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Submission + - WA State Aims to Make 'Lovely Lemonade' Out of Trump's Executive Order Lemons

theodp writes: GeekWire reports that Washington State tech leaders are looking to mine political chaos for policies that benefit the industry. When Trump won, "it became obvious that everything is going to change, and in that chaos is an opportunity to have an influence for the benefit of Washington," said Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). "We’ll try to make the most out of the lemons we’ve been given," he added, "and maybe we’ll make some lovely lemonade." In his motion that successfully blocked Trump's travel ban, WA Attorney General Bob Ferguson cited 'irreparable harms' to WTIA members Amazon, Microsoft, University of Washington, and Washington State University. Two days before Ferguson's filing, the order's adverse impact on Microsoft (revealed that day by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella) was highlighted in a hastily called press conference attended by a who's who of national, state, and local WA politicians who swarmed to Sea-Tac airport, led by Port of Seattle Commissioner (and Microsoft attorney) Courtney Gregoire. Shortly after the press conference, protesters descended on Sea-Tac to decry Trump’s immigration ban.

Submission + - Zuck: I'd Like To Teach The World To Use Facebook (In Perfect Harmony) 2

theodp writes: OK, it's not quite Ted Kaczynski-length, but Mark Zuckerberg's new Facebook Humanitarian Manifesto weighs in at a whopping 5,700+ words. In it, Zuck envisions the world being bettered by greater adoption of an AI-powered Facebook, which may evoke memories in some of the iconic "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" commercial (video, lyrics), which envisioned a world vastly improved by increased Coca-Cola consumption. Hey, everything old is new again!

Submission + - WSU Submits $100 Receipt as Evidence of "Concrete Harm" From Trump Order

theodp writes: As Trump's Executive Order on immigration awaits a vote on en banc rehearing, the Washington State Office of the Attorney General has notified the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that it has filed two additional declarations "concerning concrete harm to Washington’s universities". In his affidavit, Asif Chaudhry, VP for International Programs at Washington State University begins, "One student in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, who is from Iran, was registered for an academic conference in Canada scheduled to take place February 5 — 8, 2017. His WSU department paid for the conference. The receipt, made out to his department chair, is attached as Exhibit A. The department also planned to cover his travel expenses. Due to the executive order, the student was unable to attend the conference." Per Exhibit A, the dollar amount of the loss to WSU was a whopping $100. Chaudhry adds that WSU will also be harmed if it has to forego an incremental $15K or so in tuition and fees from international students over that ponied up by WA residents. Boosting the ranks of international students, WSU explains, "is an essential step in the Drive to 25, the university’s commitment to achieving recognition as one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities by 2030" (WSU President Kirk Schulz suggested the initiative will also make WSU grads more attractive to Microsoft).

Submission + - GoDaddy CEO: Americans Won't Be Smart Enough to Fill Tech Jobs for Decades

theodp writes: A day after his company joined the likes of Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook in the Technology Companies amicus motion and brief against Trump's Executive Order on immigration, GoDaddy CEO Blake Irving advises Americans in FORTUNE that If You’re Against Outsourcing, You Should Support U.S. Visas For Skilled Foreigners. "With so much technical illiteracy in the US," Irving writes, "the H-1B visa program has become America’s secret weapon warding off economic catastrophe. Though STEM education is the clear long-term solution, the US is not going to see a vastly greater pipeline of domestic technical talent coming from our universities anytime soon. It will take us years, if not decades, to educate a new wave of students from elementary thru their advanced degrees. Until that next generation enters the elite technical workforce in mass, the most technical jobs (all 545,000 of them) will simply sit open if H-1B visas shrink or disappear." If Irving's piece gives you a sense of deja vu, Microsoft President Brad Smith similarly argued in 2012 that "an effective national talent strategy therefore needs to combine long-term improvements in STEM education in the United States with targeted, short-term, high-skilled immigration reforms." To bring this about, Smith suggested producing a crisis (video) would be key: "Sometimes when a small problem proves intractable, you have to make it bigger," Smith explained. "You have to make the problem big enough so that the solution is exciting enough to galvanize people’s attention and generate the will to overcome the hurdles that have been holding us back. I believe that if we can combine what we’re doing with respect to education with what we need to do with respect to immigration we have that opportunity ahead of us." So, is Big Tech now trying to make lemonade out of Trump's immigration lemons?

Submission + - Disney Lobbying Florida to Let Kids Take Coding In Place of Foreign Languages

theodp writes: The Miami Herald reports that Florida lawmakers are again proposing a contentious plan that would put coding and foreign language on equal footing in a public high school student’s education. Under a proposed bill (SB 104 — Computer Coding Instruction), students who take two credits of computer coding and earn a related industry certification could then count that coursework toward two foreign language credits. "I sort of comically applaud that some would want to categorize coding as a foreign language," said Miami-Dade Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho. "Coding cannot be seen as an equivalent substitute." Disclosure records show that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has three lobbyists registered to fight in support of the bill. Disney did not return an email seeking comment, but State Sen. Jeff Brandes said the company’s interest is in a future workforce. With tech-backed, Disney has provided signature tutorials for the nation's Hour of Code over the past three years, including the Disney Frozen Princess-themed tutorial credited with 'teaching President Obama to code.'

Submission + - Amazon's Alexa: The Future of AI or The Greatest Clock Radio Ever Made?

theodp writes: There are an estimated 8.2 million owners of Amazon Echo devices, including Alexander Aciman, who opines that Amazon’s Alexa isn’t the future of AI — it’s a glorified radio clock, and stupid otherwise. Even so, Aciman concedes there is some upside. He writes, "It is, indeed, the greatest clock radio ever made. Nothing more. This much becomes apparent if I grow overzealous and put forth a slightly complicated search query. At moments like these I begin to feel that Alexa’s entire existence is so remarkably counterintuitive and sometimes even suspect she has been put on this planet to thwart me at every turn. Unless, of course, I need to ask her what time it is, or if I want to hear Taylor Swift. On those tasks she always performs marvelously." So, time to upgrade your $180 Chumby to a $49.99 Echo Dot?

Submission + - Microsoft's Reliance on H-1B Workers Cited as Trump Restraining Order Granted

theodp writes: A federal judge in Seattle has granted Washington state's request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to immediately halt implementation and enforcement of President Donald Trump's controversial immigration order. From the motion for the TRO: "Washington businesses are also suffering irreparable injuries. [...] Washington’s technology industry relies heavily on the H-1B visa program. Nationwide, Washington ranks ninth in the number of applications for high-tech visas. Microsoft, which is headquartered in Washington, employs nearly 5,000 people through the program. Other Washington companies, including Amazon, Expedia, and Starbucks, employ thousands of H-1B visa holders. Loss of highly skilled workers puts Washington companies at a competitive disadvantage with global competitors." In his ruling, U.S. District Judge James Robart wrote, "The executive order adversely affects the state’s residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations and freedom to travel,” noting that the order also harmed the state's public universities and tax base. "These harms are significant and ongoing," Robart added.

Submission + - The 32-Bit Dog Ate 16 Million Kids' CS Homework

theodp writes: Tech explains in a blog post that it encountered technical difficulties Friday that temporarily made the work of 16 million K-12 students who have used the nonprofit's Code Studio offering disappear. CTO Jeremy Stone gave the kids an impromptu lesson on the powers of two with his explanation of why The Cloud ate their homework: "This morning, at 9:19 am PST, coding progress by students stopped saving on Code Studio, and the issue briefly brought the Code Studio site down. We brought the site back up shortly thereafter but student progress was still not being saved, and instead students saw an outdated message about the Hour of Code from December. [...] The way we store student coding activity is in a table that until today had a 32-bit index. What this means is that the database table could only store 4 billion rows of coding activity information. We didn’t realize we were running up to the limit, and the table got full. We have now made a new student activity table that is storing progress by students. With the new table, we are switching to a 64-bit index which will hold up to 18 quintillion rows of information. On the plus side, this new table will be able to store student coding information for millions of years. On the down side, until we’ve moved everything over to the new table, some students’ code from before today may temporarily not appear, so please be patient with us as we fix it."

Submission + - It Takes a Village to Produce Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook Page

theodp writes: Q. How many Facebook employees does it take to produce Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page? A. More than a dozen! CNET's Ian Sherr offers his take on the news that Facebook has a team that handles Mark Zuckerberg's page: "Ever notice the photos, videos and posts on the profile page for Facebook's CEO are a lot nicer looking or better written than yours? Don't feel bad. Mark Zuckerberg has a team of people who are increasingly managing his public persona, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg Businessweek. Not only do they help write speeches and posts, but they also take photographs of his family and his travels, interspersing them with infographics about the company's user growth and sales. There're even people who delete harassing comments and spam for him. A Facebook spokeswoman said the company's service is an easy way for executives to connect with people." Wonder how many people it took to help craft the latest post, in which Zuck fired back at "some misleading stories going around" about "some land" he purchased in Hawaii (which another Zuck post noted also serves as a petting zoo of sorts for his daughter).

Submission + - Facebook's 2016 EEO-1 Diversity Report Still MIA on MLK Day

theodp writes: EEO-1 reports for 2016 were due to be submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by 9-30-2016. So, it's not too surprising that Microsoft, Apple, and Google have gotten around to posting theirs to company diversity sites, albeit with footnotes urging visitors not to pay much heed to the government-mandated raw numbers and to instead trust the tech company-provided as-seen-in-How-to-Lie-With-Statistics percentages. Move-fast-and-break-things Facebook, on the other hand, is still dragging its feet on disclosing its numbers. For all its talk of making the world more open and transparent, Facebook had to be dragged kicking-and-screaming to the EEO-1 disclosure table. Last year, Facebook didn't see fit to reveal its 2015 EEO-1 report until July 2016 (and oddly did so with a no-copy-and-paste-allowed .png), with a mea culpa for its lack of improved numbers and a $15 million pledge to Mark Zuckerberg-backed to make U.S. kids more CS-savvy. To be fair to (legally) H-1B visa-dependent Facebook, its Black employees may actually make up a higher percentage of U.S.-born (vs. U.S. payroll-based) Facebook employees than 1.72%, although one doesn't imagine Facebook — or Google or Microsoft or Apple for that matter — will be using that defense and voluntarily disclosing those numbers anytime soon.

Submission + - Google-Funded ALA Project Envisions Nation's Librarians Teaching Kids to Code

theodp writes: Citing the need to fill "500,000 current job openings in the field of computer science," the American Library Association (ALA) argues in a new whitepaper (pdf) that "all 115,000 of the nation’s school and public libraries are crucial community partners to guarantee youth have skills essential to future employment and civic participation." As such, the ALA's Google-funded Libraries Ready to Code (RtC) project has entered Phase II, which aims to "equip MLIS [Master's in Library Science] students to deliver coding programs through public and school libraries and foster computational thinking skills among the nation’s youth." The RtC Phase II timeline (pdf) calls for a review of “lessons learned for national strategy” in Q4 of this year. "Particular attention will be paid to addressing challenges and opportunities for underrepresented groups in CS and related fields (e.g., Hispanic, Native American, African American, and girls)," explained the ALA. “Libraries play a vital role in our communities, and Google is proud to build on our partnership with ALA," added Hai Hong, who leads US outreach on Google's K-12 Education team. “We're excited to double down on the findings of Ready to Code 1 by equipping librarians with the knowledge and skills to cultivate computational thinking and coding skills in our youth. Given the ubiquity of technology and the half-a-million unfilled tech jobs in the country, we need to ensure that all youth understand the world around them and have the opportunity to develop the essential skills that employers — and our nation's economy — require.”

Submission + - Did President Obama Pad the K-12 Computer Science for All Bill by $3.6 Billion? 1

theodp writes: Back in January, President Obama's announcement of his $4 billion Computer Science for All initiative drew kudos from Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and tech-backed But the President's budget request fell on deaf Congressional ears, so now it looks like Plan B for CS for All is Trump bucks. K-12 CS presents a trillion-dollar opportunity for America, suggest CEO Hadi Partovi and COO Cameron Wilson in a LinkedIn post that drew an 'amen' from LinkedIn chairman and Gold Supporter Reid Hoffman. In the "memo from @codeorg to @realDonaldTrump", Partovi and Wilson appeal to Trump's aversion to $4B projects, saying the President-elect can forget about that outrageous Obama budget request. "Provide federal funding for K-12 schools to teach computer science," the pair urge Trump. "Every school should teach computer science. President Obama suggested that this is a $4B problem. As a nonprofit that has been addressing this problem at a national scale for years, we disagree. A simple analysis shows the true cost is closer to $400M, as a one-time expense that could be spread over 4 years" (the execs also call for Trump to slash interest rates on student loans for CS majors). So, how much money would really be needed to provide "CS for All" for the nation's 55+ million K-12 students?

Submission + - With Only 44 CS Grads, Is Harvey Mudd's CS Program's Success a Tad Overhyped?

theodp writes: "As US universities struggle to encourage women to study computer science," reported Quartz last summer, "one small college [Harvey Mudd] is having uncommon success attracting them to the field. [...] This year, for the first time, more women than men graduated with a degree in computer science. Nationally, about 16% of undergraduate computer-science majors are women. At Harvey Mudd, that figure is 55%." Citing the same 55%-of-the-latest-class-of-CS-grads-were-women measure of success, the LA Times chimed in last week with the headline, "Most computer science majors in the U.S. are men. Not so at Harvey Mudd." Oddly, 55%-of-what is a question left unanswered by both articles. But a look at raw CS major graduation figures by gender estimated by combining published Graduates by Major and % of Female CS Graduates statistics paints a less rosy picture than the percentage view of things, suggesting that only 24 degrees were awarded in 2016 to female CS majors, who made up 55% of all CS major grads largely due to a 43% YOY decrease in the number of males (35 in 2015 vs 20 in 2016). So, while 24 newly-minted, whip-smart CS grads are nothing to sneeze at, the Harvey Mudd CS program is hardly resulting in "a dramatic increase in women’s representation in computing" in terms of raw numbers. "Sometimes it is percentages that are given and raw figures that are missing," reminds the 1954 classic How to Lie With Statistics, "and this can be deceptive too."

Submission + - Is Using Big Data to Influence Elections Right Up There With Fake News, Hacking?

theodp writes: While the use of hacking and fake news to influence the 2016 Presidential election have been widely-decried, the ethics of using Big Data to make a President — a practice embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike — has received less scrutiny. Inspired by the Obama team's pioneering use of Big Data to defeat Romney in 2012, both the Clinton and Trump campaigns used data analytics to mess with voters' heads, tailoring messages to make their candidate look better and the other candidate look worse. And, as DAWN pointed out, the data scientists who wield increasing influence over election outcomes have their own political agendas. Reflecting on the 2012 election, Obama for America Chief Scientist Rayid Ghani, whose family lived in London while he worked in the U.S., recalled what drove him to help the Obama campaign: "At this point I really don’t know what I am," he said. "It's less about country than about the larger world. For me it was a really easy decision, 'Is Obama better for the world than (Mitt) Romney?' Absolutely."

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