Welcome to the March 14, 2018 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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Demand for Blockchain Experts Surges Amid Skills Shortage
China Daily (China)
March 14, 2018

China's need for blockchain technology experts is soaring, with blockchain job opportunities growing 9.7 times year over year between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, according to a study from recruiting app Boss Zhipin. Blockchain has inverted the traditional production model and given rise to a new type of Internet, making many enterprises eager to secure a piece of the market, says Boss Zhipin Research director Chang Meng. Employers also are highly valuing skills such as coding, graphic design, and search algorithms, and candidates with interdisciplinary and multiple skills will have a competitive edge. Chang cautions that blockchain is "still at an early stage, and we don't know exactly how such technology is going to hit the market. No actual product is put into use yet, so we'll just have to wait and see."

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Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, research chair in Aging and Health at the University of Regina U of R Researchers Developing Automated Pain Detection System for Dementia Patients
Regina Leader-Post (Canada)
Pamela Cowan
March 12, 2018

The University of Regina (U of R) in Canada says its researchers have developed a system that can recognize when non-verbal adults with dementia are in pain, along with a notification system. U of R's Thomas Hadjistavropoulos and his team have devised methods to detect, evaluate, and measure pain in adults with dementia via specific facial responses that are relatively uncommon in non-painful situations. When the system's strategically placed cameras detect patients in pain, nursing staff will receive an email while a light at the nursing station would flash to signal the email's transmission. The researchers are modifying an algorithm for spotting pain behaviors in older people by distinguishing between wrinkles and frowns. "We're doing it so that it works under less-than-ideal lighting and camera conditions to make it affordable," Hadjistavropoulos notes.

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Baby monitor cameras and audio monitors on white background Off-the-Shelf Smart Devices Found Easy to Hack
American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
March 13, 2018

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Israel have determined commercially available devices such as baby monitors, home security cameras, doorbells, and thermostats can be easily hacked for nefarious purposes. "It only took 30 minutes to find passwords for most of the devices and some of them were found only through a Google search of the brand," says BGU's Omer Shwartz. BGU professor Yossi Oren is urging manufacturers to stop using easy and hard-coded passwords, disable remote access capabilities, and complicate the obtaining of information from shared ports in Internet of Things devices. The team also offer tips to secure such devices, including buying them only from reputable manufacturers and sellers, avoiding used devices, researching each device online for a default password to change before installation, using passwords with at least 16 letters, avoiding password-sharing by multiple devices, regularly updating software from reputable manufacturers, and weighing the benefits/risks of an Internet connection.

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Close-up photo of the country of Nigeria on a world map Scientist Develops Keyboards in Nigerian Languages
Guardian (Nigeria)
Joke Falaju
March 12, 2018

A researcher at the Federal University of Ndufu-Alieke Ikwo (FUNAI) in Nigeria has developed plug-and-play linguascript keyboards that could help preserve the Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba languages by texting and typing in those dialects. FUNAI's Nnenna Nwosu says the keyboard uses numerals representing vowels and consonants instead of the conventional Latin orthography; she notes each number represents a letter, which could type or send messages using the number. Nwosu also says the keyboard is designed for both mobile phones and computer keyboard accessories to make indigenous languages accessible to everyone. She notes the concept stems from the fact that illiterate and semi-illiterate people have a tendency to recognize and remember numbers faster and longer than letters.

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Holograms Could Yield Next Wave of Heads-Up Displays
R&D Magazine
Kenny Walter
March 12, 2018

Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed

A functional prototype heads-up display using holographic optical elements has been developed by researchers at the University of Arizona, a breakthrough that could increase the size of eye boxes used in heads-up displays for planes and cars. The new technology, if installed in a car, would enable a driver to see displayed information even if they moved around or was shorter or taller than average, says University of Arizona researcher Pierre-Alexandre Blanche. The researchers propose that laser light interactions could be used to fabricate holographic elements in light-sensitive materials that are smaller than traditional optical components and can be mass-produced. The new holographic elements redirect light from a small image into a piece of glass, where it is confined until it reaches another holographic optical element that extracts light. The researchers say the extracted hologram then presents a viewable image with a larger eye box size than the original image.

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New Conductive Coating May Unlock Biometric and Wearable Technology of the Future
Texas A&M University
March 9, 2018

College of Engineering researchers at Texas A&M University have developed a mechanically robust conductive coating that can maintain performance under heavy stretching and bending. Other researchers working on stretchable, bendable, and foldable electronics have had difficulty finding a material that can withstand a wide array of deformations while maintaining electrical conductivity. The Texas A&M researchers solved this problem by creating coatings from two-dimensional metal carbides (MXenes), a new surface-agnostic stretchable, bendable, and foldable conductive material, which could lead to a wide variety of flexible electronics. The results show the MXene multilayer coatings can undergo large-scale mechanical deformation while maintaining a high level of conductivity. The team also successfully deposited the MXene multilayer coatings on flexible polymer sheets, stretchable silicones, nylon fiber, glass, and silicon.

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Exposing the Ghost in Our Machines
College of William & Mary
Adrienne Berard
March 12, 2018

College of William & Mary professor Dmitry Evtyushkin's area of research is the security vulnerabilities of speculative execution, a speed-enhancing method in which the processor attempts to predict what part of code a system will be required to execute next, and begins executing it. Evtyushkin's investigations determined a hacker could circumvent the Address Space Layout Randomization security measure by accessing the Branch Predictor, which was implemented to make processor operations more efficient by streamlining how programs run. The BP predicts a target based on previous branch behavior. "Many mechanisms in today's computers are shared between different programs," Evtyushkin says. "An attacker can execute code that causes changes inside internal data structures in the hardware. By doing this, they can either detect branch instructions in a victim program or trigger some speculative execution in a way that it starts to leak security sensitive data." He notes patching such flaws requires a complete processor redesign.

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In a Fight Against Depression, UCLA Relies on Technology
Chronicle of Higher Education
Bianca Quilantan
March 8, 2018

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) since last year have been working on a research study related to the university's a Depression Grand Challenge that aims to "cut the burden of depression in half" by 2050 and eliminate it by the end of the century. The team has used an online program to measure the anxiety and depression levels of nearly 4,000 students who volunteer to take a screening test. Based on the results of the test, the students were categorized according to their level of depression and routed to appropriate mental-health treatments. The computerized testing tool tailors its approach to produce measurements in a short time with a high level of specificity. Students are offered appropriate treatment for eight weeks, and an Internet-based therapy program. The researchers hope their work will lead to an integrated technology platform of online testing, therapy, and app-based monitoring of symptoms that can effectively treat many people and compensate for the scarcity of mental-health resources.

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Papayas on a wooden table with one cut in half Mechanical Harvesting of Papayas Might Be a Reality With Computational Technique
March 7, 2018

At the University of Campinas' School of Food Engineering (FEA-UNICAMP) in Brazil, researchers investigated how papayas could be harvested mechanically using algorithms and computer vision. They employed a portable sensor to light and analyze fruit on the tree, by emitting a bright signal that was reflected by the fruit and captured for spectral analysis. Golden papayas were measured and weighed, and peel color determined via a colorimeter. The team also analyzed physical and chemical characteristics of the fruit, and classified the samples into maturity stages based on pulp firmness. FEA-UNICAMP's Douglas Fernandes Barbin says descriptive features of the fruit were fed into a random-forest decision tree algorithm to simulate the fruit ripeness classification system, and then computational processing followed by statistical analysis of properties and features yielded indicators of pulp firmness for each fruit. The non-invasive system had an accuracy rate of up to 94.7 percent, according to Barbin.

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Software Aims to Reduce Food Waste by Helping Those in Need
Iowa State University News Service
March 6, 2018

Iowa State University researchers have developed software to divert excess food to those in need. Restaurants, grocery stores, and individuals can use the software to post online about food they have to donate, allowing people in need to identify nearby locations where food is available for pickup. The researchers, led by Sugam Sharma, a computer science expert and systems analyst in the university's Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, designed the software so donors can take the food to a public place, such as a food pantry or a church serving free meals, for pickup and distribution. The researchers plan to launch an online interactive network featuring the software for one community in late summer or early fall.

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UTSA Researchers Want to Teach Computers to Learn Like Humans
UTSA Today
Joanna Carver
March 5, 2018

Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have created a new cloud-based learning platform for artificial intelligence (AI) designed to teach machines to learn like humans. UTSA professors Nicole Beebe and Paul Rad examined how education and comprehension have evolved over the past 500 years to obtain a better understanding of how computers could be taught to approach deductive reasoning. They also focused on how humans learn across their lifetimes. Rad thinks intelligent machines could be utilized in medical diagnoses, leading to more affordable healthcare, and in other fields in which precise deductive reasoning is a necessity. Throughout history, Rad said, "Humans have invented and used tools such as swords, calculators, and cars, and tools have changed human society and enable us to evolve. That's what we're doing here, but on a much more impactful scale."

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Modified, 3D-Printable Alloy Shows Promise for Flexible Electronics, Soft Robots
Oregon State University News
Steve Lundeberg
March 5, 2018

Oregon State University (OSU) says researchers in its College of Engineering have moved closer toward rapid fabrication of stretchable electronic devices and soft robots using a highly conductive gallium alloy. The team deposited nickel nanoparticles in a liquid metal so it would thicken into a paste suitable for three-dimensional (3D) printing. "With the paste-like texture, it can be layered while maintaining its capacity to flow, and to stretch inside of rubber tubes," says OSU professor Yigit Menguc. "We demonstrated the potential of our discovery by 3D-printing a very stretchy two-layered circuit whose layers weave in and out of each other without touching." The researchers used sound energy to blend the nickel particles and oxidized gallium into liquid metal, making the alloys 3D-printable. "The structural change is permanent, the electrical properties of the paste are comparable to pure liquid metal, and the paste retains self-healing characteristics," says OSU's Uranbileg Daalkhaijav.

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A Framework for Scientific Discovery Through Video Games
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