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Education

White House Silence Seems To Confirm $4 Billion 'Computer Science For All' K-12 Initiative Is No More 2

theodp writes: "2016 as a year of action builds on a decade of national, state, and grassroots activity to revitalize K-12 computer science education," reads the upbeat White House blog post kicking off Computer Science Education Week. But conspicuous by its absence in the accompanying fact sheet for A Year of Action Supporting Computer Science for All is any mention of the status of President Obama's proposed $4 billion Computer Science For All initiative, which enjoyed support from the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, and Google. On Friday, tech-backed Code.org posted An Update on Computer Science Education and Federal Funding, which explained that Congress's passage of a 'continuing resolution' extending the current budget into 2017 spelled curtains for federal funding for the program in 2016 and beyond. "We don't have any direct feedback yet about the next administration's support for K-12 CS," wrote CEO Hadi Partovi and Govt. Affairs VP Cameron Wilson, "other than a promise to expand 'vocational and technical education' as part of Trump's 100-day plan which was published in late October. I am hopeful that this language may translate into support for funding K-12 computer science at a federal level. However, we should assume that it will not."
Facebook

Tech Billionaires Award Top Scientists $25 Million In 'Breakthrough' Prizes (fortune.com) 52

Tonight at NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Morgan Freeman emceed a glamorous, Oscars-style celebration that recognizes scientific achievements with money from tech billionaires. An anonymous reader writes: Donors for the Breakthrough Prize included Google's Sergey Brin, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and his wife Cathy Zhang, and billionaire venture capitalist Yuri Milner, according to an article in Fortune. TechCrunch has a list of the winners, which included Princeton math professor Jean Bourgain, who won a $3 million prize "for his many contributions to high-dimensional geometry, number theory, and many other theoretical contributions."

Three more physics researchers -- two from Harvard, and one from U.C. Santa Barbara -- will share a $3 million prize recognizing "meaningful advances in string theory, quantum field theory, and quantum gravity." And another $1 million prize honored the leaders of three teams responsible for "collaborative research on gravitational waves and its implications for physics and astronomy," with another $2 million to be shared among the 1,012 members of their research groups.

17-year-old Deanna See from Singapore also won the $250,000 "Breakthrough Junior Challenge" prize -- and more money for her teachers and school -- for her video about antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Google has created a special page where you can read more about some of the other winners.
Privacy

China Pilots a System That Rates Citizens on 'Social Credit Score' To Determine Eligibility For Jobs, Travel (technologyreview.com) 204

Speculations have turned out be true. The Chinese government is now testing systems that will be used to create digital records of citizens' social and financial behavior. In turn, these will be used to create a so-called social credit score, which will determine whether individuals have access to services, from travel and education to loans and insurance cover. Some citizens -- such as lawyers and journalists -- will be more closely monitored. From a report on MIT Technology Review: Planning documents apparently describe the system as being created to "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step." The Journal claims that the system will at first log "infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules" but will be expanded in the future -- potentially even to Internet activity. Some aspects of the system are already in testing, but there are some challenges to implementing such a far-reaching apparatus. It's difficult to centralize all that data, check it for accuracy, and process it, for example -- let alone feed it back into the system to control everyday life. And China has data from 1.4 billion people to handle.
Businesses

Uber Drivers Demand Higher Pay in Nationwide Protest (cnet.com) 304

Uber drivers will join forces with fast food, home care and airport workers in a nationwide protest on Tuesday. Their demand: higher pay. From a report on CNET: Calling it the "Day of Disruption," drivers for the ride-hailing company in two dozen cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, will march at airports and in shopping areas carrying signs that read, "Your Uber Driver is Arriving Striking." The protest underscores the dilemma Uber faces as it balances the needs of its drivers with its business. Valued at $68 billion, Uber is the highest-valued venture-backed company worldwide. But as it has cut the cost of rides to compete with traditional taxi services, Uber reportedly has experienced trouble turning a profit. Unlike many other workers involved in Tuesday's protests, Uber drivers are not members of a union. In fact, Uber doesn't even classify its drivers as employees. Instead the company considers drivers independent contractors. This classification means the company isn't responsible for many costs, including health insurance, paid sick days, gas, car maintenance and much more. However, Uber still sets drivers' rates and the commission it pays itself, which ranges between 20 percent and 30 percent. "I'd like a fair day's pay for my hard work," Adam Shahim, a 40-year-old driver from Pittsburgh, California, said in a statement. "So I'm joining with the fast-food, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers who are leading the way and showing the country how to build an economy that works for everyone, not just the few at the top."
Education

Schools Funded By Gates and Zuckerberg Ordered Closed In Uganda (cnn.com) 89

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are two investors in Bridge International Academies. But in Uganda, the group's 63 schools have been "ordered to shut down in a matter of weeks, leaving the lives of thousands of pupils in limbo." An anonymous reader quotes CNN: Uganda's High Court has described the Bridge International Academies...as unsanitary and unqualified, and has ordered it to close its doors in December because it ignored Uganda's national standards and put the "life and safety" of its 12,000 young students on the line. The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren't qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved.
Bridge's Uganda director denies the allegations, says the government hasn't even granted them an audience, and "suggested that the opposition against BIA was because the campuses competed against local state-run and private schools," according to CNN. Their reporter also found two educator advocates who complained that Bridge's schools were actually a privatized, profit-making entity targeting the poor. There's strong arguments on both sides, but it's all raising a lot of questions about how technology should be used in school programs, as well as how they should be funded.
Education

Science Journals Caught Publishing Fake Research For Cash (vice.com) 137

Tuesday a Canadian journalist described his newest victory in his war on fake-science journals. An anonymous reader writes: In 2014, journalist Tom Spears intentionally wrote "the world's worst science research paper...a mess of plagiarism and meaningless garble" -- then got it accepted by eight different journals. ("I copied and pasted one phrase from a geology paper online, and the rest from a medical one, on hematology...and so on. There are a couple of graphs from a paper about Mars...") He did it to expose journals which follow the publish-for-a-fee model, "a fast-growing business that sucks money out of research, undermines genuine scientific knowledge, and provides fake credentials for the desperate."

But earlier this year, one such operation actually purchased two prominent Canadian medical journals, and one critic warns they're "on a buying spree, snatching up legitimate scholarly journals and publishers, incorporating them into its mega-fleet of bogus, exploitative, and low-quality publications.â So this summer, Spears explains to Vice, "I got this request to write for what looked like a fake journal -- of ethics. Something about that attracted me... one morning in late August when I woke up early I made extra coffee and banged out some drivel and sent it to them."

He's now publicizing the fact that this formerly-respectable journal is currently featuring his submission, which was "mostly plagiarized from Aristotle, with every fourth or fifth word changed so that anti-plagiarism software won't catch it. But the result is meaningless. Some sentences don't have verbs..."
Books

O'Reilly Discounts Every eBook By 50% (oreilly.com) 47

On Friday, O'Reilly Media announced "Our Cyber Monday sale starts now." An anonymous reader writes: They're offering a 50% discount on every ebook they publish -- over 14,000 titles from O'Reilly, No Starch Press, Pearson, A Book Apart, Make, Packt, and 25 other book publishers. (And they're offering a 60 percent discount on orders over $100.) Just use the code CYBER16 when checking out to claim the discount. The sale continues through Tuesday morning at 5 a.m. PST.

These are all DRM-free ebooks (in multiple formats), and there's even some "early release" editions -- advance copies distributed before their official publication. The discount also applies to new titles like "Head First Python" as well as old-school classics like "Learning Perl". Right now their best-sellers are "Wicked Cool Shell Scripts", "Modern Linux Administration", and "You Don't Know JS: Up and Going" -- but again, the discount applies to any ebook that they sell, and they also still have their selection of free programming texts.

Tim O'Reilly was one of the first people interviewed by Slashdot -- more than 17 years ago.
Education

Has The 'Hour of Code' Turned Into a Giant Corporate Infomercial? (theregister.co.uk) 88

It happens every December. During "Computer Science Education Week," schools around the world dedicate a special hour towards getting kids excited about programming. But theodp writes: With Microsoft, Apple, and Google vying for the opportunity to put their products in front of tens of millions of K-12 students, The Register's Andrew Orlowski opines that the Hour of Code is turning into a giant corporate infomercial for kids. "Parents, such as the late Steve Jobs, tend to ration their children's use of technology," notes Orlowski. "But would Jobs, who consistently praised the value of broad liberal arts, approve of an hour of [Microsoft] Minecraft? It's doubtful." Google, he adds, is keen on dishing out its VR headsets to students and, not to be undone, Apple is also muscling in with an hour of code [and offering free workshops at Apple Stores].
This year Microsoft is even introducing a special online 'Hour of Code' edition" of Minecraft, according to the article, which points out that last year 31 million schoolchildren just spent their "Hour of Code" playing Minecraft.
Communications

Google's AI Translation Tool Creates Its Own Secret Language (techcrunch.com) 69

After a little over a month of learning more languages to translate beyond Spanish, Google's recently announced Neural Machine Translation system has used deep learning to develop its own internal language. TechCrunch reports: GNMT's creators were curious about something. If you teach the translation system to translate English to Korean and vice versa, and also English to Japanese and vice versa... could it translate Korean to Japanese, without resorting to English as a bridge between them? They made this helpful gif to illustrate the idea of what they call "zero-shot translation" (it's the orange one). As it turns out -- yes! It produces "reasonable" translations between two languages that it has not explicitly linked in any way. Remember, no English allowed. But this raised a second question. If the computer is able to make connections between concepts and words that have not been formally linked... does that mean that the computer has formed a concept of shared meaning for those words, meaning at a deeper level than simply that one word or phrase is the equivalent of another? In other words, has the computer developed its own internal language to represent the concepts it uses to translate between other languages? Based on how various sentences are related to one another in the memory space of the neural network, Google's language and AI boffins think that it has. The paper describing the researchers' work (primarily on efficient multi-language translation but touching on the mysterious interlingua) can be read at Arxiv.
Medicine

US Dementia Rates Drop 24%, New Study Finds (cnn.com) 105

A new study involving more than 21,000 people across the country finds that dementia rates in people over age 65 fell from 11.6 percent in 2000 to 8.8 percent in 2012 -- a decline of 24 percent. CNN reports: The decline in dementia rates translates to about one million fewer Americans suffering from the condition, said John Haaga, director of behavioral and social research at the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the new study. Dementia is a general term for a loss of memory or other mental abilities that's severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease, which is believed to be caused by a buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, is the most common type of dementia. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and occurs after a stroke. The study, which began in 1992, focuses on people over age 50, collecting data every two years. Researchers conduct detailed interviews with participants about their health, income, cognitive ability and life circumstances. The interviews also include physical tests, body measurements and blood and saliva samples. Although researchers can't definitively explain why dementia rates are decreasing, Langa said doctors may be doing a better job controlling high blood pressure and diabetes, which can both boost the risk of age-related memory problems. High blood pressure and diabetes both increase the risk of strokes, which kill brain cells, increasing the risk of vascular dementia. Authors of the study found that senior citizens today are better educated than even half a generation ago. The population studied in 2012 stayed in school 13 years, while the seniors studied in 2000 had about 12 years of education, according to the study. People who are better educated may have more intellectually stimulating jobs and hobbies that help exercise their brains, Langa said. The study has been published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
United States

US Sets Plan To Build Two Exascale Supercomputers (computerworld.com) 59

dcblogs quotes a report from Computerworld: The U.S. believes it will be ready to seek vendor proposals to build two exascale supercomputers -- costing roughly $200 to $300 million each -- by 2019. The two systems will be built at the same time and be ready for use by 2023, although it's possible one of the systems could be ready a year earlier, according to U.S. Department of Energy officials. The U.S. will award the exascale contracts to vendors with two different architectures. But the scientists and vendors developing exascale systems do not yet know whether President-Elect Donald Trump's administration will change directions. The incoming administration is a wild card. Supercomputing wasn't a topic during the campaign, and Trump's dismissal of climate change as a hoax, in particular, has researchers nervous that science funding may suffer. At the annual supercomputing conference SC16 last week in Salt Lake City, a panel of government scientists outlined the exascale strategy developed by President Barack Obama's administration. When the session was opened to questions, the first two were about Trump. One attendee quipped that "pointed-head geeks are not going to be well appreciated."
Medicine

The US Government is Finally Telling People that Homeopathy is a Sham (vox.com) 297

Not a good news for people who trust homeopathic drugs. The Federal Trade Commission has issued an enforcement policy statement that requires over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic drugs and products makers to disclose in their advertisement and labeling that there is no evidence that Homeopathic products are effective and also mention that modern medical experts don't recognize any claims of effectiveness only based on homeopathic theories. From a report on Vox: This FTC ruling is definitely a step in the right direction of raising awareness about the lack of evidence behind homeopathy. "This is a real victory for reason, science, and the health of the American people," said Michael De Dora, public policy director for the Center for Inquiry, a science-based advocacy and education group that's been pushing for more homeopathy oversight. "The FTC has made the right decision to hold manufacturers accountable for the absolutely baseless assertions they make about homeopathic products." But it doesn't mean these "medicines" will disappear from store shelves. The FTC only has the right to crack down on misleading marketing claims, and if the makers of homeopathic remedies clearly state that their products are based on no science, they can still sell them.
Software

A Computer Program Has Ranked the Most Influential Brain Scientists of the Modern Era (sciencemag.org) 39

sciencehabit writes from a report via Science Magazine: A computer program has parsed the content of 2.5 million neuroscience articles, mapped all of the citations between them, and calculated a score of each author's influence on the rest to determine the most influential brain scientists of the modern era. The program, called Semantic Scholar, is an online tool built at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, Washington. It hopes to expand to all of the biomedical literature next year, over 20 million papers. The program sees much more than the typical academic search engine, says the project leader. "We are using machine learning, natural language processing, and [machine] vision to begin to delve into the semantics."
United Kingdom

Teachers 'Unwittingly' Spying On School Children With Surveillance Software (thestack.com) 76

An anonymous reader writes: A thousand schools across the UK are monitoring children's classroom activities through surveillance software, according to a new report released by privacy advocate group Big Brother Watch. The paper claims that schools have spent an estimated 2.5 million pound ($3.1 million USD) on monitoring solutions to keep an eye on pupils. The technology, known as 'Classroom Management Software', tracks computer usage, including pupil internet activity, browser history, and even keyboard strokes. The report found that 70% of secondary schools (PDF) in Britain have installed monitoring systems, across more than 800,000 school-owned devices and near to 1,500 privately-owned devices.
Businesses

Ask Slashdot: Why Are American Tech Workers Paid So Well? 587

Slashdot reader davidwr is "an American-born, American-educated mid-career IT professional." But he's still curious about why American geeks earn more than their IT counterparts overseas: If I'm a mid-career programmer looking for a job, why should I expect to be paid a whole lot more than my peer in India when applying for a job that could easily be outsourced to India? If I do get the job, why should I expect to keep it more than a year or two instead of being told "your job is being outsourced" before 2020? Is my American education and 5-25 years of experience in the American workplace really worth it to an employer?

Should we, as an industry, lower our salary expectations -- and that of students entering the field -- to make us more competitive with our peers in India and similar "much cheaper labor than first world" economies? If not, what should we be doing to make ourselves competitive in ways that our peers overseas cannot duplicate?

What's the secret ingredient that justifies those higher salaries? Leave your answers in the comments. Why are American tech workers paid so well?
Education

Face Electrodes Let You Taste and Chew In Virtual Reality (newscientist.com) 41

walterbyrd quotes a report from New Scientist: Experiments with "virtual food" use electronics to emulate the taste and feel of the real thing, even when there's nothing in your mouth. This tech could add new sensory inputs to virtual reality or augment real-world dining experiences, especially for people with restricted diets or health issues that affect their ability to eat. Several projects have succeeded in tricking us into tasting things that aren't there. Nimesha Ranasinghe at the National University of Singapore has already experimented with a "digital lollipop" to emulate different tastes, and a spoon embedded with electrodes that amplify the salty, sour, or bitter flavor of the real food eaten off it. However, his experiments with electrical stimulation had less success simulating sweetness compared to the other tastes. But digitizing this taste could be particularly useful in, for example, helping people cut back on sugary food or drinks. So Ranasinghe and his colleague Ellen Yi-Luen Do started experimenting with thermal stimulation instead. Their new project, presented at the 2016 ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium (UIST) in Tokyo, uses changes in temperature to mimic the sensation of sweetness on the tongue. The user places the tip of their tongue on a square of thermoelectric elements that are rapidly heated or cooled, hijacking thermally sensitive neurons that normally contribute to the sensory code for taste. In an initial trial, it worked for about half of participants. Some also reported a sensation of spiciness when the device was warmer (around 35 degrees Celsius) and a minty taste when it was cooler (18 degrees Celsius). Ranasinghe and Do envisage such a system embedded in a glass or mug to make low-sugar drinks taste sweeter.
AI

Google's DeepMind AI Plans To Take On StarCraft II (venturebeat.com) 75

An anonymous reader quotes a report from VentureBeat: Google and Blizzard are opening up StarCraft II to anyone who wants to teach artificial intelligence systems how to conduct warfare. Researchers can now use Google's DeepMind A.I. to test various theories for ways that machines can learn to make sense of complicated systems, in this case Blizzard's beloved real-time strategy game. In StarCraft II, players fight against one another by gathering resources to pay for defensive and offensive units. It has a healthy competitive community that is known for having a ludicrously high skill level. But considering that DeepMind A.I. has previously conquered complicated turn-based games like chess and go, a real-time strategy game makes sense as the next frontier. The companies announced the collaboration today at the BlizzCon fan event in Anaheim, California, and Google's DeepMind A.I. division posted a blog about the partnership and why StarCraft II is so ideal for machine-learning research. If you're wondering how much humans will have to teach A.I. about how to play and win at StarCraft, the answer is very little. DeepMind learned to beat the best go players in the world by teaching itself through trial and error. All the researchers had to do was explain how to determine success, and the A.I. can then begin playing games against itself on a loop while always reinforcing any strategies that lead to more success. For StarCraft, that will likely mean asking the A.I. to prioritize how long it survives and/or how much damage it does to the enemy's primary base. Or, maybe, researchers will find that defining success in a more abstract way will lead to better results, discovering the answers to all of this is the entire point of Google and Blizzard teaming up.
Businesses

LinkedIn, Glassdoor Add Tools To Reveal Your Pay Potential (seattletimes.com) 57

Money isn't everything, but it counts for a lot at work. That's why work-related websites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor are adding new online tools to help professionals understand their salary potential (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source.) From a report on the Seattle Times: LinkedIn, which calls itself the social network for professionals, is adding a service that provides members with pay information for a variety of jobs, including a break-down by such factors as location, industry, education and experience. It's based on anonymized data submitted by LinkedIn members, including details about base pay and other compensation, such as bonuses and stock grants. The new service comes two weeks after Glassdoor, a competing online job site, introduced a feature that promises to help workers determine their "personal market value" by comparing their current job title, salary and related information with data from other workers and current hiring trends. Glassdoor's site already showed information about median salaries and perks, along with employees' reviews of what it's like to work at various companies. It says the new feature can be useful for job-seekers as well as workers who might want to negotiate a raise from their current employer.
Books

Interviews: Ask American Author and Entrepreneur Seth Godin a Question 67

Seth Godin is an American author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker. He is just about as nerdy as it gets, receiving degrees in computer science and philosophy from Tufts University, followed by an MBA in marketing from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In the 80s, he worked as a brand manager for the non-curriculum based educational software company, Spinnaker Software, and then left to found his book packaging business, Seth Godin Productions. Soon after that he launched his marketing company Yoyodyne with Mark Hurst in 1995. Between now and then, Godin has written 17 books, such as Tribes and Linchpin, Free Prize Inside, Purple Cow, and The Dip.

You may ask Godin as many questions as you'd like (one question per comment, please). We'll pick the very best questions and forward them to Seth Godin himself. Feel free to leave your suggestions for who Slashdot should interview next.

Go on, don't be shy!
Education

CloudFlare Can Be Ordered To Disclose Science Piracy Website Owner Details (thestack.com) 55

An anonymous reader writes: A New York judge has ruled that CDN provider Cloudflare can be compelled to disclose customer details for the domains libgen.io and bookfi.org, both of which are alleged to provide pirated access to scientific and technical papers, infringing the rights of controversial academic publisher Elsevier. Judge Robert Sweet ruled 'The evidence set forth...demonstrates that Elsevier (publisher who filed the lawsuit) is unable to identify the operators of libgen.org or bookfi.org, or the true location of the computer servers upon which those websites are hosted, absent the ability to take discovery from Cloudflare.' Sweet's ruling refers to 'absent identifying information' necessitating an injunction for Cloudflare to surrender details intended to begin an investigative financial trail to the domain registrants. This information could have been provided by British company TLD Registrar Solutions, who registered libgen.org in 2012 -- and hardly seems likely to retrench under pressure, given the oft-criticised transparency of legal process between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. ICANN and WHOIS also seem like obvious first points of enquiry (however ICANN's secession from control by the United States government at the end of September may have complicated using it as a legal resource), but apparently, neither can help.

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