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Welcome to the October 20, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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The MethaneSAT satellite under development will use spectrometer lenses to detect light refractions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Satellites Sweep for the World's Biggest Climate Polluters
The Wall Street Journal
Timothy Puko
October 19, 2021

Satellites are emerging as tools to monitor countries for anti-pollution compliance, having been used in the last few years to find previously unreported methane leaks, or to confirm known greenhouse gas emission estimates. Methane is a priority target, and the International Energy Agency's Tim Gould said satellite monitoring will "provide leakers with very few places to hide." The U.S., the United Nations, the European Space Agency, and private firms plan to advocate broader satellite monitoring of emission-reduction progress at next month's international climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. Meanwhile, the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund is working with New Zealand's government and other collaborators on MethaneSAT, a satellite that can detect methane emissions globally via spectrometer readings.

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Tech Salaries on the Rise, Just Not in NYC or San Francisco
Augusta Saraiva
October 19, 2021

Technology job marketplace Hired said the pandemic-fueled push for remote work has caused technology salaries in New York City and San Francisco to fall for the first time in five years. San Francisco still offers the highest average annual wage for U.S. tech workers at $165,000, but that is down 0.3% from last year. Hired's Josh Brenner said high rents, local taxes, and other factors in San Francisco and New York offset the high salaries seen in those cities. Meanwhile, salaries rose 4.6% to $158,000 in Amazon's home state of Washington, and by 5% in Austin, TX, where Facebook and Google have settled. Brenner said, "We're seeing movement to some of these smaller markets driven by the actual lifestyle there."

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Using a cellphone to report doping anonymously. Technology Offers Anonymous Way to Report Abuse, Doping
Associated Press
Eddie Pells
October 18, 2021

RealResponse, a company founded by former college basketball player David Chadwick, has forged a deal with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to use its technology platform to enable whistleblowers to report concerns about possible doping cases. The technology allows athletes and employees to submit anonymous real-time reports of workplace discrimination, doping violations, sex abuse, and other concerns via text. The platform’s privacy features enable administrators to collect more information from whistleblowers while allowing them to maintain their anonymity. RealResponse also enables organizations to maintain records of their response to complaints. The company already has signed deals with USA Gymnastics, the NFL Players Association, the National Women's Soccer League, and more than 100 university sports programs.

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NASA Spacecraft Launches Toward Jupiter Asteroids on Path Charted by Excel
Michael Sheetz
October 18, 2021

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Lucy spacecraft will travel 4 billion miles to study Jupiter's Trojan asteroids, its course charted by Microsoft's Excel software. Brian Sutter at Lockheed Martin used Excel to plot the mission years before the launch, and to choose which asteroids to explore. Sutter said using Lockheed Martin's "high fidelity" tool to run individual trajectories would have taken "forever," while the Excel macro he used is "perfectly suited for sorting through large quantities of data." Sutter fed a set of 750,000 asteroids into Excel to "see if they ever accidentally kind of come close to each other," and in about 12 hours had generated a list of 10 to 20 asteroids that Lucy would eventually be near.

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Pablo Picasso painted over the nude to create AI Brings Hidden Picasso Nude to Life
Jack Guy
October 11, 2021

Artificial intelligence (AI), advanced imaging, and three-dimensional (3D) printing have unveiled the portrait of a nude woman hidden beneath the surface of a Picasso painting. The figure, which Picasso painted over while creating "The Blind Man's Meal" in 1903, was reconstructed by U.K.-based Oxia Palus, a company that resurrects lost art with technology. Oxia Palus used X-ray fluorescence imaging and image processing to outline the concealed nude, then trained AI to add brushstrokes mimicking Picasso's style. A heightmap gave the portrait texture, and 3D printing rendered it onto canvas.

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Google Analyzed 80 Million Ransomware Samples: Here's What It Found
Campbell Kwan
October 13, 2021

Cybersecurity firm VirusTotal analyzed 80 million ransomware samples submitted by users in 140 countries and found that Israel submitted the greatest number of samples since the beginning of 2020. Following Israel, the report showed that South Korea, Vietnam, China, Singapore, India, Kazakhstan, Philippines, Iran, and the U.K. were the countries most affected by ransomware, based on each country’s number of submissions. The ransomware-as-a-service group GandCrab accounted for 78.5% of samples submitted, followed Babuk (7.6%) and Cerber (3.1%). The report found that Windows-based executables or dynamic link libraries accounted for 95% of ransomware files detected; just 2% were Android-based. VirusTotal researchers said, "We believe this makes sense given that ransomware samples are usually deployed using social engineering and/or by droppers (small programs designed to install malware)."

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A passenger walks through a ticket gate equipped with Face Pay at Turgenevskaya metro station in Moscow. Privacy Fears as Moscow Metro Rolls Out Facial Recognition Pay System
The Guardian (U.K.)
Pjotr Sauer
October 15, 2021

Privacy activists warn the Moscow metro's just-launched cashless, cardless, and phoneless Face Pay facial recognition payment system constitutes a sinister move by Russia to monitor and control its people. Moscow mayor Sergey Sobyanin said passengers must connect their photo, bank card, and metro card to Face Pay via the metro's mobile application, and city authorities said passengers' data will be "securely encrypted." Stanislav Shakirov with digital rights activist group Roskomsvoboda said, "We are moving closer to authoritarian countries like China that have mastered facial technology. The Moscow metro is a government institution and all the data can end up in the hands of the security services."

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Study Compares Coding Bootcamps with Universities
Government Technology
Brandon Paykamian
October 18, 2021

Data research firm Optimal released a ranking of the top coding programs based on in-field employment data for their graduates from job market data analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies. Of the coding bootcamps with more than 19,000 graduates included in the analysis, Optimal said the top two were CodeSmith and Devmountain, with in-field employment rates of 92% and 87%, respectively. Optimal's Sung Rhee said, "We're seeing [coding bootcamps] validated in terms of preparing the workforce just as well as traditional four-year universities. They compare very favorably, or at least do as well when compared with elite universities in terms of job placement" at companies like Google and Microsoft.

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Researchers Successfully Build Four-Legged Swarm Robots
University of Notre Dame News
Jessica Sieff
October 18, 2021

The University of Notre Dame's Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin constructed four-legged swarm robots capable of traversing rough terrain and performing complex tasks collectively. For a study co-authored with the Georgia Institute of Technology's Daniel I. Goldman, Ozkan-Aydin theorized that physically linking individual robots could augment their collective mobility and help them overcome challenges. She three-dimensionally-printed the robots, each incorporating a lithium polymer battery, a microcontroller, a front light sensor, and two magnetic touch sensors so the robots could link up. When an individual robot got stuck, it emitted a signal to other robots, which connected with it to provide support and overcome obstacles while operating as one.

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A blind woman typing on a braille keyboard. Making Data Visualizations More Accessible
MIT News
Adam Zewe
October 12, 2021

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists evaluated the accessibility of online data to explore alternative text for blind readers. They also formulated a conceptual model for assessing a chart description, whether the text was produced automatically by software or manually by a human author. The researchers developed the model using student and survey descriptions of charts featured by popular online publications, with captions grouped into four categories of increasing complexity. A study of blind and sighted readers concluded that online captions for the blind should highlight straight facts, overall trends, and statistics, and not mention design elements they are unable to perceive.

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Optical Switch Up to 1000x Faster Than Transistors
IEEE Spectrum
Charles Q. Choi
October 15, 2021

Scientists at Russia’s Skolkovo Institute of Technology and IBM have developed an optical switch that they say is between 100 and 1,000 times faster than leading commercial electronic transistors. The device employs a 35-nanometer-wide organic semiconductor polymer film sandwiched between two reflective mirrors, constituting a microscopic cavity that traps incoming light for as long as possible to help it combine with the cavity's material. A pump laser striking the microcavity causes photons to couple with excitons into a combined cluster called a Bose-Einstein condensate. Light from a seed laser switches the condensate between two measurable states that serve as 0 and 1, and the device can switch with no more than one photon of input on average.

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Exosuit Designed in Woodruff School Helps with Awkward Lifts
Georgia Tech George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering
October 15, 2021

An exosuit designed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology's George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering reduces the application of compressive and shear forces to spinal joints by rotating and twisting motions. The Asymmetric Back eXosuit (ABX), which lacks an exoskeleton and rigid structure, helps the wearer rotate their torso while reducing stress on spinal joints. Its motors pull overlapping cables with less power than the body's muscles, but the cables are positioned further away from the joints for greater leverage and mechanical benefit. Tests indicated an ABX wearer swinging a weight from the ground to one side experienced 16% fewer back muscle activations on average, and a 37% reduction in back muscle exertion when lifting weights symmetrically.

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Model Leveraging Flu Data Generates Highly Accurate Prediction of COVID-19 Spread
UChicago Medicine
Alison Caldwell
October 14, 2021

The University of Chicago's Ishanu Chattopadhyay and Yi Huang developed a risk measure related to the spread of COVID-19, the Universal Influenza-like Transmission (UnIT) score, using data on past flu epidemics to forecast highly accurate weekly COVID-19 case counts. The researchers leveraged 10 years of data on U.S. hospitalizations to analyze weekly trends in flu patients, determining where infection clusters started and their nationwide spread each year, to generate a UnIT score. When combined with other factors that contributed to viral spread, the model's forecasts were more accurate on average than any other models listed on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's modeling hub. Said Huang, “This shows us that we can learn something valuable from things we already know, like influenza epidemics, and can combine that knowledge of history with principles in statistics to come up with a new and meaningful way to predict something truly unknown.”

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