Welcome to the April 13, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Computer Science Enrollments Rebound, Up 10% Last Fall
Computerworld (04/12/11) Patrick Thibodeau
Computer science enrollments increased for the third consecutive year at Ph.D.-granting institutions, and up 10 percent from a year ago, but they are still below the peak reached in 2001, according to the Computer Research Association's (CRA's) latest annual Taulbee Survey. The average enrollment in computer science departments was 398 students 10 years ago during the dot-com era, but that has dropped to 253 students today. "The dot-com run-up was a pretty heady time for computer science, with many students flocking to the discipline with dreams of internet millions," says CRA director Peter Harsha. "It's hard to say whether we will see those numbers again anytime soon." Still, after reaching a low point in 2007, enrollment has steadily climbed, which Harsha attributes to the fact that computer science is an important part of many national priorities. "If you want to do work in science, engineering, health care, national security, finance, and on and on, a computing degree can be the ticket," he says. The Taulbee Survey, which is based on responses from 195 universities, found that 12,500 students graduated with computer science degrees last year, compared to 20,677 in 2002. It also found that the number of women graduating with degrees in computer science rose to 13.8 percent in 2010, up 2.5 percent from 2009.
U.S. Lagging in Using Technology, Study Shows
New York Times (04/12/11) John Markoff
The World Economic Forum's latest annual study on national computing and communications technology use found that the United States ranked fifth out of 138 countries for the second consecutive year, trailing Sweden, Singapore, Finland, and Switzerland. The rankings are based on an index of 71 social and economic indicators, such as new patents, mobile phone subscriptions, and the availability of venture capital. "What we are trying to address is what is the capability and what is the level of success of a nation to benefit from the network economy?" says the World Economic Forum's Soumitra Dutta. Besides Singapore, other high-ranking countries in Asia included Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, China, and India, which ranked sixth, 10th, 12th, 36th, and 48th, respectively. Meanwhile, Brazil ranked 56th and Russia ranked 77th. Other high-ranking western nations included Canada, Norway, German, Britain, and France, which ranked eighth, ninth, 13th, 15th, and 20th, respectively. The report also found that the United States ranked 52nd in math and science education, 24th in percentage of households with a personal computer, 76th in the rate of cell phone subscriptions, and 48th in low-cost access to business phone lines.
Low-Cost Wireless Sensor Networks Open New Horizons for the Internet of Things
EUREKA (04/12/11) Olle Olsson
Researchers working on the Eureka ITEA software Cluster ESNA project have developed a flexible framework for wireless sensor-network applications by enhancing communications between different types of smart devices. As home networking becomes more common, linking smart devices will be increasingly important, and by using the ubiquity of the Internet, control and interactivity of these devices can be extended in the Internet of things. "We discussed wireless sensor-network applications at an ITEA brokerage event in Barcelona in 2005," says the Swedish Institute of Computer Science's Olle Olsson. The ESNA project aims to develop a multifunctional basic software platform that supports flexible application needs. The ESNA architecture supports off-the-shelf sensors and describes which types of nodes are ideal for different application domains. "We worked on a standards-compliant generic platform based on the emerging [Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6)] Internet standard, developing the world's smallest implementation of IPV6 in terms of lines of code," Olsson says. The project led to a software-controlled technology enabling devices to operate as long as possible on one set of batteries.
Ink With Tin Nanoparticles Could Print Future Circuit Boards
PhysOrg.com (04/12/11) Lisa Zyga
Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials are working to create circuitboards with an inkjet printer using synthesized tin nanoparticles to increase the ink conductivity. The researchers say the circuitboards resolve several limitations with conventional boards, and the method for producing them is fast, simple, and inexpensive. By adding the tin nanoparticles to an ink solution, the researchers printed patterns of highly conductive ink from the printer, resulting in a technique that could be used for printing various electronic devices that need conductive patterns. The researchers say the inkjet printing technology could be used in radio-frequency identification tags, light-emitting diodes, organic solar cells, organic thin-film transistors, and biomedical devices. "The greatest significance of our work is that it is the first attempt to print conductive patterns with the Sn-containing conductive ink," says KAIST's Yun Hwan Jo.
Automated Processing of WikiLeaks Cables Reveals U.S. Friends, Foes
Technology Review (04/11/11) Christopher Mims
Stanford University's Xuwen Cao and Beyang Li have developed natural language processing software that can determine the positive or negative sentiment of sentences written by humans. The researchers tested the software on the nearly 4,000 U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The researchers divided the comments from the cables about each of the countries mentioned into one of four categories. Countries could be frequently cast in a somewhat negative light, infrequently cast in a very negative context, infrequently mentioned in a somewhat negative context, and rarely mentioned in the most positive context. The researchers found that in general, U.S. diplomats are critical of other countries. In addition, the research indicates that the United States does not have good relations with traditional allies such as France, Britain, Germany, Canada, and Italy. The researchers caution that their study is just a first approximation of what a full-fledged natural language processing analysis of the WikiLeaks cables would look like.
Texas A&M Engineering News (04/08/11) Tony Okonski
The latest version of the C++ programming language, C++11, recently passed review by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO), and the official standard will be approved in the fall. "The new standard provides language features that make it easier to write correct and well-performing code in C++ together with more standard libraries," says Texas A&M professor Bjarne Stroustrup, who designed and implemented C++ more than 25 years ago. "The improved language facilities are focused on allowing better specification and use of abstractions." ISO standardization will enable programmers to use C++11 with nearly all computers and implementation providers. "The purpose of standardization is not language features; the purpose is to make C++ code faster, more reliable, easier to write, easier to maintain, and easier to modify," Stroustrup says. The next project for Stroustrup is to write a new edition of "The C++ Programming Language" guidebook on C++. He says "people don't use individual language features; they need an explanation of how to use the features effectively in combination to solve real-world problems."
New Virtual Reality Research--and a New Lab--at Stanford
Stanford Report (CA) (04/08/11) Adam Gorlick
Stanford University researchers are using the school's new Virtual Human Interaction Lab to show that people who were immersed in a 3D virtual forest and told to cut down trees used less paper in the future than test subjects who only imagined what it was like to cut a tree down. "We found that virtual reality can change how people behave," says Stanford researcher Sun Joo Ahn. The researchers tested two groups of people, one of which read an account of what it was like to cut down a tree, while the other was immersed in the virtual forest. The virtual reality group was given a haptic device that vibrated to simulate the feeling of a chainsaw. After the test, the subjects filled out some forms and the researchers spilled water on the floor. Those who read about logging used an average of 20 percent more napkins to clean up the spill than the virtual lumberjacks. "We showed that just three minutes of an embodied experience could produce a behavioral result," Ahn says. The implication is that recurring or long-term exposure to virtual reality scenarios can generate even more dramatic outcomes.
Robot Could Guide Humans Through Areas of Low Visibility
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (04/08/11) Jason Ford
Sheffield Hallam University researchers are participating in a multi-disciplinary project to develop a robot that can guide humans in areas of low visibility. The robot, which will be slightly larger than a laptop, could be used by firefighters and by the blind or visually impaired. The robot features lead-like tethers, or reins, that it uses to communicate with users. The researchers are developing three different types of reins. Flexible reins will transmit explicit information that is generated by the pull of the rein, while stiff reins will provide implicit feedback. The researchers also are developing a wireless reins system that is similar to the Nintendo Wii handset. The robot must create some confidence for the human using it, says Sheffield Hallam's Jacques Penders. Another challenge will be to choose whether the information the robot uses should be explicit or implicit. Penders says the flexible rein will likely need explicit information while the stiff-reined machine will probably provide implicit feedback.
Barcode Scanner for Zebras
New Scientist (04/07/11) Jacob Aron
Individual animals can be identified from a single still photo and with little human input using StripeSpotter, a scanner developed by a team of computer scientists and biologists. StripeSpotter can be used with any animal with large markings in a small number of distinctive colors, such as a zebra. Users draw a rectangle around the zebra's side, and the system automatically slices the image into a number of horizontal bands and makes each pixel fully black or fully white to create a low-resolution version of its stripes. Each band is encoded as a StripeString, a sequence of colored blocks with particular lengths, and the collection of StripeStrings forms a StripeCode, the zebra equivalent of a barcode. A zebra is given a StripeCode when entered into the database, and is matched with another picture of the animal by comparing the StripeStrings of the new and original images. Each image generates a different set of StripeStrings but the underlying ratios of black and white should remain similar. The system identifies the correct zebra by finding the StripeCode with the most similar StripeStrings in the database.
IBM Shows Smallest, Fastest Graphene Processor
IDG News Service (04/07/11) Agam Shah
IBM researchers say they have developed a graphene transistor that can complete 155 billion cycles per second. The researchers say it is the smallest transistor IBM has ever created, with a gate length of just 40 nm. Graphene-based transistors can be produced at low cost using standard semiconductor materials, says IBM researcher Yu-Ming Lin. The transistor was developed through a joint IBM and U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency initiative to create radio frequency transistors. The graphene transistors use a new kind of substrate called diamond-like carbon, according to IBM. "The performance of these graphene devices exhibited excellent temperature stability ... a behavior that largely benefited from the use of a novel substrate of diamond-like carbon," the company says. IBM fellow Phaedon Avouris says commercialized graphene transistors will improve performance in applications related to wireless communications, networking, radar, and imaging.
Future Computer Vision Tools to Aid Medical Research and Healthcare
UCSD News (CA) (04/06/11) Andrea Siedsma
University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers are developing technology that will automate the process of analyzing the data for tissue engineering. The researchers want to automate blood vessel counting in images and make a clearer distinction between data collection and analysis. As part of their tissue engineering research, the researchers are focusing on quantifying arteriole formation. "Arteriole formation is critically important for biomaterial remodeling to help bring blood flow to the damaged area, which is why it is an analysis tool often using in tissue engineering," says UCSD's Jessica DeQuach. Collecting this vast amount of data is currently done manually and requires an intensive amount of time and effort. "While the state of the art in computer vision still requires expert oversight, the long-term goal of our work is to automate this process as much as possible," says UCSD's Boris Babenko.
Reitinger's Quest: Build a Safer Internet
GovInfoSecurity.com (04/06/11) Eric Chabrow
U.S. Department of Homeland Security deputy undersecretary Philip Reitinger has established the goal of developing a more secure Internet ecosystem, which he says is essential to functioning in a world that is increasingly connected to the Net. "Unless people start to really pay attention to the threat and how we need to drive fundamental change, we're in a world that is going to get worse from day to day and month to month and year to year," Reitinger warns. "And, we're going to be in a place eventually where your television is going to complain that it's being attacked by your refrigerator and isn't able to operate anymore." Reitinger led a team that recently published a white paper that probes technical options for creating a more secure and resilient Internet, and investigates how a trio of security pillars--authentication, automation, and interoperability--can improve vulnerability prevention and cyberdefense. Reitinger says the white paper is the start of an expansive, technical dialogue with others in government, the private sector, and citizens on reaching what he calls the new normal. "The truth about the Internet right now is that offense wins," Reitinger says. "So we have got to get to a different place."
Off the Hook! Who Gets Phished and Why
University at Buffalo News (04/06/11) Patricia Donovan
Researchers at the University at Buffalo (UB), Brock University, Ball State University, and the University of Texas at Arlington have found that habitual patterns of media use in addition to high levels of email load have a strong influence on an individual's likelihood of getting phished. The researchers used an integrated information processing model to test individual differences in vulnerability. "By way of prevention, we found that spam blockers are imperative to reduce the number of unnecessary emails individuals receive that could potentially clutter their information processing and judgment," says Buffalo professor Arun Vishwanath. The researchers also suggest that users respond to personal email separately from work-related emails. They say that their model can explain nearly 50 percent of the variance in individual phishing susceptibility. "Our findings suggest that habitual patterns of media use combined with high levels of email load have a strong and significant influence on individuals' likelihood to be phished," Vishwanath says.
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