequential application of two steps: first the generation of distances [or degrees of similarity] between epigenetic components on the basis of several possible measurements that we have developed, and after, in the representation of these distances in the form of bi- or tri-dimensional maps to facilitate their interpretation," says IRB Barcelona researcher Oscar Reina. In the future, the researchers hope to follow the complex transformation of a healthy cell into a cancerous one by tracking the genetic and epigenetic changes that occur.
IBM Earns Patent for 'Encrypted Blobs'
Network World (12/19/13) Ellen Messmer
IBM cryptography researchers have fine-tuned their approach to keeping data encrypted and processing it at the same time. The researchers say they have developed a data-scrambling technique in which encrypted data can be processed without having to decrypt it first. The technology is known as fully homomorphic encryption, and is described as a way to create encrypted blobs that can be combined and processed with other encrypted blobs and obtain identical results as if the processes were not encrypted. IBM, which received a patent for the technology, continues to test for practical applications, but believes it could be especially useful for sensitive data such as financial information, particularly in cloud environments. "Our patented invention has the potential to pave the way for more secure cloud computing services--without having to decrypt or reveal original data," says IBM researcher and 2010 ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award recipient Craig Gentry, co-inventor named on the patent with fellow researcher Shai Halevi.
Federal Agencies to Hire More Cyber Defenders in 2014
Capital Business (12/22/13) John Slye
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking to significantly expand its cyber workforce. A proposed amendment to the Homeland Security Act calls for the DHS Secretary to regularly evaluate the readiness and capacity of the agency's cyber staff to meet its cybersecurity mission, form a five-year recruitment plan, and develop a 10-year projection of workforce needs. However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported this year that more than 20 percent of cybersecurity positions remain vacant at the National Protection and Programs Directorate, the primary DHS cyber division. In contrast, the U.S. Cyber Command and uniformed services cyber commands appear to have more staffing success. The U.S. Army is constructing a new cyber command center at Fort Meade to eventually staff 1,500, which would lead a worldwide cyber corps of 21,000 soldiers and civilians. Meanwhile, by 2017, the Air Force will add more than 1,000 uniformed cyber forces to its Space Command.
Go Google Go! A Language on Full Throttle
InfoWorld (12/18/13) Serdar Yegulalp
Look at This Amazing Animated Typography, Built by a Google Whiz
Wired News (12/23/13) Kyle VanHemert
Messages Sent via Molecules Can Aid Communication Underground, Underwater, or Inside the Body
University of Warwick (12/19/13) Anna Blackaby
Researchers at the University of Warwick and York University have developed a molecular communications system for sending messages and data in environments where electromagnetic waves cannot be used, such as underwater, in underground structures, or inside the body. The researchers created the capability of converting any generic message into binary signals, which in turn are programmed into evaporated alcohol molecules. The first demonstration involved transmitting the words "O Canada" across a distance of several meters for decoding by a receiver, using hardware built from off-the-shelf electronics at a cost of about $100. "We believe we have sent the world's first text message to be transmitted entirely with molecular communication, controlling concentration levels of the alcohol molecules, to encode the alphabets with single spray representing bit 1 and no spray representing the bit 0," says York University doctoral candidate Nariman Farsad. The University of Warwick's Weisi Guo notes that molecular signaling is commonplace in the natural world, and their method could be used for wireless oil rig and sewer monitoring, as well as nanoscale communication. Potential uses in this area include sensors embedded within organs or miniature robots that target drugs to cancerous cells. "Molecular communication signals are also biocompatible and require very little energy to generate and propagate," Guo points out.
Q&A with James Kuffner, Google Robotics Researcher
Technology Review (12/23/13) Will Knight
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently held a competition in which 16 teams had to develop robots to complete a series of tasks inspired by challenges faced in cleaning up the destroyed Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. "I think setting up these tasks and challenges is a good way to motivate people to work on hard problems and try to bring together the best hardware and software to make these machines do useful tasks," says Google scientist James Kuffner. He notes that to date, robotics has been very brittle, and it is going to take advanced software and hardware to make robots achieve the same level of performance and agility that humans and animals have. Although the tasks in the DARPA competition may look easy, they are very difficult for robots. "I feel like in the last 20 years there's been incredible acceleration, and I'm really excited to see this much effort and attention being paid to try and make the robots do something practical," Kuffner says.
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