Welcome to the June 15, 2011 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Obama: 'We Don't Have Enough Engineers'
Computerworld (06/14/11) Patrick Thibodeau
President Obama says the United States is suffering from a pronounced shortage of engineers, and he has called on the private sector to annually train 10,000 new engineers. "We've made incredible progress on education, helping students to finance their college educations, but we still don't have enough engineers," Obama says. According to U.S. Labor Department data analyzed by the IEEE-USA, the U.S. had slightly more than 1.9 million engineers last year, with software engineers constituting almost 50 percent of that population. To increase engineering enrollments, Obama says private-sector firms will promote science, technology, engineering, and math education, offer students incentives to complete degrees, and help universities finance their programs. He also says that participating companies will double their internship hiring. Obama says the goal is to reach the 10,000-engineer increase without much federal funding. Just over 126,000 U.S. engineering graduates for bachelor's and master's degrees and for PhDs were produced in 2009, and boosting that total by 10,000 would add 8 percent. If the focus was just on engineers with bachelor's degrees, a 10,000-degree increase would mean boosting the number of graduates by 13 percent.
Making Quantum Cryptography Truly Secure
Centre for Quantum Technologies (06/14/11) Jenny Hogan
An overlooked loophole in quantum key distribution (QKD) technology was demonstrated by an eavesdropping method created and operated by researchers at the National University of Singapore's Center for Quantum Technologies (CQT) and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and University Graduate Center (UNIK). With the eavesdropper, researchers were able to capture an entire shared secret key without alerting either of the legitimate parties that there had been a security intrusion. The eavesdropping breach was conducted over a 290-meter fiber link between a transmitter that sends light to a receiver one photon at a time, and the secret key is constructed through measurement of the photonic properties. By making the receiver's detectors behave in a classical way, the researchers were able to blind the detectors. "This confirms that non-idealities in the physical implementations of QKD can be fully and practically exploitable, and must be given increased scrutiny if quantum cryptography is to become highly secure," says UNIK researcher Vadim Makarov. CQT professor Christian Kurtsiefer notes that "we cannot simply delegate the burden of keeping a secret to the laws of quantum physics; we need to carefully investigate the specific devices involved."
New Software 'Hearing Dummies' Pave the Way for Tailor-Made Hearing Aids
University of Essex (06/13/11)
University of Essex researchers have developed software they say could revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of hearing impairments and be used to design new hearing aids that can be customized to the specific needs of individual patients. The researchers developed computer models, dubbed hearing dummies, which simulate a person's exact hearing nuances. The dummy's hearing capacity can be adjusted until it precisely matches the patient's hearing characteristics by modifying individual algorithms within the computer models. "In the same way that a tailor's dummy is used to measure and fit a garment for a particular person, our software dummy is used to gauge a patient's hearing requirements so that their hearing aid can then be programmed to suit their needs right at the beginning of the process without the need to come back for further time-consuming adjustments to their device," says Essex professor Ray Meddis. The research also can be used to design new hearing tests and to develop new hearing aids that simulate how a normal ear works.
'Networking' Turns Up Flu Viruses With Close Ties to Pandemic of 2009
OSU News (06/13/11) Emily Caldwell
Ohio State University researchers recently used new mathematical and computational methods to identify six influenza A viruses that are genetically similar to the H1N1 swine flu virus that spread across the United States in 2009. The researchers are looking for strains that could shed light on how the pandemic strain emerged and help avoid another pandemic in the future. They used supercomputers to study more than 5,000 strains of influenza A, which have been isolated over several years. The researchers set up a network that captured the paths leading from previously observed viruses to contemporary viruses. "This network gives us an explicit historical and molecular map of how influenza A viruses evolved from several ancestors to modern-day viruses," says Ohio State professor Daniel Janies. The researchers used Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Cray XMT supercomputer to create a database outlining the differences in the genomes among all the strains. They discovered commonly traveled paths in the network that led to six strains of flu that are closely related to the pandemic H1N1 flu.
Digging Into Data, Day 2: Making Tools and Using Them
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/12/11) Jennifer Howard
The creativity exhibited by scholars in the integration of big data and digital tools was highlighted in eight digital humanities research projects that won the first Digging Into Data competition showcased at the 2011 Digging Into Data Challenge Conference. The "With Criminal Intent" project mines several hundred years' worth of digitized records of trials held at London's Old Bailey to answer a wide range of research queries, including the emergence of plea bargaining and the incidence of certain charges. A chief concentration of the project has been using the Old Bailey archive with the Zotero tool and the TAPoR text analysis portal. Another project, "Mining a Year of Speech," pulled together 12 months' worth of spoken English compiled from real-world conversations, news broadcasts, and other sources so that researchers could show how this immense archive could be mined. One application tracks various stresses in pronunciations of a certain phrase on a scale and at a speed that would not be possible in traditional linguistic research. University of Nebraska at Lincoln professor Stephen Ramsay delivered a talk about the degree to which digital humanities work has evolved in the last nine years, and how big data efforts can improve rather than shrink the humanities' traditional interaction with human experience.
IT Worker Demand Remains Strong Despite Slow Economy
IDG News Service (06/10/11) Fred O'Connor
U.S. technology hiring in 2011 will increase as the economy improves, as many companies update their information technology systems after scaling back during the recession, according to a recent Dice.com hiring survey. After several years of cutting back on infrastructure and technology development, companies are "in a little bit of a state of catch-up ... in terms of their infrastructure and therefore the people they need in order to replace aging hardware and software and deal with security challenges," says Dice's Tom Silver. According to the survey, 65 percent of the 900 respondents said they plan on hiring more tech workers in the second half of 2011 than they did in the first half. Java development, .Net development, and workers with experience in the emerging mobile space were the most sought-after skills, the survey found. There also is "a demand for people who have expertise in data security and network security" due to the recent outbreak in data breaches, Silver says. More companies are looking to external recruiters to find qualified candidates, as 34 percent of respondents said they will use this option in the next six months. In addition, 47 percent of the respondents reported that new-hire salaries will be higher this year than in 2010.
Internet Could Be 10 Times Faster Than It Is
The 100GET project combined some of the largest networking and telecommunications companies in Europe to push the capacity of the Internet to 100 GB Ethernet by improving the efficiencies of its data transfer and networking technologies. Internet traffic in Europe is growing by 40 percent annually, making the need for increased bandwidth all the more important. "Just increasing the amount of optical fiber will not be enough to cope with the current growth in the Internet traffic," says Nokia Siemens Networks researcher Rainer H. Derksen. "We needed to find remedies that allowed us to use the available bandwidth of optical fiber more efficiently." The research was broken into five sub-projects, which were led by Alcatel-Lucent Deutschland, ADVA Optical Networking, Nokia Siemens Networks, and Ericsson. The sub-projects enabled the companies to work with universities and gain access to proprietary research and technology. The effort has yielded 56 patent applications, the creation of 21 new products, the enhancement of 15 existing products, and the creation of 19 new jobs.
How Robots Will Beat Humans at Billiards
Technology Review (06/11/11) Christopher Mims
Billiards presents unique computational challenges for artificial intelligence (AI) developers, and although the annual International Computer Olympiad has long featured AI competitions for a variety of games, it has only included computer simulations of billiards since 2005. Pool is difficult for computers to play because there are an infinite number of shots that can be taken in every turn. Translating pool simulations to the real world to enable robots to play is even more challenging. Currently, there are only a few robots that can play pool effectively, such as Queen's University's Deep Green, which is an industrial robot. In a recent development, Universite de Sherbrooke researchers developed an AI system that can optimize its shots for pocketing extra balls as well as breaking clusters of them. The researchers also are optimizing the AI system's decision-making model to account for multiple factors when planning a shot.
ORNL Package Tracking System Takes Social Media to New Heights
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (06/13/11) Ron Walli
Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have developed Tracking 2.0, supply chain software that provides a start-to-finish view as an item moves to its destination. The program is designed to solve the problem of proprietary and incompatible databases used by different shippers. "Tracking 2.0 leverages eight years of ORNL research into supply chain infrastructure and testbed collaborations with state and local first responders, multi-modal freight service providers, private-sector shippers, and federal and international government partners," says ORNL researcher Randy Walker. Tracking 2.0 enables users to share tracking data with existing systems and utilize emerging technologies without having to rework enterprise systems. Users also can deploy custom tools that combine security practices with social-computing technologies. All codes translate to Uniform Resource Locators that identify tracking information. The researchers say the system offers the ability to dynamically incorporate and associate searchable user-defined tags to the Virtual Resource Locator. "We believe the same underlying social media and social networking methods that permit users to share photos and keep in touch with their friends and family can be repurposed to help supply chain stakeholders," Walker says.
Project Simulates Human Brain to Enhance Computer Power
The Engineer (United Kingdom) (06/10/11) Stephen Harris
Teams of researchers from nine European countries plan to create a virtual human brain on a large supercomputer, using existing research on the brain to build mathematical models of how it works. "Neuroscientists have done a huge amount of work on the brain and there's a huge number of papers but they tend to be extremely fragmented," says the Human Brain Project's Richard Walker. "We want to use these to fix parameters for different parts of a single unified model." The effort to simulate how the brain deals with large and varied amounts of information from multiple sources could lead to the development of computers that are capable of running complex networks of sensors, such as a city's traffic-control system, and machines that are capable of doing other things the brain is very good at, such as recognizing faces. The virtual human brain also would serve as a research tool, such as for medical research into neurological conditions. Moreover, the project could lead to a drastic reduction in the amount of power that is consumed by computers. The team wants to create a visual representation of the model that shows it operating in real time.
Faster Computer Graphics
MIT News (06/10/11) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed two techniques for computing blur more effectively in digital images, which could lead to more convincing video games and frames of digital video that take minutes, instead of hours, to render. As part of the first method, the researchers developed an algorithm that takes the average color of multiple points on an object's surface, but calculates those averages only once, placing the color calculations in a table. For each pixel in the final image, the algorithm looks up the corresponding values in the table, which simplifies the calculation but has little effect on the final image. "I think that the greater value of the [research] is that it points at strategies for solving these problems more elegantly, more efficiently, and more practically," says NVIDIA researcher Henry Moreton. The second method reduces the computational burden of determining which rays of light would reach an imagined lens. The researchers developed an algorithm that examines a small number of points and makes an educated guess about the color values of the points in between, which results in a frame of digital video that may only take about 10 minutes to render.
Future of Virtual Reality: Make a Crash Sound Lifelike
New Scientist (06/09/11) Sandrine Ceurstemont
Authentic sound could accompany the realistic-looking crashes of video games using a new model developed by researchers at Cornell University. According to Changxi Zheng and colleagues, the system can accurately reproduce the clattering and clanging of colliding objects. To produce sounds that are notoriously hard to simulate, the team models how the surface of each object vibrates. The researchers say they produced a video of a complex marble run in which collisions produce high frequency sounds by analyzing each section of the course separately. Zheng and colleagues are now developing a more robust algorithm and tweaking the way they simulate how sound travels to improve the model. Simulating high quality sound is important for creating virtual reality applications. "In the future, computers will routinely create virtual realities with realistic physics, motion, graphics, and sound, all in real time," says team member Doug James. Their research will be presented at the SIGGRAPH 2011 conference in August.
Intel Research Eyes Home Energy, Building Efficiency
CNet (06/08/11) Martin LaMonica
Intel demonstrated some of its efforts to use computing to improve energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources during its [email protected] conference. The company presented a device that plugs into a regular electrical outlet and uses a home wireless network to report the power use of consumer electronics. The Wireless Energy Sensing Technology (WEST) is designed to recognize the signatures of major electrical loads in a home and transmit that information to a PC, smartphone, or TV. The prototype was a box about the size of a soda bottle, and the device could work with Intel's Home Energy Management System dashboard. According to an Intel researcher, the more detailed monitoring provided by the plug-in sensor could lead to a 15 percent or higher reduction in energy consumption. WEST is scheduled to go into trials soon. Intel also demonstrated its Eco-Sense Buildings, which use sensors to monitor indoor conditions such as temperature and occupancy and have the potential to make buildings net generators of energy. The company also is researching ways to synchronize the output of solar farms with data center electricity loads, which could scale down power use when a solar farm's output declines.
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