Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the August 25, 2010 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.


Ready for 2020? Advice for Every Career Stage
Computerworld (08/23/10) Brandel, Mary

The information technology (IT) industry is expected to undergo major changes in the next decade that will impact the career plans of every generation of IT worker. "The rate of change has accelerated dramatically," says Alain Chesnais, ACM president and founder of Visual Transitions. Today's college students will be better prepared than previous generations for the mobile and services-oriented technology landscape of 2020, because they grew up in an age of constant connectivity. However, colleges are in continual catch-up mode to prepare students for the business world, and only recently have added project management and soft skills training to computer science programs. Students who combine a technology degree with business knowledge will get into higher-paying areas of IT, says's Tom Silver. ACM has introduced new curriculum guidelines for undergraduate IT programs that address how computing is used in industries such as law, health, finance, and government, Chesnais says. The guidelines also are influenced by the latest trends, such as the globalization of IT development processes and the ubiquitous use of Web technologies, Chesnais notes. IT professionals at or near the midpoint of their careers face the biggest challenge in the next 10 years, experts say. A willingness to embrace change will be essential, but midcareer workers also should value their business experience.

'Spintronics' Breakthrough Holds Promise for Next-Generation Computers
KU News (08/24/10) Lynch, Brendan M.

University of Kansas (KU) researchers have discovered a way to recognize currents of spinning electrons, or spintronics, within a semiconductor using powerful lasers, which could lead to the development of advanced computers and electronics. "The goal is to replace everything--from computers to memory devices--to have higher performance and less energy consumption," says KU professor Hui Zhao. Spintronics relies on the direction of an electron's rotation to convey data, instead of using the presence or absence of electronic charges. The KU researchers have found that shining a laser beam on a piece of semiconductor creates different color lights if the spinning electrons are flowing, and the brightness of the new light is correlated to the strength of the spin current. "Spintronics is still in the research phase, and we hope that this new technology can be used in labs to look at problems that interest researchers," Zhao says.

China's Secure Communications Quantum Leap
Asia Times (08/26/10) Luce, Matthew

Chinese researchers have demonstrated quantum teleportation over 16 kilometers of free space, which could enable China to leap ahead of the United States in developing secure message encryption for military and intelligence communications. Although the transmission of information via quantum teleportation has been technically possible for several years, the researchers report that it had been previously accomplished across an enclosed fiber-optic network over several hundred meters. The Chinese experiment involves the use of a high-powered blue laser to exchange quantum information over a free space medium. The 16-kilometer range is significant because it exhibits roughly the same degree of light distortion as is witnessed in earth-to-satellite communication, and so would permit quantum communication via satellites. A BBN Technologies-led group of universities and defense companies successfully transferred cryptographic keys over a free-space link of 23 kilometers in 2005, but they used an infrared laser, while the blue-and-green lasers the Chinese experiment employed penetrate further into water and thus have broader applications for sub-surface communications.

Size Matters: Canadian Research Could Shrink Gadget Size
Montreal Gazette (Canada) (08/24/10) Chai, Carmen

McGill University researchers have found that quantum dots are capable of creating large voltages that can keep compact electronic devices running. "Nano particles are so small and we need to understand their properties if we want to control nano devices," says McGill's Pooja Tyagi. The researchers learned how to create positive and negative charges and how to control the size of the vibrations the charges release by shining a light at the nano particles. They say their findings will enable engineers to develop nanoscale power supplies that would make faster and smaller electronic devices. Tyagi says the dots are inexpensive to synthesize and use circuitry that is about one-tenth the size of current devices. Queen's University professor Roel Vertegaal says the findings will "open up new avenues of interacting with computers beyond everything we're familiar with."

Stopping Crime Before It Starts
Los Angeles Times (08/21/10) Rubin, Joel

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Santa Clara University are using algorithms to forecast the time and place of crimes. The researchers also are developing computer simulations of criminals moving through neighborhoods to understand why they tend to group in certain areas and how they disperse when police officers arrive. The Los Angeles Police Department is collaborating with UCLA researchers to develop a large-scale experiment to test predictive policing tools. Patrol officers could use mapping software on in-car computers and handheld devices to show the probability of different crimes occurring in the area. Officers that interview suspects, witnesses, and victims would feed the information in real time to a centralized system where predictive software could analyze huge crime databases. The time and place of past crimes can be used to predict where and when future crimes are most likely to occur, says UCLA's George Mohler. For a crime to occur, a would-be criminal must find a target that is sufficiently vulnerable to attack and that offers an appealing reward, says UCLA's Martin Short. He has developed computer models that simulate this decision-making process and analyze how crime clusters form in certain areas.

Online Games Are a Gold Mine for Design Ideas
New Scientist (08/23/10) Barras, Colin

Researchers are learning to use data mined from online gaming services to build more stimulating games. Using data mining can give developers instant insight into where in a game the players are likely to become frustrated or bored, says University of Copenhagen researcher Julian Togelius. Researchers use algorithms similar to those used by banks to identify fraudulent behavior from a mass of legitimate transactions. "Machine-learning algorithms are great at finding patterns," says University of California, Santa Cruz researcher Ben Weber. Researchers also are using data mining to improve computer-controlled characters in the game, which helps them react appropriately to different strategies a user might adopt. Weber developed a robot player called EISBot using machine-learning algorithms that can predict an opponent's strategy with 70 percent accuracy at least two minutes before it is executed in the game StarCraft. And Edith Cowan University researcher Philip Hingston used data mining from the game Unreal Tournament 2004 to make bots that behave more like human players.
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UALR Research Creates Internet Privacy Tool
University of Arkansas at Little Rock (08/24/10)

University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) researchers have developed a system designed to manage the user-generated data on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. UALR professors Nitin Agarwal and Srini Ramaswamy developed the Context-Based Privacy Model, which leverages intelligent, scalable, and adaptive pattern-matching algorithms to enable Internet sites to automatically adjust to the privacy needs of users. "With the advent of social media Web sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, and social health Web sites such as Patientslikeme that help people with health conditions connect with people with like conditions, a vast ocean of user-generated content has been created, including non-sensitive information as well as sensitive demographic, financial, or health-related data," Agarwal says. "Our work has shown the necessity of avant-garde privacy models dealing with the challenges of new types of information sources, creating a vast ocean of data with intricate access requirements and constraints, forcing us to think beyond the existing user, role, or service-based privacy models."

Virtual Router Smashes Speed Records
Technology Review (08/23/10) Mims, Christopher

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) researchers have developed a networking router that transmits data at nearly 40 gigabytes per second, significantly faster than the previous record for such devices. The researchers say the system could lead to a number of breakthroughs, including the use of cheaper commodity chips in high-performance routers. The software also could serve as a testing ground for new networking protocols. "We started with the humble goal of being the first to get a PC router to 10 [gigabytes per second], but we pushed it to 40," says KAIST's Sue Moon. The software, called PacketShader, uses a computer's graphics processing unit to help process packets of data sent across a network. PacketShader could slash the number of physical machines needed to comprise a terabit-per-second software router to one third of what research has previously indicated would be required, says Intel Labs Berkeley's Gianluca Iannaccone.

Robots Learning From Experience
ICT Results (08/24/10)

The European-based Xpero project is developing a cognitive system for robots that would enable them to explore the world and learn through physical experimentation. The researchers have created an algorithm that enables a robot to discover its environment by analyzing data from sensors. The researchers say the robot initially does not have a way to determine the probable future, but with each observation it learns better hypotheses that it can use to predict the effects of its actions. "It makes no distinction between previous knowledge and learnt knowledge," says Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University's Bjorn Kahl. "That it can re-use knowledge is very important. Without that there would be no incremental learning." In a recent experiment, the robot started to use objects as tools. The researchers are planning a new project that will run one or two robots over several months to see how they advance.

UK Researchers Tap Semantic Web for BI Innovation (08/23/10) Muncaster, Phil

SAP is leading a European research project that will combine semantic technologies with business intelligence (BI) in a system to help business users make better sense of their data. On the back end, the Combining and Uniting Business Intelligence With Semantic Technologies project will focus on pulling structured and unstructured information, using the Resource Description Framework language, into triple-store systems. At the front end, the project will develop visual analytics to provide business intelligence to non-technical end users. The project will use Formal Concept Analysis, semantic technology that displays objects to the user in a "concept lattice" and could make it easier to glean more helpful business intelligence, says Sheffield Hallam University lecturer Simon Andrews. "Classic BI is not good at federating data from structured and unstructured sources whereas semantic technologies are all geared towards that goal," Andrews says. He also notes that semantic technology is perfect for "looking for hidden information."

Surfing for Earthquakes
University of Edinburgh (08/20/10) Hettrick, Simon

A University of Edinburgh computer science team called Rapid worked with seismologists to develop a data-analysis system for earthquake data that uses a Web browser as the front-end interface. Rapid's system enables seismologists to analyze seismic data using computers anywhere in Europe. "We don't want [seismologists] to have to study how to access [remote] computer power and data," says the Orfeus Foundation's Torlid van Eck. Orfeus collects seismic data from across Europe and makes it available to scientists, but analyzing the data requires a high level of technical knowledge and the proper equipment. "Rapid is, for us, a tool to hide the tricky part of getting, steering, and manipulating data," van Eck says. The Rapid Web portal enables all seismology groups to perform the kind of analysis that was previously limited to organizations that could afford their own supercomputers.

Researchers Work to Protect, Restore Vulnerable Networks
UA News (AZ) (08/23/10) Everett-Haynes, La Monica

The University of Arizona is collaborating with researchers at Columbia University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the Protecting Networks from Large-Scale Physical Attacks and Disasters project, which is developing ways to prevent a telecommunications meltdown in the event of an electromagnetic pulse attack or natural disaster. The project is designing methods to protect networks as well as make them more resilient. "We cannot protect each and every laptop, but how can we help the system handle any miscommunication cause or restart functionality?" says Arizona professor Alon Efrat. The project will involve developing methods to detect vulnerabilities and creating plans and mechanisms to strengthen networks against attacks. The team will focus on networks in certain geographical regions across the United States to study their behaviors. "Looking at the probability of an attack is most challenging," says Columbia professor Gil Zussman.

Wii-Like Technologies May Help Stroke Survivors Improve Communication Skills
City University London (08/19/10)

Stroke survivors with limited ability to speak or write could use motion-sensing technology to learn how to communicate through gestures. Gesturing can be difficult for people with aphasia to learn because they have additional stroke-related disabilities, such as one-sided paralysis. Researchers at City University London plan to develop a prototype system that would allow users to practice gesturing, receive instant feedback, and master the movements through repetition. A multidisciplinary team from the university's Center for Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID) and Department of Language and Communication Science are collaborating on the Gesture Recognition in Aphasia Therapy project. "Gesture tracking and recognition technologies are becoming a ubiquitous part of new computing and gaming environments," says HCID's Stephanie Wilson. "Whilst popular in gaming, we will evaluate the suitability of such technologies in aphasia rehabilitation."

W3C Launches Web Performance Working Group
Government Computer News (08/20/10) Mackie, Kurt

A new World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) working group will focus on improving the measurement of Web application performance times. Representatives from Microsoft and Google will co-chair the Web Performance Working Group, which will initially create a common application programming interface (API) for measuring Web page loading and Web app performance. The companies have been working independently on the problem, but will now pool their efforts. Microsoft has implemented W3C's Web Timing draft spec in its third platform review of Internet Explorer 9. Google has implemented the Web Timing spec into the WebKit rendering engine, which powers its Chrome browser, and says performance metrics are now accessible by developers for the Chrome 6 browser. The companies use vendor-specific prefixes for their implementations of the Web Timing spec. "With two early implementations available, it shouldn't take long to finalize an interoperable API and remove the vendor prefixes," says Microsoft's Jason Weber.

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