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Welcome to the January 7, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Electronics Develop a Sixth Sense
Wall Street Journal (01/07/13) Don Clark

The recent trend in electronics is to exploit more sophisticated computer chips and software to help devices more effectively exchange information and track users' movements, gestures, voices, and intentions. This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is being dominated by the term "context awareness," which describes technology that enables products to pick up clues to users' desires and respond without the need for commands. "We are at the inflection point where we are starting to see the beginnings of these possibilities," says Advanced Micro Devices' Mark Papermaster. CES will feature an array of inventors and inventions highlighting the possibilities enabled when mobile devices exchange data with devices such as sensors in the home, on a user's body, or in a car. The context-awareness concept assumes that sensors switch on automatically and exchange data with other programs in the device, and is driven by devices that may contain as many as 18 specialized sensors. However, most existing devices only take advantage of their sensors when called upon by an app, while context-aware devices will automatically activate the appropriate sensor to perform specific functions. Meanwhile, other firms are developing sensor hubs, chips that coordinate a device's various sensors, as well as algorithms to manage them.

Students Rush to Web Classes, but Profits May Be Much Later
New York Times (01/06/13) Tamar Lewin

In less than a year since Stanford University professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng launched Coursera, the online education company has attracted a million users and $22 million in venture capital. Other approaches to online education are emerging, as universities across the U.S. are increasing their online offerings, hoping to attract students from around the world. However, none of these programs have developed a method for turning their growing popularity into profit. Coursera has created revenue streams through licensing, certification fees, and recruitment data provided to employers. However, New York Law School professor James Grimmelmann says "no one’s got the model that’s going to work yet," and it may be "a decade later that somebody figures out how to do it and make money." Koller and Ng hope to keep courses freely available to poor students worldwide. Education should be a right, not a privilege, the professors say. Antioch University's Los Angeles campus recently agreed to offer its students credit for successfully completing two Coursera courses. Antioch would be the first college to pay a licensing fee to offer the courses to its students at a tuition lower than any four-year public campus in the state.

Big Data, Java and Other Developer Skills: Top Hiring Priorities
eWeek (01/06/13) Corinne Bernstein

Big data-related jobs ranked fourth among the top information technology (IT) skills hiring executives are looking for in 2013, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 tech-focused recruiters and hiring managers. Java/Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition, mobile development, and .NET development skills ranked first, second, and third, respectively, in the survey. In terms of big data analysis, "opportunities range from data analysts who work with complex streams of data and compile trend reports, to high-end data scientists at the Ph.D. level with a strong background in natural-language processing and forecasting analytics," says's Alice Hill. By 2015, 4.4 million IT jobs will support big data, but the talent required to fill the available positions is insufficient and only about 1.9 million of those jobs will be filled, according to Gartner. "The message for IT pros is to look at ways you can specialize in your job--ways to add value, even at the entry level," Hill says. The report also ranked IT job growth across regions. New York City, Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Silicon Valley, Chicago, and Los Angeles ranked as the top five regions for IT growth.

2013: The Year of the Internet of Things
Technology Review (01/04/13)

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) have shown how enabling technologies have rapidly matured and that the Internet of Things is ready for mainstream influence. CSIRO's researchers note the massive amounts of data that the Internet of Things generates will have to be routed, captured, analyzed, and acted upon in timely ways. However, they say the technology industry is still trying to develop an effective method for handling the new data. For example, every year in Australia, biologists plan about one million plots of different types of grain to determine which grow the best in a wide variety of conditions. The biologists have developed a wireless sensor network that monitors the grain and sends the two million data points per week back to the High Resolution Plant Phenomics Center. Other examples include various cloud-based services under development that will help manage sensors and the data they produce, such as city transportation networks that use sensor data to monitor the position of buses and trains. CSIRO's Arkady Zaslavsky says these examples show that the Internet of Things is coming of age and growing at an exponential rate.

The Places You’ll Go
The Atlantic (01/03/13) James Fallows

In an interview, Google chief technology advocate Michael Jones discusses new technology in digital mapping and how it will change travel. Jones says the major change in mapping over the last 10 years is that it has become personal. "A map has gone from a static, stylized portrait of the Earth to a dynamic, interactive conversation about your use of the Earth," he notes. In addition, he says the dialogue with the map is becoming much more personal. "You can imagine that in the future, if you have a wearable computer, the dialogue will become even more intimate: You will see a continuous stream of guidance and information, and no one else will even know that you’re being advised," Jones says. The Google Earth and Google Maps teams have collaborated to invent the most comprehensive, authoritative, useful mapping solutions that humans can build, Jones reports. For example, he expects new literature to emerge from a mapping dictionary currently under construction. Jones cites Google's recently released Field Trip app, which learns what kinds of things a user cares about and searches its database to find items of interest based on their location. "It means having your life enlightened by travel knowledge, everywhere," he says.

Project Aimed at Exploring Gap Between Data and Information Through Unconventional Visualization Method Wins Jury Prize at Media Festival
National Institute for Computational Sciences (01/03/13)

A collaborative project that examined the interplay of data, information, and knowledge won the jury prize for the Distributed Microtopias exhibition at the 15th Annual Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival. The University of Tennessee's Remote Data Analysis and Visualization Center (RDAV) collaborated with University of Tennessee Knoxville artist Evan Meaney on the project, called Null_Sets, which is a collection of artwork that visualizes the size and structure of data. The artwork was created using an open source script developed at RDAV in which whole bodies of text, from classic literature to HTML to genomic data, can be exported as digital images. Null_Sets uses encoding to represent the changes in pixel color and intensity, and might be adapted to explore how values in a data set change. "This project makes it possible to visualize both the size and architecture of large-scale data sets through an aesthetic lens," Meaney says. RDAV's Amy Szczepanski notes "the techniques we developed in this project laid the groundwork for a larger project that will likely use the Nautilus supercomputer [managed by the National Institute for Computational Sciences] in the future."

How Computers Push on the Molecules They Simulate
Berkeley Lab News Center (01/03/13) Paul Preuss

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have identified and characterized the source of computer model and simulation errors and devised a way to separate the realistic aspects of a simulation from the artifacts of the computer method. "A simulation of a physical process on a computer cannot use the exact, continuous equations of motion; the calculations must use approximations over discrete intervals of time," says Berkeley Lab's David Sivak. The researchers used Langevin dynamics to model the behavior of molecular machines, and saw significant differences between what their exact theories predicted and what their simulations produced. The researchers say the result confirmed that even in the absence of an explicit driving force, the finite-time-step Langevin dynamics simulation acted by itself as a driving nonequilibrium process, resulting in systematic errors caused by failing to separate this shadow work from the actual protocol work they had explicitly modeled in the simulations. The results enabled Sivak to quantify the magnitude of the deviations in various test systems for the first time. "We can apply results from our calculation in a meaningful way to characterize the error and correct for it, separating the physically realistic aspects of the simulation from the artifacts of the computer method," Sivak says.

World's First Demonstration of Bit Commitment Performed at CQT
National University of Singapore (01/02/13)

Computer scientists and quantum optics researchers at the University of Singapore's Center for Quantum Technologies (CQT) have demonstrated secure bit commitment, a communication system for users who do not trust each other. The researchers used hundreds of thousands of entangled photon pairs in the demonstration. Bit commitment is similar to submitting a sealed bid in a house auction. In their demonstration, the researchers harness some of the behaviors associated with quantum mechanics to guarantee secure bit commitment. The method involves an entangled photon source and detection kit used for previous quantum cryptography demonstrations. Although the CQT method can only store a few qubits, the researchers showed that a 250,000-photon exchange would be secure against a memory of 972 qubits suffering a certain noise. If quantum memories get bigger, security could be restored by increasing the waiting time or boosting the total number of bits sent, according to the researchers. "Theoretical protocols currently outstrip experimental capabilities by several decades and if I am to live to own a quantum laptop, these kind of collaborative efforts are a must," says CQT's Siddarth Joshi.

Researchers Develop Tool to Evaluate Genome Sequencing Method
New York University (01/02/13) James Devitt

Researchers at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and School of Medicine, the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory have developed a tool designed to measure the validity of genome sequencing. Their method is based on an earlier system, called Feature Response Curve (FRCurve), which offers a global image of how genome-sequencing methods, or assemblers, are able to handle different regions and different structures in a large, complex genome. However, FRCurve can only measure the accuracy of certain kinds of assemblers at one time, which makes comparing the range of sequencing methods impossible. The researchers' method, called FRCbam, can evaluate a much wider class of assemblers by reverse engineering the latent structures that were obscured by error-correction and data compression, performing the operation rapidly using efficient and scalable mapping algorithms. The researchers say FRCbam validates its analysis by examining a large ensemble of assemblers working on a large ensemble of genomes, selected from crowdsourced competitions, which enables the system to characterize the statistics that are expected and then validate any individual system with respect to it.

Google Glass Features and Apps Still in Flux
IEEE Spectrum (01/01/13) Elise Ackerman

In an interview, Google Glass project leader Babak Parviz discusses where the wearable device is heading in the near future. Parviz says the Google Glass project aims to develop a device that allows for pictorial communications and enables users to access information very quickly. Since the last Google Glass prototype was released six months ago, the researchers have made the platform more robust, with the goal of shipping it to developers in early 2013. Although the researchers have not discussed any specific features, Parviz says they have experimented with using voice commands to control and interact with Google Glass. The researchers also want to combine Google Glass with Google Now, a virtual assistant that suggests potentially useful information throughout the day. Parviz notes they have not written any apps for Google Glass because it is a completely new platform. "We hope that when we ship this to developers, other people will also figure out what this very powerful platform is able to do," he says. Parviz notes that one of the most challenging problems associated with developing Google Glass is finding a way to boost the battery life so that it lasts all day.

Turning Smartphones Into Secure and Versatile Keys
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (01/02/13)

Mobile phones can serve as keys for cars, front doors, or lockers, but researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology (SIT) have developed software that will make the key app concept more versatile and secure. The ShareKey software enables users to issue digital keys remotely and assign them certain user permissions. "For instance, I can grant the building superintendent access to my apartment for a short period so that he can open the door for the gas meter to be read while I'm at work," says SIT's Alexandra Dmitrienko. The software sends electronic keys directly to the user's mobile phone in the form of a quick response code attached to an email or MMS. Dmitrienko notes the software uses near-field communications technology and is equipped with resource-efficient communication protocols. Electronic keys on smartphones are protected from malware and unauthorized access by leveraging advanced technologies that keep sensitive data on the smartphone separate from other data and apps. Communication between the phone and a central server is protected by established security protocols.

Computing in 2165
Scientific American (12/31/12) Ed Regis

Many experts believe it is impossible to predict the state of computing within the next 150 years, although author George Dyson expects analog computation to comprise most of the important computation by then, while "the notion of all-digital computation will be a quaint relic." Former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold speculates that future computers will be vastly more powerful, and he predicts that computers' superior intelligence to humans in performing narrow tasks will expand "until they are smarter than us at everything." Meanwhile, Microsoft Station Q researcher Michael Freedman anticipates that tomorrow's computers will be small and capable of direct communication with the human brain. "Special sunglasses or hats may confer the ability to muddle through with a foreign language by directly interacting with speech centers," he says. There also will be pervasive computation in the environment, "with difficult tasks being done in low-power, cryogenic, Josephson logic computers scattered all about," Freedman says. Danny Hillis, inventor of the Connection Machine parallel supercomputer, thinks computers 150 years hence may not necessarily be built out of electronics, and their more intimate interface with the brain may necessitate implantation of computing components within the human body.
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