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+ - NPR (Thinks It) Has Solved the Mystery of Declining Female Enrollment in CS

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes ""Last Friday," writes UC Davis CS Prof Norm Matloff, "NPR ran a piece titled 'When Women Stopped Coding' [podcast summary]. It was quite engaging, but was long on Political Correctness, blaming things ranging from boy-oriented toys to sexist institutions, and short on real evidence. Mind you, I don’t disagree that a sexist element runs through parts of the field, but NPR’s explanations are just wrong." So, what does Matloff see as the major cause of declining percentages of women in undergraduate CS curricula since 1984? Economics. "I share the concern about the gender lopsidedness in the profession," explains Matloff. "Actually, I started voicing this concern to my department chair a bit before the issue became a nationwide topic around 2008. My theory at the time was that women are more practical than men, and that the well-publicized drastic swings in the CS labor market are offputting to women more than men. This was confirmed by a 2008 survey in the Communications of the ACM, a professional magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery, which found that in choosing to enter the IT field, women placed significantly more emphasis on job security." In addition to the causes cited by NPR, Matloff, and others, a number of other changes have occurred since 1984 that had some effect on the composition of the CS undergrad pipeline. 1984 was the year that high school CS education was changed by the introduction of the AP Computer Science exam, whose choice of languages (Pascal, C++, Java) has ironically been blamed by some for actually driving kids away from CS study. 1984 was also a watershed year in that it marked the introduction of the Mac, a computer "designed as an information appliance" for which a hobbyist programming language was deemed unnecessary. That, coupled with the killing of MacBasic by Bill Gates, no doubt reduced the number of students who would catch the programming bug and later major in CS. IEEE Today's Engineer noted that a decrease in Federal R&D spending in the '80s affected STEM student production. College demographics in general also began to change dramatically in the 80's as schools embraced a huge influx of international students (stats show foreign STEM students skew male) and public universities increasingly sought out-of-state tuition windfalls, leaving fewer seats for even higher-qualified in-state students. Check out a comparison of 1984 vs. 2014 enrollment demographics for CS majors at the Univ. of Illinois, which is certainly at odds with NPR's US-white-boys-with-PCs-rose-to-dominate-CS-programs hypothesis. Also, it should be mentioned that evolving CS/IT/MIS/STAT programs of study make it impossible to do apples-to-apples comparisons of "CS programs" over the years. Finally, legislation passed or shaped in the '80s also helped make programming a less attractive career to U.S. students. Section 1706 of the 1986 tax act, noted the NY Times, helped insure a scarcity of programmers, since Congress decreed that most individual programmers cannot be entrepreneurs. And the ever-evolving H-1B visa program (and associated rise of outsourcing/offshoring), which had roots in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, has also undoubtedly affected U.S. students' decision to major in CS. So, what made women "stop coding"? It's hard to say exactly, but there was certainly more to it than gender-skewed '80s PC advertising!"

+ - Be True to Your CS School: Best Colleges for Programmers?

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "With apologies to The Beach Boys: "When some loud braggart tries to put me down / And says his CS school is great / I tell him right away / 'Now what's the matter buddy / Ain't you heard of my CS school / It's number one in the LinkedIn University Rankings'." The Motely Fool reports that the Data Scientists at LinkedIn have been playing with their Big Data, ranking schools based on how successful recent grads have been at landing desirable software development jobs. Here's their Top 25: CMU, Caltech, Cornell, MIT, Princeton, Berkeley, Univ. of Washington, Duke, Michigan, Stanford, UCLA, Illinois, UT Austin, Brown, UCSD, Harvard, Rice, Penn, Univ. of Arizona, Harvey Mudd, UT Dallas, San Jose State, USC, Washington University, RIT. There's also a shorter list for the best schools for software developers at startups, which draws a dozen schools from the previously mentioned schools, and adds Columbia, Univ. of Virginia, and Univ. of Maryland College Park."

+ - Apple's Next Hit Will Be a Microsoft Surface Pro Clone

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes ""Good artists copy, great artists steal," Steve Jobs used to say. Having launched a perfectly-timed attack against Samsung and phablets with its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Leonid Bershidsky suggests that the next big thing from Apple will be a tablet-laptop a la Microsoft's Surface Pro 3. "Before yesterday's Apple [iPad] event," writes Bershidsky, "rumors were strong of an upcoming giant iPad, to be called iPad Pro or iPad Plus. There were even leaked pictures of a device with a 12.9-inch screen, bigger than the Surface Pro's 12-inch one. It didn't come this time, but it will.""

+ - As Prison Population Sinks, Jails Are a Steal

Submitted by (3830033) writes "After rising rapidly for decades, the number of people behind bars peaked at 1.62 Million in 2009, has been mostly falling ever since down, and many justice experts believe the incarceration rate will continue on a downward trajectory for many years. New York, for example, saw an 8.8% decline in federal and state inmates, and California, saw a 20.6% drop. Now the WSJ reports on an awkward byproduct of the declining U.S. inmate population: empty or under-utilized prisons and jails that must be cared for but can’t be easily sold or repurposed. New York state has closed 17 prisons and juvenile-justice facilities since 2011, following the rollback of the 1970s-era Rockefeller drug laws, which mandated lengthy sentences for low-level offenders. So far, the state has found buyers for 10 of them, at prices that range from less than $250,000 to about $8 million for a facility in Staten Island, often a fraction of what they cost to build. “There’s a prisoner shortage,” says Mike Arismendez, city manager for Littlefield, Texas, home of an empty five-building complex that sleeps 383 inmates and comes with a gym, maintenence shed, armory, and parking lot . “Everybody finds it hard to believe.”

The incarceration rate is declining largely because crime has fallen significantly in the past generation. In addition, many states have relaxed harsh sentencing laws passed during the tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, and have backed rehabilitation programs, resulting in fewer low-level offenders being locked up. States from Michigan to New Jersey have changed parole processes, leading more prisoners to leave earlier. On a federal level, the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder has pushed to reduce sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Before 2010, the U.S. prison population increased every year for 30 years, from 307,276 in 1978 to a high of 1,615,487 in 2009. “This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” says Natasha Frost. "People don’t care so much about crime, and it’s less of a political focus.""

+ - Microsoft, Facebook Declare European Kids Clueless About Coding, Too

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "Having declared U.S. kids clueless about coding, Facebook and Microsoft are now turning their attention to Europe's young 'uns. "As stewards of Europe's future generations," begins the Open Letter to the European Union Ministers for Education signed by Facebook and Microsoft, "you will be all too aware that as early as the age of 7, children reach a critical juncture, when they are learning the core life skills of reading, writing and basic maths. However, to flourish in tomorrow's digital economy and society, they should also be learning to code. And many, sadly, are not." Released at the launch of the European Coding Initiative — aka All You Need is Code! — in conjunction with the EU's Code Week, the letter closes, "As experts in our field, we owe it to Europe's youth to help equip with them with the skills they will need to succeed — regardless of where life takes them." Hopefully, life won't take them to a massive layoff, like the one that left 12,500 Nokia workers jobless just three months after joining Microsoft. By the way, the "All You Need is Code" initiative, explained an SAP press release, was conceived at the 2014 World Economic Forum, where EU Commission vice president Neelie Kroes — who yukked-it-up at the event with former nemesis Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith — called on the private sector to endorse the Davos Declaration to deepen support for the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs."

+ - Statisticians Uncover What Makes for a Stable Marriage

Submitted by (3830033) writes "Randy Olson, a Computer Science grad student who works with data visualizations, writes about seven of the biggest factors that predict what makes for a long term stable marriage in America. Olson took the results of a study that polled thousands of recently married and divorced Americans and and asked them dozens of questions about their marriage (PDF): How long they were dating, how long they were engaged, etc. After running this data through a multivariate model, the authors were able to calculate the factors that best predicted whether a marriage would end in divorce. "What struck me about this study is that it basically laid out what makes for a stable marriage in the US," writes Olson. Here are some of the biggest factors:

How long you were dating (Couples who dated 1-2 years before their engagement were 20% less likely to end up divorced than couples who dated less than a year before getting engaged. Couples who dated 3 years or more are 39% less likely to get divorced.); How much money you make (The more money you and your partner make, the less likely you are to ultimately file for divorce. Couples who earn $125K per year are 51% less likely to divorce than couples making 0 — 25k); How often you go to church (Couples who never go to church are 2x more likely to divorce than regular churchgoers.); Your attitude toward your partner (Men are 1.5x more likely to end up divorced when they care more about their partner’s looks, and women are 1.6x more likely to end up divorced when they care more about their partner’s wealth.); How many people attended the wedding ("Crazy enough, your wedding ceremony has a huge impact on the long-term stability of your marriage. Perhaps the biggest factor is how many people attend your wedding: Couples who elope are 12.5x more likely to end up divorced than couples who get married at a wedding with 200+ people."); How much you spent on the wedding (The more you spend on your wedding, the more likely you’ll end up divorced.); Whether you had a honeymoon (Couples who had a honeymoon are 41% less likely to divorce than those who had no honeymoon).

Of course correlation is not causation. For example, expensive weddings may simply attract the kind of immature and narcissistic people who are less likely to sustain a successful marriage and such people might end up getting divorced even if they married cheaply. But "the particularly scary part here is that the average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is well over $30,000," says Olson, "which doesn’t bode well for the future of American marriages.""

+ - Despite Push from Tech Giants, AP CS Exam Counts Don't Budge Much in Most States

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "Well, the College Board has posted the 2014 AP Computer Science Test scores. So, before the press rushes out another set of Not-One-Girl-In-Wyoming-Took-an-AP-CS-Exam stories, let's point out that no Wyoming students of either gender took an AP CS exam again in 2014 (.xlsx). At the overall level, the final numbers have changed somewhat (back-of-the-Excel-envelope calculations, no warranty expressed or implied!), but tell pretty much the same story as the preliminary figures — the number of overall AP CS test takers increased, while pass rates decreased despite efforts to cherry pick students with a high likelihood of success. What is kind of surprising is how little the test numbers budged for most states — only 8 states managed to add more than 100 girls to the AP CS test taker rolls — despite the PR push by the tech giants, including Microsoft, Google, and, Facebook. Also worth noting are some big percentage decreases at the top end of the score segments (5 and 4), and still-way-too-wide gaps that exist between the score distributions of the College Board's various ethnic segments (more back of the envelope calcs). If there's a Data Scientist in the house, AP CS exam figures grabbed from the College Board's Excel 2013 and 2014 worksheets can be found here (Google Sheets) together with the (unwalkedthrough) VBA code that was used to collect it. Post your insight (and code/data fixes) in the comments!"

Amazon Robot Picking Challenge 2015 106

Posted by samzenpus
from the better-picking dept.
mikejuk writes The Amazon Picking Challenge at ICRA (IEEE Robotics and Automation) 2015 is about getting a robot to perform the picking task. All the robot has to do is pick a list of items from the automated shelves that Amazon uses and place the items into another automated tray ready for delivery. The prizes are $20,000 for the winner, $5000 for second place and $1000 for third place. In addition each team can be awarded up to $6000 to get them and their robot to the conference so that they can participate in the challenge. Amazon is even offering to try to act as matchmaker between robot companies and teams not having the robot hardware they need. A Baxter Research Robot will be made available at the contest.

+ - Crowdfunding is the New School Tax

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "The WSJ reports that billionaire-backed is turning to crowdfunding to fix tech's diversity problem. "Our goal this year is to train 10,000 computer science teachers, and to get 100 million students to try one Hour of Code, across all grades, worldwide. We need $5 million to do this," explains the Indiegogo project for An Hour of Code for Every Student.’s wealthy individual and corporate supporters — including Bill Gates, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Microsoft, Google, the Omidyar Network and the Foundation — have agreed to kick in $2.5 million of matching funds. According to the press release, participating companies include Atlassian, Chegg,, Disney Interactive, Dropbox, Eventbrite, Facebook, GoDaddy, Google, JPMorgan Chase, Juniper Networks, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Optimizely, Pearson, Pluralsight, Redfin,, Target, TASER, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), viagogo, Whitepages, Workday, Yelp, Zappos, Zillow, zulily, and Y Combinator. So, is crowdfunding the new school tax? And is this a good thing, or just one more way that millionaires and billionaires are ruining our schools?"

+ - Computing Drove Grace Hopper to Alcohol and Suicide Attempts

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "As 8,000 attendees from academia, government and industry gather Wednesday in Phoenix for the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, one wonders if a recently-crowdfunded documentary entitled Born With Curiosity, which promises an intimate look at the conference's namesake, computer pioneer and US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, might change perceptions of Hopper. "By taking a real look at the complexities of Grace's rise to fame," explain filmmakers Melissa Pierce and Marian Mangoubi, we hope to dispel the myth of the anomalous hero and create the opportunity for women and girls to see themselves in her place." There's certainly fodder for a compelling tale if one looks beyond the Google Doodle-inspired bios of Hopper. Take one passage from Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, which Kurt Beyer read to the handful of Googlers who showed up at a 2010 Authors@Google event (transcript): "On a cold night in November 1949," Beyer read, "only 6 months after leaving Harvard and joining the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, Grace Murray Hopper found herself behind bars at the central Philadelphia police station. The programming pioneer was arrested at 3 a.m. for drunk and disorderly conduct. She was eventually placed in the custody of Pennsylvania General Hospital for treatment. Hopper's life was unraveling. At the age of 43 she had accomplished much, yet her growing dependency on alcohol was jeopardizing her career and her relationships. As winter approached, she attempted to commit suicide 2 different times." Beyer, a big fan of Grace, adds, "I wanted to include that in the book because I think it's important for us to realize that pioneers and innovators are human. And Hopper went through a lot during those years. She accomplished much, but it had a grave toll on her personally." By the way, it's kind of ironic that CSEdWeek, the annual celebration of Hopper's birthday, has become far better known over the last year as's Hour of Code, which has earned shout-outs from the President and U.S. Education Chief. " is dedicated to the vision that every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code," explains the tech billionaire-backed nonprofit. Perhaps they should add that Grace Hopper articulated the same vision in 1980 ("We’ve got to push computers into schools. They should be in every school, so kids can grow up with them...You give them a computer to play games with and they get tired of it and pretty soon they’re programming it to do everything under the sun."). Hey, everything old is new again!"

+ - Blame Tech Diversity on Education Pipeline, Not Hiring Discrimination

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes ""The biggest reason for a lack of diversity in tech," writes's Hadi Partovi in a featured Re/code story, "isn't discrimination in hiring or retention. It’s the education pipeline" ( just disclosed "we have no African Americans or Hispanics on our team of 30"). Supporting his argument, Partovi added: "In 2013, not one female student took the AP computer science exam in Mississippi" (left unsaid is that only one male student took the exam in Mississippi). Microsoft earlier vilified the CS education pipeline in its U.S. Talent Strategy as it sought "targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms" from lawmakers. And Facebook COO and "Lean In" author Sheryl Sandberg recently suggested the pipeline is to blame for Facebook's lack of keg stand diversity (actual Facebook diversity 'disclosure'). "Girls are at 18% of computer science college majors," Sandberg told USA Today in August. "We can't go much above 18% in our coders [Facebook has 7,185 total employees] if there's only 18% coming into the workplace.""

+ - Bill Gates Still Cuckoo for Common Core

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "So, what's the dumbest f-ing idea Bill Gates has heard lately? Opposition to Common Core academic standards, apparently. Setting national standards for what students should know at various grades is a "very basic idea," argued Gates at a POLITICO event. "Should Georgia have a different railroad width than anybody else? Should they teach multiplication in a different way? Oh, that's brilliant. Who came up with that idea?" Gates said, adding that he thought of Common Core as "a technocratic issue," akin to making sure all states use the same type of electrical outlet. At the event, Gates also gave a shout-out to his partner-in-Common-Core-crime, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. In a nice Common Core tie-in, 49-year-old Duncan complained last December that he "didn't have the opportunity to learn computer skills" at the University of Chicago Lab Schools (tuition, $29,424), while 58-year-old Gates did get the chance to acquire coding skills at Lakeside School (tuition, $29,800). Duncan subsequently noted he is finally learning to code with his children (perhaps with BillG as their iF-fy teacher!). By the way, in June the Washington Post reported that "Bill and Melinda Gates, [President] Obama and Arne Duncan are parents of school-age children, although none of those children attend schools that use the Common Core standards. Still, Gates said he wants his children to know a 'superset' of the Common Core standards — everything in the standards and beyond.""

+ - Microsoft Co-opts Ice Bucket Challenge Idea to Promote Coding in Latin America 2

Submitted by theodp
theodp (442580) writes "Microsoft is aiming to offer free programming courses to over a million young Latin Americans through its Yo Puedo Programar and Eu Posso Programar initiatives ("I Can Program"). People between the ages of 12 and 25 will be able to sign up for the free online courses "One Hour Coding" and "Learning to Program," which will be offered in conjunction with Colombia's Coding Week (Oct. 6-10). The online courses will also be available in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico. "One Hour Coding" (aka Hour of Code in the U.S.) is a short introductory course in which participants will learn how the technology works and how to create applications, and it offers "a playful immersion in the computer sciences," Microsoft said in a statement. In the virtual, 12-session "Learning to Program" course, students will discover that "technical complexity in application development tools is a myth and that everyone can do it," the statement added. Taking a page from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge its execs embraced (Google Translate), Microsoft is encouraging students to complete the Hour of Code and challenge four other friends to do the same. Hey, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Microsoft gotta embrace and extend (challenge 4 friends instead of 3!)."

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.