Welcome to the June 30, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
St. Petersburg Students Continue Winning Streak at Programming Competition
The St. Petersburg Times (06/25/14) Chris Gordon
A team of St. Petersburg State University computer science students won the 38th ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC), which was sponsored by IBM. It was the second year in a row a team from St. Petersburg has taken top honors, and the seventh win for a Russian team since 2004. The contest involved 122 student teams from around the world that were given five hours to solve several complex tasks focusing on key trends in the information technology (IT) industry. The St. Petersburg team solved seven tasks in five hours. "Each year, ACM ICPC brings together the world's best student programmers and gives them the opportunity to solve real-world problems," says IBM's Alain Azagury. "We believe that these students are the future leaders of our industry, and we want to contribute to their development and preparation for future work." The participating students also got experience with the latest developments coming out of IBM Research labs and time to speak with leading international experts in the IT field. "I am pleased to see how young people use the knowledge gained in the course of the competitions for the further development of their academic and career path as members of the Association for Computing Machinery," says Baylor University professor and competition executive director Bill Poucher.
Where Is the Top City to Spot Tech Talent?
Wall Street Journal (06/24/14) Dhanya Ann Thoppil
Four of the top five cities that technology professionals moved to last year were all in India, according to a recent LinkedIn study. Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, and Chennai were the four most popular destinations for technology professionals, according to the study, which highlights the technology boom in India, home to some of the largest outsourcing services firms in the world. "This data validates how strategically important India is to companies around the world," says Nishant Rao, LinkedIn's country manager for India. On average, 16 percent of new residents who moved to new cities last year had technology skills, but most Indian cities had more than double that average, according to the LinkedIn data. The LinkedIn report also found 44 percent of the more than 60,000 new residents who moved to Bangalore last year had technology skills. Meanwhile, only about 33 percent of the more than 90,000 new residents in San Francisco, which came in fifth in LinkedIn's survey, were technology professionals. Seattle, Austin, Melbourne, Sydney, and Gurgaon (India), in order, also made LinkedIn's top 10 list.
A Versatile Joystick for Animation Artists
ETH Zurich (06/26/14) Angelika Jacobs
ETH Zurich researchers have developed a new input device, consisting of modular building blocks, which can move and pose virtual characters. The researchers say an artist can assemble these blocks into an approximate representation of any virtual character. They also have developed a modular "input-puppet" with integrated sensors that can take any shape. Sensors in each joint measure the bending angle and transfer this information to software that computes how the virtual characters should move. "The software assists the artist in registering their newly assembled device to the character's shape," says ETH professor Olga Sorkine-Hornung. The researchers have made the method for creating the device's building blocks available for free as Open Hardware and will present the device at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference in August. Sorkine-Hornung says the researchers hope to advance the device by developing a ball-and-socket joint, similar to the human shoulder joint, enabling easier manipulation of the puppet.
Hong Kong Researchers Develop 3D Tool for Surveillance Footage
South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) (06/26/14) Samuel Chan
Researchers at the University of Hong Kong have developed a digital system designed to reduce the amount of time it takes investigators to search through surveillance camera footage for suspects. The system merges footage taken from different angles to create a three-dimensional reconstruction of the scene, which enables investigators to simultaneously see different angles and more easily identify individuals of interest. Once investigators identify potential suspects, the system scans available surveillance footage and uses the color and texture of the suspects' skin, clothes, personal belongings, and gait to identify them in any available video. During testing, the system had an accuracy rate of about 90 percent. However, the researchers say frequently crowded areas will reduce the accuracy to around 80 percent, although they say the use of more cameras could increase that percentage. The researchers also note the system has yet to be tested using footage below the standard definition quality or on video taken outdoors. They plan to continue making improvements, including adding more ways for the system to identify an individual and reducing the time it takes for the system to scan footage.
Rediscovered Plans Aid Edsac Reconstruction
BBC News (06/25/14) Mark Ward
The National Museum of Computing's reconstruction of one of the most significant early British digital computers will benefit from the resurfacing of 19 detailed circuit diagrams of the machine. Cambridge University scientists led by Sir Maurice Wilkes created the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (Edsac) in 1947 to help the institution's scientists analyze data. Edsac was the first machine designed to serve as a computational resource for experimentalists. The reconstruction efforts began with minimal information about the design's evolution and little original hardware. Former Cambridge University engineer John Loker recently learned of the Edsac reconstruction and gave the team the diagrams, which he discovered amongst some discarded items when he began work at the school's mathematical laboratory in 1959, shortly after Edsac was turned off for the last time. The reconstruction team is using the diagrams to ensure the rebuild is faithful to the original design, and expects to complete the project by the end of next year.
High-Performance Data Replication Across Cloud Servers
Computer scientists in China have developed a system that can provide high-performance data replication across cloud servers. The approach keeps data in sync, which is a major problem facing widespread adoption of cloud services. Earlier attempts to limit data conflicts for users accessing many different servers across the globe lack scalability and are slow, according to Anirban Kundu, Lin Luan, and Ruopeng Liu of the Kuang-Chi Institute of Advanced Technology in Shenzhen. They say their approach to cloud synchronization is so efficient that only low-category cloud servers are needed for implementation. The cloud server-side environment has a network structure with distinct levels for controlling data transfer in different segments based on the user/system requirements and ferrying information packets through dedicated channels being used in parallel as required. Parallel execution takes less time to finish a particular task by dividing it into several asynchronous activities on different machines using a distributor/scheduler and then bringing these individual parts back together in the appropriate order for the end user or output.
Advocacy Groups Push Coding as a Core Curriculum in Schools
Governing.com (06/25/14) Jason Shueh
Code.org and other tech advocacy organizations are lobbying to make programming a core curriculum component at all grade levels. Code.org's Roxanne Emadi sees a need for educators to differentiate between computer science and technology training, noting "there's a big difference between knowing how to use technology and knowing how to create technology." She also says 90 percent of schools lack computer science education, with many unaware of this oversight. Code.org seeks to help educators by offering online courses, teaching materials, and suggested curriculum instruction. Along similar lines is Raleigh, NC's Raleigh Digital Connectors group, which has evolved from teaching students basic software to delivering advanced courses and coaching. "We're in a digital economy, and so you're behind the game when you don't have certain skills and I think we try to balance out where our students are at in life," says Raleigh CIO Gail Roper. Another path for cultivating computing skills in education is friendly competition that complements computer science programs, and the Schools Participate in App Resource and Knowledge App League, led by Gilbert, AZ, is an example of this strategy. The contest is facilitated by Arizona State University's College of Technology and Innovation, and it involves high school software developers vying for prizes by designing real-world apps using town data sets.
Researchers Find and Decode the Spy Tools Governments Use to Hijack Phones
Wired News (06/24/14) Kim Zetter
It has long been established that law enforcement and intelligence agencies the world over use tools from Hacking Team to conduct surveillance on computer and mobile phone users, but a study of such tools performed by researchers at Kaspersky Lab and the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab has revealed a wide range of functions. The modules target Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Mobile users, and they enable agencies to hijack the phones and steal their stored information, make recordings to monitor calls, and track the whereabouts of users. Hacking Team's tools are controlled remotely via command-and-control servers set up by its clients to monitor multiple targets. Kaspersky tracked more than 350 such servers in more than 40 nations, with the bulk of them located in the United States. Meanwhile, Citizen Lab acquired a copy of the user's manual for the tool suite, which details how to build the surveillance infrastructure required to deliver implants to targeted devices and manage intelligence collected from infected devices. An analysis also showed that Hacking Team is cognizant of the attention its products receive from researchers and has taken steps to foil attempts to reverse-engineer its surveillance tools.
The Great Salmon Run Algorithm
EurekAlert (06/24/14) Albert Ang
Babol University of Technology researchers have developed an algorithm based on the survival trials faced by salmon swimming upstream to the spawning grounds to help them find the optimal solution to a given problem. Bio-inspiration has been widely used in problem solving, as genetic algorithms take the best solutions, randomly modify them, and test them again. Repeating this process enables scientists to find an optimal answer through a process similar to survival of the fittest in nature. However, the Babol researchers determined a genetic algorithm would not handle certain engineering problems in which many constraints on plausible solutions must be applied. They developed the great salmon run (TGSR) algorithm as a simulation of the actual salmon run, enabling the researchers to identify specific solutions to a problem that are optimal in the sense of reaching the spawning grounds. The researchers say they have successfully applied the TGSR algorithm to 25 standard benchmarking problems in engineering. "In most cases, the TGSR algorithm worked better than the other methods," the researchers say. "Moreover, for some problems, it was quicker at converging on an optimal solution."
Demonstrating a Driverless Future
National Science Foundation (06/24/14) Aaron Dubrow; Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers say they have developed one of the most advanced autonomous vehicles ever designed, capable of navigating on urban roads and highways without human intervention. The car was developed over more than a decade with the support of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and General Motors. The researchers say they have advanced the underlying technology associated with autonomous vehicles, including sensors, software, wireless communications, and network integration. "This technology has been enabled by remarkable advances in the seamless blend of computation, networking, and control into physical objects--a field known as cyber-physical systems," says NSF deputy director Cora Marrett. CMU's overall goal is to develop a driverless car that can decrease injuries and fatalities on roads. "Because computers don't get distracted, sleepy, or angry, they can actually keep us much safer--that is the promise of this technology," says CMU professor Raj Rajkumar. The car's autonomous systems control the steering, speed, and braking, in addition to detecting and avoiding obstacles in the road, such as pedestrians and bicyclists.
Progress in Whole-Lifecycle Software Architecture Modeling
Peking University researchers have proposed an architecture-centric software development method called ABC that aims to control the increasing complexity of software. The ABC method unifies the core software development artifacts into various software architecture models. In addition, ABC unifies core software development activities into continuous and iterative refinement, mapping, and transformation of architecture models. The method achieves consistent, flexible, and systematic modeling and control of high-level software structural complexity. The method's primary focus is to introduce software architecture into all the phases of software development. There are four defining features of the ABC method, including the definition of a software architecture's basic building blocks as components instead of objects; the abstracting of functions or services provided by execution platforms into constraints and connectors; the extension of software architecture to the requirements analysis phase, as well as the maintenance and evolution phase, and the discovery of significant software architecture properties in different phases. The ABC method and its supporting tools and platforms have been used to model the information system for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and other high-profile projects. As technology advances, ABC's creators will work to address new challenges, including the fusion of requirements engineering and knowledge engineering, the interaction between software reuse and artificial intelligence, cloud-based software engineering, and Internet operating systems.
IEEE Spectrum (06/24/14) Sarah Lewin
China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer is still the leader of the Top500 ranking, executing 33.86 petaflops at double the speed of its closest rival, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan. Such systems are capable of hitting LINPACK Benchmarks, and accommodating increasingly complex simulation and analysis projects. All 500 systems measured by the ranking have a collective speed of 274 petaflops, versus the 250-petaflop total of the previous Top500 list. Although growth in the processing speed of the world's fastest computers appears to be slowing, the Top500 curators still expect at least one supercomputer to reach exaflop speed by 2020. Labs and institutions are ramping up efforts to realize that benchmark, with Japan's government choosing the RIKEN system to develop its own exascale machine by 2020. Driving the push to develop exaflop computers is their promise of handling vastly more data that can be used, for example, to better model physical systems such as Earth's climate and the human body, as well as to design novel smart materials. Geneva's Human Brain Project also is banking on exascale systems to model the brain so they can embed and study all known knowledge of how it processes information.
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