Welcome to the February 21, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
FCC Seeks a New Path on 'Net Neutrality' Rules
The New York Times (02/19/14) Edward Wyatt
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday announced that it will develop new rules to prevent Internet service providers from charging additional fees to content providers to reach consumers at the fastest speeds. The rules also are expected to prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing access to websites. Broadband providers contend they have upgraded their infrastructure at great cost, and should be allowed to charge content providers additional fees for faster access. The FCC argues this will afford large companies an unfair advantage, thereby stifling innovation. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says the new guidelines will require broadband companies to disclose their practices and subject them to stricter enforcement. "Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency," Wheeler says. Two previous FCC attempts at net neutrality have been quashed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, prompting the FCC this time to seek authority under a different part of the law. The FCC hopes to retain the right to reclassify Internet service as a telecommunications service, if its new rules are approved but prove inadequate. The FCC's formal rules are expected by late spring or early summer.
#Cursing Study: 10 Lessons About How We Use Swear Words on Twitter
Time (02/19/14) Katy Steinmetz
Wright State University researchers recently conducted a study analyzing more than 50 million tweets from about 14 million users to determine how much Twitter users curse, when they curse, and what types of users are more likely to curse. Using a list of 788 swear words, the researchers found Twitter users curse at a rate of 1.15 percent, twice the normal rate found in other studies. In addition, the researchers analyzed the time stamps on the tweets and found that cursing normally starts around 5:00 a.m. and rises throughout the day, peaking at 9:00 p.m. However, there are "relatively high cursing ratios on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays," after which ratios decrease until Saturday and then start rising again on Sunday, according to the researchers. They also found that Twitter users are more likely to curse when they are at personal places, such as a residence, than in public places, such as at work.
EU Project to Build Lie Detector for Social Media
University of Sheffield (02/18/14) Shemina Davis
University of Sheffield researchers are leading a European Union-funded project to classify online rumors into four types: speculation, controversy, misinformation, and disinformation. Although social networks can provide useful information, it can be difficult to sort out the truth from lies. "Our system aims to help with that, by tracking and verifying information in real time," says University of Sheffield researcher Kalina Bontcheva. The new system will automatically categorize sources to assess their authority, such as news outlets, individual journalists, experts, potential eyewitnesses, members of the public, or automated bots. The system will also look for a history and background to try to determine where Twitter accounts have been created simply to spread false information. The results will be displayed to the user in a visual dashboard to allow them to see whether a rumor can be verified. "It's currently not possible to automatically analyze, in real time, whether a piece of information is true or false and this is what we've now set out to achieve," Bontcheva says.
Women Fleeing Science, Tech Fields
NextGov.com (02/18/14) Brittany Ballenstedt
Although the talent pipeline of female workers in science, engineering, and technology (SET) is growing, many women are leaving these in-demand fields, according to a recent Center for Talent Innovation survey. The survey found that although women make up almost 50 percent of SET college graduates, about 33 percent of them say they feel stalled and are likely to leave their respective SET field within one year. "Women in science are struggling against the lab coat culture, women in engineering are facing the hard hat culture, and women in technology are facing the geeky, late-night hacking culture," says Center for Talent Innovation researcher Tara Gonsalves. In the United States, 80 percent of women love their work, but many feel excluded from male-dominated networks and a lack of female role models. In addition, 23 percent of respondents said women could never get a top position at their company. The report recommends that organizations provide more sponsorship opportunities to women to help them improve their chances of being perceived as leadership material.
Computer Science for Non-Majors
Computing Community Consortium (02/17/14) Ann Drobnis
As interest in computer science grows among non-majors, many students wish to continue beyond introductory courses, creating an ideal opportunity to develop new courses and curricula for non-majors, writes Harvey Mudd College computer science professor and department chair Ran Libeskind-Hadas. He says college students across all disciplines realize that all well-educated people need an understanding of computing as it becomes more ubiquitous, and that computing skills are likely to be beneficial in any field. Libeskind-Hadas says courses for non-majors should cover programming at a "high level of abstraction," with a focus on understanding the basics of everyday software. In addition, non-majors should be exposed to a wide range of applications, either across many fields or in one specific discipline, depending on course design. Students should learn the skills they need to write programs they might actually use, and to enable them to implement their own ideas. Broad concepts such as how computers function also should be included in non-major courses, Libeskind-Hadas says. Computer science departments at the University of Washington, the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvey Mudd College are among those developing and offering courses of this type for non-majors.
Try, Try Again
Inside Higher Ed (02/18/14) Carl Straumsheim
Massive open online course (MOOC) instructors say that after two years of experimentation with mixed success, some MOOCs are beginning to reach their potential. For example, Stanford University researcher Keith Devlin recently launched the fourth iteration of his "Introduction to Mathematical Thinking" MOOC, and says the number of students remaining in the course through the first and second weeks has increased each time it has been offered. Although the course's content has remained the same, Devlin says he changed the experience of taking the MOOC. Devlin modeled his changes on massively multiplayer online role-playing games that require players to persevere through repetitious tasks and enter into collaborations to earn rewards. The success of these games is due to the fact that they encourage community building, says Devlin, who has sought to replicate that in his course's discussion forum. Devlin also has begun offering additional certificates of completion for a two-week "Test Flight" program that enables students to apply the skills they have learned to math problems. Meanwhile, University of California, San Diego professor Scott Klemmer recently finished the fourth session of his "Human-Computer Interaction" MOOC, and also has refined the course with each iteration. Klemmer's adjustments include a community teaching assistant and a LinkedIn group for former students.
Can Twitter Predict Major Events Such as Mass Protests?
Technology Review (02/18/14)
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Nathan Kallus says data in the Twitter stream can be analyzed to predict future crowd behavior. After analyzing tweets associated with the 2013 coup in Egypt, Kallus says the event could have been predicted days in advance. Kallus analyzes mainstream media coverage to determine when significant protests actually take place, and then searches for Twitter activity leading up to the events. By uncovering predictive indicators in the Twitter feed that led to real events, Kallus believes similar Twitter activity also could be predictive. He says the protests in Egypt were predictable on Twitter well in advance of actual events, and the social media content predicted the protests would last for weeks. Although many groups and individuals in recent years have studied the predictive power of social media, observers note the merit of such analysis is uncertain. While it is possible to associate Twitter activity with a real-life protest retroactively, the more important test would be for such a method to call attention to an event before it happens. Some Twitter trends might not lead to real-world events, and Twitter users might not sufficiently represent a population or its intentions.
Demand for Linux Skills Rises
Computerworld (02/19/14) Patrick Thibodeau
Cloud infrastructure is largely Linux-based, and cloud services' overall growth is increasing Linux server deployments. As many as 30 percent of all servers shipped this year will be cloud services providers, according to IDC. This shift may be contributing to Linux hiring trends reported in a recent Dice study, which found that 77 percent of hiring managers have put hiring Linux talent on their list of priorities, up from 70 percent last year. In the third quarter of 2013, Linux servers accounted for 28 percent of all server revenue, compared to 21.5 percent in the same time frame of 2012. "The utilization of the Linux operating system is moving more and more up the stack," says Dice president Shravan Goli. Linux is clearly the preferred platform for cloud computing deployments, notes Pund-IT analyst Charles King. Overall, 93 percent of the managers surveyed in the Dice report plan to hire Linux professionals in the next six months, while 86 percent of the Linux professionals responding in the survey said Linux proficiency has provided them with more career opportunities.
Wikipedia-Size Maths Proof Too Big for Humans to Check
New Scientist (02/17/14) Jacob Aron
University of Liverpool researchers have developed a computer-assisted proof that is as large as the entire content of Wikipedia, making it unlikely that it will ever be checked by a human being. "It might be that somehow we have hit statements which are essentially non-human mathematics," says Liverpool lecturer Alexei Lisitsa, who developed the proof together with colleague Boris Konev. The proof is a major step toward solving a long-standing puzzle known as the Erdos discrepancy problem. The Liverpool researchers showed that an infinite sequence will always have a discrepancy larger than two. However, it would take years to check the computer's proof, raising the question of whether a proof can really be accepted if no human reads it. "I'm not concerned by the fact that no human mathematician can check this, because we can check it with other computer approaches," says the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Gil Kalai. Lisitsa expects that computer-assisted proofs for specific discrepancies will eventually enable a human to spot a pattern and come up with a proof for all numbers.
How Hackathons Can Become More Female-Friendly
ITWorld.com (02/16/14) Phil Johnson
Hackathons intended to encourage engagement with technology appear to not be attracting participation from women, who are already underrepresented in technology fields. Anecdotal evidence suggests women sometimes feel they do not fit in at hackathons, and they are noticed as female participants rather than for their work. In addition, some female programmers lack the confidence to compete with men in a high-profile hackathon environment. Many women, like some of their male counterparts, do not want to participate in overnight coding events because of time limitations and family responsibilities. Experts say hackathon organizers can take steps to encourage more women to participate. For example, a pre-registration period for women can make them feel more comfortable participating in an event, says Google's Amy Quispe, who organized hackathons as a student at Carnegie Mellon University. Organizers can minimize potential intimidation by not focusing on the competition aspect of an event. In addition, organizers should ensure a clean environment and encourage questions from participants, Quispe says. Medium engineer Tess Rinearson says organizers should ensure a diverse group of judges and mentors, connect with and invite women's groups, provide healthier food at the event, and avoid using aggressive language in advertising the hackathon.
Using Crowdsourcing to Solve Complex Problems
Northwestern University Newscenter (02/16/14)
Northwestern University professor Haoqi Zhang says he has developed new forms of crowd-supported, mixed-initiative systems that combine crowd work, community process, and intelligent user interfaces to solve complex problems. Zhang says the systems can ease challenges in designing a custom trip or planning an academic conference. One of the tools, called Mobi, uses crowdsourcing to plan custom trip itineraries. Mobi reads natural language and takes requests from users, then it crowdsources the requests to users, who are given incentives to create and refine an itinerary in a collaborative-workspace application. Mobi also has a "Brainstream," a sidebar that suggests to-do items so users know what information or decisions are most needed. Zhang also developed Cobi, a program that enables an academic community to plan a conference by "community-sourcing" to committee members and presenters, who discuss what sessions they should be part of. Cobi also provides session recommendations to attendees during the conference.
NSF Funds Next-Gen Network Research
Campus Technology (02/14/14) Leila Meyer
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has provided $2.1 million for seven university research projects involving next-generation network technologies. The awards of $300,000 each are part of the Japan-United States Network Opportunity program, which is intended to help support network-connected devices as the Internet of Things explodes in growth. The research projects are expected to advance networking technologies in optical networking, mobile computing, and network design and modeling. For example, researchers at Rutgers University are working on Virtual Mobile Cloud Network for Realizing Scalable, Real-Time Cyber Physical Systems, while development of Energy-Efficient Hyper-Dense Wireless Networks With Trillions of Devices involves a team from Florida International University and the University of Miami. A team from the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Virginia is pursuing Applications Coordinating With Transport, IP, and Optical Networks, while North Carolina State University researchers are working on Service Offering Model and Versatile Network Resource Grooming for Optical Packet and Circuit Integrated Networks. The other projects involve researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Liberty University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and George Washington University.
Mitsubishi Develops Predictive Agent to Anticipate Drivers' Needs
IDG News Service (02/13/14) Tim Hornyak
Mitsubishi researchers are developing a vehicle assistant system that can anticipate driver needs when controlling car navigation systems and stereos. The company recently unveiled a prototype of what it calls the Ultra-simple HMI (human-machine interface). The prototype consists of a driver's seat, steering wheel, and a heads-up display projected onto a windshield that presents three options for controlling the on-board navigation system, stereo, phone, and air conditioning. The system presents three likely choices selected by a predictive agent that anticipates what the driver wants to do based on user history as well as current conditions such as the vehicle's location or internal and external temperature. The driver can make selections by voice or by pushing buttons on the prototype's steering wheel. "Drivers nowadays want to control the navigation system, audio system, phone, and air conditioner while driving," says Mitsubishi Electric's Katsunobu Muroi. "We want to reduce the number of driver operations for safe driving and to provide an easy-to-use interface." The researchers say their interface can reduce the time it takes to operate onboard devices to less than 15 seconds while using just two operations, such as the push of a button.
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