Welcome to the March 16, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Electrical Engineering Employment Declines Nearly 10%, but developers up 12%
Computerworld (03/13/15) Patrick Thibodeau
Although the number of people working as electrical engineers declined by 29,000 last year, a 10-percent drop, the number of software developers increased by 132,000, a nearly 12-percent gain, to a total of 1.235 million, according to unpublished U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. The number of software developers first passed the one-million mark in 2010. "A nearly 10-percent decline in jobs from one year to the next, in a field that is supposed to be booming, is troubling," says IEEE-USA's Russ Harrison, referring to the electrical engineering figures. It is likely electrical engineers have moved into other fields, such as software engineering or aerospace engineering. Although electrical engineering is viewed as an important occupation that is critical to technology innovation, the number of people working in that profession has been declining for years. "Some of the decline in the unemployment rate could be explained by unemployed electrical engineers drifting away from the profession, but not all of it," Harrison says. The unemployment rate for electrical engineers and software developers was put at 2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively, according to the BLS data.
Tech Industry's Future Rooted in Blend of Design, Computer Science
CNet (03/15/15) Nick Statt
Startups as well as large tech firms now realize their products need to be both visually appealing and deliver great user experiences, which means developers need to think about design from the beginning, according to graphic designer and computer scientist John Maeda, who spoke Sunday at the SXSW festival in Austin, TX, where he issued the findings of his #DesignInTech report. Although the world's first developers helped build the tech industry, its designers will define the industry's future, Maeda says. He believes the industry needs workers who can communicate ideas and create more satisfying experiences. Since Maeda joined venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers last year as Silicon Valley's first-ever design partner, six other venture capital firms have brought on designers to help identify new talent and incorporate design into their portfolio companies' products. Maeda's report also highlights the growing need for designers who double as programmers. More than 33 percent of 110 surveyed designers in the tech industry had formal engineering training and more than 50 percent had formal art or design training. In addition, in a survey of 370 designers, 93.5 percent described the ability to code as useful and occasionally essential.
BBC Unveils Micro Bit Coding Device for Make It Digital Initiative
V3.co.uk (United Kingdom) (03/12/15) Lee Bell
The BBC plans to offer a coding device to more than 1 million U.K. school children as part of its Make it Digital Initiative. The company wants to inspire young people to become the software engineers and technology leaders of the future. The tiny computer board, called Micro Bit, is similar to the Raspberry Pi or MITS, and is small enough to be an Internet of Things device. The prototype uses light-emitting diodes to flash lettering and make messages, and can be clipped onto clothing to act as a wearable device. The BBC has partnered with U.K. chip designer ARM and tech firms such as Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and BT to promote the digital initiative and make the device available to students for free and in time for the academic year that begins in September. "The initiative is our big education project for 2015 to get people to talk about digital creativity, to code, to build games, and shape our future," says BBC director-general Tony Hall. The BBC will tie the initiative in with programs such as "Children in Need" and "EastEnders."
Computer Scientists Simplify Parallel Programming
Saarland University (03/12/15)
Saarland University researchers have developed Sambamba, a tool that automatically parallelizes code sections needed to take full advantage of the multiple cores in modern microprocessors while giving developers programming advice. "The aim is to find several parallelization options for every individual function in the examined application, and then select the best one during runtime," says Saarland professor Sebastian Hack. Sambamba analyzes the code even before it is executed in order to identify sections where parallelization is possible and to exclude others. However, Hack notes the preliminary analysis function makes it hard to find parallelization options that are input-dependent and therefore appear just occasionally. "That's why Sambamba consists of two modules: a comprehensive program analysis tool that examines the code for its parallelization potential before runtime, and a second module that can then utilize these results and optimize the code with additional information obtained at runtime," he says. Sambamba enables researchers to gather as much information as possible in advance, and then collect more information during the runtime of the program, providing additional parallelization opportunities and enabling the program to learn which parallelization method works best.
In Pursuit of the Perfectly Animated Cloud of Smoke
Technische Universität München (03/12/15)
Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a way to enhance graphical simulations, which they say may soon be used for medical and engineering applications and video games. New methodology created by TUM professor Nils Thurey and his colleagues analyzes the behavior of fluids and gasses based on experience and the laws of physics. Working with international scientists, Thurey demonstrated that the relevant data can be calculated from simple video clips. Simulation software calculates the most probable course of movements, even when this is not clearly evident from the data. The plan is to optimize this methodology for various applications, such as simulations of blood flow in combination with computer tomography to assess the acuteness of an aneurysm, for example. The simulation of fluids is also used in the design of airfoils and other aerodynamic bodies. "In this way, individual dots on a piece of paper suddenly appear as an image, even though they are not at all connected in reality," Thurey notes.
Teaching Programming to Preschoolers
MIT News (03/11/15) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers are developing a system that enables young children to program interactive robots by placing stickers on laminated sheets of paper. In addition to introducing young children to programming principles, the system also could help determine which computational concepts children can understand at different ages, and how interactive robots can best be integrated into educational programs. The system uses an interactive robot called Dragonbot, which features audio and visual sensors, a speech synthesizer, a range of gestures, and a video screen for a face that can display a variety of expressions. The basic components of the programming system are triangular and circular stickers, representing stimuli and responses, respectively, and arrow stickers, representing the relationships between them. Children can create computational templates by placing the triangles, circles, and arrows on sheets of laminated paper. The children then place other stickers that represent particular stimuli and responses. A subject is introduced to the system by issuing an individual command, which involves attaching a single response sticker to a small laminated sheet. The sticker system is designed to encourage a way of thinking about programming that is more consistent with how modern computation is done. The system could be used to introduce children to principles of conventional, sequential programming, as well as scenario-based programming.
Robot vs. Robot
The Atlantic (03/12/15) Nicholas St. Fleur
In 1999, physicist Richard Taylor discovered repeating fractal designs in the works of painter Jackson Pollock. He and his colleagues proposed a computer could be trained to spot these patterns, enabling it to determine the authenticity of a Pollock painting and, possibly, to paint its own Pollocks. However, Taylor and his colleagues shelved their plans, believing such a development would be undesirable. Meanwhile, a team of researchers at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan recently developed a computerized means of analyzing Pollock paintings that can correctly attribute them to the painter 93 percent of the time. Lior Shamir, one of the lead researchers on the project, believes it is only a matter of time before computers are able to paint works human viewers would find indistinguishable from those of the great masters. However, Dartmouth mathematician Daniel Rockmore is dubious. He says programs such as the one that can identify a Pollock painting with 93-percent accuracy are doing so by focusing narrowly on just one element of the work, in this case the fractal patterns. Rockmore does not think this is enough, noting that at least in the realm of painting, very real physical limitations to what computers can accomplish still exist.
U Michigan's Sirius Sees Things Siri Is Blind to
Campus Technology (03/12/15) Dian Schaffhauser
University of Michigan researchers have developed Sirius, an open source, standalone speech- and vision-based intelligent personal assistant service. Sirius incorporates speech recognition, image matching, natural-language processing, and a question-and-answer system. Sirius users can enter their query by talking to a device or by using speech and capturing an image to pose a question. Although an initial version of the system is preloaded with a static version of Wikipedia, the knowledge base can be switched out for other types of information, according to the researchers. For example, focused assistants could be built for specific fields, such as cooking, auto repair, or health. Sirius was developed by combining several other open source technologies, including Carnegie Mellon University-developed speech-recognition software, a question-and-answer framework, and image-recognition technology. Sirius also could be used to study how computing infrastructure will stand up under voice-enabled queries, which are a major part of wearable technologies, says University of Michigan professor Jason Mars. During testing, the researchers found the process can be 100 times more computationally intensive than a straightforward text query.
To Fight Insider Threats, AF Team Models Network Protection Layers
Government Computer News (03/11/15) Mark Pomerleau
Companies mistakenly believe there is a single solution to insider attacks, according to researchers at Hanscom Air Force Base's Materiel Solutions Analysis (MSA) Lab and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Lab. Researchers noticed this perception was pervasive after testing more than 100 proposals on insider threat mitigation technologies. Hanscom has developed a model for delivering solutions that protect against insider cyberthreats called the Insider Threat Universe (ITU). The model conveys how technologies protect different parts of the Air Force's secure networks. The ITU works in layers, representing data-at-rest encryption and role-based access controls, for example, but does not examine network protection in whole, only in part. Communication is the key to developing synergy across the board, says MSA's Paul Krueger. "Making the community aware of currently used technologies, as well as equipment and software that's being tested and fielded by facilities like the MSA Lab, is critical to solving this problem," he says.
Stanford Launches Smartphone App to Study Heart Health
Stanford Medicine News Center (03/09/15) Tracie White
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have unveiled a new iPhone app called MyHeart Counts, which enables them to collect data about users' physical activity and cardiac risk factors. The app leverages the iPhone's built-in motion sensors to track participants' physical activity and collect data during six-minute walk tests. Participants who have a wearable activity device are encouraged to use that in conjunction with the app. Activity data from Apple Watch will feed directly into the Health app on the iPhone when it becomes available. Participants also will enter data about their risk factors for heart disease and their readings from basic lab tests. The MyHeart Counts app is based on Apple's new ResearchKit framework, and is designed to make it easy for study subjects to complete tasks and answer surveys. Every three months during the course of a year or longer, participants will report one week's worth of activity and update their risk-factor information. "At Stanford, with our long history of big data expertise, we are committed to harnessing the vast amounts of data that modern devices such as the iPhone can provide to lend insight into heart health on a scale never before seen," says project leader Euan Ashley.
Developing Infrastructure for Data Sharing Around the World
National Science Foundation (03/09/15) Aaron Dubrow
In 2013, an international group of leaders in the data community joined forces to create the Research Data Alliance (RDA) with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the European Commission, and the Australian government. The RDA has since grown to encompass more than 2,600 members from more than 90 countries. Twice a year, RDA members meet face-to-face at plenary meetings worldwide to coordinate activities and advance their efforts. An example is RDA's Data Type Registries, which seeks to make it easier for researchers to create machine-readable and researcher-accessible data based on an archive of common data structures. The registries will help support the accurate use of data to reproduce experiments, confirm findings, and interoperate among data sets. These infrastructure products already are being adopted by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, European Data Infrastructure, and other groups. Another effort now underway is RDA's Wheat Data Interoperability working group, which includes the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. The objective is to build an integrated wheat information system for the international community of wheat researchers, growers, and breeders.
Top Distributed Computing Projects Still Hard at Work Fighting the World's Worst Health Issues
Network World (03/10/15) Andy Patrizio
For more than a decade, researchers have been using distributed computing to gain access to inexpensive and plentiful computing resources, making use of the idle computing power of thousands of computers across the globe. Many of these projects have focused on medical research, and most recently, the World Community Grid (WCG), run by IBM on software from the University of California, Berkeley, has focused its computing power on the search for a cure for Ebola. WCG has access to about three million devices through its nearly 700,000 members, and currently is engaging those resources in almost 30 drug projects. One of those is the Outsmart Ebola Together project, run jointly by the WCG and the Scripps Institute, which seeks to simulate the behavior of a specific protein the virus uses to attach to healthy cells and find a drug that can disrupt it. Other WCG medical projects include the FightAIDS@Home group, which in just a few months has been able to make breakthroughs that might otherwise have taken years. Researchers at Scripps say although they have access to supercomputer resources, WCG often is a better option because it gives them access to more raw computing power. Other WCG projects include simulations of carbon nanotubes and their potential applications in water filtration.
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