Welcome to the September 9, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Verizon-FCC Court Fight Takes on Regulating Net
The New York Times (09/08/13) Edward Wyatt
Verizon and several other Internet companies are taking the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit over the right to manage Internet pipelines as they wish. The FCC believes that Internet service providers should keep their pipelines free and open, giving the creators of any type of legal content an equal ability to reach consumers. If certain organizations are able to buy greater access to Internet users, the playing field will tilt in the direction of the richest companies, possibly stifling future innovation, according to industry regulators. "This will determine whether the laws and regulations of the past--the pre-Internet age--will apply to the Internet's future," says NetCompetition chairman Scott Cleland. "It will determine the regulatory power and authority of the FCC in the 21st century." Verizon argues that the FCC's Open Internet Order should be struck down because it is arbitrary and aims to prevent activity that is not taking place. However, in its court papers, the FCC maintains the order is necessary because there have been "significant threats to openness, and thus to the engine that has driven investment in broadband facilities." European countries also are debating to what extent the government should regulate Internet service.
Fed Says Tech Demand Outstripping Supply in Boston, San Francisco
Computerworld (09/09/13) Patrick Thibodeau
The U.S. Federal Reserve's recently released Beige Book states that in some markets, particularly Boston and San Francisco, demand for certain types of technology skills is outpacing supply. For example, the report found that in New England, "there remains a shortage of skilled technical workers to fill high-end [information technology] and engineering jobs," and that despite a large pool of available workers, the skills mismatch prevents staffing firms from fully meeting client demand. In addition, the Federal Reserve reported that demand in the Bay Area is forcing firms to compete for a limited pool of qualified workers, which is leading to significant wage growth in those positions. One of the most in-demand skills is experience and expertise in building the Web infrastructure and applications that can handle millions of visitors, says HireMinds' Sean McLoughlin. Recruiters also cited a demand for programmers skilled in Java, Ruby on Rails, and Python. Large technology firms, such as Twitter, have created a lot of competition, forcing salaries up, and 10 to 15 percent increases are now the norm, says ICI Software Recruitment founder David Freier.
Internet Experts Want Security Revamp After NSA Revelations
Reuters (09/07/13) Joseph Menn
Following disclosures that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) can breach encryption designed to protect websites, Internet security experts are calling for an initiative to overhaul Web security. Jari Arkko, who heads the Internet Engineering Task Force, says the group will strengthen its efforts to add encryption to basic Web traffic and bolster the secure sockets layer, which protects banking, email, and other pages beginning with HTTPS. However, experts say the effort to overhaul Web security standards could be challenging. "A lot of our foundational technologies for securing the Net have come through the government," notes researcher Dan Kaminsky. "They have the best minds in the country, but their advice is now suspect." Meanwhile, some experts caution it is still not clear how much damage NSA has done. "There has long been a tension between the mission to conduct surveillance and the mission to protect communication, and that tension resolved some time ago in favor of protection at least for American communications," says Google chief Internet evangelist and ACM president Vint Cerf.
In The World: Mapping the Logistics of Megacities
MIT News (09/09/13) David L. Chandler
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have collected logistics data on representative neighborhoods in Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, Santiago, Sao Paulo, Kuala Lumpur, and Madrid, and made that data available online in an open-access pool of information that is graphically represented on city maps. The project arose from the realization that "some of the things we take for granted don't exist" in many rapidly growing cities in the developing world, says MIT's Edgar Blanco. The project involved developing a Web platform to collect, organize, and display the data in real time. "We not only have to design better logistics systems in the cities, we need cities that are designed better for logistics," Blanco says. For example, the data gathered by the MIT researchers could help city planners decide whether to ban or encourage certain vehicles from particular areas, or to allow large trucks only at certain times. Blanco notes that as the database grows, it will be easier for planners to find cities with comparable population density, business, and transportation links.
MOOC Spells New Skills for Job Seekers, Can Fill Gaps
Investors.com (09/05/13) Kevin Dobbs
Companies struggling to fill high-tech jobs are considering expanding their applicant pool by tapping people trained in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Although MOOCs were started with a university setting in mind, recruiting firms recently began offering MOOCs after clients voiced concerns that even educated and experienced job applicants lacked now-necessary skills. "Technology seems to keep outpacing skill sets," says Aquent's Alison Farmer. "We are constantly hitting labor gaps." Large MOOC providers offer courses from math and science to business, computer science, and languages. Aquent launched its first MOOC last summer, a free class in HTML5 design. About 300 who completed the course later enlisted Aquent to represent them in job hunts, with many landing positions in part thanks to the MOOC training. Industry experts predict other companies will mimic Aquent's program. Although the early signs of a MOOC movement are appearing mostly in the technology sector, Wells Fargo's Trace Urdan says other businesses are taking notice, as job applications look for new ways to gain needed skills. "The challenges of paying for higher education are enormous," Urdan says.
Teens Are Losing Interest in Science, Survey Finds
NextGov.com (09/05/13) Brittany Ballenstedt
The number of teenagers interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) dropped 15 percent this year to 46 percent, according to a survey of 1,025 teens released Wednesday by Junior Achievement USA and the ING U.S. Foundation. The decline indicates that talent shortfalls in STEM will continue, with the U.S. Department of Labor predicting that STEM employment opportunities will rise 17 percent through 2018. Despite the drop, STEM remained the most popular field, with public service claiming the second spot. Teens cited "passion" and "areas of interest" as top factors in guiding their career plans. "It is crucial that we reinvigorate teens about pursuing opportunities in STEM and medical-related careers," says Junior Achievement USA's Jack E. Kosakowski. "These fields drive our economy and innovation; they are not only high-growth career paths but also creative outlets where teens can apply their passions."
Open Source Career Opportunities Continue to Abound
CIO (09/04/13) Sharon Florentine
Open source jobs remain a consistent source of career growth for technology professionals, according to Dice.com statistics from August 2012 to August 2013. "Now, with the cloud, social media, big data and analysis, search and mobile applications all maturing so rapidly, it makes more sense for companies to leverage the community effort to accelerate development and deployment," says Dice.com's Shravan Goli. In addition, Goli says having a community of developers devoted to improving the code and continually adding functionality can help businesses shorten the adoption cycle and more quickly leverage new and emerging technologies to their benefit. The number of available jobs for Python programmers grew 22 percent year-over-year, while the number of available Ruby on Rails positions grew 15 percent year-over-year, estimates Dice.com. Goli notes the demand for open source skills also has expanded into other industries not traditionally thought of as tech-savvy. "Mostly, these big firms are looking for people with skills related to big data--to take their huge data streams and analyze them--and related to the cloud and related services technology," he says.
Big Data Education Hinges on Business, University Partnerships
InformationWeek (09/04/13) Jeff Bertolucci
In the future, data analysis is expected to play a greater role in day-to-day business operations, a trend that will require many university graduates to attain at least a basic understanding of big data tools and technologies. There will be a 25 percent growth in the need for analytics trained workers through 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Meanwhile, Gartner estimates that more than 4.4 million big data-related jobs will be created by 2015, but only one third of them will be filled. A partnership between academia and business can help provide organizations with employees with data analytics skills. "It's important that [schools] find companies they can have a relationship with so that they can expose their students to new technologies that are out there," says Georgetown University professor Betsy Page Sigman. Several technology companies have been aggressively promoting stronger cooperation between higher education and business in data-related fields. For example, IBM recently announced that it is expanding its Academic Initiative by adding nine educational collaborations to its more than 1,000 partnerships with universities around the world. The McKinsey Global Institute report uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to divide big data talent into three job categories: deep analytical, big data savvy, and supporting technology.
Penn Develops Computer Model That Will Help Design Flexible Touchscreens
Penn News (09/03/13) Evan Lerner
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University have developed a method for designing transparent conductors using metal nanowires that could result in less expensive and more flexible touchscreens. Previously, Pennsylvania professor Karen Winey had worked on simulating nanowire networks in three-dimensional nanocomposites. Duke professor Benjamin Wiley then asked Winey to develop two-dimensional simulations that could be applied to data from silver nanowire networks. Wiley provided the nanowire length, diameter, and area fraction of the networks, and Winey used the simulation to work backward from the network's overall electrical resistance to find the contact resistance. "In playing with this simulation, we can see how much better our networks get when we increase the length of the nanowires, for example," say Pennsylvania graduate student Rose Mutiso. The researchers say the simulation provides more evidence for each variable's role in the overall network's performance, which enables them to find the right balance of traits for specific applications. "We can now make rational comparisons between different wires, as well as different processing methods for different wires, to find the lowest contact resistance independent of nanowire length, diameter, and area fraction," Winey says.
Researchers Discover Breakthrough Technique That Could Make Electronics Smaller and Better
University of Minnesota News (09/03/13) Brooke Dillon
University of Minnesota researchers led an international group of scientists in developing a technique for manufacturing nanostructures that could make electrical and optical devices smaller and better. Minnesota researchers combined several standard nanofabrication techniques to create extremely thin gaps through a layer of metal. They then patterned the tiny gaps over the entire surface of a four-inch silicon wafer. Collaborators at Seoul National University and Argonne National Laboratory showed that light could be squeezed through the gaps, even though they are hundreds of times smaller than the wavelength of the light used. "Our technology, called atomic layer lithography, has the potential to create ultra-small sensors with increased sensitivity and also enable new and exciting experiments at the nanoscale like we’ve never been able to do before," says Minnesota professor Sang-Hyun Oh. The researchers constructed the nano-gaps by layering atomic-scale thin films on the sides of metal patterns and then capping the structure with another metal layer. The researchers then used Scotch Magic tape to remove the excess metals. "Our technique is so simple yet can create uniform and ultra-small gaps like we've never been able to do before," Oh says.
Can You Beat This Machine at Angry Birds?
The Capital Times (09/03/13) Jessie Opoien
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM) created an artificial intelligence (AI) agent capable of playing Angry Birds independently. The AI player won third place among 19 worldwide teams at the Angry Birds Artificial Intelligence Competition in Beijing in August. "What we had to do was write code to make our agent play the game intelligently and try to solve levels, and try to solve them well," says UWM student Anjali Narayan-Chen, who helped develop the agent. "It was a machine learning challenge for us." The researchers took screenshots of the game periodically during play, noting where the objects on the screen were positioned, to use as their data. In addition, the team taught the AI player how to play the game using new data, rather than just memorizing specific levels. UWM professor Jude Shavlik, who led the work, also has created algorithms that apply machine learning and data mining to breast cancer screenings. His algorithms also could be used to create personalized book recommendations and electronic medical records that predict a patient's reaction to specific medications.
The Smoke Alarm in Your Pocket and Other Winning Apps
The Conversation (09/02/13) Sunanda Creagh
The Australian Center for Broadband Innovation (ACBI), CSIRO, National ICT Australia, Intel, iiNet, Foxtel, Pottinger New South Wales Trade and Investment, and NBN recently chose the winners of the Apps4Broadband competition. The competition was launched to help Australians better understand what is possible through the smart use of broadband, says ACBI director Colin Griffith. "We are on the dawn of a new 'App Age,' where next-generation broadband networks will allow us to better manage our home energy use, support the elderly living independently at home, as well as providing us with more personalized entertainment content by connecting people in their homes with services enabled by sensors and cloud computing," Griffith says. TutorBee, a Web-based app that enables tutors to teach students remotely, won the Best App, Best Business-to-Business App, and Best Health, Education, and Social Services App awards. The app includes an online classroom, a marketplace where students can find tutors, and a scheduling system. "The core of what we are trying to do is to remove some of the geographical barriers to education," says TutorBee co-creator Chris Barwick. Pass the Popcorn, an app for chatting with friends while watching on-demand TV, won the Best Media and Entertainment App award. The app enables users to make their feelings known on plot twists.
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