Welcome to the April 22, 2015 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Shifts in Computer Science Interest
Inside Higher Ed (04/21/15) Kaitlin Mulhere
A new study presented at the American Educational Research Association's 2015 annual meeting this week found although interest in computer science among both men and women has fluctuated over the last four decades, women have consistently been underrepresented. The study is based on the responses of first-year, full-time students at four-year institutions drawn from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program's Freshman Survey run by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. The survey asks students about their intended majors, so the study does not reflect what degrees students actually pursued. The study found interest in computer science among both men and women spiked in the early 1980s and the late 1990s, but the share of women expressing interest in computer science has been in decline since the early 1980s. Although math confidence is still the predominant explanation for the gender gap, it has fallen drastically since the 1970s, accounting for only 13 percent of the gap today. The study also found women who consider themselves creative and artistic are less likely to be deterred from computer science than in the past, although interest in social activism and family aspirations are both increasingly tied to lower interest in computer science among both men and women.
Revenge of the Nerds: Starting Salaries for Class of 2015 Techies Top $100K
Network World (04/20/15) Duffy Carolyn Marsan
Demand for students graduating with computer science, software engineering, and computer engineering degrees is on the rise this year, with competition for the top graduates of the leading computer science programs especially fierce. Andrew Moore, dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), says the average initial offer for the school's graduates is about $100,000. Top students at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology are receiving similar offers, and analysts say the large salaries are largely because demand for workers with a computer science background is continuing to outstrip the supply. That demand is coming not just from technology companies, but from all sectors of the economy, ranging from automobile companies to the retail sector. Moore says CMU is seeing the strongest demand for students that specialize in robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, while Stanford University's Connie Chan says demand at the university's recent Computer Forum Career Fair was highest among students with a software background. The increased demand is resulting in a larger number of students pursuing computer science degrees. The Computing Research Association says the number of bachelor degrees in computer science awarded in the U.S. rose 14 percent between 2013 and 2014.
HP's Audacious Idea for Reinventing Computers
Technology Review (04/21/15) Tom Simonite
Hewlett-Packard's (HP) research divisions are working on a powerful new kind of computer they call "the Machine." The Machine is meant to be a fundamentally different kind of computer and will rely on a trio of breakthroughs HP researchers are still developing. The first is a new form of memory chip called the memristor that could potentially be much faster than flash memory. In the Machine, memristors would act as all-purpose memory, eliminating the need to shuttle data from storage to random-access memory. The second key research effort is the development of optical data connection technologies that would move data through the Machine much faster than the metal wiring used in current hardware. To make these new and different components work together also requires a fundamentally new operating system that will not just work, but be appealing to programmers. HP believes all of these innovations will be in place and it will be able to provide the first prototypes of the Machine within five years. HP chief technology officer and project leader Martin Fink also says the Machine will require much less electricity than existing computers, and he notes its technology will be applicable to smaller devices. "People are going to be able to solve problems they can't solve today," Fink says.
Smart City Technology May Be Vulnerable to Hackers
The New York Times (04/21/15) Nicole Perlroth
Cesar Cerrudo, chief technology officer at IOActive Labs, says "smart city" technologies that can control everything from traffic lights to water management systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Last year, Cerrudo demonstrated that traffic control sensors installed in cities such as Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco could be attacked because their traffic systems were not encrypted. Just last week, Cerrudo found traffic sensors in San Francisco were still unencrypted. Cerrudo says he also is finding numerous problems in other smart city products. Issues range from weak or no encryption and software bugs to vulnerabilities to distributed denial-of-service attacks. He notes attacks on smart city products are not just hypothetical. Several reports over the last year have revealed hacker groups targeting smart city technologies, often in the energy sector. Cerrudo says municipal leaders need to address the security of smart city technologies the way a corporate network might. He recommends adopting basic security measures such as encryption, passwords, and patching mechanisms. He also recommends cities create computer emergency response teams to address security incidents, coordinate responses, and share threat information. Other suggestions include having cities restrict access to their data and monitor those who have access, and conduct regular penetration tests to learn where they may be exposed.
A Research Agenda for Intelligent Systems Will Result in Fundamental New Capabilities for Understanding the Earth System
CCC Blog (04/21/15) Helen Wright
The U.S. National Science Foundation last month hosted a workshop on "Intelligent Systems Research to Support Geosciences and the EarthCube Mission." The goal of the workshop was to develop a research agenda for intelligent systems that will result in new capabilities for understanding the Earth system. The workshop included participation from fields such as information integration, machine learning, knowledge representation, semantics and metadata, geospatial computing, robotics, visualization, and augmented reality. Part of the workshop focused on geoscience-related requirements from Earth, ocean, polar, and atmospheric and spatial sciences. Workshop participants highlighted the many aspects of geosciences research that present challenges for intelligent systems, such as the fact that the data tends to be uncertain, intermittent, sparse, multi-resolution, and multi-scale. Another unique characteristic of geosciences research is its process-centered phenomena, examining combinations of physical, geological, chemical, biological, and ecological factors. These phenomena are contextualized by background knowledge that must be incorporated into the analysis of the data. Intelligent systems can help overcome these challenges by incorporating existing scientific knowledge and the user's context. Workshop participants recommended community building through sustained multi-year collaborations.
Disney Researchers Show Soft Sides With Layered Fabric 3D Printer
Disney Research (04/17/15) Jennifer Liu
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Disney Research have developed a three-dimensional (3D) printer that layers laser-cut sheets of fabric to form soft, squeezable objects. Although the fabric printer is similar in principle to laminated-object manufacturing, fabric presents cutting and handling challenges, which the researchers addressed in the design of the new printer. The printer includes an upper cutting platform and a lower bonding platform. Fabric is fed into the device, where a vacuum holds the fabric against the upper cutting platform while a laser moves below it, cutting a rectangular piece out of the fabric. The laser then cuts the layer's desired two-dimensional shapes within that rectangle. The second set of cuts is left incomplete so the shapes receive support from the surrounding fabric during the fabrication process. After the cutting process is complete, the bonding platform heats and presses the fabric against previous layers. Once the entire process is concluded, the surrounding support fabric is torn away by hand to reveal the three-dimensional object. The researchers will describe the printer this week at the ACM CHI 2015 annual conference in Seoul, Korea.
Researchers Hack Sony Headset to Simulate Autism
IDG News Service (04/17/15) Tim Hornyak
Japanese researchers at Osaka University and the University of Tokyo have used an experimental headset to simulate the vision and hearing of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People with ASD can experience sensory overload and deficit and also struggle to understand the emotional states of others. The team mounted a forward-facing Wi-Fi webcam on a Sony HMZ-T3W headset, which is designed for watching movies and covers the eyes with two screens. When video from the webcam is delivered to the screens, the simulation's image-processing program washes out the faces of people, making their expressions fuzzy and impossible to see. Moreover, white dots like swirling snow appear on the screens in response to loud noise, distorting the high-contrast image. Earphones linked to a microphone in the webcam relay a distorted audio signal. "We hypothesize that [people without autism] experiencing an artificial ASD perceptual system would have the same difficulty with environment recognition and taking action," according to the researchers.
'My Earth' Energy-Tracking App Encourages Sustainable Behaviors
University of Wisconsin-Madison News (04/20/15) Maija Inveiss; Jill Sakai
University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) researchers have developed My Earth--Track Your Carbon Savings, an energy-tracking app to make reducing everyday energy usage more accessible. The researchers designed the app with a diary format in which users can choose daily activities to reduce their carbon emissions and energy consumption. The My Earth app is based on techniques used in food-tracking apps that help users monitor their daily eating habits. "We tried to categorize it into the different kinds of activities that you can do so that people can select from whatever suits their lifestyle," says UW-Madison professor Nancy Wong. The app features five main categories: electricity, recycling, travel, food, and usage. Each category includes day-to-day activities ranging from very simple actions to more complex tasks. As users check off activities in their individual diaries, they accumulate saved carbon units, which can be tracked visually to illustrate how smaller steps can add up to achieve a larger goal. "Most of the time, I see [the lack of concern for the environment] as a failure to connect individual action to that bigger picture," Wong says. "Hopefully the app could help you understand actually whatever you do is not insignificant and this is how you can contribute."
Disaster Robots Slow to Gain Acceptance from Responders
ZDNet (04/21/15) Greg Nichols
Although robots can play an important role in disaster response and recovery, their adoption for actual disasters has been slow because there is no mechanism to buy them, no mechanism to train, and no manpower to operate them, according to Texas A&M Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) director Robin Murphy. Last week, Murphy won ACM's Eugene L. Lawler Award for her humanitarian contributions within computer science and informatics. Murphy says robots can play a major role in dangerous situations, but the greater value is the data robots can provide. CRASAR aims to put useful robots in the hands of incident commanders in the field through the Roboticists Without Borders program, which has sent robots to assist in 18 disasters since 2001. "Everyone sees the value in using robots in these situations, but there's a difference in seeing the value in something and actively going for it," Murphy says. One major hurdle standing in the way of widespread deployment of disaster robots is their cost. CRASAR uses grants and donations from technology partners to maintain several state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, and aquatic bots, which are available for free during disasters.
Proto Quantum Computer Inspired by Victorians Gets a Speed Boost
New Scientist (04/17/15) Jacob Aron
Sapienza University researchers have developed a proto-quantum computer that can only solve one problem, called boson sampling. However, boson sampling is very difficult for conventional computers to solve, so the researchers hope the new device will conclusively demonstrate the potential of computing based on exotic physics. "The goal is to show quantum supremacy with the simplest approach," says Sapienza's Fabio Sciarrino. The new proto-quantum computer is based on a 19th-century device used to study statistical distributions. The proto-quantum computer consists of a network of intersecting channels in an optical chip. When two photons within the network collide, their ensuing paths are determined by the laws of quantum mechanics, producing a unique distribution. The researchers focused on scattershot boson sampling, which involves using a large number of photon sources so their randomly generated photons have a higher chance of colliding. Although the researchers have only demonstrated a proof of principle, they are now working to improve the device even further, with the goal of challenging a traditional computer.
New Software Analyzes the Effect of Climate Change on Buildings From the Cloud
Platforma Sinc (04/16/2015)
Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) researchers have developed simulation software that analyzes the entire life cycle of a building, from creation to deconstruction. The cloud-based tool, called NECADA, includes aspects such as energy consumption, materials, and social repercussions, and enables scenarios to be simulated. The researchers note social aspects, which are often left out of other applications, are a major part of the new system. "Businesses and corporations' interests often make information unclear, but NECADA provides scenarios that enable this to be done properly," says UPC's Pau Fonseca. NECADA also can simulate models to show how global warming may affect constructions. The software consists of a core, including a motor referred to as SDLPS, which can be executed in a computer or combined in a distributed way in a cluster, speeding up the extraction of results. "We are currently uploading the system to the cloud so it can be managed remotely, enabling a user who is not familiar with simulation to customize the model and execute it in a distributed way," Fonseca says. The software also considers key factors such as the price of materials, and their transportation, assembly, and disassembly, so a construction company can calculate the total cost of the building.
Google Wants to Speed Up the Web With Its QUIC Protocol
TechCrunch (04/18/15) Frederic Lardinois
Google recently disclosed about half of all requests from Chrome to Google's servers are now served over its experimental, low-latency Internet transportation protocol over [User Datagram Protocol] UDP called Quick UDP Internet Connection (QUIC). The protocol is often used by gaming, streaming media, and Voice over Internet Protocol services. QUIC aims to combine some of the best features of UDP and [Transmission Control Protocol] TCP with modern security tools. A browser using QUIC can immediately start talking to a server it has talked to before. In addition, QUIC features new tools such as congestion control and automatic re-transmissions, which make the protocol more reliable than pure UDP. "QUIC allows us to test and experiment with new ideas, and to get results sooner," says Google's development team. "We are hopeful that QUIC features will migrate into TCP and [Transport Layer Security] TLS if they prove effective." Google reports about a 3-percent improvement in average page load times with QUIC on Google Search. In addition, YouTube users who connect over QUIC report about 30 percent fewer rebuffers when watching videos. Google plans to propose HTTP2-over-QUIC to the Internet Engineering Task Force as a new Internet standard in the future.
Scientists Develop a New Algorithm Which Will Speed Up the Process to Obtain HDR Images
University of Granada (Spain) (04/15/15)
Researchers at the University of Granada have developed an algorithm that speeds up the process of capturing high dynamic range (HDR) images by adapting the time of capture of different images in an automatic and instantaneous manner. The algorithm takes advantage of the way a camera responds to light. The research team designed the algorithm to adapt itself to any camera, any scene, and any application, without having to use complex optic systems or non-conventional sensor architectures, according to researcher Miguel AngelMartinez Domingo. The final image highlights with a low degree of noise the details of a very bright component and another dark component in an integrated circuit. The algorithm enables the optimization of the balance between a reduced time of capture and a lower level of noise in the resulting image. The level of noise declines the more exposures are captured to make up the HDR image, but the use of many different exposures would excessively increase the time of capture. Domingo says the research is particularly relevant for robotic-vision systems, and the techniques will enable the systems to behave more like the human vision system.
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