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+ - Khan Academy Seeks Patents on Learning Computer Programming, Social Programming

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: When it announced its brand new Computer Science platform in August 2012, Khan Academy explained it drew inspiration from both Bret Victor and GitHub (SlideShare). Still, that didn't stop Khan Academy from eventually seeking patents on its apparently Victor-inspired Methods and Systems for Learning Computer Programming and GitHub-inspired Systems and Methods for Social Programming, applications for which were quietly disclosed by the USPTO earlier this year. Silicon Valley legal powerhouse Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which provides a pro bono team of 20+ to assist billionaire-backed Khan Academy with its legal needs, filed provisional patent applications for KA in August 2013 — provisional applications can be filed up to 12 months following an inventor's public disclosure of the invention — giving it another 12 months before formal claims had to be filed (KA's non-provisional applications were filed in August 2014).

+ - The Tricky Business of Being a Male Advocate for CS Gender Equality

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) recently doled out $200,000 of Google.org money to reward three CS departments that have shown significant positive outcomes in women’s enrollment and graduation rates. Now, in a Wired piece entitled The Tricky (and Necessary) Business of Being a Male Advocate for CS Gender Equality, NCWIT senior research scientists Catherine Ashcraft and Wendy DuBow offer their ideas for getting men involved in gender diversity efforts, which includes some no-good-deed-goes-unpunished advice for potential male allies: "Don’t be alarmed-or even confused-if some women refuse, resist, or react negatively to your initial interest. Instead, recognize that this is an understandable, even logical, reaction to longtime experience as a minority in a majority environment. Recognize that it might sometimes take a while to build trust, and some women may never want to participate...Even if a negative reaction seems unreasonable or unfair, we suggest reframing this as an incredibly valuable opportunity for experiencing what it’s like to be a woman in tech, or any minority in a majority group environment. In other words, if such an experience makes it feel like you’re walking on eggshells or makes you worry about being misunderstood, imagine feeling like that much of the day, every day, at work. This temporary experience can help foster empathy and help you make sense of why these negative reactions might occur." And you can take some comfort in knowing that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, and other male allies will no doubt feel your pain.

+ - Elon Musk's Growing Empire Fueled by Government Subsidies

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: By the Los Angeles Times' reckoning, Elon Musk's Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and SpaceX together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support. The figure compiled by The Times, explains reporter Jerry Hirsch, comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars. "He definitely goes where there is government money," said an equity research analyst. "Musk and his companies' investors enjoy most of the financial upside of the government support, while taxpayers shoulder the cost," Hirsch adds. "The payoff for the public would come in the form of major pollution reductions, but only if solar panels and electric cars break through as viable mass-market products. For now, both remain niche products for mostly well-heeled customers." And as Musk moves into a new industry — battery-based home energy storage — Hirsch notes Tesla has already secured a commitment of $126 million in California subsidies to companies developing energy storage technology.

+ - Let's Take This Open Floor Plan to the Next Level

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: In response to those of you who are unhappy with your Open Office, McSweeney's has some ideas for taking the open floor plan to the next level. "Our open floor plan was decided upon after rigorous research that primarily involved looking at what cool internet companies were doing and reflexively copying them," writes Kelsey Rexroat. "We're dismayed and confused as to why their model isn’t succeeding for our own business, and have concluded that we just haven’t embraced the open floor plan ideals as fully as we possibly can. So team, let’s take this open floor plan to the next level!" Among the changes being implemented in the spirit of transparency and collaboration: 1. "All tables, chairs, and filing cabinets will be replaced by see-through plastic furnishings." 2. "All desks will be mounted on wheels and arranged into four-desk clusters. At random intervals throughout the day, a whistle will blow, at which point you should quickly roll your desk into a new cluster." 3. "Employees’ desktops will be randomly projected onto a movie screen in the center of the office." 4. "You can now dial into a designated phone line to listen in on any calls taking place within the office and add your opinion."

+ - Population Control is a Taboo Subject - Should it Be?

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: "In the world of solutions to environmental problems," writes Adele Peters, "one topic rarely gets any discussion: Birth control. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that the human population will hit 9.6 billion, putting unprecedented pressure on the planet's energy and agriculture systems. But that estimate tends to be accepted as inevitable, rather than as a number that could (or should) change." Peters continues, "The subject of population control wasn't always taboo. "The bestselling environment-related book of the '60s and '70s was not Silent Spring, it was Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb," says [Foundation for Deep Ecology's Tom] Butler. "So this was a huge and integrated topic of conversation decades ago, and then it fell off the radar screen." Part of the challenge is that the topic is now politically fraught both for the right and left. "On the right, if we're talking about the demographic trajectory of the human family, inevitably, this brings up questions of sexuality, abortion, immigration, women's rights, gender equity—all kinds of hot button issues," he says. "And then on the far ends of the left spectrum, there's a radical fringe that has tried to portray family planning as equal to coercion."" So, should we continue to ignore the 9.6 billion elephants in the room?

+ - Clinton Foundation: Kids' Lack of CS Savvy Threatens the US Economy

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: As the press digs for details on Clinton Foundation donations, including a reported $26+ million from Microsoft and Bill Gates, it's probably worth noting the interest the Clintons have developed in computer science and the role they have played — and continue to play — in the national K-12 CS and tech immigration crisis that materialized after Microsoft proposed creating such a crisis to advance its 'two-pronged' National Talent Strategy, which aims to increase K-12 CS education and the number of H-1B visas. Next thing you know, Bill is the face of CS at the launch of tech-bankrolled Code.org. Then Hillary uses the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference to launch a Facebook, Microsoft, and Google initiative to boost the ranks of female and students of color in CS, and starts decrying woeful CS enrollment (as well as ISIS). Not to be left out, Chelsea keynotes the NCWIT Summit and launches Google's $50M girls-only Made With Code initiative with now-U.S. CTO Megan Smith. And last December — on the same day that President Obama was 'taught to code' by Code.org — the Clinton Foundation touts its initiatives to engage middle school girls in CS, revamp the nation's AP CS program, and retrain out-of-work Americans as coders. At next month's CGI America 2015, the conference will kick off with a Beer Bust that CGI says "will also provide an opportunity to learn about Tech Girls Rock, a CGI Commitment to Action launched by CA Technologies in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America that helps girls discover an interest in tech-related educational opportunities and careers." On the following days, CGI sessions will discuss tech's need for a strong and diverse talent pipeline for computer and information technology jobs, which it says is threatened by "the persistent poor performance of American students in science, technology, engineering, and math," presenting "serious implications for the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. economy." So what's the long-term solution? Expanding CS education, of course!

+ - Google: Mamas Don't Let Their Baby Girls Grow Up to be Coding Cowboys

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: Explaining the reasons for its less-than-diverse tech workforce, Google fingered bad parenting for its lack of women techies. From the interview with Google Director of Diversity and Inclusion Nancy Lee: "Q. What explains the drop [since 1984] in women studying computer science? A. We commissioned original research that revealed it's primarily parents' encouragement, and perception and access. Parents don't see their young girls as wanting to pursue computer science and don't steer them in that direction. There's this perception that coding and computer science is ... a 'brogrammer' culture for boys, for games, for competition. There hasn't been enough emphasis on the power computing has in achieving social impact. That's what girls are interested in. They want to do things that matter." While scant on details, the Google study's charts appear to show that, overall, fathers encourage young women to study CS more than mothers. Google feels that reeducation is necessary. "Outreach programs," advises Google, "should include a parent education component, so that parents learn how to actively encourage their daughters."

+ - Google and Gates-Backed Khan Academy Introduces 'Grit'-Based Classroom Funding 1

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: Their intentions are no doubt good, but some will be troubled by Google and Khan Academy's recently-concluded LearnStorm initiative, which pitted kids-against-kids, schools-against-schools, and cities-against-cities in a 3-month learning challenge for prizes based not only on students' mastery of math skills on Khan Academy, but also their perceived 'hustle' (aka 'grit'). "Points are earned by mastering math skills and also for taking on challenging new concepts and persevering," explained a Khan Academy FAQ. A blog entry further explained, "They've earned points and prizes not only for mastering math skills but also for showing 'hustle,' a metric we created to measure grit, perseverance, and growth. They competed over 200,000 hours of learning and 13.6 million standards-aligned math problems. In addition, thanks to the generosity of Google.org, DonorsChoose.org, and Comcast’s Internet Essentials, 34 underserved schools unlocked new devices for their classrooms and free home internet service for eligible families, increasing student access to online learning tools like Khan Academy." Apparently funded by a $2 million Google grant, the Google, Khan Academy, and DonorsChoose grit-based classroom funding comes on the heels of the same organizations' gender-based classroom funding initiative. Supported by some of the world's wealthiest individuals and corporations, Khan Academy's Board members include a Google Board member (Diane Green), spouse of a Google Board member (Ann Doerr), and the Managing Partner of Bill Gates' bgC3 (Larry Cohen); former Board members include Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.

+ - Death in the Browser Tab

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: "There you are watching another death on video," writes the NY Times' Teju Cole. "In the course of ordinary life — at lunch or in bed, in a car or in the park — you are suddenly plunged into someone else’s crisis, someone else’s horror. It arrives, absurdly, in the midst of banal things. That is how, late one afternoon in April, I watched Walter Scott die. The footage of his death, taken by a passer-by, had just been published online on the front page of The New York Times. I watched it, sitting at my desk in Brooklyn, and was stunned by it." Cole continues, "For most of human history, to see someone die, you had to be there. Depictions of death, if there were any, came later, at a certain remove of time and space." Disturbing as they may be (Cole notes he couldn't bear to watch the ISIS beheading videos), such images may ultimately change things for the better. Better to publish them than sweep them under the carpet?

+ - AP Computer Science Education Scalability: Advantage, Rupert Murdoch?

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: Despite all the Presidential fanfare since its early-2013 debut, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook-backed Code.org won't be going mainstream with an AP Computer Science offering until the 2016-2017 school year. In the meantime, NewsWorks' Avi Wolfman-Arent reports that Rupert Murdoch's Amplify MOOC just wrapped up its second year of offering AP Computer Science A. And unlike Microsoft TEALS, Google CS First, and Code.org — programs constrained by the number of volunteers, teacher and classroom availability, professional development requirements, and money — Murdoch's AP CS MOOC holds the promise of open-access, unlimited-enrollment, learn-anywhere-and-anytime classes, a la Coursera, Udacity and EdX. So, did Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and their leaders place a $30 million bet on the wrong horse when it comes to AP Computer Science scalability? And, even if they've got a more scalable model, will Murdoch's Amplify and schools be willing to deal with higher MOOC failure rates, and allow large numbers of students to try — and possibly drop or fail — AP CS without economic or academic consequences?

+ - Advice for a College Dropout? 1

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: "I dropped out of college today," begins the touching inaugural post on Life of a Dropout, which will strike a chord with anyone who's done or contemplated doing the same. "Life had gotten messed up to such extent that suicide seemed to be a much much better option. So when I woke up today I got a third person view of my life, and felt like I had to get out of this situation and prevent myself from doing any harm to myself. I have been in this college for 3 years now, and the only good it did to me was that it allowed me to meet awesome people and as a result I developed as a software developer." So, any words of advice or encouraging anecdotes for a dropout/developer who's trying to start things afresh?

+ - Gates, Zuckerberg Promising Same Jobs to US Kids and Foreign H-1B Workers? 1

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: Over at the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg-bankrolled Code.org, they're using the number of open computing jobs in each state to convince parents of the need to expand K-12 CS offerings so their kids can fill those jobs. Sounds good, right? But at the same time, the Gates and Zuckerberg-bankrolled FWD.org PAC has taken to Twitter, using the number of open "STEM" jobs in each state to convince politicians of the need to expand the number of H-1B visas so foreign workers can fill those jobs. While the goal of Microsoft's 'two-pronged' National Talent Strategy is to kill two birds [K-12 CS education and H-1B visas] with one crisis, is it cool for organizations backed by many of the same wealthy individuals to essentially promise the same jobs to U.S. kids and foreign H-1B workers?

+ - In-Database R Coming to SQL Server 2016

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: Wondering what kind of things Microsoft might do with its purchase of Revolution Analytics? Over at the Revolutions blog, David Smith announces that in-database R coming to SQL Server 2016. "With this update," Smith writes, "data scientists will no longer need to extract data from SQL server via ODBC to analyze it with R. Instead, you will be able to take your R code to the data, where it will be run inside a sandbox process within SQL Server itself. This eliminates the time and storage required to move the data, and gives you all the power of R and CRAN packages to apply to your database." It'll no doubt intrigue Data Scientist types, but the devil's in the final details, which Microsoft was still cagey about when it talked-the-not-exactly-glitch-free-talk (starts @57:00) earlier this month at Ignite. So, brush up your R, kids, and you can see how Microsoft walks-the-in-database-walk when SQL Server 2016 public preview rolls out this summer.

+ - College Board Puts Billionaire-Backed Code.org in Charge of AP CS Program

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: "The College Board," reports GeekWire, "is endorsing Code.org as a coursework and teacher training provider for its upcoming AP Computer Science Principles course and will help Code.org fund the teacher training work required to establish new computer science classes." So what's the catch? "Schools that commit to using the [new] PSAT [8/9 assessment] to identify middle school students who have potential for success in computer science will be eligible to receive curriculum, training, and funding for programming classes." Hey, with Bill "Common Core" Gates involved, would you have expected anything less? Bankrolled by some of tech's wealthiest leaders and their corporations, Code.org's seven-person Board includes Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith, Google Director of Education Maggie Johnson, Amazon Sr. VP Jeff Wilke, and Vandana Sikka, the spouse of Vishal Sikka, CEO of offshore outsourcing giant Infosys. Smith, the next-door neighbor of Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi, proposed the idea of 'producing a crisis' to advance Microsoft's 'two-pronged' National Talent Strategy to increase K-12 CS education and the number of H-1B visas. Just months thereafter, nonprofit organizations Code.org and Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us, which is lobbying for H-1B reform, were born. Code.org and FWD.us share many supporters.

+ - Bill Gates Still Trying to Buy Some Common Core Testing Love

Submitted by theodp
theodp writes: "Bill Gates famously spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, implement and promote the now controversial Common Core State Standards," reports the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss. "He hasn't stopped giving." In the last seven months, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has poured more than $10 million into implementation and parent support for the Core. Strauss adds: "Gates is the leader of education philanthropy in the United States, spending a few billion dollars over more than a decade to promote school reforms that he championed, including the Common Core, a small-schools initiative in New York City that he abandoned after deciding it wasn’t working, and efforts to create new teacher evaluation systems that in part use a controversial method of assessment that uses student standardized test scores to determine the 'effectiveness' of educators. Such philanthropy has sparked a debate about whether American democracy is well-served by wealthy people who pour part of their fortunes into their pet projects — regardless of whether they are grounded in research — to such a degree that public policy and funding follow." By the way, the use of a BillG look-alike kid in the pro-Common Core ad made by recent $3.7M Gates Foundation awardee the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation was a nice touch! And if you're still on the fence about Common Core after viewing it, the Onion just came out with a nice list of the pros and cons of standardized testing that may help you decide.

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