Association for Computing Machinery
Welcome to the June 25, 2012 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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For Minority College Students, STEM Degrees Pay Big
USC News (06/22/12) Merrill Balassone

University of Southern California (USC) researchers recently completed a study showing that minority college students who major in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields earn at least 25 percent more than students who study humanities or education. In addition, student who took jobs related to their STEM degrees earned at least 50 percent more than their classmates who majored in humanities or education fields, according to the study. The researchers followed more than 1,000 Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino, and African-American scholarship applicants for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, which awards grants to highly motivated, low-income minority students. "We need to educate students that if they get a job in a STEM-related occupation, they have an even higher earning premium," says USC professor Tatiana Melguizo. Latinos majoring in STEM fields reported the highest earnings among the minority groups in the study, with an average annual salary of $56,875. "These findings are encouraging signs that strengthening the pipeline of underrepresented students into STEM careers offers a viable solution to our nation’s growing competitiveness problem in engineering and science fields," says University of Chicago researcher Gregory Wolniak.

Finalists in Microsoft's $250K Contest Take on 'Most-Pressing' Exploit Tactic
Computerworld (06/22/12) Gregg Keizer

Microsoft announced that each of the three finalists in its $250,000 BlueHat Prize security contest came up with different solutions for blocking return-oriented programming (ROP), a technique often used to get around data execution prevention (DEP), which is one of Windows' primary anti-exploit technologies. The BlueHat Prize competition features a $200,000 award for first place, $50,000 for second place, and a subscription to Microsoft's developer network, valued at $10,000, for third place. All three finalists worked alone and completed their work about two weeks before the deadline. "I focused on ROP because it is the current state-of-the-art in exploit development and a burning issue in exploit prevention," says University of Zagreb researcher and finalist Ivan Fratric. His ROPGuard program checks each critical function call to determine if it is legitimate. "I targeted ROP because it is currently the most-used technique to exploit fully-compiled software," says Harris Corp. researcher and finalist Jared DeMott. His /ROP program checks the target address of each return instruction and then compares it to a whitelist. The third finalist, Columbia University Ph.D. student Vasilis Pappas, developed kBouncer, which involves checking the control path leading to a system call.

Internet Group Picks Little-Known Executive as CEO
Associated Press (06/22/12) Anick Jesdanun

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has chosen Fadi Chehade, who has served as the head of educational software maker Vocado and in a number of other roles, as its next CEO. Chehade, who will replace current ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, was chosen primarily because of his experience in handling the competing interests of different organizations. For example, when e-commerce was still in its infancy, Chehade convinced IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and other technology companies to collaborate on a system called RosettaNet, which aimed to facilitate data exchanges, even though the companies were competitors. That experience could come in handy as Chehade tackles ICANN's controversial plans to introduce hundreds of new domain extensions. Chehade says he will favor policies that keep the Internet free from any unnecessary restrictions because he has a "personal and professional passion" about the Internet's value. Chehade is scheduled to take over as ICANN CEO on Oct. 1. ICANN chief operating officer Akram Atallah will serve as the organization's interim CEO from July 1, the day Beckstrom is scheduled to step down, until Chehade assumes his new position. Chehade will serve as ICANN's CEO until July 1, 2015.

Three Questions for Patti Maes
Technology Review (06/25/12) Will Knight

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Patti Maes leads a research group that studies human-computer interaction. Maes recently spoke with Technology Review to discuss the future of mobile technology. She says that five years from now, mobile devices could know if the user is in a conversation and who that conversation is with. Future devices also could receive information from sensors and databases about the user's calendar, habits, and preferences, according to Maes. In addition, future devices will be able to communicate with each other, automatically sharing documents that could be important to both users. "Just like if you go to Google and do a search, all the ads are highly relevant to the search you're doing, I can imagine a situation where the phone always has a lot of recommendations and things that may be useful to the user given what the user is trying to do," she says. Maes says future devices also might recognize gestures, in addition to speech and touch recognition technologies that exist today. And although augmented reality technologies, such as Google Goggles, are intriguing, the current models are bulky and have a narrow field of view, Maes notes.

Department of Energy Creates Online-Learning Platform for Technical Training
Chronicle of Higher Education (06/21/12) Angela Chen

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has unveiled the National Training and Education Resource (NTER), an open source online learning platform to facilitate technical training. NTER is a Web-based system that can be used to build virtual three-dimensional models for architecture, engineering, and medical students. The platform already has about 1,000 users. The Illinois Green Economy Network, which includes community colleges, has received a $19 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop 193 courses using NTER by 2014, as part of 33 new degree and certificate online-hybrid programs. DOE's Michelle Fox says the open source and interactive nature of NTER will aid the effort to train a qualified workforce for future energy jobs. "There is a need for us to advance quickly on the way we're training and educating," she says. "We need to incorporate advanced learning techniques and take advantage of online learning without it just being groan-worthy PowerPoints." SRI International developed the platform, and now plans to add an e-commerce option and support for use on smartphones.

Communicate With the Future
Europe's Newsroom (06/19/12)

The European Union-funded SHAMAN project has developed a framework that ensures any type of data format can be preserved. "SHAMAN has developed new technologies which could enable us to communicate with the future, securing the valuable digital we are creating today," says SHAMAN project coordinator Ruben Riestra. "They will be readable, accessible, and usable for future generations." Riestra says the SHAMAN reference architecture provides a unified view of digital preservation, approaching the problem from a holistic perspective and enabling digital preservation to be integrated into the larger architecture of an organization. The researchers say SHAMAN makes preserving information simpler by analyzing the specific concerns expressed by those using current digital preservation methods. The SHAMAN framework includes tools for analyzing, managing, accessing, and reusing information objects and data across different libraries and archives. The researchers note that the architecture goes beyond cloud storage solutions. "Storage in the cloud is mainly for short term, while digital preservation is related to issues such as multiple migrations over time, hardware, and mainly software obsolescence," Riestra says. The SHAMAN project already has contributed to preserving the digital information of a variety of organizations, including universities, engineering firms, technology spinouts, and national libraries.

Researchers Amplify Variations in Video, Making the Invisible Visible
MIT News (06/22/12) Larry Hardesty

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have developed software that amplifies variations in successive frames of video that are imperceptible to the naked eye. The researchers say the software is similar to the equalizer in a stereo sound system, and can boost some frequencies of color in a sequence of video frames. The software enables users to specify the frequency range of interest and the degree of amplification. In addition, the software works in real time and displays both the original video and the altered version with the changes magnified. Although the method lends itself best to regularly recurring events, such as a heartbeat, with a sufficiently wide range of frequencies the system can amplify changes that happen only once. The researchers initially intended the system to amplify color changes, but during testing they found that it also amplified motion. A different kind of filtration is required when the system is being used for motion amplification. "This approach is both simpler and allows you to see some things that you couldn't see with that old approach," says University of California, Berkeley professor Maneesh Agrawala.

Confusion Can Be Beneficial for Learning: Study
Notre Dame News (06/19/12) Susan Guibert

Confusion when learning can be beneficial if it is properly induced, effectively regulated, and ultimately resolved, according to a University of Notre Dame study. The researchers found that by strategically inducing confusion in a learning session on difficult conceptual topics, people learned more effectively and were able to apply their knowledge to new problems. In a series of experiments, participants learned scientific reasoning concepts through interactions with computer-animated agents playing the roles of a tutor and a peer learner. The animated agents and the subject engaged in interactive conversations in which they collaboratively discussed the merits of sample research studies that were flawed in one critical aspect. Confusion was induced by manipulating the information the subjects received so the animated agents sometimes disagreed with each other and expressed contradictory or incorrect information. The subjects who were confused scored higher on a difficult post-test and could more successfully identify flaws in new case studies. "We have been investigating links between emotions and learning for almost a decade, and find that confusion can be beneficial to learning if appropriately regulated because it can cause learners to process the material more deeply in order to resolve their confusion," says Notre Dame professor Sidney D'Mello.

Google Project Aims to Document Endangered Languages
IDG News Service (06/21/12) Loek Essers

Google has embarked on a joint venture with universities and linguistic organizations to document roughly 3,500 languages facing extinction in the next century. The Endangered Languages Project enables people to collaboratively record, access, and share samples of endangered languages through the use of technology that includes Google Maps, YouTube, and Google Groups. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian and CBC Radio are among the 29 organizations working on the project, while Eastern Michigan University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa supplied the information about the languages. Endangered languages are categorized as either at risk, endangered, severely endangered, or vitality unknown. The project Web site says about 50 percent of the approximately 7,000 languages in the world could vanish within 100 years, and with them would disappear invaluable cultural heritages. Users can use the site to find 3,054 endangered dialects such as Poitevin, spoken only by "a few elderly people" based in central France. All of the languages are mapped, but not every language has an audio, video, or text sample. The site invites users to upload samples of the uncovered languages.

Sandia Opens Cybersecurity Technologies Research Laboratory
eWeek (06/19/12) Nathan Eddy

Sandia National Laboratories has opened a cybersecurity research facility on the grounds of the Livermore Valley Open Campus. Sandia says the Cybersecurity Technologies Research Laboratory (CTRL) offers a place for cybersecurity professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States to meet and discuss critical research issues. CTRL's mission is to promote stronger relationships between industry, academia, and the U.S.'s national laboratories. Sandia's Center for Cyber Defenders program also has been launched, and CTRL will house a number of Sandia cyberprograms. The lab will develop and help implement cybersecurity approaches in real-world situations, promote the technical domains that support cybersecurity, and help lay the scientific and technical foundations for cybersecurity research and development. CTRL also will function as a Bay Area resource for open work performed at the Sandia's location in New Mexico. "With CTRL, we can run experiments and talk more freely about a wide range of cyberresearch activities, and we can do so with a variety of U.S. and international collaborators but without some of the unrelated restrictions that are often associated with a national laboratory," says Sandia's Jim Costa.

Researchers Advance Biometric Security
University of Calgary (06/19/12)

A biometric security system developed by researchers at the University of Calgary can simulate the way the brain makes decisions about information from different sources. Professor Marina Gavrilova, head of the university's Biometric Technologies Laboratory, describes the system as a kind of artificial intelligence application that can train itself to learn the most important aspects of new data and incorporate it into the decision-making process. The system is designed to combine measurements from multiple biometric sources, such as fingerprint, voice, gait, or facial features. The system also prioritizes the information by identifying more important or prevalent features to learn, and adapts the decision-making to changing conditions, such as bad quality data samples, sensor errors, or an absence of one of the biometrics. "The neural network allows a system to combine features from different biometrics in one, learn them to make the optimal decision about the most important features, and adapt to a different environment where the set of features changes," Gavrilova says. "This is a different, more flexible approach." The goal of the project is to improve accuracy, which would boost the recognition process, Gavrilova notes.

Internet Study Links Usage Case With Basket Case (06/18/12) Nancy Owano

The way people use the Internet could provide clues about their mental health, according to researchers at the Missouri University of Science & Technology. Missouri professor Sriram Chellappan and graduate student Raghavendra Kotikalapudi measured the depression levels of 216 undergraduates using a depression survey, their Internet usage data, and a statistical analysis of their depression scores. "Earlier studies have looked into the relationship between Internet usage and depression, but ours is thought to be the first to use actual Internet data, collected anonymously and unobtrusively, rather than student-completed surveys about Internet usage, which are less reliable," say Chellappan and Kotikalapudi. The data enabled them to find evidence that the Internet is used differently by people who show signs of depression. They found that depressive Internet behavior is marked by high levels of file sharing such as movies and music, very high use of email, and frequent switching among applications such as email, chat rooms, and games. Increased video watching, gaming, and chatting also were connected to depressive Internet behavior. Chellappan and Kotikalapudi believe the research could be used to develop software that monitors Internet usage and provides alerts when usage patterns may signal depression symptoms.

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