dangle writes: The LA Times has an interview with "Weapons of Math Destruction" author Cathy O'Neil discussing her concerns about the social consequences of ill-considered mathematical modeling. She discusses the example of a NYC Department of Education algorithm designed to grade school teachers that no one outside of the coders had access to. "The Department of Education did not know how to explain the scores that they were giving out to teachers," she observes. "...(T)he very teachers whose jobs are on the line don’t understand how they’re being evaluated. I think that’s a question of justice. Everyone should have the right to know how they’re being evaluated at their job," she argues. Another example discussed is a Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services risk-modeling algorithm developed by SAS to score children according to their risk of being abused so that social workers can better target their efforts. Depending on the ethical considerations, such an algorithm could intentionally overweight factors such as income or ethnicity in a way that could tip the balance between right to privacy and protection of abused minors one way or another. "I want to separate the moral conversations from the implementation of the data model that formalizes those decisions. I want to see algorithms as formal versions of conversations that have already taken place," she concludes.
dangle writes: The New York Times writes about a group of recently laid-off Abbott technology employees from the Chicago area, including Marco Peña's refusal to sign a nondisparagement agreement, a decision he says cost him nearly $10,000.
US corporate executives have worked publicly to defend their use of H-1B visas to Congress and the public, but US workers who have lost jobs to global outsourcing companies have been largely silent out of concern that any criticism of their past employers will be viewed as violation of nondisparagement agreements required as part of their severance packages.
Members of Congress from both major parties have questioned these agreements, and have proposed revisions to visa laws to include measures allowing former employees to contest their layoffs.
dangle writes: The Exposition Park museum in LA is working to rebuild the Endeavor launch stack, a display that will take thousands of pieces to complete due to parts that are scattered at NASA facilities, museums and other places across the U.S. Most are one of a kind and impossible to replicate. Dennis Jenkins, who spent his entire 30-plus year career sending the shuttles into space, is playing a key role in locating essential parts using his own and his colleagues' institutional memory. Employed by NASA contractor Martin Marietta, he helped write the software used in loading and controlling the liquid oxygen needed to launch the 2,250-ton shuttle assembly into low Earth orbit. Now, with the program part of a bygone era of exploration, the 57-year-old works for the California Science Center, helping officials figure out how to rebuild Endeavour.
dangle writes: In an attempt to prevent future data leaks, Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA’s director, has announced plans to cut almost all the agency's system administrators. “What we’re in the process of doing – not fast enough – is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” he said last week at Fordham University in New York. Many of those systems administrators are contractors, like Snowden was. Instead of the 1,000 systems administrators NSA uses, Alexander wants to move more of the operation to the cyber cloud, called the Intelligence Community’s Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE), which relies on a network of computers linked on the Internet. “We’ve put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing,” Alexander said.
dangle writes: BAE Systems has developed a positioning solution that it claims will work even when GPS is unavailable. Its strategy is to use the collection of radio frequency signals from TV, radio and cellphone masts, even WiFi routers, to deduce a position. BAE's answer is dubbed Navigation via Signals of Opportunity (NAVSOP). It interrogates the airwaves for the ID and signal strength of local digital TV and radio signals, plus air traffic control radars, with finer grained adjustments coming from cellphone masts and WiFi routers. In any given area, the TV, radio, cellphone and radar signals tend to be at constant frequencies and power levels as they are are heavily regulated — so positions could be calculated from them. "The real beauty of NAVSOP is that the infrastructure required to make it work is already in place," says a BAE spokesman — and "software defined radio" microchips that run NAVSOP routines can easily be integrated into existing satnavs. The firm believes the technology could also work in urban concrete canyons where GPS signals cannot currently reach.
dangle writes: F.A.T. Lab and Sy-Lab have officially released their Free Universal Construction Kit, allowing builders to freely interconnect parts from Lego, K'Nex, Fischertechnik and other common building sets. ZomeTool and Zoob patterns will be available after related patents expire. The makers have also spent considerable effort investigating and anticipating legal complaints from manufacturers, using an Inverse Think of The Children Argument:
Some may express concern that the Free Universal Construction Kit infringes such corporate prerogatives as copyright, design right, trade dress, trademarks or patents of the supported toy systems. We encourage those eager to enforce these rights to please think of the children — and we assert that the home printing of the Free Universal Construction Kit constitutes protected fair use.
dangle writes: Technicians were installing a backup power-supply system for the combined Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air computer system this weekend when a transformer malfunctioned, taking down the system around 3 a.m. Saturday, affecting approximately 12,150 passengers through the cancellation of 140 flights, equalling 15% of the airline's scheduled departures on Saturday.
"We're almost pretty much" back to normal following the transformer malfunction, airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said Sunday. "We should be right on track by the end of today."
dangle writes: Voyager 2's flight data system, which formats information before beaming it back to Earth, has experienced a hiccup that has altered the pattern in which it sends updates home, preventing mission managers from decoding the science data beamed to Earth from Voyager 2. The spacecraft, which is currently 8.6 billion miles (13.8 billion km) from Earth, is apparently still in overall good health, according to the latest engineering data received on May 1. "Voyager 2's initial mission was a four-year journey to Saturn, but it is still returning data 33 years later," said Voyager project scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "It has already given us remarkable views of Uranus and Neptune, planets we had never seen close-up before. We will know soon what it will take for it to continue its epic journey of discovery." The space probe and its twin Voyager 1 are flying through the bubble-like heliosphere, created by the sun, which surrounds our solar system.