Education

Learning To Program Is Getting Harder (slashdot.org) 406

theodp writes: While Google suggests that parents and educators are to blame for why kids can't code, Allen Downey, Professor at Olin College argues that learning to program is getting harder . Downey writes: The fundamental problem is that the barrier between using a computer and programming a computer is getting higher. When I got a Commodore 64 (in 1982, I think) this barrier was non-existent. When you turned on the computer, it loaded and ran a software development environment (SDE). In order to do anything, you had to type at least one line of code, even if all it did was another program (like Archon). Since then, three changes have made it incrementally harder for users to become programmers:
1. Computer retailers stopped installing development environments by default. As a result, anyone learning to program has to start by installing an SDE -- and that's a bigger barrier than you might expect. Many users have never installed anything, don't know how to, or might not be allowed to. Installing software is easier now than it used to be, but it is still error prone and can be frustrating. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn system administration first.
2. User interfaces shifted from command-line interfaces (CLIs) to graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are generally easier to use, but they hide information from users about what's really happening. When users really don't need to know, hiding information can be a good thing. The problem is that GUIs hide a lot of information programmers need to know. So when a user decides to become a programmer, they are suddenly confronted with all the information that's been hidden from them. If someone just wants to learn to program, they shouldn't have to learn operating system concepts first.
3. Cloud computing has taken information hiding to a whole new level. People using web applications often have only a vague idea of where their data is stored and what applications they can use to access it. Many users, especially on mobile devices, don't distinguish between operating systems, applications, web browsers, and web applications. When they upload and download data, they are often confused about where is it coming from and where it is going. When they install something, they are often confused about what is being installed where. For someone who grew up with a Commodore 64, learning to program was hard enough. For someone growing up with a cloud-connected mobile device, it is much harder.
theodp continues: So, with the Feds budgeting $200 million a year for K-12 CS at the behest of U.S. tech leaders, can't the tech giants at least put a BASIC on every phone/tablet/laptop for kids?
Businesses

Amazon Is Cutting Hundreds of Corporate Jobs (techcrunch.com) 61

According to a Seattle Times report, Amazon is laying off hundreds of corporate workers in its Seattle headquarters and elsewhere. "The corporate cuts come after an eight-year hiring spree, taking the company from 5,000 in 2010 to 40,000 in its Seattle headquarters and gobbling up several retail businesses throughout the country," reports TechCrunch. From the report: However, according to the report, Amazon's rising employee numbers over the last two years left some departments over budget and with too many staff on hand. In the last few months, the company implemented hiring freezes to stem the flow of new workers, cutting the number of open positions in half from the 3,500 listed last Summer. The layoffs will mainly focus on Amazon's Seattle office, but there have already been cuts in some of its retail subsidiaries in other parts of the country, such as the Las Vegas-based online footwear retailer Zappos, which had to lay off 30 people recently. And the company behind Diapers.com, Quidsi, had to cut more than 250 jobs a year ago. The moves suggest Amazon may be trying to rein in spending and consolidate some of its retail businesses.
Government

White House Seeks 72 Percent Cut To Clean Energy Research (engadget.com) 390

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: The Trump administration has made it very clear that it is pro fossil fuels and has little interest in pushing programs the promote renewable energy. Now, the Washington Post reports that the president's proposed 2019 budget slashes funds for Energy Department programs focused on energy efficiency. While the proposal is just a jumping off point, the fact that it seeks to cut such funding by 72 percent underscores where the administration's interests lie and in which direction its policies will continue to go. The draft budget documents viewed by Washington Post staff showed that the president is looking to cut the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) budget to $575.5 million, down from the current $2.04 billion level. Included in the budget cuts are funds for programs researching fuel efficient vehicles, bioenergy technologies, solar energy technology and electric car technologies. Additionally, the draft budget proposal seeks to cut jobs, dropping staff levels from 680 down to 450. One EERE employee told the Washington Post, "It shows that we've made no inroads in terms of convincing the administration of our value, and if anything, our value based on these numbers has dropped." The report notes that the Energy Department had requested less extreme spending cuts, but the Office of Management and Budget pushed for the more substantial ones found in the draft proposal. It's also worth noting that the proposal could still be changed before being released in February.
Microsoft

Stop Using Excel, Finance Chiefs Tell Staffs (wsj.com) 273

Tatyana Shumsky, reporting for WSJ: Adobe's finance chief Mark Garrett says his team struggles keeping track of which jobs have been filled at the software company. The process can take days and requires finance staff to pull data from disparate systems that house financial and human-resources information into Microsoft's Excel spreadsheets. From there they can see which groups are hiring and how salary spending affects the budget. "I don't want financial planning people spending their time importing and exporting and manipulating data, I want them to focus on what is the data telling us," Mr. Garrett said. He is working on cutting Excel out of this process, he said. CFOs at companies including P.F. Chang's China Bistro, ABM Industries and Wintrust Financial are on a similar drive to reduce how much their finance teams use Excel for financial planning, analysis and reporting (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; an alternative source wasn't immediately available). Finance chiefs say the ubiquitous spreadsheet software that revolutionized accounting in the 1980s hasn't kept up with the demands of contemporary corporate finance units. Errors can bloom because data in Excel is separated from other systems and isn't automatically updated.
Facebook

Facebook Essentially Has Been Telling Advertisers It Can Reach More People Than Actually Exist, Analyst Finds (marketwatch.com) 117

Facebook claims its ads have the potential to reach more people than recent U.S. census data shows exist, and that's troublesome for one analyst, who thinks third-party measurement services stand to benefit. From a report: Recently, Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser was intrigued by a trade publication study in Australia that said Facebook was claiming to reach 1.7 million more 16- to 39-year olds than actually existed in the country, according to Australian census data. In reproducing the study for the U.S., Wieser said Facebook's Ads Manager claims it can potentially reach 41 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 60 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds. The problem arises when Wieser pulls up U.S. Census data from a year ago, showing 31 million 18- to 24-year-olds, 45 million 25- to 34-year-olds, and 61 million 35- to 49-year-olds. The upshot: Where is Facebook getting the extra 25 million 18- to 34-year-olds that the U.S. census did not count? "Conversations with agency executives on this topic indicate to us that the gap between Facebook and census figures is not widely known," Wieser said. "While Facebook's measurement issues won't necessarily deter advertisers from spending money with Facebook, they will help traditional TV sellers justify existing budget shares and could restrain Facebook's growth in video ad sales on the margins."
NASA

NASA Has a Way to Cut Your Flight Time in Half (bloomberg.com) 234

An anonymous reader shares a Bloomberg Businessweek article: For almost a half-century there's been a clear speed limit on most commercial air travel: 660 miles per hour, the rate at which a typical-size plane traveling at 30,000 feet breaks the sound barrier and creates a 30-mile-wide, continuous sonic boom. That may be changing. In August, NASA says, it will begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you'd hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency's researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, should cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half. NASA proposes spending $390 million over five years to build the demo plane and test it over populated areas. The first year of funding is included in President Trump's 2018 budget proposal. Over the next decade, growth in air transportation and distances flown "will drive the demand for broadly available faster air travel," says Peter Coen, project manager for NASA's commercial supersonic research team. "That's going to make it possible for companies to offer competitive products in the future." NASA plans to share the technology resulting from the tests with U.S. plane makers, meaning a head start for the likes of Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, and startups such as Boom Technology and billionaire Robert Bass's Aerion. [...] NASA is targeting a sound level of 60 to 65 A-weighted decibels (dBa), Coen says. That's about as loud as that luxury car on the highway or the background conversation in a busy restaurant. Iosifidis says that Lockheed's research shows the design can maintain that sound level at commercial size and his team's planned demo will be 94 feet long, have room for one pilot, fly as high as 55,000 feet, and run on one of the twin General Electric engines that power Boeing Co.'s F/A-18 fighter jet.
AI

Is China Outsmarting America in AI? (nytimes.com) 163

An anonymous reader shares an NYTimes article: Beijing is backing its artificial intelligence push with vast sums of money. Having already spent billions on research programs, China is readying a new multibillion-dollar initiative to fund moonshot projects, start-ups and academic research (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source), all with the aim of growing China's A.I. capabilities, according to two professors who consulted with the government on the plan. China's private companies are pushing deeply into the field as well, though the line between government and private in China sometimes blurs. Baidu -- often called the Google of China and a pioneer in artificial-intelligence-related fields, like speech recognition -- this year opened a joint company-government laboratory partly run by academics who once worked on research into Chinese military robots. China is spending more just as the United States cuts back. This past week, the Trump administration released a proposed budget that would slash funding for a variety of government agencies that have traditionally backed artificial intelligence research.
Republicans

President Trump's Budget Includes a $2 Trillion Math Error (time.com) 356

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TIME: President Trump's budget includes a simple accounting error that adds up to a $2 trillion oversight. Under the proposed budget released Tuesday, the Trump Administration's proposed tax cuts would boost economic growth enough to pay for $1.3 trillion in spending by 2027. But the tax cuts are also supposed to be revenue-neutral, meaning that trillion dollars is already supposed to pay for the money lost from the tax cuts. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers called the oversight an "elementary double count" and "a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course" in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
Moon

How To Get Back To the Moon In 4 Years -- This Time To Stay (scientificamerican.com) 355

Scientific American describes "a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently...to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years." It starts by abandoning NASA's expensive Space Launch System and Orion capsule, and spending the money saved on private-industry efforts like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace. schwit1 quotes their report: Musk's rockets -- the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy -- are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready...

Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that's within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow... Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious -- an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules.

The article calls Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rockets "a wild car" which could also land passengers and cargo on the moon and suggests NASA would be better off funding things like lunar-surface refueling stations, lunar construction equipment, and "devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen."
Bitcoin

Bitcoin Could Rise By 165% To $2,000 in 2017 Driven by Trump's 'Spending Binge' and Dollar Rally (cnbc.com) 255

The price of Bitcoin could hit more than $2,000 in 2017 driven by expectations that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may introduce economic stimulus policies, which could send inflation soaring and propel the dollar to record highs, a report from Saxo Bank claims. An anonymous reader shares a CNBC report: Bitcoin is currently trading around $754.51, according to CoinDesk data. A handle of over $2,000 would represent 165 percent appreciation. During his election campaign Trump has talked about an increase in fiscal spending. Saxo Bank's note said that this could increase the roughly $20 trillion of U.S. national debt and triple the current budget deficit from approximately $600 billion to $1.2-1.8 trillion, or some 6-10 percent of the country's current $18.6 trillion economy. As a result, the economy will grow and inflation will "sky rocket," forcing the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike interest rates at a faster pace and causing the U.S. dollar "to hit the moon." When inflation rises the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates to bring it under control. This causes the dollar to appreciate because it would be seen as an attractive currency for foreign investors.
United States

What the Trump Win Means For Tech and Science (arstechnica.com) 382

Republican nominee Donald Trump has won the US Presidential election to become the country's 45th president. Now that he is going to run the government, it's a good time to look back on the kind of policies and changes he is likely to bring in the United States. From an article on ArsTechnica:Trump's presidency could bring big changes to regulation of Internet service providers -- but most of them are difficult to predict because Trump rarely discussed telecom policy during his campaign. The Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules could be overturned or weakened, however, if Trump still feels the same way he did in 2014. At the time, he tweeted, "Obama's attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media. [...] With Trump's win, it's still not clear what a Trump administration would do on the issues of cybersecurity and encryption. As Ars reported last month, Trump and his campaign team have been vague on many such details. During the presidential debates, he brushed off the intelligence community's consensus that the attacks against the Democratic National Committee were perpetrated or silently condoned by the Russian government. But Trump did call for a boycott of Apple -- a boycott of which he didn't even abide by -- during Cupertino's fight with federal prosecutors about whether Apple should be forced to help the authorities unlock a killer's encrypted iPhone. [...] Trump's presidency, by some accounts, is likely to be a disaster for science. Most analyses of his proposed budgets indicate they will cause deficits to explode, and a relatively compliant Congress could mean at least some of these cuts will get enacted. That will force the government to figure out how to cut, or at least limit, spending. Will science funding be preserved during that process? Trump's given no indication that it would. Instead, many of his answers about specific areas of science focus on the hard choices that need to be made in light of budget constraints. With the exception of NASA, Trump hasn't identified any areas of science that he feels are worth supporting. More generally, Trump has indicated little respect for the findings of science.The Silicon Valley top heads were largely upset with the outcome of the Presidential Election, to say the least.
Transportation

Obama Proposes $4 Billion Investment In Self-Driving Cars (transportation.gov) 276

An anonymous reader writes: The Obama Administration has unveiled a proposal for a 10-year, $4 billion investment in the adoption of autonomous car technology. The money would fund pilot projects to, among other things, "test connected vehicle systems in designated corridors throughout the country, and work with industry leaders to ensure a common multistate framework for connected and autonomous vehicles." The administration says it has an interest in cutting the death toll — over 30,000 people each year in the U.S. — associated with traffic accidents. The proposal also calls for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to work with industry to resolve regulatory issues before they inhibit development of self-driving cars. "This is the right way to drive innovation," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Space

NASA Uncertain How To Proceed In Developing Deep Space Module (examiner.com) 120

MarkWhittington writes: One of the provisions of the new NASA spending bill, which provided a hefty $1.3 billion boost to the space agency's budget, is a mandate to build a prototype habitation module for deep space exploration by 2018. Space News suggested that NASA is uncertain how to proceed with this sudden largess. Quite some time has passed since the space agency has gotten more money than expected and been told to speed up the development of an item of hardware. Usually, the opposite happens, with accompanying delays and increases in overall costs.
Privacy

US Budget Bill Passes With CISA Surveillance Intact (npr.org) 153

An anonymous reader writes: Early on Friday, the U.S. Senate approved the 2,000 page 'omnibus' budget bill that allocated $1.15 trillion in government funding. Later in the day, President Obama signed it into law. Because the budget bill was so important, many other pieces of unrelated legislation were tacked onto it, including the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill notable for giving the government increased internet surveillance powers. Civil rights activists and tech experts largely consider it a "privacy disaster," and several lawmakers voted against the budget bill solely for CISA's inclusion. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, "Unfortunately, this misguided cyber legislation does little to protect Americans' security, and a great deal more to threaten our privacy than the flawed Senate version. Americans demand real solutions that will protect them from foreign hackers, not knee-jerk responses that allow companies to fork over huge amounts of their customers' private data with only cursory review." Corporations in the U.S. will now have "legal immunity when sharing consumers' private data about hacks and digital breaches." The full omnibus is available online (PDF). The CISA provisions start on page 1,728.
NASA

Budget Agreement Boosts US Science (sciencemag.org) 52

sciencehabit writes: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) leads the way among U.S science agencies getting increases in the final 2016 spending bill released today. NIH is the winner in absolute dollars. It gets a bump of $2 billion, or 6.6%, from its current budget of $30.1 billion. Spending on science programs at NASA would grow by 6.6%, to $5.6 billion, and rise by 5.6% in the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science, to $5.35 billion. The National Science Foundation would receive an additional $119 million, or 1.6%, to $7.46 billion, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy would get a 6% boost, to $291 million. NASA in particular got great allocations for planetary science and commercial crew.
Businesses

CIOs Say New Talent and Old Tech Don't Mix 229

StewBeans writes: Usually when an article references "what keeps IT leaders up at night," it's a chance to talk about "shadow IT," losing control of tech spending, hackers, or some other overly-hyped concept. Adam Dennison, publisher at IDG Enterprise, opposes this interview tactic and says that "reports of pain are greatly exaggerated." IT leaders don't mind shadow IT or sharing control of the IT budget (in fact, they want others in the business to have some skin in the game), and they understand that they are probably being hacked. What they DO care about is talent. Dennison points out gaps in data, security, and app development, based on IDG's recent survey, and he says CIOs tell him that finding the right IT talent that is also able to articulate what the business needs to succeed with technology is very difficult. He says, "They worry that they can't move fast enough to adopt the technology they need because the new IT talent doesn't want to work on the old stuff, and the old talent doesn't understand the new stuff."

Video The Challenges Facing CMOs

Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director, CMO Council shares his thoughts on marketers as they increasingly control a bigger part of the technology budget. What are they spending it on and what is working?
Education

Stopping Universities From Hoarding Money 274

HughPickens.com writes: Victor Fleischer writes in the NYT that university endowments are exempt from corporate income tax because universities support the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. But instead of holding down tuition or expanding faculty research, endowments are hoarding money. Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers for managing about $8 billion, one-third of Yale's endowment. In contrast, of the $1 billion the endowment contributed to the university's operating budget, only $170 million was earmarked for tuition assistance, fellowships and prizes. Private equity fund managers also received more than students at Harvard, the University of Texas, Stanford and Princeton.

Fleischer, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, says that as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act expected later this year, Congress should require universities with endowments in excess of $100 million to spend at least 8 percent of the endowment each year. Universities could avoid this rule by shrinking assets to $99 million, but only by spending the endowment on educational purposes, which is exactly the goal. According to a study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity a minimum payout of 5 percent per annum, would be is similar to the legal requirement for private and public foundations. "The sky-high tuition increases would stop, and maybe even reverse themselves. Faculty members would benefit from greater research support. University libraries, museums, hospitals and laboratories would have better facilities," concludes Fleischer. "We've lost sight of the idea that students, not fund managers, should be the primary beneficiaries of a university's endowment."
Businesses

Microsoft Offers Washington a Bargain: More State Taxes, For More Education 161

reifman writes: The Washington State Legislature and its budget is a complete mess this year but there's been an unusual bright spot which may quiet the protesters Slashdot reported earlier: Microsoft has volunteered for an exclusive $28 million annual tax — as long as the state funds a number of computer science degree programs. Visions of these faded after the 2008 recession when the legislature cut $4 billion from K-12 and higher education spending in part to cover the coming legalization and amnesty for Microsoft's Nevada tax dodge (students' tuitions only increased 58.6 percent.) With Microsoft's voluntary tax, the company will have fully repaid its $8.75 billion tax dodge by 2327, just 312 years from now.
The Almighty Buck

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars For Haiti and Built 6 Homes 235

An anonymous reader points out an investigation from NPR and Propublica into how the Red Cross spent the $500 million in relief funds they gathered to help Haiti after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. They found "a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success." While the organization claims to have built homes for 130,000 people, investigators only found six permanent homes they could attribute to the charity. The Red Cross admitted afterward that the 130,000 number included people who had attended a seminar on how to fix their own homes.

"Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget." The Red Cross raised far more money for Haiti than any other charity, but is unwilling to provide details on where the money went. In one case, a brochure that extolled the virtues of one project claimed $24 million had been spent on a particular area — but residents of that area haven't seen any improvement in living conditions, and are unable to get information from the Red Cross. The former director of the Red Cross's shelter program said charity officials had no idea how to spend the money they'd accumulated.

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