Welcome to the November 11, 2013 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.
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HEADLINES AT A GLANCE
Virtual Volunteers Needed to Help Recognize Technical Young Women
National Center for Women & Information Technology (11/11/13)
The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) is reviewing applications from Nov. 9-23 for its annual Aspirations in Computing Award competition for young women in high school who are interested in technology. The approval/endorsement deadline for the award is Nov. 12, and recipients will be notified in early December. Hundreds of reviewers are needed to evaluate thousands of applications, reading and scoring online at their own pace. Award recipients are chosen for their technology and computing aptitude and aspirations, leadership ability, academic history, and post-secondary education plans. Competitions are held at the local and national levels, and all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are participating. The program connects young women with opportunities such as scholarships, other competitions, internships, jobs, further education, and mentoring. Reviewers can register at the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing registration site at https://www.aspirations.org/user/register.
To Thwart Spies, IETF Wants to 'Strengthen the Internet'
Network World (11/08/13) Colin Neagle
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has discussed what it can do to protect the Internet from government spying. IETF chair Jari Arkko recently spoke about the need for the engineers behind the Internet to push for new standards that would make it more difficult for government intelligence agencies to spy on Internet users en masse. Arkko suggested extending SSL-like encryption to all pages of the Internet and improving encryption algorithms. He also said businesses and website operators could be encouraged to adopt these methods by making them part of the HTTP 2.0 protocol. Another strategy could be promoting more secure alternatives to the Web tools that leave users vulnerable to monitoring. "As that work matures, we might be able to expect to improve both efficiency (being able to use multiple paths) and security/privacy (in order to tie those paths together) at once, which could be a compelling prospect," Arkko said. Using the Internet for government surveillance is an attack the IETF needs to defend against, according to the meeting's attendees.
Intel Launches Internet of Things Push With Tech Industry Call to Arms
V3.co.uk (11/08/13) Michael Passingham
Intel has called on the tech industry to make Internet of Things (IoT) technology a viable option for mainstream users. Intel has outlined nine key areas, including higher standards of education, acting upon both privacy and security concerns, and to stop storing everything, in which technology companies and governments can make the IoT a reality. Intel's Kumar Balasubramanian says the technology already is feasible and businesses should be working to make use of it. "There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the IoT," Balasubramanian says. "It's not about IoT as a promise for IoT a decade or five years from now, this is IoT for here and now." However, in order to make full use of the huge amount of IoT data being gathered, changes need to be made in the way the technology industry looks at this area, according to Intel. Intel wants to focus on training more skilled data scientists, as it will help stakeholders to ask questions and make sense of big data pools. A recent United Kingdom government think tank report highlighted the IoT as an area of huge opportunity for the manufacturing sector.
Inertial Sensors Boost Smartphone GPS Performance
Technology Review (11/07/13)
The SmartLoc program, developed by researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology, can lower the power consumption of a smartphone's global positioning system (GPS) sensors while also boosting the device's positional accuracy through its inertial sensors. Researcher Cheng Bo and colleagues tap the sensors to pinpoint the smartphone's position whenever the GPS is offline. The sensors can measure various factors, such as vehicle acceleration and turn direction. Any additional information needed to make an accurate positional assessment is determined by examining the section of road on the map that might influence the sensors, each of which has a unique inertial signature that the phone can recognize and match to the road features. Among the inertial signatures Bo and colleagues have identified are deceleration, waiting, and acceleration associated with a set of traffic signals, and the forces associated with turnings. The SmartLoc program seeks these signatures while the vehicle is moving. The tendency for the GPS signal to vanish for significant distances is countered by the program's use of the inertial signal database and a map of the area to fill in the gaps. The researchers say GPS' positioning accuracy is about 40 meters, while the SmartLoc system can locate its position within 20 meters 90 percent of the time.
Wireless Device Converts 'Lost' Energy Into Electric Power
Duke University News (11/07/13) Karyn Hede
Duke University researchers have developed a power-harvesting device that wirelessly converts a microwave signal to direct current voltage capable of recharging a cellphone battery or other small electronic device. In addition to light energy, the new device can be tuned to harvest the signal from other energy sources, including satellite signals, sound signals, or Wi-Fi signals, according to the researchers. The device relies on its application of metamaterials, which are engineered structures that can capture various forms of wave energy and tune them for useful applications. "We had been getting energy efficiency around six to 10 percent, but with this design we were able to dramatically improve energy conversion to 37 percent, which is comparable to what is achieved in solar cells," says Duke's Allen Hawkes. The researchers say that with additional modifications, the power-harvesting metamaterial could potentially be built into cellphones, enabling them to recharge wirelessly while not in use. "The beauty of the design is that the basic building blocks are self-contained and additive," says Duke professor Steven Cummer. "One can simply assemble more blocks to increase the scavenged power."
Data Trackers Monitor Your Life So They Can Nudge You
New Scientist (11/07/13) Hal Hodson
Researchers at the Technical University of Denmark want to use social ties to shape the lives of students for the better. Sune Lehmann and Arek Stopczynski are collecting data from the mobile phones of about 1,000 volunteers in order to build a model of the social network they live in. The team plans to test whether the results can be used to boost student achievement and possibly mental health. Lehmann and Stopczynski have not decided what interventions would be appropriate for changing behavior. The first interventions will be gentle and will focus on improving awareness of activities that might help or hinder studies, and the researchers also plan to work with health specialists to find ways to support first-year students. Google and Facebook already have such detailed data. "We want everyone to be aware of what can be done with the phone when the big companies start nudging you, because in the hands of someone who wants to use this for monetary gain, I'm not sure it's such a good idea," Lehmann says.
Aspiring Coders Hone Their Skills at CoderDojo
ABC Online (Australia) (11/07/13) Rosanna Ryan
Australia's Brisbane City Council has launched a CoderDojo program to teach children basic software development skills from volunteer mentors. Volunteers help participants aged seven to 17 learn to code using programs such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Scratch and Carnegie Mellon University's Alice, with some advanced participants learning the Python environment. CoderDojo is free and aims to give children the preparation they need for a world in which technology is playing a larger role, says Brisbane city councillor Julian Simmonds. "This is an opportunity not only to teach them coding in a very friendly and relaxed environment, but also to join them with mentors who can help encourage their entrepreneurial spirit," Simmonds says. "If we can really foster that entrepreneurial and startup spirit here in Brisbane we're going to set our economy on the right track for many years to come." The pilot program began with a single library in July and has already grown to include two additional libraries, with plans for further expansion. CoderDojo is a worldwide movement with clubs in more than 200 cities; Brisbane is the first Australian city to participate.
Exploring Public Perceptions of Future Wearable Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology (11/07/13) Jason Maderer
Georgia Tech researchers have conducted a case study on interaction with on-body technology in public. The team surveyed people in the United States and South Korea, and the findings suggest that scientists should focus on arms and wrists as they pursue wearable computing. The participants watched videos of people silencing incoming phone calls using electronic devices stitched into everyday clothing on wrists, forearms, collarbones, torsos, waists, and the front pocket panel. In both countries, the participants preferred the wrist and forearms as locations for e-textiles, and said they were the most normal placement when watching someone use the devices. "This may be due to the fact that these locations are already being used for wearable technology," says Halley Profita, who led the study. "People strap smartphones or MP3 players to their arms while exercising. Runners wear [global positioning system] watches." Some opinions were influenced by the gender of the technology user, and the appearance of looking silly, awkward, or weird.
Does Your Professor Have a Wikipedia Entry? Congrats! It Means Nothing
The Atlantic (11/07/13) Robinson Meyer
Oxford University has released a study indicating that no significant correlation exists between a scientific academic having a Wikipedia entry and being productive in their field. Study authors Anna Samoilenko and Taha Yasseri evaluated 400 biographical Wikipedia entries for academics in physics, biology, computer science, and psychology, and psychiatry. Entry metrics such as page length were compared against a researcher's h-index, an indicator of how important an academic's work is to their discipline that measures how many journal articles a researcher has written as well as how often other academics have cited their articles. "The analysis has shown that only a small percentage of researchers mentioned on Wikipedia (36 percent of biologists, 31 percent of computer scientists, 24 percent of psychologists and psychiatrists, and 22 percent of physicists) are notable according to the traditional means of evaluation," the study says. In addition, the study assessed the number of each of the four fields' most important researchers, based on the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Research list, with Wikipedia entries. Fewer than half of the leading researchers across the disciplines had their own pages.
Researchers Re-Create Landmark 17th Century Cathedral, Speech in Virtual Space
NCSU News (11/06/13) Matt Shipman
A North Carolina State University (NCSU) project should give history, literature, and religious scholars a better idea of what it would have been like to be at the courtyard of St. Paul's Cathedral in London to hear John Donne deliver a sermon. The Virtual Paul's Cross Project worked with David Hill, a professor of architecture, to recreate the freestanding outdoor pulpit where crowds would gather to hear sermons, as it stood in 1622. The project also worked with linguistics and acoustics experts to create a script and acoustic model that enabled the team to simulate the way a sermon would sound depending on where you are in the churchyard, or under differing conditions. "We actually constructed two separate models: one for visual representations and one for audio representations," Hill says. "The visual model shows a greater amount of the architectural detail that is common to Gothic cathedrals." The courtyard can be viewed online and in person in a theater in the Teaching and Visualization Lab on campus, which offers a 270-degree view with high-fidelity acoustics. "This is as close as you can come to visiting 17th century London and hearing John Donne speak without a time machine," says NCSU professor and project leader John Wall.
Hurricane Sandy's Impact Measured Using Flickr Photos
University of Warwick (11/05/13)
University of Warwick researchers have found a correlation between the number of Hurricane Sandy pictures posted on Flickr and atmospheric pressure changes in New Jersey during the 2012 storm, suggesting that such online indicators could help governments measure the impact of disasters. The researchers tallied Flickr pictures tagged with hurricane-related terms between Oct. 20 and Nov. 20, 2012, and found the highest number of pictures posted were taken in the same hour in which Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. Warwick professors Tobias Preis and Suzy Moat previously found various connections between a person's online searches and real-world behavior. "Our steadily increasing use of digital technology is opening up new and fruitful ways to document and follow human actions," Preis says. "Flickr can be considered as a system of large scale real-time sensors, documenting collective human attention." He notes that increases in Flickr photo counts related to a particular issue could prompt policy makers to investigate that issue further. "Appropriate leverage of such online indicators of large disasters could be useful to policy makers and others charged with emergency crisis management: in particular if no secondary environmental measures are available," Tobias says.
Carnegie Mellon Study Suggests Repetition of Rare Events Could Reduce Screening Mistakes by Security Officers
Carnegie Mellon News (PA) (11/04/13) Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) researchers suggest security guards could improve their detection rates through repetition. In experiments that simulated multiple-camera video surveillance, the researchers found that study participants failed to correctly detect threats about 45 percent of the time when exposed to two threat events over the course of two hours. However, the error rate declined to 25 percent when encountering 25 events in the same period of time. "If people know what they're looking for and haven't seen it for some time, or their attention is focused elsewhere, they won't necessarily see what they're looking for, even when it is in full view," says CMU's Judith Gelernter. The experiment's results indicate that one way to make threat detection more effective is to have security screeners routinely encounter and respond to simulated threats. In the CMU experiments, 108 participants underwent 30-minute training sessions to learn how to detect low- and high-level threats. Then, during the two-hour experiment, 10 interior building views alternated to cover four quadrants of a computer monitor, with each view lasting a minute, which is similar to actual surveillance video.
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