Welcome to the April 22, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Tech Jobs Boom Like It's 1999
USA Today (04/21/11) Jon Swartz
Technology companies recently have been on the biggest hiring binge in more than 10 years. Potential employees are being lured with big contracts, bonuses, and perks, and almost 150,000 tech jobs are expected to be added in 2011, according to Moody's Analytics economist Sophia Koropeckyj. Companies such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are recruiting college students to try to hire them before they graduate, says former Google software engineer Gayle Laakmann McDowell. Some economists see the boom in tech hires as a good indication that the overall U.S. economy is on the rise, since technologies such as wireless, computing, and energy have a big impact on other sectors. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are predicting growth in wireless apps, online gaming, and clean tech, notes Northwestern University professor Shane Greenstein. "It is not a classic tech boom, led by a big new opportunity like [Internet] browsing or Web 2.0, but a mixture of a few big and unrelated trends," Greenstein says.
Technology Industry Still Failing to Inspire Women
V3.co.uk (04/21/11) Iain Thomson
A recent panel discussion examining the role of women in the technology industry hosted by White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett found that there has been little improvement for gender equality. Although women make up 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, they compose just 25 percent of the technology industry. In addition, just eight percent of technology startups are led by women, and just five percent of those receive venture capital funding. The problem extends beyond the technology industry, says Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. Although women have been awarded the majority of college degrees since 1981, the proportion of women in senior management positions is stagnant at about 15 percent in all industries, Jarrett notes. "The big issue is not getting them into the workforce, but getting them on the way to the top," Sandberg says. Gender roles portrayed on TV could be a major factor in the technology industry demographics for women, says Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin. "We need to make being smart a feminine quality," she says.
Breakthrough in the Search for the Holy Grail for Data Storage
University of Nottingham (United Kingdom) (04/20/11) Lindsay Brooke
The University of Nottingham's Steve Liddle has created a new molecule that could lead to a breakthrough in high-performance computing and storage techniques. The molecule consists of two uranium atoms and maintains its magnetism when kept at very low temperatures. This type of single-molecule magnet (SMM) could be used to increase data storage by thousands of times. "The challenge now is to see if we can build bigger clusters to improve the blocking temperatures and apply this more generally," Liddle says. He and colleagues were able to link more than one uranium atom using a bridging toluene molecule, resulting in SMM behavior. "At this stage it is too early to say where this research might lead but single-molecule magnets have been the subject of intense study because of their potential applications to make a step change in data storage capacity and realize high-performance computing techniques such as quantum information processing and spintronics," Liddle says.
The Sky Is No Limit: 13 Research Teams Compute in the Clouds
National Science Foundation (04/20/11) Lisa-Joy Zgorski
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced which projects will be funded through the collaborative cloud computing agreement that Microsoft and NSF announced last year. Microsoft will give the 13 chosen projects access to Windows Azure, a cloud computing platform that provides on-demand computing and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications for a two-year period. "We are especially proud of these excellent projects, led by top researchers at universities throughout the country that we think will best capitalize on the NSF/Microsoft partnership," says NSF's Farnam Jahanian. Among the 13 projects is one led by Cornell University researcher Kenneth Birman, who will study the consistency issue as cloud computing applications are applied to large-scale systems. And J. Craig Venter Institute researcher Audrey Tovchigrechko will use the Azure platform to study insufficient scalability and lack of interactivity, two restrictions within the existing docking paradigms.
Supercomputer Cracks 'Impossible' Calculation
The Australian (Australia) (04/19/11) Jennifer Foreshew
Researchers at Newcastle University, IBM Australia, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently used the BlueGene/P supercomputer to calculate the billionth decimal digit of pi, a calculation that was thought to be unachievable. The project would have taken about 1,500 years on one central-processing unit, but it took just a few months using BlueGene/P. "What this is driving is a new attack on various classical questions about how random or how complex various bits of math are, and how best to program these things on really large environments with tens or hundreds of thousands of processors," says Newcastle professor Jon Borwein. "We may be able to put some of these algorithms together, mixing this idea of algorithmic randomness with this fairly new area called quantum randomness, using natural processes to build random things." The researchers are developing a prototype system that could lead to further advances in algorithmic randomness and quantum randomness.
iPhone Secretly Tracks User Location, Say Researchers
Computerworld (04/20/11) Gregg Keizer
Apple iPhones and iPads track users' locations and store the data in an unencrypted file on the devices and on owners' computers, according to two researchers. The data is in a SQLite file on devices with 3G capability. The file, named consolidated.db, includes locations' longitude and latitude, a timestamp, and nearby Wi-Fi networks. "There can be tens of thousands of data points in this file," the researchers say. To view the location file on an iPhone remotely, an attacker would have to exploit a pair of vulnerabilities, one to hack Safari and another to gain access to the root directory, says researcher Charlie Miller. The biggest threat to users would be if the device is lost, making the data available to whoever finds it. The researchers created an application that extracts the data from a Mac and displays the location history on a map. "Why this data is stored and how Apple intends to use it--or not--are important questions that need to be explored," according to the researchers.
Carnegie Mellon Researchers Build Time Machine That Allows Visual Exploration of Space and Time
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (04/21/11) Byron Spice; Jocelyn Duffy
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers have developed the GigaPan Time Machine, browser technology that enables users to study gigapixel-scale, high-resolution videos and image sequences by panning or zooming in and out of the images while moving through time. "With GigaPan Time Machine, you can simultaneously explore space and time at extremely high resolutions," says CMU professor Illah Nourbakhsh. The system is based on NASA's GigaPan, HTML5-based technology that can connect thousands of digital images to create a panorama that can be interactively studied on a computer. The researchers extended GigaPan into the time dimension by capturing images at regular intervals and connecting them across both space and time to create a video with frames that can contain billions of pixels. The researchers developed HTML5 algorithms and a software architecture that enables the system to seamlessly shift from one video portion to another.
The Botnets That Won't Die
Technology Review (04/21/11) Kurt Kleiner
Researchers warn that coordinated attacks on conventional botnets could lead spammers and criminal organizations to pursue more resilient communication schemes. Although conventional botnets are controlled by a few central computers, botnets that use peer-to-peer communications protocols pass messages from machine to machine. The controller inserts a command into one or more of the peers and it is spread gradually throughout the network. Some botnets using peer-to-peer communications have been implemented, but authorities have been able to infiltrate and disrupt them by spreading phony commands, files, and information. Meanwhile, Los Alamos National Laboratory's Stephen Eidenbenz and colleagues have designed and simulated a botnet that potentially would be even more difficult to shut down--one that would randomly configure itself into a hierarchy, with peers accepting commands only from machines higher up in the hierarchy, and would reconfigure the hierarchy every day.
Data Miners Dig for Corrosion Resistance
Penn State Live (04/19/11) Andrea Messer
Pennsylvania State University researchers developed a data-mining tool that helped them gain a better understanding of corrosion resistance and could be used in other areas where massive amounts of information exist. "Every area of study has terabytes of information that could be used better by using data-mining techniques to extract valuable information from data," says Penn State's Kamrun Nahar. The researchers used data mining to find the most relevant information about the corrosion-resistant properties of Alloy 22, a candidate for nuclear waste containers. The alloy data came for other studies of Alloy 22. The researchers used statistical techniques to put the data into a unified format, and then fed the data into an artificial neural network they designed for the project. The work reinforces the notion that data mining can be used for science and not just for marketing or business purposes.
Emotional Video Gaming Makes the Action Real
New Scientist (04/18/11) Jacob Aron
Researchers are developing the next generation of video games that will use players' emotional and physiological states, known as affective gaming, to help them navigate through virtual worlds. Affective gaming aims to move video games beyond what is possible with modern motion-based controllers. "By recording the physiological responses of our play testers, we can get more precise estimations of their emotional state," says psychologist Mike Ambinder, who has been working with game developers to add emotional feedback to games. University of Saskatchewan researchers have developed a two-dimensional shooting game that uses several physiological inputs, such as the players' heart rate and skin conductivity, to make the game more challenging. Meanwhile, Polytechnic University of Milan researchers are developing a headset controller that adds brainwave data to the gaming environment. The researchers used algorithms designed to monitor players' emotions and adjust the difficulty accordingly.
Pitt-Led Researchers Create Super-Small Transistor, Artificial Atom Powered by Single Electrons
University of Pittsburgh News (04/18/11) Morgan Kelly
University of Pittsburgh researchers have developed SketchSET, a single-electron transistor that could lead to more powerful computer memories, advanced electronics materials, and the basic components for quantum computers. The transistor's central component uses only one or two electrons. The component, which measures about 1.5 nanometers in diameter, could be used as an artificial atom to develop a new class of artificial electronic materials, says Pittsburgh professor Jeremy Levy. SketchSET is very sensitive to electronic charge and is ferroelectric, which allows the transistor to act as a solid state memory. A computer memory based on this property would be able to retain information even when the processor itself is powered down, Levy notes.
New U Illinois Institute Pushes Parallel Computing Research Into Double Time
Campus Technology (04/14/11) Dian Schaffhauser
The University of Illinois is establishing a new institute that will focus on research and development in the area of parallel computing. The Parallel Computing Institute will be part of the Coordinated Science Laboratory and will be charged with promoting interdisciplinary projects by providing access to resources and infrastructure. The institute also will teach students, pursue grants, and facilitate partnerships among academia and industry. "What [the institute] aims to do is to provide researchers in different disciplines the opportunity to collaborate in an innovative, resource-rich environment," says institute director Bill Gropp. "By approaching problems in a strategic, interdisciplinary way, we can develop solutions with greater impact." Research and development related to making it easier to program on parallel platforms will be one of the first areas of focus. The institute will research the building of compilers for single-chip parallelism and designing new architectures for massively parallel systems, among other projects.
Preserving Indigenous Languages Via Twitter
Fast Company (04/14/11) Neal Ungerleider
Saint Louis University professor Kevin Patrick Scannell recently launched Indigenous Tweets, a Web site that collects tweets from more than 70 languages. Indigenous Tweets uses a customized database of words and phrases and creates a list of which users tweet in what languages. Twitter's application programming interface is used for a data-scraping program to collect user information and post frequency information across languages. Although Twitter categorizes tweets by language, minority languages often are underrepresented due to the lack of data on them. Indigenous Tweets is designed to overcome that problem by categorizing the use of languages on Twitter by both native speakers and linguists. Scannell says the program crawls Twitter users and performs statistical language recognition on the tweets it collects. He says Indigenous Tweets could "help build online language communities through Twitter."
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