Welcome to the March 26, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Ancient Sites Spotted From Space, Say Archaeologists
BBC News (03/20/12)
Computer science techniques have enabled archaeologists to discover about 9,000 possible early human settlements across 23,000 square miles in northeastern Syria. Researcher Jason Ur used computers to scan images for soil discoloration and mounds caused when mud-brick settlements collapsed. Ur says surveying the same sites on the ground would have taken him a lifetime. "With these computer science techniques, however, we can immediately come up with an enormous map, which is methodologically very interesting, but which also shows the staggering amount of human occupation over the last 7,000 or 8,000 years," says Ur. He previously used declassified spy satellite photographs and the human eye to identify potential sites, but he has worked with Bjoern Menze, a computer expert from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, over the past three years to develop software for classifying terrain. The volatile political situation in Syria has prevented Ur from conducting any ground searches, but he hopes to pursue further research in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq. Ur wants to follow that up with excavations that would serve as "a very rigorous testing of the model."
Better Organic Electronics
Berkeley Lab News Center (03/20/12) Lynn Yarris
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have provided the first experimental determination of the pathways by which an electrical charge is transported from molecule-to-molecule in an organic thin film. "When the molecules in organic thin films are aligned in particular directions, there is much better conductance," says Berkeley Lab researcher Miquel Salmeron. Organic electronics use carbon-based molecules instead of metals or semiconductors, and are expected to play a vital role in molecular computing. However, their use has been held back by low electrical conductance in comparison to metals and semiconductors. The researchers used electron diffraction patterns to map the crystal structures of molecular films made from monolayers of short versions of commonly used polymers. "When applied correctly, electron microscopy becomes an essential tool that can provide unique information on organic samples," says Berkeley Lab's Shaul Aloni. The researchers overcame the challenge through the combination of a unique strategy, which they developed, and a transmission electron microscope at the Molecular Foundry's Imaging and Manipulation of Nanostructures Facility. "These maps contain uncompromised information of the size, symmetry, and orientation of the unit cell, the orientation and structure of the domains, the degree of crystallinity, and any variations on the micrometer scale," says Berkeley Lab's Virginia Altoe.
Cancer Drugs: Interactive Software Simplifies Research
Fraunhofer FIT (03/12)
Fraunhofer FIT researchers have developed Zeta, software that supports the search for new active pharmaceutical ingredients for cancer drugs. The researchers say the software uses a high degree of parallelization to analyze complex biological processes, a process that historically has been very time-consuming. Zeta simplifies the analysis by processing large amounts of data in a very short time. The researchers also have extended Zeta for use in live cell imaging, which enables scientists to monitor and record cancer cells across their full life cycle. A computer-controlled microscope generates several images of living cells, which are then processed by image-analysis software. Zeta then monitors and quantifies the living cancer cells more precisely. "We need to identify the cells as objects and need to determine their individual cell cycle phases, but we also need to monitor the progression of the cycle from one phase to the next," says Fraunhofer FIT professor Thomas Berlage. He notes Zeta also offers a plug-in architecture, which makes it flexible and enables it to identify new cell types without changes to the software.
Apps Could Be Overtaking the Web, Says Report
MSNBC (03/23/12) Suzanne Choney
People's reliance on the Web is changing due to an abundance of applications that they are downloading onto their smartphones, tablet computers, and TVs, according to a report from Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and Elon University's Imagining the Internet Center. The report says this change marks not just a shift in how people receive information, but also in how they share information. Pew says a tipping point may have been reached in June 2011, when it was reported that Americans were spending more time engrossed with apps than on the desktop or mobile Web. "Mobile tools such as smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptop computers are now a primary source of Internet connectivity in highly developed nations, and the uptake of technology tools in less-developed regions of the world has also been dominated by small, wireless devices," Pew observes. Consultant Jerry Michalski is upbeat about the Web's prospects, arguing that its open nature, and its status as a communications tool and a marketplace of ideas, will help it to ultimately prevail. "The gated bubble worlds formed by app markets, Facebook, and other private spaces will bloom and fade, while people will keep gathering in the open spaces," he predicts.
Raspberry Pi Designer Hints at Future Version
ZDNet UK (03/22/12) David Meyer
Raspberry Pi is developing a new version of its credit card-sized computer that, which, like the current model, offers 256 MB of onboard memory, but will cost slightly more. Raspberry Pi views the computer as a tool for teaching schoolchildren about programming. Raspberry Pi's hardware designer Pete Lomas says a more powerful version of the computer may be available at some point as well, depending on costs and demand. "We are looking at the possibility of a Model B+ with additional RAM, but the costs do not look promising and unless we really run out of space for the cool stuff people want to do then it will be a while," Lomas says. Raspberry Pi left out features such as Bluetooth and built-in analog-to-digital audio converters in order to keep down the price of the current version. Lomas notes the inability to recognize certain high-capacity SD cards remains a problem. "It looks like the jump to smaller die and process has created some anomalies that for some reason the [system-on-a-chip] cannot handle, this is also reflected in issues with Class 10," he points out.
Mash-Up Aids Translation of Obscure Languages
New Scientist (03/21/12) Jacob Aron
Polytechnic University of Valencia researchers Luis Leiva and Vicent Alabau have developed Culturally Influenced Interlanguage (CI2), software that can invent languages by mashing up words from existing tongues, and which could help translate foreign texts for speakers of obscure dialects. CI2 builds translations for minority languages by borrowing words from languages in the same family, leveraging the word and grammatical similarities found in families such as the Romance languages. "The idea is to pick words from languages for which there are machine translators available," Leiva says. The researchers select words by calculating the likelihood that a word from the major languages shows up in the minority vocabulary by studying the number of letter changes needed to turn one word into another. Selecting the words with the highest probability means the translated sentence has the best chance of being comprehended. "It is a technical solution to a cultural need," says Johns Hopkins University's David Yarowsky. He warns that the emergence of the Internet means that languages with less than 1 million speakers will struggle to prevail. "The teenagers of this planet will decide where this goes," Yarowsky says. "They will decide what they want to speak and how important culture is to them."
Digital Skills Shortage Leaves EU Youth a Step Behind
Reuters (03/21/12) Daniel Rolle
The European Commission (EC) estimates that the information technology (IT) and digital skills shortage could reach 700,000 workers by 2015. New EC research says young people know how to use mobile phones and play video games, but they lack the basic digital skills necessary to secure jobs in a rapidly digitizing economy. "Young people need to appreciate the professional aspects of the new digital world," says Antonio Tajani, EC's commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship. Tajani has launched a series of events for e-skills week, which the EC hopes will bring greater attention to the issue and lead to ideas that could help solve the problem. The EC expects jobs for highly qualified people to increase by 16 million by 2020, which gives the European Union only a fixed amount of time to improve IT and digital skills and help young people become productive members of the global workforce. Tajani says the "supply [of skilled workers] has become a bottleneck for growth in the tech sector, creating a leaky pipeline that threatens to hamper European innovation and global competitiveness."
Feds Fight Homelessness With Mobile App Challenge
InformationWeek (03/20/12) Elizabeth Montalbano
The U.S. departments of Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Health and Human Services and Bon Jovi's JBJ Soul Foundation recently launched the Project REACH Mobile App Challenge, which calls on developers to create a smartphone application to provide homeless veterans with real-time access to resources. Project REACH is one of many contests federal agencies have launched under the Obama administration to spur the public to leverage federal data to create new service-oriented mobile apps. The key to the challenge will be the Homeless Management Information System, an open data repository of information that stores data about homeless veterans and the resources available to them. "What this is really doing is building onto that to put the power of that information into the hands of the homeless and potential caregivers and even average citizens," says HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. The contest will award five $10,000 grants to the developers who devise the most innovative apps as chosen by the judges. The app that receives the highest user satisfaction rating will win the challenge's $25,000 grand prize.
Twitter Not So Good at Predicting Box Office Revenues After All
Technology Review (03/23/12)
Princeton University researchers recently conducted a study that debunked the theory that Twitter is a reliable predictor of the future success of movies. During this year's Oscar season, the researchers collected 1.7 million tweets that contained the titles of 34 recently released Oscar-nominated films. The researchers classified the tweets according to whether they contained positive or negative comments and whether they were tweeted before or after the user had seen the movie. The researchers also collected reviews from the Internet Movie Database and RottenTomatoes.com about the same films. The researchers found that Twitter users post far more positive reviews than negative ones, which could have implications for marketers. "Instead of focusing on reducing the negative reviews from a few dissatisfied customers, it may be better to focus on enhancing the already high proportion of positive reviews on online social networks and use virality effects to influence consumers," the researchers note. The researchers also found that reviews on Twitter do not necessarily reflect the reviews that appear on other online sites, and the Twitter data does not always translate into box office revenue. "Marketers need to be careful about drawing conclusions regarding the net box-office outcome for a movie," says Princeton researcher Felix Ming Fai Wong.
Hacker Teams Throw Down in International CyberLympics
Government Computer News (03/20/12) William Jackson
Seven teams from around the world recently competed in the first international CyberLympics, pitting their cyberattack and defense skills against each other. The games were organized by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council) and are the culmination of several regional competitions that began in 2011. The teams include two from North America, two from Europe, two from the Middle East, and one from the Asia Pacific region. The CyberLympic games are part of a growing trend toward competitions to help develop a professional cybersecurity workforce. The games consist of offensive and defensive challenges, with each team keeping its own network and services up and running while attacking the competition. The North American teams include ICF International and The Little Penguins that Could. The European teams include hack.ers and Six Pistols. The Middle Eastern teams include Ctrl+Alt+Del and Team aeCert, while Requiem represented Asia. Among the contests the teams engaged in were a series of Web apps deployed on each network, with one or more flags embedded in them. Attackers were challenged to hunt down and find as many flags as possible in the allotted time.
Survey: Android Programmers Shifting Toward Web Apps
CNet (03/20/12) Stephen Shankland
The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)
Wired News (03/15/12) No. 4 James Bamford
The Utah desert is the site of a massive surveillance facility being built for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), with the purpose of secretly intercepting, deciphering, analyzing, and storing vast volumes of communications. The size of the center, combined with the data storage capacity of modern technologies, makes the volume of information that could be contained in the facility truly staggering. However, the amount of intelligence data generated daily by NSA and other agencies is growing exponentially. Consequently, the Pentagon is expanding the Global Information Grid to handle data on the scale of yottabytes. A key focus of the Utah center will be sifting through data housed in the deep Web, which is beyond public reach and includes the stolen classified secrets of potential adversaries. Other sources of data feeding into the center will include NSA's eavesdropping satellites and overseas listening posts. Code-breaking also will be a critical function of the center, as much of the data that it will manage will be heavily encrypted, according to a senior intelligence official. To aid in the decryption effort, scientists and computer engineers are building supercomputers and cryptanalytic applications at the Multiprogram Research Facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
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