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Welcome to the January 14, 2022, edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

Please note: In observance of the U.S. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday, TechNews will not be published on Monday, Jan. 17. Publication will resume on Wednesday, Jan. 19.

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A hand inserts the FaceBit device into a facemask. 'Fitbit for the Face' Can Turn Any Face Mask into Smart Monitoring Device
Northwestern University Newscenter
Amanda Morris
January 12, 2022

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a sensor that they say can transform any face mask into a smart monitoring device. The FaceBit sensor is lightweight, the size of a quarter, and attaches to any N95, surgical, or cloth face mask with a tiny magnet. FaceBit can measure the wearer's real-time respiration rate, heart rate, and time wearing a mask, as well as mask fit. The data is transferred wirelessly to a smartphone app, which can alert users to issues like elevated heart rate or mask leaks. The sensor is powered by a small battery, and can go a week or two between charges due to its ability to harvest energy from the user's breath and motion, as well as from the sun.

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The microrobot has a helical structure like a propeller. Corkscrew-Shaped Robot Swims Through Blood Vessels to Clear Blockages
New Scientist
Alex Wilkins
January 10, 2021

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) have developed a corkscrew-shaped microrobot that can swim through blood vessels and help drugs unblock clots more effectively. CUHK's Li Zhang said the robot's helical structure mimics a propeller's to enable drug delivery, while non-drug payloads also are possible. The researchers employ magnets to rotate the robot's rotor and to drag it through a blood vessel, while Doppler tracking guides its path by reflecting sound waves off blood cells. Said Pierre Gélat of University College London, “The ability that they have to steer the robot in in-vitro environments is quite nice. The challenges are in finding out whether this will fulfill unmet clinical needs further down the line, and how you get there as well.”

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A robot holding playing cards. How Game Theory Changed Poker
The Wall Street Journal
Oliver Roeder
January 13, 2022

Researchers at the University of Alberta's Computer Poker Research Group in Canada pioneered game theory mathematics that has transformed how professional poker players approach the game. Poker's mathematical complexity rivals or surpasses that of chess while adding randomness and hidden data, bringing it closer to the "real world" that artificial intelligence scientists want to control. Many poker-playing algorithms incorporate the minimization of regret, a mathematical concept for decision-making in uncertain environments. Game-theory optimal poker players hire programmers to analyze their game data, finding "leaks" or errors in strategy, and to conduct game-theoretical analyses, calculating optimal plays in any of the innumerable situations that can confront a player.

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In-Fridge Controller Could Scale Up Quantum Computers
University of Chicago Department of Computer Science
January 10, 2022

Scientists at the University of Chicago were able to control quantum chips by routing signals within a dilution refrigerator using a classical controller operating at room temperature. The researchers confirmed the execution of low-error two-quantum bit (qubit) operations using Superconducting Single Flux Quantum (SFQ) pulses. SFQ is a classical logic technology that can function within the quantum fridge with low power consumption, to enable an in-fridge controller with maximized scalability. This achievement is a critical step toward realizing universal quantum computing at large scales.

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A home Wi-Fi router. Millions of Wi-Fi Routers Vulnerable to Hacker Attack
Tom's Guide
Paul Wagensell
January 12, 2022

Researchers at endpoint protection platform Sentinel Labs warn that millions of home Wi-Fi routers worldwide could be hacked over the Internet via a security vulnerability, although no known exploits have appeared in the wild as yet. The flaw resides in NetUSB, a Linux kernel module developed by Taiwanese universal serial bus (USB) software company KCodes that lets devices access local networks through the router's USB port. Sentinel Labs' Max van Amerongen found hackers could create a memory-buffer overflow by transmitting NetUSB-specific commands on port 20005, commandeering the router's Linux kernel. The flaw affects routers from Netgear, and the researchers think Edimax, D-Link, Tenda, TP-Link, and Western Digital products also are affected. Netgear has released patches for its three affected models; the other manufacturers have not yet done so.

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Multiscale Model of Protein Behavior Linked to Cancer-Causing Mutations
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
January 10, 2022

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) worked with a multi-institutional team on a multiscale model of the behavior of RAS proteins associated with cancer-inducing mutations. The researchers said the Multiscale Machine-Learned Modeling Infrastructure (MuMMI) could inform experiments and enhance understanding of RAS protein binding. MuMMI can extract insights at two temporal and spatial scales, allowing researchers to analyze thousands of RAS-lipid compositions and observe interaction patterns and RAS orientations. The team used LLNL's Sierra supercomputer to model a one-micron-by-one micron lipid patch to visualize the interaction of RAS proteins with lipids. The researchers said the experiments' findings will feed back into the MuMMI model, boosting its accuracy through a validation loop.

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Two software developers exchange notes on mobile devices. Developers are in Short Supply. Here are the Skills, Programming Languages Employers Need
Owen Hughes
January 11, 2022

Hiring managers expect finding qualified developers will be the biggest recruitment challenge of 2022, according to 14,000 developers and technology recruiters polled by Coding platform CodinGame and technical interview facilitator CoderPad. The survey found 35% of employers surveyed hope to recruit more than 50 developers this year, while 15% are aiming to hire over 200. Matching candidates with specialist business needs is particularly difficult, with Web development, DevOps, and artificial intelligence/machine learning among the skills most prized by recruiters. The survey’s results indicate that meeting demand for full-stack and back-end engineers could be a struggle. The poll also suggested more employers are resorting to freelancers and contractors, as 42% of responding recruiters said they became more reliant on them during the pandemic.

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An aerial view of farmland. Powerful Sensors on Planes Detect Crop Nitrogen with High Accuracy
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences
Lauren Quinn
January 13, 2022

A team of University of Illinois (U of I) researchers equipped small aircraft with hyperspectral sensors to detect nitrogen status and photosynthetic capacity in corn. The sensors, which can detect visible and near-infrared wavelengths, were flown over an experimental field three times during the 2019 growing season. Each time, the sensors identified leaf and canopy nitrogen characteristics, including some related to photosynthetic capacity and grain yield, with up to 85% accuracy, which U of I's Kaiyu Guan described as "close to ground-truth quality." U of I's Sheng Wang said, "Our approach fills a gap between field measurements and satellites and provides a cost-effective and highly accurate approach to crop nitrogen management in sustainable precision agriculture."

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A depiction of a tuberculosis infection in lung tissue cells. Computational Models Move Researchers Closer to Tuberculosis Vaccine
UC San Diego News Center
Kimberly Mann Bruch
January 13, 2022

The University of Michigan's Denise Kirschner and colleagues are using supercomputers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) to investigate tuberculosis (TB), as a means of informing vaccine design. Kirschner said the work has shed light on the role of neutrophil cells in the immune response to TB infection. Predictive models using UCSD's Expanse supercomputer enabled the researchers to use images of neutrophils within TB granuloma to produce high-resolution models showing cells reacting to the disease. Said Kirschner, "Our computational approach and results from our recent study have helped narrow this concerning 'vaccine design space'—getting us closer to a globally effective vaccine."

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This illustration depicts the use of computational ghost imaging and x-ray fluorescence to produce chemical element maps. Ghost Imaging Speeds Up X-Ray Fluorescence Chemical Mapping
January 13, 2022

Sharon Shwartz and colleagues at Israel's Bar Ilan University integrated computational ghost imaging and x-ray fluorescence measurement to generate high-resolution chemical element maps. The focus-free technique reduces the need for scanning and saves measurement time, and it can be tuned to detect specific elements without seeing human tissues. The method produces two datasets for each photon energy—one with the input beam's spatial distributions and one with emitted fluorescence measurements—which an algorithm then maps out. The researchers used a compressive sensing algorithm to cut the number of scans required to chemically map an iron-cobalt object by almost 10-fold versus standard scanning-based techniques. "We expect it will allow the chemical mapping of larger objects at higher resolutions than is possible today while also enabling measurement of complex 3D [three-dimensional] objects," Shwartz said.

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A hacker threatening car computers. Third-Party Software for Teslas Can Be Hacked, German Teen Says
Katrina Nicholas; Jordan Robertson
January 12, 2022

German teenager David Colombo claims to have discovered flaws in third-party software that could allow hackers to remotely hijack certain functions of Tesla cars. He tweeted that the software insecurely stores data required to link the cars to the software, which hackers could steal and use to send malicious commands to the vehicles. Colombo reportedly exploited the vulnerability to unlock doors and windows, start cars without keys, and deactivate their security; he also said he could see if a driver was in the vehicle, turn on stereo systems, and flash headlights. Colombo said he was able to access over 25 Teslas in at least 13 countries via the flaw. He asked Bloomberg not to publish specifics of the exploit, as the company that makes the affected software has not yet released a patch.

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The Nicholas U. Mayall telescope at Arizona’s Kitt Peak National Observatory. Durham University Fiber-Optics Help Largest 3D Map of Universe
BBC News
January 13, 2022

Researchers at the U.K.'s Durham University built a component that helped an international team of scientists produce the largest-ever three-dimensional (3D) map of the universe. The component uses 5,000 optical fibers to widen the field of view of the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument at the Nicholas U. Mayall telescope of Arizona’s Kitt Peak National Observatory. The system splits light from galaxies, stars, and quasars into narrow bands of color, measuring their chemical composition, distance from Earth, and their rate of travel. The final 3D map will enhance understanding of dark energy, which constitutes 70% of the universe and fuels its expansion. Said Durham's Victoria Fawcett, "We're finding quite a lot of exotic systems including large samples of rare objects that we just haven't been able to study in detail before."

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