Welcome to the December 31, 2014 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Development of Software That 'Predicts' Sudden Cardiac Death
Healthformics founder Antonio Aguilar has developed software that can predict when patients are at risk of sudden cardiac death. Cardiologists at Galway Hospital in Ireland used the software last year to help test its accuracy, and now the National University of Ireland is looking to sell it to specialized companies. Aguilar developed an algorithm that tests a patient, makes an electrocardiogram, and records 15 minutes of the person's heartbeat. The algorithm processes this information, and analyzes via a statistical model if the patient is at risk of arrhythmia, which is the sign of sudden cardiac death. Before suffering arrhythmia, a patient will show a lower variability in heartbeat. "A patient before suffering an arrhythmia has certain patterns which can be detected and the variability in heartbeat is lower," notes Aguilar. "With this algorithm we can 'predict' whether the patient will have an arrhythmia hours before it happens."
Are Black Colleges Boosting Minority Representation in the Sciences?
The Atlantic (12/29/14) Alexandra Ossola
Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields traditionally lack diversity, as Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans make up 26 percent of the U.S. workforce but only 10 percent of STEM positions. In order to change this disparity, many organizations and individuals are trying to engage minority students in STEM at all levels of education. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are trying to prepare thousands of minority students for careers in STEM by minimizing the obstacles that these students will face because of their background. "My philosophy has always been that training underrepresented minorities is not for just them alone--anything you do to help them is of value to anyone else," says Brown University professor Andrew G. Campbell. Some HBCUs incorporate training in soft skills to help students succeed in STEM. For example, many HBCUs place a strong emphasis on communication, teaching students that they must be able to articulately present and write about their work in order to be successful in STEM fields. Many HBCUs send students to present their research at events such as the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the meeting of the National Society of Black Engineers.
Lloyd's Register Foundation Gives 10m British Pounds to Alan Turing Institute for Big Data Research
Computerworld UK (12/24/14) Antony Savvas
The Alan Turing Institute will receive 10 million British pounds from the Lloyd's Register Foundation to research big data engineering applications. The research would support the safety and performance of engineering assets and major infrastructure such as energy, transportation, and shipping, on which modern society relies, says the foundation. "Within the next five to 10 years we are going to witness step changes in sensor technology, data-driven intelligent systems, computer science and algorithms for data analysis--impacting all aspects of the business life-cycle," says the foundation's Richard Clegg. The Alan Turing Institute will receive the grant over five years, and the U.K. government plans to commit 42 million British pounds to the new institute by March 2020. The institute will lead research, education, and knowledge transfer in the data sciences, and the British Library in London will serve as its headquarters.
'Smart' Software Can Be Tricked Into Seeing What Isn't There
Technology Review (12/24/14) Caleb Garling
Cornell University and University of Wyoming researchers have demonstrated how to make images that deceive deep-learning software into seeing things that are not there. The technique offers new insight into the differences between how real brains and the simple simulated neurons used in deep-learning process images. The researchers used a neural network called AlexNet that has achieved impressive results in image recognition. They operated it in reverse, asking a version of the software with no knowledge of guitars to produce a picture of one by generating random pixels across an image. The researchers then asked a second version of the network that had been trained to spot guitars to rate the images made by the first network, and that confidence rating was used by the first network to refine its next attempt to create a guitar image. This process was completed thousands of times until the first network could make an image the second network recognized as a guitar with 99-percent confidence. However, to a human, the guitar images looked like colored TV static or simple patterns, which shows the software is not interested in piecing together structural details, as a human trying to identify something might be, instead examining specific distance or color relationships between pixels, or overall color and texture.
Texas Instruments Builds an Alternative Energy for the Internet of Things
Computerworld (12/22/14) Patrick Thibodeau
Texas Instruments (TI) wants to use harvested energy to power the Internet of Things. New technology developed by the company can take small amounts of energy generated from heat, vibrations, wind, and light and convert it into a useful power source. TI's approach would make harvested power practical for many Internet of Things sensor applications, which are tiny in size. Ambient energy sources can generate 300 to 400 millivolts, which is not enough to power anything, but TI's ultra-low-powered DC-to-DC switching convertor can boost this power to 3 to 5 volts; TI's Niranjan Pathare says this would be enough to charge a battery. To power wearables, TI has demonstrated tapping energy from the human body by using harvesters the size of wristwatch straps, according to Pathare. TI has worked with vibration collectors, for example, about the same size as a key. The technology has many applications in industrial and home environments, but still needs more work before it makes its way to market to power smart watches and other wearable devices. "They have the parts that will take this micro-power input and actually make some useful voltage and current that could power something," says Gartner analyst Steve Ohr.
More Students--but Few Girls, Minorities--Took AP Computer Science Exams
Education Week (12/19/14) Holly Yettick
The number of students who took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam jumped dramatically in 2014, but girls and minorities continue to be underrepresented in their ranks, according to the College Board. The number of students who took the AP computer science exam increased by 26 percent in 2014 to 39,278. The numbers of female and minority students taking the exam also increased, by about a third, but those groups are still underrepresented. Female students comprised 20 percent of computer science exam-takers in 2014, up from 19 percent in 2013, while African-Americans held steady at 4 percent and the Hispanic participation rate increased slightly from 8 to 9 percent. Black students made up 14 percent of the student body nationwide in 2014, and Hispanics 19 percent, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education. Twelve of the 49 states where at least one student took the AP computer science test had no black students take the exam. Most of these were states with small populations, such as Montana, but also included Mississippi, where half of the class of 2014 was black. College Board spokesperson Katherine Levin says the organization is trying to improve female and minority representation with the help of a $5-million grant from Google, and will be offering a new, more broadly focused AP Computer Science Principles course for the 2016-2017 academic year.
Study Examines Websites' Password Practices
Plymouth University (12/22/14) Alan Williams
Plymouth University researchers are examining password security controls in place among 10 of the world's most visited websites. The researchers found very few of these websites give detailed guidance about the importance of providing secure passwords. In addition, the majority of the sites provided little to no information about the reasons why password protection is important. The researchers focused on Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Wikipedia, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft Live, LinkedIn, WordPress.com, and Pinterest. They examined the advice offered to users when they were creating accounts and changing or resetting passwords, specifically the length, alphanumerical inclusion, prevention of guessable choices, and the presence of password strength meters. The researchers found across the 10 sites, there were 30 opportunities to provide detailed guidance but only a third of them were taken. "In the seven years of conducting this study, there has not been the level of improvement one might have expected," notes Plymouth professor Steve Furnell. "If these companies and others were to include simple explanations about enhancing password security, and some better enforcement of good practice, the extent of our collective online security could be dramatically improved.
Hackers Test, Teach Computer Pros at Cyber Range
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (12/27/14) Rick Barrett
The Michigan Cyber Range teaches computer network professionals to detect, prevent, and mitigate cyberattacks in real-world settings. The cyber range includes "live fire" exercises, which challenge the skills of participants in a variety of situations. The exercises are based in Alphaville, a virtual town that simulates cyberwarfare against government, schools, and businesses. "It's like a war game," says Wisconsin Security Research Consortium director Jack Heinemann. "You have to think like the enemy to predict where the enemy is going." Michigan has set up cyber-range "hubs" at universities and U.S. Army National Guard bases. Information technology professionals can enter Alphaville to test their skills against hackers by plugging a laptop into a portal at one of the hubs. "Alphaville is a place that applies to just about everybody. It's not going to be an exact copy of your enterprise, but it's going to be pretty close," says Merit Network's William J. Adams. The Merit Network wants to establish three "cyber volunteer fire departments" in Wisconsin that would respond to major attacks and assist police in investigating the attacks. Adams says the cyber volunteers would be recruited from academia, industry, and state and local governments.
The Power to Manage Your Power
San Diego State University (12/19/2014) Michael Price
San Diego State University (SDSU) researchers have developed Energy Elastics, a free app that works with customer energy use data downloaded from San Diego Gas & Electric's Green Button to help customers schedule appliance-related chores for off-peak hours to reduce energy usage. Using electricity during off-peak hours saves business owners and other consumers money, and also may leave a smaller carbon footprint, says SDSU professor Yusuf Ozturk. The app enables users to access their own data via the utility and shows when energy usage spikes at different times during the day. Energy Elastics breaks usage down into hourly chunks, highlighting peak and non-peak periods, and then predicts how many fewer pounds of carbon might be emitted if the user waited until off-peak hours. In the future, Ozturk says the app will be able to sync with smart applications to automatically schedule tasks such as laundry and dish washing for off-peak hours. "Some people care about their spending, some care about their carbon footprint," Ozturk says. "We're assuming that if you let the user know, they'll change their behavior."
IU Researchers to Study Balance Between Privacy and Public Use of Wearable Cameras
Indiana University News Room (12/18/14)
The U.S. National Science Foundation will provide a $1.2 million grant to Indiana University (IU) researchers working to develop new technologies to improve the privacy of bystanders captured in the images of people using smartphones or wearable cameras. The technologies also could be used to protect captured images from various types of automated analysis. IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing professors Apu Kapadia and David Crandall are investigating computer vision techniques that can automatically find potentially private content in images. They have developed PlaceAvoider, a system that uses computer vision algorithms to detect sensitive spaces, such as bathrooms and bedrooms, and then blacklist them from future image capture, while their ScreenAvoider system does the same thing when a camera device captures a computer screen. Lifeloggers are concerned about privacy, but Crandall notes what makes a photo private also is subjective and very dependent on context. "Instead of us defining what is private ahead of time, we're interested in letting people write their own policies based both on content and context of images, like times, locations, buildings, people, activities or objects, and then recognize these attributes of images automatically," he says.
NUS Researchers Develop New-Generation 'Thinking' Biomimetic Robots as Ocean Engineering Solutions
National University of Singapore (12/23/14)
National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers are developing a swarm of autonomous tiny robotic sea turtles and fishes to perform hazardous missions that are too dangerous for humans. The researchers currently are putting the final touches to a robotic sea turtle, which could move about underwater, including diving to deeper depths vertically, like a real turtle, by just using its front and hind limb gait movements. "Our turtle robot does not use a ballast system, which is commonly used in underwater robots for diving or sinking functions," which makes it much smaller and lighter, according to NUS professor S K Panda. The turtle robot also is able to self-charge, further reducing the need for it to return to a base station for recharging. The NUS researchers also have designed and developed four other underwater prototypes--a spherical robot that mimics a puffer fish in structure but uses a jet-propulsion technique similar to jellyfishes and squids; and three robotic fishes of different morphologies. "What we plan to do in the near future is to develop robot fish with muscles, which can undulate the way real fish do," Panda says.
How Big Data Could Reduce Weather-Related Flight Delays
University of Michigan News Service (12/22/14) Gabe Cherry
University of Michigan (UM) researchers gathered more than 10 years of hour-by-hour weather observations and domestic flight data, and are using advanced data analytics to spot patterns and help airlines manage more efficiently. "We're the first to gather this data in one place and apply this level of computing power to it," says UM doctoral student Brian Lemay. "That enables us to do a very sophisticated analysis of how weather and flight delays are connected and go far beyond individual airports." The researchers aim to enable airlines to anticipate and deal with delays before they happen. The data from the project may be used to build computer-modeling software that could predict the outcome of an infinite number of hypothetical flight and weather scenarios, helping airlines spot likely weather delays in advance, according to UM professor Amy Cohn. The research also could enable airlines to adjust their schedules to account for weather patterns, and it may lead to new options for passengers. "I think these new analytics will enable passengers as well as airlines to better manage the whole travel process," Cohn says.
Creating the Fastest Outdoor Wireless Internet Connection in the World
Lancaster University (12/18/14)
A European consortium will officially launch a project to build the world's first W-band wireless system on Jan. 15, 2015. Lancaster University will lead the TWEETHER project, which will offer cost-effective, high-speed Internet everywhere, every time. TWEETHER will exploit millimeter waves, the extremely high-frequency waves found in the spectrum between microwaves and infrared waves. Participants in the project will build a powerful and compact transmission hub that will be based on a novel traveling wave tube amplifier and an advanced chipset in a compact terminal, and its performance will exceed other technology. "The enormous flux of data transferred via wireless networks, increasing at a super-high pace, makes today's state-of-the-art networks quickly outdated," says Lancaster University professor Claudio Paoloni. "The huge spread of portable smartphones, tablets, and the increasing demand of services hungry for data, such as high-definition TV, videoconferencing, and online games are posing formidable challenges with the congestion of the available spectrum and the limits of present technology." The consortium will spend three years designing and developing the system, and then test it in a real operating environment.
Transforming the Conversation on Women in Computer Science
TechCrunch (12/20/14) Alison Derbenwick Miller
Oracle Academy vice president Alison Derbenwick Miller is one of many people devoted to helping increase interest in computer science among young students, particularly girls and minorities. One of the ways to do this is through organizations supported by Oracle Academy, including Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code, but Miller says there are a number of other steps that need to be taken to reverse the gender imbalance in computer science. She says the effort should start with making computer science a core element of K-12 curriculum. From there it will be important to make computer science more relatable to students, in part by highlighting the connections between computer science and students' lives, something increasingly easy to do in the era of ubiquitous cellphones and smart devices. Miller also says it is important to provide students with real-life examples of women succeeding in computer science, especially women within their own communities. She thinks computer science extra-curricular activities also are an important way to drive sustained interest in computer science among girls, particularly in helping them see how computer science skills can be applied beyond the classroom.
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