Welcome to the October 21, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
More Businesses Want Workers With Math or Science Degrees
The Wall Street Journal (10/21/13) James R. Hagerty
A shortage of highly skilled U.S. technology workers comes amid mounting concerns over a national failure to produce sufficient numbers of talented science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates. Globalfoundries, for example, is struggling to fully staff a semiconductor plant in Malta, NY, because it cannot find enough people with the right technical skills. The company has undertaken a crash program to train future workers in conjunction with local school districts, the State University of New York (SUNY), and other partners. "We know the problem and we are throwing a lot of solutions at it, but it takes a while to get a return," says SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher. SUNY has embarked on a mentoring program funded by a U.S. National Science Foundation grant that couples graduate students and postdoc fellows with middle schoolers interested in STEM careers. Meanwhile, Bayer Corp. this week is expected to release a survey that found half of the recruiters from large U.S. companies cannot find enough potential employees with four-year STEM degrees in a timely manner. Survey respondents said the shortage was most acute for people in computer-related fields and engineering. In addition, two-thirds of the respondents said their companies were creating more STEM jobs than other positions.
EU Calls for Unified Supercomputing Strategy
HPC Wire (10/17/13) Tiffany Trader
The full potential of high-performance computing (HPC) has yet to be realized by European science and industry, and this cannot happen without a unified, holistic approach to pooling supercomputing resources across Europe, according to a recent report from the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE). What is needed is a global supercomputing ecosystem, and PRACE says a key goal of this effort is to supply the skills and services required by European industry. "High-performance computing has transformed the practice--and the productivity--of science," note the PRACE study's authors. "Now this analytic power must be opened up to industry, to improve decision-making, spur innovation, and boost competitiveness." Although the European Union (EU) is in a position to dominate supercomputing, only a greater investment in HPC will unlock the advantages of the exascale age and provide technical benefits to science and industry, says the European Commission's Konstantinos Glinos. "We need to develop next-generation technology and applications, provide the HPC services that EU industry and scientists need, and ensure availability of computational skills," he emphasizes. Glinos also says the EU's supercomputing sector can catch up to the rest of the world if it is willing to commit funding to a concerted initiative, and this cannot happen without across-the-board collaboration.
Chinese Scientists Achieve Internet Access Through Light Bulbs
Xinhua News Agency (10/17/13) Fu Peng
Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences say they have developed a method for accessing the Internet using signals sent by light-bulbs (Li-Fi) instead of Wi-Fi. Four computers under a one-watt light-emitting diode (LED) light-bulb can connect to the Internet under the principle that light can be used as a data carrier instead of traditional radio frequencies, as in Wi-Fi, according to researcher Chi Nan. A light-bulb with embedded microchips can produce data rates as fast as 150 megabits per second, which is faster than the average broadband connection in China. Chi notes that existing wireless signal transmission gear in China is costly and under-efficient. "As for cell phones, millions of base stations have been established around the world to strengthen the signal, but most of the energy is consumed on their cooling systems," she says. "The energy utilization rate is only 5 percent." Chi points out, "Wherever there is an LED light-bulb, there is an Internet signal." However, the researchers note that the development of a series of key related pieces of technology, including light communication controls as well as microchip design and manufacturing, is still in an experimental stage.
Got a Kickstarter Project? This Man Can Predict Within Four Hours If It Will Fail
The Guardian (10/16/13) Alex Hern
Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a method of predicting whether a Kickstarter project will succeed within four hours of its launch with 76-percent accuracy. The method combines information on interest shown in the project on Twitter, the earlier projects backed by supporters, the number of first-time supporters, and how fast money is coming in. The researchers also have created Sidekick, a tool that applies their hypotheses to live Kickstarter projects. "The model reaches 85-percent accuracy after only 10 percent of the campaign [duration]," notes EPFL researcher Vincent Etter. "The accuracy is, of course, close to 100 percent near the end of the campaign, but this is pretty useless, as there is not much you can do at that point." Etter also observes that a lack of project momentum by the middle of the campaign indicates low odds of success. An earlier method by a U.S. team predicts Kickstarter project success with 68-percent accuracy, and the key distinction between the two techniques is that the U.S. team only studies information available prior to the campaign's launch. The EPFL researchers presented their findings at the recent ACM Conference on Online Social Networks.
Call for Participation: 2014 Workshop on ACM History
CCC Blog (10/18/13) Shar Steed
The ACM History Committee is sponsoring a two-day archiving workshop to be held May 21-22, 2014, in Minneapolis, MN, that is designed to help diffuse knowledge of professional archival practices into ACM's membership and others with an active interest in preserving computer heritage. The audience will include people who are creating archives, not just those who are using them. The workshop will be of special interest to ACM officers and staff, SIG leaders, historically minded ACM members, and others working on computer history archiving projects. Priority will be given to ACM members and members of other national computer societies affiliated with ACM. Participants will leave with a "tool kit" of practical, useful procedures as well as insights into professional archiving practices. Project proposals are due by Jan. 15, 2014.
Automatic Speaker Tracking in Audio Recordings
MIT News (10/18/13) Larry Hardesty
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have developed a speaker-diarization system they say offers performance comparable to the best-supervised machine-learning systems, only without supervision. The system features a compact method for representing differences between individual speakers' voices. A diarization system would need to search a space with 120,000 dimensions to generate a sonic portrait of a single speaker by analyzing more than 2,000 distinct acoustic traits, says Jim Glass with MIT's Spoken Language Systems Group. MIT graduate student Stephen Shum determined that a 100-dimension approximation of the 120,000-dimension space was sufficient as a starting point for a diarization system, and reduced the number of factors to be measured to just three with similar methods. For each second of sound in a recording, Shum ends up with a single point in a three-dimensional space, and he uses an iterative process to identify the bounds of the point clusters corresponding to the individual speakers. Clusters in close proximity to each other then form new clusters until the distances between them expand to a point too large to be spanned plausibly. The process repeats until it reaches a point where it starts and ends with the same number of clusters, and the system affiliates each cluster with a single speaker.
Predicting the Future Could Improve Remote-Control of Space Robots
Wired News (10/15/13) Adam Mann
U.S. Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) researchers have developed a system that could make robotic space exploration faster and more efficient by predicting the robot's future movements. By building a model of the terrain surrounding a rover and providing an interface that lets operators forecast how the probe will move around within it, the researchers say they can identify potential obstacles and make decisions closer to real time. "You're reacting quickly, and the rover is staying active more of the time," says JPL's Jeff Norris. Although current methods of communicating with space-traveling robots are safe, they are extremely inefficient. "When we only send commands once a day, we're not dealing with 10- or 20-minute delays," Norris says. "We're dealing with a 24-hour round trip." By looking slightly into the future, the interface allows a rover driver to update decisions and commands at a much faster rate than is currently possible. The researchers say that aspects of their new interface could be used in the near future, perhaps even with the current Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity.
Europe's iversity Launches 1st MOOCs with 100k+ Students and Curriculum of 24 Courses
TechCrunch (10/14/13) Natasha Lomas
European massive open online course (MOOC) provider iversity this week is launching its first free online courses. More than 100,000 students have enrolled, meeting a goal iversity set for itself in March. Initially, the curriculum will include 24 courses, with 15 in English and the remainder in German, and additional courses will be added through 2014. European universities, including Hamburg University and the University of Osnabruck, and individual professors from Europe and the United States, are contributing course content. Courses cover a range of subjects from philosophy to architecture to engineering, with some granting credit in line with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). To monetize the effort, iversity is considering payments by students for official ECTS credit points, and matching graduates with job opportunities. "Before extracting revenues, real demonstrable value for the end user is key: therefore, we want to get to greater scale economies first and genuinely improve the lives of our users by the kinds of education opportunities we have provided," says iversity CEO Marcus Riecke. "Once we've succeeded in demonstrating the value that we and our MOOCs offer, we will focus more on monetization."
World Record: Wireless Data Transmission at 100 Gbit/s
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (10/14/13) Monika Landgraf
German researchers have developed a method for wireless data transmission at a world-record pace of 100 Gbps. The data transmission was sent at a frequency of 237.5 gigahertz over a distance of 20 meters in the laboratory. Stuttgart University professor Ingmar Kallfass says the Millilink project focused on integrating "a broadband radio relay link into fiber-optical systems." The researchers say the technology represents an inexpensive and flexible alternative to optical fiber networks, whose extension often cannot be justified from an economic point of view. "At a data rate of 100 gigabits per second, it would be possible to transmit the contents of a Blue-Ray disk or of five DVDs between two devices by radio within two seconds only," Kallfass says. As part of the experiments, the latest photonic and electronic technologies were combined. First, the radio signals are generated by an optical method, and then several bits are combined by data symbols and transmitted at the same time. Upon transmission, active integrated electronic circuits receive the radio signals. "It is a major advantage of the photonic method that data streams from fiber-optical systems can directly be converted into high-frequency radio signals," notes ETH Zurich professor Jurg Leuthold.
Smarter Video Searching and Indexing
University of Lincoln (10/14/13) Marie Daniels
A new framework that would enable Internet users to search for videos using images rather than text could lead to smarter searching and indexing. University of Lincoln researchers are working to create the framework, which relies on finding similarities between videos using tiny frames instead of using full-size video frames. The tiny frames are extracted from compressed video in real time and are able to fully represent video content, without wasting more time in decompressing the video to perform complex computer algorithms. "I want to discover the semantic similarity between videos using the content only," says Lincoln Ph.D. student Saddam Bekhet. "I adapted some new techniques and found that tiny representative frames could be used to discover similarities." The research builds on work to provide a framework for automated video analysis and annotation by the university's Digital Contents Analysis, Production and Interaction Group. "The next stage is to build an effective framework," Bekhet says.
New Technology Can Prevent Cellular Overload, Dropped Calls
UBC News (10/11/13) Heather Amos
University of British Columbia Ph.D. student Mai Hassan has developed a way to use TV and radio channels to transmit cellular signals when systems are pushed beyond capacity. "I proposed a more effective way to use any channel in the neighborhood, even if those channels are being used by radio or television stations," Hassan says. However, she notes, "the challenge was finding a way to make sure the cellular signals didn't interfere with the people using those channels in the first place." The solution involves changing the shape of the wireless signal so it could be transmitted on channels that use radio or TV frequencies. By manipulating the direction of the cellular signals, Hassan was able to transmit calls and texts to a receiver while avoiding any interference with the original radio and TV signals. As part of her study, Hassan utilized a crowd of mobile phones in a network, with each phone having only one smart antenna, to cooperatively achieve the same constructive or destructive interference pattern.
Big Data Privacy Challenge Requires Due Process Response, Says Paper
FierceGovernmentIT (10/14/13) David Perera
Big data is challenging existing privacy protections because the technology can be used to create new data, according to a paper from researchers at Microsoft and New York University. The researchers suggest that an analysis of large data sets composed of many individually meaningless bits that are not themselves personally identifiable information can manufacture highly revealing information. They say there needs to be procedural due process that would regulate the fairness of the analytical process rather than the collection, use, or pre-decision-making disclosure of data. The researchers say that when individuals are aware that big data analytics informs an outcome, individualized due process approaches will seem appropriate. "For example, if a company were to license search query data from Google and Bing in order to predict which job applicants would be best suited for a particular position, it would have to disclose to all applicants who apply that it uses search queries for predictive analytics related to their candidacy," the researchers say.
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