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CACM Reports: Digital Fluency for a New Generation of Computer Programmers

November Issue Analyzes Challenges to Electronic Medical Records and Assesses Risks to Communications Surveillance

The Association for Computing Machinery
Advancing Computing as a Science & Profession

Contact: Virginia Gold

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NEW YORK, NY, October 26, 2009 – Scratch, sometimes called ”the YouTube of interactive media,” has become an appealing approach to programming for people who hadn’t previously imagined themselves as programmers, according to the November Communications of the ACM (CACM) cover story.  A team of researchers from MIT’s Media Laboratory with colleagues from a Canadian-based company and the University of Pennsylvania relate how young audiences use this unique programming tool to gain digital fluency and learn critical problem-solving and design skills.   Technology writer Leah Hoffmann examines the obstacles to utilizing electronic medical records despite federal stimulus funds of nearly $20 billion to help health-care providers implement digital record systems. Also in this issue, Editor-in-Chief Moshe Y. Vardi connects the “image crisis” that has nagged computer science with the reality of computing careers as attractive, rewarding options for CS graduates.  

           Communications, the flagship publication of ACM, offers readers access to this generation’s most significant leaders and innovators in computing and information technology, and is available online in digital format

            In an article by Susan Landau of Sun Microsystems and Whitfield Diffie, former chief security officer at Sun and currently visiting professor at the University of London, the authors review the convoluted history of wiretapping in the face of mobile phones and digital switches.  They assess whether wiretapping of our modern telecommunications system is a greater threat to national security than the spies and terrorists against whom it is aimed. 

            Microsoft Research Technical Fellow Butler Lampson analyzes the tradeoffs between computer security and user privacy.  Lampson, a 1992 recipient of the ACM A.M. Turing Award and the 1984 ACM Software System Award, points to the absence of a comprehensible model that users find simple and easy to understand, and counsels a focus on essentials that incorporate elements of isolation, accountability, and freedom rather than perfection as a way to keep important things safe. 

            Edmund M. Clarke, E. Allen Emerson, and Joseph Sifakis founded what has become the highly successful field of model checking, which earned them the 2007 ACM A.M. Turing Award. Great strides have been made on this problem over the past 28 years by what is now a very large international research community. Model checking tools, created by both academic and industrial teams, have resulted in an entirely novel approach to verification and test case generation. This approach, for example, often enables engineers in the electronics industry to design complex systems with considerable assurance regarding the correctness of their initial designs. Their Turing Lecture, presented at Design Automation Conference in 2008, supported by ACM’s Special Interest Group on Design Automation (SIGDA), is published in the November Communications.  

            Other November Communications articles:

  •    CEO Ping Fu of Geomagic, the digital shape sampling and processing company, discusses the challenges in managing a company during a period of dynamic growth.
  •    Nearly four billion mobile phone devices place phone calls and surf the Internet; they collect images, sound, and GPS data with built-in microphones, cameras, and location awareness, notes UCLA doctoral student Katie Shilton in an article developed by acmqueue.  Although these participatory sensing technologies could improve our lives and our communities, she warns that they could become four billion “little brothers” that compromise our privacy.
  •    Science writer Gregory Goth explores Expeditions in Computing, the National Science Foundation’s program to encourage bold experimentation in computer science research, and finds the seven winners of the $10 million, five-year grants are in the vanguard of research in which profound advances in computer science often involve fundamental advances in other disciplines.
  •    Using evolutionary computation to find fundamental meaning in massive amounts of raw data, technology writer Gary Anthes reports that two computer scientists at Cornell University have pushed these techniques into an entirely new realm, one that could fundamentally transform the methods of science at the frontiers of research.
  •    At BLOG@CACM, Ramana Rao writes about the evolution of the computer science curriculum toward high levels of abstraction and ponders its connection to declining enrollments in computer science programs.  Greg Linden reflects on ethics and advertising, and expresses the hope that advertising will be most profitable for most advertisers when it is useful and relevant.           

            For more information on Communications of the ACM, click on


About ACM

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking. 


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