Welcome to the September 14, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Bad code warning. Developers, Despair: Half Your Time Is Wasted on Bad Code
Liam Tung
September 11, 2018

A study by online payments firm Stripe found 31% of developer time is wasted on routine maintenance work, draining $300 billion each year from global GDP. The survey of 1,000 developers and 1,000 C-level executives found that on average, about half of a developer's work time is devoted to maintenance activities such as debugging, modifying, and fixing code. Developers reported working 41 hours per week on average, including 17.3 hours on maintenance work. Each of the estimated 18 million developers in the world contributes $51,000 to global GDP annually, totaling $918 billion worldwide, according to Stripe. More efficient use of developer time could raise global GDP by $3 trillion over the next decade, Stripe says. The leading obstacles to productivity cited by developers were maintenance of legacy systems, leadership's prioritization of projects, and building custom technology.

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Desktop computer with dark screen Security Flaw in 'Nearly All' Modern PCs and Macs Exposes Encrypted Data
Zach Whittaker
September 13, 2018

Most modern computers, including those with disk encryption, are vulnerable to a new attack that can steal sensitive data in minutes, according to researchers at Finnish cybersecurity firm F-Secure. None of the existing firmware security measures in the laptops tested adequately protected against the vulnerability, which is based on a traditional cold boot attack, the researchers say. F-Secure's Olle Segerdahl said the flaw threatens "nearly all" laptops and desktops, including Windows and Mac computers. Modern computers overwrite their memory when a device is turned off to prevent data from being read, but the researchers discovered a way to disable the overwriting process, making a cold boot attack possible. Because the attack requires physical access to a device, Microsoft is urging users to "practice good security habits, including preventing unauthorized physical access to their device."

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North Dakota Arms Teachers With Cybersecurity Resources Statewide Through National Partnership
Ryan Johnston
September 11, 2018

EduTech, the education branch of North Dakota's statewide technology agency, last month became the first state-level partner of the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), a federal cybersecurity education provider. NICERC, funded through a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant, will provide computer science-based curriculum and professional development training to North Dakota's K-12 teachers. NICERC director Kevin Nolten says the partnership represents the first sustainable plan to provide STEM materials throughout a state. North Dakota CIO Shawn Riley says the partners aim to make a program that can serve as a template for other states. NICERC has given North Dakota $100,000 for in-classroom technology, and this summer began certifying teachers under its curriculum. NICERC's content focuses on teaching how computer science and cybersecurity can apply in the real world.

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Robot listens for Fast Radio Bursts. AI Helps Track Down Mysterious Cosmic Radio Bursts
University of California, Berkeley
Robert Sanders
September 10, 2018

Researchers at Breakthrough Listen, a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project led by the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), used machine learning to discover 72 new fast radio bursts from a mysterious source about 3 billion light years from Earth. The algorithms identified radio signs in data recorded over a five-hour period on Aug. 26, 2017. An earlier analysis of that 400 terabytes of data used standard computer algorithms to identify 21 bursts during that period. UC Berkeley researcher Gerry Zhang and his colleagues subsequently developed a machine learning algorithm and used it to reanalyze the 2017 data, finding an additional 72 bursts. The new algorithm relies on some of the same techniques that Internet technology companies use to optimize search results and classify images. Zhang said these findings are “only the beginning of using these powerful methods to find radio transients. We hope our success may inspire other serious endeavors in applying machine learning to radio astronomy.”

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Robotic hand developed by Yale researchers Yale's Robot Hand Copies How Your Fingers Work to Improve Object Manipulation
IEEE Spectrum
Evan Ackerman
September 12, 2018

Researchers in Yale University's Grasping & Manipulation, Rehabilitation Robotics, and Biomechanics (GRAB) Lab have built a robotic gripper that can turn friction on and off to facilitate manipulating objects with one hand. The gripper’s two-finger design can perform in-hand manipulation at a significantly lower cost than other robotic hands. The gripper's variable-friction fingers mimic the functionality of human fingers via hardware that turns friction on and off to alternate between gripping and sliding. The fingers can be passively switchable by using downward force on an elastically suspended element, or actively switchable using a servo. The researchers are open sourcing the design files, in an effort to help others advance the broader goal of enabling robots to affordably and effectively perform real-world activities, especially in areas such as prosthetics.

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Graphene Enables Clock Rates in the Terahertz Range
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
Christine Bohnet
September 10, 2018

Researchers at Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE), and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P), all in Germany, have demonstrated that graphene can convert electronic signals with frequencies in the gigahertz range extremely efficiently into signals with several times higher frequency. The researchers used graphene containing many free electrons from the interaction of the graphene with the substrate onto which it is deposited, as well as with the ambient air. When these mobile electrons are excited by an oscillating electric field, they share their energy with the other electrons in the graphene, which react like a heated fluid. An electronic "vapor" forms within the graphene, causing rapid and strong changes in its conductivity. MPI-P researcher Mischa Bonn said, "We have demonstrated that carbon-based electronics can operate extremely efficiently at ultrafast rates. Ultrafast hybrid components made of graphene and traditional semiconductors are also conceivable."

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ANU Touts Tiny Camera Lens for Quantum Information Transfer
Asha McLean
September 13, 2018

An international team of researchers led by colleagues at the Australian National University (ANU) has created a camera lens 100 times thinner than a human hair, with potential applications in quantum computing. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the U.S. and National Central University in Taiwan also contributed to the research. The lens could enable the rapid and reliable transfer of information from quantum computers to an optical fiber network. Comprised of a silicon film with millions of nanostructures forming a metasurface, the device reportedly surpasses traditional systems at controlling light. ANU's Andrey Sukhorukov said the high transparency of the metasurface camera lens allows efficient transmission and detection of information encoded in quantum light. The lens is "the first of its kind to image several quantum particles of light at once, enabling the observation of their spooky behavior with ultra-sensitive cameras," he added.

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Beyond Deep Fakes
Carnegie Mellon University
Byron Spice
September 10, 2018

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have developed a new method of automatically transforming the content of one video into the style of another. Since the data-driven method (called Recycle-GAN) does not require human intervention, it can quickly transform large amounts of video, making it useful for movie production. In addition, the new system can be used to colorize black-and-white films or create content for virtual reality experiences, as well as potentially being used to create "deep fakes," videos in which a person's image is inserted without permission. The technique relies on generative adversarial networks that help computers understand how to apply the style of one image to another.

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Workshop participants. Summer Computational Modeling Workshop Enriches Minority Students' Education
September 10, 2018

Students from Prairie View A&M University and Tennessee State University, both historically black institutions, spent two weeks this summer learning digital skills from U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory scientists. The training included the fifth annual computational modeling workshop, funded through the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program. The 29 undergraduates in the workshop were part of the NNSA Consortium for Materials and Energy Security, which aims to improve national security and train new technology experts. The students participated in lectures, hands-on activities, and group projects, gaining experience in areas such as high-performance computing. The students also worked with Linux and the VASP (Vienna Ab initio Simulation Package) program for atomic-scale materials modeling.

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