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NSF Antes Up $200K For Spin-off of Microsoft-Funded 'Code Trip' TV Show 20

theodp writes: The Microsoft-sponsored PBS 'reality' show Code Trip, in which Roadtrip Nation and Microsoft YouthSpark partnered to send three students across the U.S. on a "transformative journey into computer science" is getting a spin-off. According to the National Science Foundation Award Abstract for a Computer Science Roadtrip (CS Roadtrip), $199,866.00 in funding has been awarded for a pilot project that began in October "to design and develop pilot materials for a Computer Science Roadtrip (CS Roadtrip)."

From the abstract: "Through this pilot project, Roadtrip Nation will lay the groundwork and provide proof-of-concept for a CS Roadtrip, leveraging a combination of multimedia deliverables, an evidence-based educational curriculum, and dynamic engagement strategies that will provide critical connections between students' natural interests, positive role models who align with those interests, and corresponding CS educational and career pathways. To that end, the CS Roadtrip Pilot will develop up to four student-facing videos that feature the stories of diverse computing professionals, appropriate for on-air, online, and classroom purposes, along with the appropriate Learning Guides."

The NSF study's Principal Investigator is Roadtrip Nation co-founder Mike Marriner, who explained his company's relationship with Microsoft in a July 30th press release, "Roadtrip Nation is proud to partner with Microsoft's YouthSpark initiative not only to inform others of the many career routes one can take with a computer science background, but also to engage in the much-needed conversation of diversifying the tech field with more pluralistic perspectives."

Arkansas Has a Growing Population of "Climate Change Refugees" 234 writes: Located between Hawaii and Australia, the Marshall Islands are made up of 29 atolls and five islands with a population of about 70,000, all of whom live about six feet above sea level. Now Story Hinkley writes in the Christian Science Monitor that another 10,000 Marshallese have moved to Springdale, Arkansas because of climate change. Because this Pacific island nation is so small, the Marshallese population in Arkansas attribute their Springdale settlement to one man, John Moody, who moved to the US in 1979 after the first wave of flooding. Moody's family eventually moved to Springdale to live with him and work for Tyson and other poultry companies based in Arkansas, eventually causing a steady flow of extended friends and family migrating to Springdale. "Probably in 10 to 20 years from now, we're all going to move," says Roselinta Keimbar adding that she likes Arkansas because it is far away from the ocean, meaning it is safe.

For more than three decades, Marshallese have moved in the thousands to the landlocked Ozark Mountains for better education, jobs and health care, thanks to an agreement that lets them live and work in the US.. This historical connection makes it an obvious destination for those facing a new threat: global warming. Marshallese Foreign Minister Tony de Brum says even a small rise in global temperatures would spell the demise of his country. While many world leaders in Paris want to curb emissions enough to cap Earth's warming at 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), de Brum is pushing for a target that's 25 percent lower. "The thought of evacuation is repulsive to us," says de Brum. "We think that the more reasonable thing to do is to seek to end this madness, this climate madness, where people think that smaller, vulnerable countries are expendable and therefore they can continue to do business as usual." Meanwhile residents jokingly call their new home "Springdale Atoll," and there's even a Marshallese consulate in Springdale, the only one on the mainland US. "Its not our fault that the tide is getting higher," says Carlon Zedkaia,. "Just somebody else in this world that wants to get rich."

Rikers Inmates Learn How To Code Without Internet Access ( 173

An anonymous reader sends the story of another prison where inmates are learning the basics of programming, despite having no access to the vast educational resources on the internet. Instructors from Columbia University have held a lengthy class at New York's Rikers Island prison to teach the basics of Python. Similar projects have been attempted in California and Oklahoma. The goal wasn’t to turn the students into professional-grade programmers in just a few classes, [Instructor Dennis] Tenen emphasizes, but to introduce them to the basics of programming and reasoning about algorithms and code. "It’s really to give people a taste, to get people excited about coding, in hopes that when they come out, they continue," says Tenen. ...Having an explicit goal—building the Twitter bot—helped the class focus its limited time quickly on learning to do concrete tasks, instead of getting bogged down in abstract discussions of syntax and algorithms.

Purdue Experiments With Income-Contingent Student Loans 223 writes: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel writes in the Washington Post that Purdue University is partnering with Vemo Education, a Reston-based financial services firm, to create income-share agreements, or ISAs, that its students can tap to pay for tuition, room and board. In return, students would pay a percentage of their earnings after graduation for a set number of years, replenishing the fund for future investments. Purdue president Mitch Daniels calls the contracts a constructive addition to today's government loan programs and perhaps the only option for students and families who have low credit ratings and extra financial need. "From the student's standpoint, ISAs assure a manageable payback amount, never more than the agreed portion of their incomes. Best of all, they shift the risk of career shortcomings from student to investor: If the graduate earns less than expected, it is the investors who are disappointed; if the student decides to go off to find himself in Nepal instead of working, the loss is entirely on the funding providers, who will presumably price that risk accordingly when offering their terms. This is true "debt-free" college."

However some observers worry that students pursuing profitable degrees in engineering or business would get better repayment terms than those studying to become nurses or teachers. "Income share agreements have the potential to create another option for students looking to pay for college while seeking assurances they will not be overwhelmed by future payments," says Robert Kelchen. "However, given the current generosity of federal income-based repayment programs and the likely hesitation of those who expect six-figure salaries to sign away a percentage of their income for years to come, the market for these programs may be somewhat limited."
The Almighty Buck

'No Such Thing As a Free Gift' Casts a Critical Eye At Gates Foundation ( 154

theodp writes: The Intercept's Michael Massing takes a look at "How the Gates Foundation Reflects the Good and the Bad of 'Hacker Philanthropy." He writes, "Despite its impact, few book-length assessments of the foundation's work have appeared. Now Linsey McGoey, a sociologist at the University of Essex, is seeking to fill the gap. 'Just how efficient is Gates's philanthropic spending?' she asks in No Such Thing as a Free Gift. 'Are the billions he has spent on U.S. primary and secondary schools improving education outcomes? Are global health grants directed at the largest health killers? Is the Gates Foundation improving access to affordable medicines, or are patent rights taking priority over human rights?' As the title of her book suggests, McGoey answers all of these questions in the negative. The good the foundation has done, she believes, is far outweighed by the harm." Massing adds, "Bill and Melinda Gates answer to no electorate, board, or shareholders; they are accountable mainly to themselves. What's more, the many millions of dollars the foundation has bestowed on nonprofits and news organizations has led to a natural reluctance on their part to criticize it. There's even a name for it: the 'Bill Chill' effect."

Engineers Nine Times More Likely Than Expected To Become Terrorists ( 495 writes: Henry Farrel writes in the Washington Post that there's a group of people who appear to be somewhat prone to violent extremism: Engineers. They are nine times more likely to be terrorists than you would expect by chance. In a forthcoming book, Engineers of Jihad, published by Princeton University Press, Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog provide a new theory explaining why engineers seem unusually prone to become involved in terrorist organizations. They say it's caused by the way engineers think about the world. Survey data indicates engineering faculty at universities are far more likely to be conservative than people with other degrees, and far more likely to be religious. They are seven times as likely to be both religious and conservative as social scientists. Gambetta and Hertog speculate that engineers combine these political predilections with a marked preference towards finding clearcut answers.

Gambetta and Hertog suggest that this mindset combines with frustrated expectations in many Middle Eastern and North African countries (PDF), and among many migrant populations, where people with engineering backgrounds have difficulty in realizing their ambitions for good and socially valued jobs. This explains why there are relatively few radical Islamists with engineering backgrounds in Saudi Arabia (where they can easily find good employment) and why engineers were more prone to become left-wing radicals in Turkey and Iran.

Some people might argue that terrorist groups want to recruit engineers because engineers have valuable technical skills that might be helpful, such as in making bombs. This seems plausible – but it doesn't seem to be true. Terrorist organizations don't seem to recruit people because of their technical skills, but because they seem trustworthy and they don't actually need many people with engineering skills. "Bomb-making and the technical stuff that is done in most groups is performed by very few people (PDF), so you don't need, if you have a large group, 40 or 50 percent engineers," says Hertog. "You just need a few guys to put together the bombs. So the scale of the overrepresentation, especially in the larger groups is not easily explained."


Pearson Credential Manager System Used By Cisco, IBM, F5 Has Been Breached 25

An anonymous reader writes with a report from Help Net Security that the credential management system used by Pearson VUE (part of education company and publisher Pearson) has been breached "by an unauthorized third party with the help of malware." Pearson VUE specializes in computer-based assessment testing for regulatory and certification boards. From the story: Over 450 credential owners (including IT organizations such as IBM, Adobe, etc.) across the globe use the company's solutions to develop, manage, deliver and grow their testing programs. The company is still assessing the scope of the breach, and says that they do not think that US Social Security numbers or full payment card information were compromised. But because the PMC is custom designed to fit specific customer requirements, they are still looking into how this incident affected each of their customers. According to a note on Pearson's site, the system remains down for the time being.

Texas Narrowly Rejects Allowing Academics To Fact-Check Public School Textbooks ( 337

jriding writes with news that in a 8-7 vote the Texas State Board of Education rejected a plan to create a group of state university professors to fact-check textbooks approved for the state's 5.2 million public-school students. The CS Monitor reports: "The Board of Education approves textbooks in the nation's second-largest state and stood by its vetting process — despite a Houston-area mother recently complaining that a world geography book used by her son's ninth grade class referred to African slaves as 'workers.' The publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, apologized and moved to make immediate edits."

The War On Campus Sexual Assault Goes Digital 399 writes: According to a recent study of 27 schools, about one-quarter of female undergraduates said they had experienced nonconsensual sex or touching since entering college, but most of the students said they did not report it to school officials or support services. Now Natasha Singer reports at the NYT that in an effort to give students additional options — and to provide schools with more concrete data — a nonprofit software start-up in San Francisco called Sexual Health Innovations has developed an online reporting system for campus sexual violence. One of the most interesting features of Callisto is a matching system — in which a student can ask the site to store information about an assault in escrow and forward it to the school only if someone else reports another attack identifying the same assailant. The point is not just to discover possible repeat offenders. In college communities, where many survivors of sexual assault know their assailants, the idea of the information escrow is to reduce students' fears that the first person to make an accusation could face undue repercussions.

"It's this last option that makes Callisto unique," writes Olga Khazan. "Most rapes are committed by repeat offenders, yet most victims know their attackers. Some victims are reluctant to report assaults because they aren't sure whether a crime occurred, or they write it off as a one-time incident. Knowing about other victims might be the final straw that puts an end to their hesitation—or their benefit of the doubt. Callisto's creators claim that if they could stop perpetrators after their second victim, 60 percent of campus rapes could be prevented." This kind of system is based partly on a Michigan Law Review article about "information escrows," or systems that allow for the transmitting of sensitive information in ways that reduce "first-mover disadvantage" also known to economists as the "hungry penguin problem". As game theorist Michael Chwe points out, the fact that each person creates her report independently makes it less likely they'll later be accused of submitting copycat reports, if there are similarities between the incidents.

Microsoft Brings Its Embrace-Extend-Extinguish Game To K-12 Schools? 168

theodp writes: A year after it paid $2.5 billion to buy Minecraft, Microsoft has announced a partnership with that makes a Minecraft-themed introduction to programming a signature tutorial of this year's Hour of Code, which hopes to reach 200 million schoolchildren next month in what the Microsoft-funded nonprofit is billing as the largest learning event in history. "A core part of our mission to empower every person on the planet is equipping youth with computational thinking and problem-solving skills to succeed in an increasingly digital world," said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a press release, which also notes that "Microsoft is gifting Windows Store credit to every educator who organizes an Hour of Code event worldwide." Of the Minecraft tutorial, CEO Hadi Partovi gushed, "Compared to what you would otherwise be doing for school, this is, like, the best thing ever."

Value of University Degree Continues To Decline ( 393

BarbaraHudson writes: Following up from an earlier report from Statistics Canada (pdf), the Parliamentary Budget Officer warns that an increasing number of university graduates are overqualified for their jobs. The CBC reports: "Last year, 40 per cent of university graduates aged 25-34 were overqualified for their job. Five years ago, that percentage was only 36 per cent. In 1991, it hit a low of 32 per cent, or less than one out of every three university graduates. The problem is bigger than that, because those young workers spent money, time, and resources to get those qualifications.

The Next Big IT Projects From the University Labs ( 29

snydeq writes: From unstructured data mining to visual microphones, academic labs are bringing future breakthrough possibilities to light, writes InfoWorld's Peter Wayner in his overview of nine university projects that could have lasting impact on IT. 'Open source programmers can usually build better code faster, often because they have bosses who pay them to build something that will pay off next quarter, not next century. Yet good computer science departments still manage to punch above — sometimes well above — their weight. While a good part of the research is devoted to arcane topics like the philosophical limits of computation, some of it can be tremendously useful for the world at large. What follows are nine projects currently under development at university labs that [could] have a broad impact on the world of computing.'

Hour of Code 2015 Star Wars Tutorial: Spare the IF Statement, Spoil the Child? 156

theodp writes: Teaching U.S. K-12 kids their programming fundamentals in past Hours of Code were an IF-fy Bill Gates and a LOOP-y Mark Zuckerberg. Interestingly, the new signature tutorial — Star Wars: Building a Galaxy with Code — created by Lucasfilm and ("in a locked room with no windows") for this December's Hour of Code, eschews both IF statements and loops. The new learn-to-code tutorial instead elects to show students "events" after they've gone through the usual move-up-down-left-right drills. With the NY Times and National Center for Women & Information Technology recently warning against putting Star Wars in the CS classroom ("Attracting more female high school students to computer science classes might be as easy as tossing out the Star Wars posters," claimed an Aug. 29th NCWIT Facebook post), the theme of the new tutorial seems an odd choice for, whose stated mission includes "increasing [CS] participation by women." But if Star Wars is, as some suggest, more aimed at boys, perhaps has something up its sleeve for girls (a la last year's Disney Princesses) with another as yet unannounced signature tutorial that it teased would be "just as HUGE" as the Star Wars one. Any guesses on what that might be?

Before Barbie's Brainy Makeover, Mattel Execs Met With White House, Google 125

theodp writes: Mattel came under fire last November over its portrayal of Computer Engineer Barbie as incompetent. But the toymaker is now drawing kudos for its new Imagine the Possibilities Barbie ad campaign (video), which shows little girls pretending to be professionals in real-life settings, including a college professor lecturing students about the brain. Ad Age, however, is cynical of the empowering spin on Barbie, which it says "comes across as a manipulative way to silence criticism." Interestingly, some of that criticism may have come from the White House.

WH Visitor Records show that Barbie's brainy makeover came after Mattel execs — Evelyn Mazzocco, Julia Pistor, Heather Lazarus — were summoned to the White House last April to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls. A little Googling suggests other attendees at the sit-down included representatives of the nation's leading toy makers (Disney Consumer, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, American Girl), media giants (Disney Channels, Viacom, TIME, Scholastic, Univision, Participant Media, Cartoon Network, Netflix), retailers (Walmart, Target), educators, scientists, the U.S. Dept. of Education (including the Deputy Director of Michelle Obama's Reach Higher Initiative), philanthropists (Rockefeller, Harnisch Foundations) — and Google. Representing Google was CS Education in Media Program Manager Julie Ann Crommett, who has worked with Disney to shape programming to inspire girls to pursue CS in conjunction with the search giant's $50 million Made With Code initiative.

The April White House meeting appears to be a reschedule of a planned March meeting that was to have included other Mattel execs, including Stephanie Cota, Venetia Davie, and Lori Pantel, to whom the task of apologizing for Computer Engineer Barbie fell last November. For the first time in over a decade, Barbie was no longer the most popular girls' toy last holiday season, having lost her crown to Disney Princesses Elsa and Anna, who coincidentally teamed up with Google-backed last December to "teach President Obama to code" at a widely-publicized White House event.

Should Programmers Be Called Engineers? ( 568

New submitter nervouscat writes: Game designer Ian Bogost argues that programmers shouldn't use the term "engineer" to describe themselves. He says the tech industry has "cheapened" the title, and that it's more aspirational than anything else. Quoting: "Traditional engineers are regulated, certified, and subject to apprenticeship and continuing education. Engineering claims an explicit responsibility to public safety and reliability, even if it doesn’t always deliver. ... Today’s computer systems pose individual and communal dangers that we’d never accept in more concrete structures like bridges, skyscrapers, power plants, and missile-defense systems. Apple’s iOS 9 update reportedly “bricked” certain phones, making them unusable. Services like Google Docs go down for mysterious reasons, leaving those whose work depends on them in a lurch. ... When it comes to skyscrapers and bridges and power plants and elevators and the like, engineering has been, and will continue to be, managed partly by professional standards, and partly by regulation around the expertise and duties of engineers. But fifty years’ worth of attempts to turn software development into a legitimate engineering practice have failed."

Andrew Tanenbaum Announces MINIXcon ( 104

LichtSpektren writes: Andrew Tanenbaum, author of MINIX, writes: 'MINIX has been around now for about 30 years so it is (finally) time for the MINIXers to have a conference to get together, just as Linuxers and BSDers have been doing for a long time. The idea is to exchange ideas and experiences among MINIX 3 developers and users as well as discussing possible paths forward now that the ERC funding is over. Future developments will now be done like in any other volunteer-based open-source project. Increasing community involvement is a key issue here. Attend or give a presentation.' The con will be held on 1 February 2016 at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Celebrate the 200th Birthday of George Boole With Logic ( 63

mikejuk writes: November 2nd 2015 is the bicentenary of George Boole, dubbed the forefather of modern information technology. To mark the event 55,000 school students globally will be learning about Boolean Logic. Free lesson plans, puzzles and worksheets have been made available in English, Irish and Mandarin and schools in over 30 countries have signed up. According to the George Boole 200 website set up by University College Cork (UCC), the Irish university where he was the first Professor of Mathematics in the mid-19th century, Boole is an unsung hero of the digital age who deserves to be recognized as the forefather of the Information Age. An hour-long documentary, The Genius of George Boole, will be released on November 2 and available to view online until November 16. Although Boole did briefly encounter Charles Babbage during his lifetime he wasn't responsible for bringing together binary arithmetic and what we now call Boolean logic. That achievement is down to Claude Shannon who recognised the relevance for engineering of Boole's symbolic logic. As a result of Shannon's work Boole's thinking became the practical foundation of digital circuit design and the theoretical grounding of the the digital age.

University Reprimands Professor For Assigning Cheaper Textbook ( 363

schwit1 writes: California State University at Fullerton brought a grievance against associate professor Alain Bourget recently. It wasn't for poor results or questionable conduct — it happened because Bourget refused to assign a $180 textbook for his introductory linear algebra and differential equations course, instead using one that cost $75 and supplementing it with free online materials. "Bourget maintains that his choices are just as effective educationally and much less expensive, so he should have the right to use them. But the university says that it makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same textbooks. Both Bourget and the university say their positions are based on principles of academic freedom."

Revisiting Why Johnny Can't Code: Have We "Made the Print Too Small"? 270

theodp writes: In What is Computer Science?, the kickoff video for Facebook's new TechPrep diversity initiative, FB product manager Adriel Frederick explains how he was hooked-on-coding after seeing the magic of a BASIC PRINT statement. His simple BASIC example is a nice contrast to the more complicated JavaScript and Ruby examples that were chosen to illustrate Mark Zuckerberg's what-is-coding video for schoolkids. In How to Teach Your Baby to Read, the authors explain, "It is safe to say that in particular very young children can read, provided that, in the beginning, you make the print very big." So, is introducing coding to schoolkids with modern programming languages instead of something like BASIC (2006) or even (gasp!) spreadsheets (2002) the coding equivalent of "making the print too small" for a child to see and understand?